ILRI’s new strategy–with evidence we can raise the livestock game

Last week, we interviewed International Livestock Research Institute (ILRI) director general Jimmy Smith on his first eight months in office.

In the first video interview below, he comments on some emerging ‘big issues’ in ILRI’s new strategy. One is that we need to pay far more attention to the wider global debate on livestock; we also need a clear focus on ‘consumption’ and ‘consumers’, as well as climate change and livestock’s environmental footprint [more on ILRI’s ongoing strategy development process].

In the second video below, he comments on global perceptions that livestock are not good for the planet—and what this means for ILRI. He argues that ‘evidence’ is at the heart of ILRI’s contribution. We need better evidence of where livestock contributes positively and negatively, and we need to communicate this. [ILRI’s 2010 annual meeting was on the theme ‘livestock goods and bads.’ In April 2012, a global alliance on sustainable livestock was formed.].

Making Asian agriculture smarter


A cow feeds on improved CIAT forage grasses, in Kampong Cham, Cambodia (photo credit: Neil Palmer/CIAT).

Last week, coming on the heels of a Planet Under Pressure conference in London, which set out to better define our ‘planetary boundaries’ and to offer scientific inputs to the Rio+20 United Nations sustainable development conference this June, a group of leaders in Asia—comprising agriculture and meteorology chiefs, climate negotiators and specialists, and heads of development agencies—met to hammer out a consensus on ways to make Asian agriculture smarter.

The workshop, Climate-smart agriculture in Asia: Research and development priorities, was held 11–12 April 2012 in Bangkok. It was organized by the Asia-Pacific Association of Agricultural Research Institutes; the CGIAR Research Program on Climate Change, Agriculture and Food Security; and the World Meteorological Organization.

This group set itself three ambitious tasks: To determine the best options (1) for producing food that will generate lower levels of greenhouse gases, which cause global warming; (2) for producing much greater amounts of food, which are needed to feed the region’s rapidly growing and urbanizing population; and (3) for doing all this under a changing climate that, if farming and farm policies don’t change, is expected to reduce agricultural productivity in the region by anywhere from 10 to 50 per cent over the next three decades.

The workshop participants started by reviewing the best practices and technologies now available for making agriculture ‘climate smart’. They then reviewed current understanding of how climate change is likely to impact Asian agriculture. They then agreed on what are the gaps in the solutions now available and which kinds of research and development should be given highest priority to fill those gaps. Finally, they developed a plan for filling the gaps and linking scientific knowledge with policy actions at all levels.

On the second of this two-day workshop, the participants were asked to short-list no more than ten key areas as being of highest priority for Asia’s research and development communities.

This exercise tempted this blogger to suggest ten suitable areas in the livestock sector.

(1) Lower greenhouse gas emissions from livestock through adoption of improved feed supplements (crops residues) that reduce greenhouse gas emissions.
Contact ILRI animal nutritionist Michael Blümmel, based in Hydrabad, for more information: m.blummel at

(2) Safeguard public health by enhancing Asia’s capacity to detect and control outbreaks of infectious diseases transmitted between animals and people.
Contact ILRI veterinary epidemiologist Jeff Gilbert, based in Vientienne, for more information: j.gilbert at

(3) Improve the efficiency of water used for livestock and forage production.
Contact ILRI rangeland ecologist Don Peden, based in Vancouver, for more information: d.peden at 

(4) Pay livestock keepers for their provision of environmental services.
Contact ILRI ecologist Jan de Leeuw, based in Nairobi, for more information: j.leeuw at

(5) Recommend levels of consumption of meat, milk and eggs appropriate for the health of people, their livelihoods and environments in different regions and communities.
Contact ILRI partner Tara Garnett, who runs the Food Climate Research Network based in Guildford, for more information:  t.garnett at

(6) Design institutional and market mechanisms that support the poorer livestock keepers, women in particular.
Contact ILRI agricultural economist Steve Staal, based in Nairobi, for more information: s.staal at 

(7) Educate publics in the West on the markedly different roles that livestock play in different regions of the world.
Contact ILRI systems analyst Philip Thornton, based in Edinburgh, for more information: p.thornton at

(8) Adopt risk- rather than rule-based approaches to ensuring the safety of livestock foods.
Contact ILRI veterinary epidemiologist Delia Grace, based in Nairobi, for more information: d.grace at 

(9) Focus attention on small-scale, relatively extensive, mixed crop-and-livestock production systems.
Contact ILRI systems analyst Mario Herrero, based in Nairobi, for more information: m.herrero at 

(10) Give livestock-keeping communities relevant and timely climate and other information via mobile technologies.
Contact ILRI knowledge manager Pier-Paolo Ficarelli, based in Delhi, for more information: p.ficarelli at

Do you have a ‘top-ten’ list of what could make Asian agriculture ‘smart agriculture’? Post it in the Comment box, please!

Go here for ILRI blogs about the Planet Under Pressure conference.

ILRI in Asia blog

Developing an enabling global livestock agenda for our lives, health and lands

Jimmy Smith and Francois Le Gall (WB)

ILRI’s Jimmy Smith (left) and the World Bank’s Francois Le Gall are co-hosting a high-level consultation for a global livestock agenda to 2020 at ILRI’s Nairobi campus this week.

Can our global livestock systems meet a triple bottom line—protecting health, the environment and equity? Can 14 high-level leaders and thinkers outline and agree on a strategy that can help the world fulfill on that ambitious livestock agenda to 2020? Can all this be done in one and a half days?

Three weeks after Bill Gates announced at a meeting of the International Fund for Agricultural Development (IFAD) in Rome new grants of USD200 million from the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation (BMGF) to support the world’s smallholder farmers—a meeting in which Gates called on the big United Nations food-related agencies to work together to create a global productivity target for those small farmers—those agencies are meeting this week in Nairobi to hammer out the outlines of a consensus regarding strategies for a global livestock agenda to 2020.

This High-Level Consultation for a Global Livestock Agenda to 2020 is being co-hosted by:
Francois Le Gall, livestock advisor at the World Bank, and
Jimmy Smith, director general of the International Livestock Research Institute (ILRI).

The dozen other heads of institutions and departments among the world’s leading bodies for food security that are taking part are:

ASEAN (Association of Southeast Asian Nations)
Soloman Benigno, project manager and animal health expert

AU-IBAR (African Union-Interafrican Bureau for Animal Resources)
Ahmed El-Sawalhy, director
Bruce Mukanda, senior program and projects officer
Baba Soumare, chief animal health officer

Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation (BMGF)
Kristin Girvetz (formerly Grote), program officer

European Union (EU) Delegation to Kenya
Bernard Rey, head of operations

Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) of the United Nations
Henning Steinfeld, chief of livestock information and policy

International Fund for Agricultural Development (IFAD)
Carlos Sere, chief development strategist

United Nations (UN)
David Nabarro, special representative of the UN secretary general for food security and nutrition (via filmed presentation)

World Bank
Stephane Forman, livestock specialist for Africa

World Organisation for Animal Health (OIE)
Bernard Vallat, director general
Walter Masiga, sub-regional representative for Eastern Africa and the Horn of Africa

Among the ideas rising to the surface for these leaders of global livestock departments and institutions are the need to shift focus from livestock per se to livestock-based lives and lands. The discussions are centering initially on three pillars of livestock development: health, environment and equity.

David Nabarro, the UN special representative for food security and nutrition, in a filmed presentation for this high-level consultation, said:

There is a movement for the transformation of food systems throughout the world. Livestock is an essential part of this equation. ILRI and the World Bank are key actors in seeing that science is applied for effective action for improved livestock systems. This meeting is important and happening when it should.

ILRI director general Jimmy Smith then gave an overview of the trends, opportunities and challenges of livestock development.

Feeding the world is possible, Smith concluded, as is sustaining our natural resource base and reducing absolute poverty.

Our challenges in achieving these, the livestock director said, include ‘improving our methodologies to develop more reliable assessments of the hard trade-offs involved in choosing ways forward for livestock development, managing those trade-offs at multiple scales, and ensuring institutional innovations, which will be as important as technological innovations—and perhaps harder to achieve’.
Watch and listen to Smith’s presentation.

Among the trends Smith highlighted are:

  • Demand for livestock products continues to rise
  • Livestock systems will continue to produce much of the world’s food
  • There remains a vast divide between developed and developing regions in kinds of livestock systems and their costs and benefits, but those different worlds are increasingly interconnected

Smith stressed the need for more reliable evidence-based assessments of the hard trade-offs implicit in our choices for the livestock sector, which will differ greatly in different regions and circumstances, especially in light of the fact that livestock impact so many important global development issues (e.g., human health, environmental protection, global food security)

An example of how critical livestock issues are for human well-being that Smith pointed out is the interface between livestock and human health.

Animal source foods are the biggest contributor to food-borne disease, Smith said. Diseases transmitted from livestock and livestock products kill more people each year than HIV or malaria. Indeed, one new human disease emerges every 2 months; and 20 percent of these are transmitted from livestock.

This consultation on a global livestock agenda comes at an appropriate time for Jimmy Smith, who started his tenure as director general of ILRI only late last year and who has instituted a task force, headed by ILRI’s director for institutional planning Shirley Tarawali, to refresh ILRI’s long-term strategy for livestock research for development. As several of the other institutions represented at this meeting are also in the thick of rethinking their strategies, this 1.5-day intense consultation is able to harvest the fruits of much recent hard thinking that has already been done in these global and regional institutions.

‘Feed the Future’: Connecting ALL the (agricultural research) dots in the Ethiopian highlands

Sustainable intensification of crop-livestock systems to improve food security and farm income diversification in the Ethiopian highlands: Project Design Workshop—Project Outline and concepts

Watch and listen to a 17-minute (audio-enhanced) slide presentation made by ILRI’s Shirley Tarawali on the ‘Sustainable intensification of crop-livestock systems to improve food security and farm income diversification in the Ethiopian highlands,’ 30 Jan 2012.

Can scientists make the whole of agricultural research for development greater than the sum of its parts? That’s the aim of a new initiative starting this year in three regions of sub-Saharan Africa.

As part of an American ‘Feed the Future’ initiative to reduce hunger in sub-Saharan Africa, the US Agency for International Development (USAID) is supporting three agricultural research projects aiming to help Africa’s smallholders intensify their production systems and do so in ways that are sustainable.

These projects will be conducted in three regions of Africa: Sustainable intensification of cereal-based farming systems (1) in the Sudano-Sahelian Zone of West Africa and (2) in East and Southern Africa, both led by the International Institute of Tropical Agriculture (IITA), based in Ibadan, Nigeria; and (3) Sustainable intensification of crop-livestock systems to improve food security and farm income diversification in the Ethiopian highlands, led by the International Livestock Research Institue (ILRI).

These three African agricultural intensification projects were all launched this year (2012) with design workshops. A wiki has information on the three workshops, including their agendas and outputs.

The design workshop for the project in the Ethiopian highlands has just started at ILRI’s campus in Addis Ababa. ILRI’s director for its People, Livestock and the Environment Theme, agronomist Shirley Tarawali, who will soon take up a new position as ILRI’s director of institutional planning, gave a 17-minute slide presentation on the project (above).

Tarawali said in her presentation that the project is ambitious to fix the disconnect between separate research projects on separate agricultural topics (livestock, cereals, water, and so on) by identifying and then pulling together the best research outputs from the separate research projects. Such outputs include, for example, the identification of legumes and cereals that will better feed livestock as well as people (and sometimes soils as well); ways to make more strategic use of scarce fertilizers and optimal combinations of organic (manure) and inorganic (synthetic) fertilizers; and more efficient ways to use water resources.

Add these kinds of useful products together and we could benefit whole farming systems,’ says Tarawali.

To learn more, or to contribute to the discussions, visit a blog about this Feed the Future initiative in the Ethiopian highlands.

Read an ILRI Clippings Blog about this initiative: Experts meet in Addis Ababa to design new agricultural research project for Ethiopian highlands, 30 Jan 2012.

Read more about the importance of small-scale mixed crop-and-livestock farming systems in the developing world:

Seminal and holistic review of the probable ‘futures’ of livestock production, food security and environmental protection, 7 Dec 2011.

Mixed crop-and-livestock farmers on ‘extensive frontier’ critical to sustainable 21st century food system, 23 Jun 2011.



ILRI updates structure and senior staff roles to tackle new challenges

Earlier this month, International Livestock Research Institute (ILRI) director general Jimmy Smith announced a number of organizational changes. We share these here for the benefit of people we work with outside ILRI.

Leadership changes to ILRI research themes
The ‘Enhancing Markets Theme’ has been renamed ‘Markets, Gender and Livelihoods’ (MGL) and now incorporates the ‘Poverty, Gender and Impact’ group led by Jemimah Njuki. Steve Staal continues to serve as director of this theme.

From 23 January 2012, Iain Wright moves to the ILRI campus in Addis Ababa to serve as director of the ‘People Livestock and Environment‘ (PLE) Theme. Iain will also become the director general’s representative in Ethiopia. The PLE Theme now incorporates the ‘Sustainable Livestock Futures’ group led by Mario Herrero.

ILRI’s ‘Biotechnology‘ Theme continues under the leadership of Vish Nene; the Biosciences eastern and central Africa (BecA) Hub is led by Segenet Kelemu.

Both Jemimah’s and Mario’s groups will continue to provide leadership at the institutional level with respect to work on gender and sustainable futures respectively.

Senior staff changes
With the departure of John McDermott to lead the CGIAR Research Program on Agriculture for Improved Nutrition and Health (CRP4), we are recruiting a new deputy director general-research (DDG). Steve Staal serves as interim DDG.

From 6 February 2012, Shirley Tarawali assumes the new position of director of institutional planning. She will move from Addis Ababa, Ethiopia, to Nairobi, Kenya.

In January 2012, Purvi Mehta-Bhatt moved from her position as head of the Capacity Strengthening Unit (CaST) to become ILRI’s Head of Asia. At the end of 2011, Purvi relocated from Nairobi, Kenya, to New Delhi, India. Abdou Fall and Boni Siboniso continue as ILRI regional representatives in, respectively, West and Southern Africa

Earlier in 2011, the ICT team under Ian Moore moved from Partnerships and Communications into Corporate Services, reporting to Martin van Weerdenburg.

ILRI and the new CGIAR Research Programs (CRPs)
Depending on the current level of ILRI engagement/responsibility in different CRPs, ILRI staff members have been assigned different roles: ‘Director’, ‘Programme Manager’ or ‘CRP Coordinator’.

  • CRP: Climate change – The program manager responsible for leading and coordinating ILRI aspects is Mario Herrero.

ILRI strategy
Under the leadership of Shirley Tarawali, a process to develop a ‘refresh’ of ILRI’s strategic plan has been initiated. We aim to have a final document for approval by our board of trustees in November 2012.


Livestock Exchange guides ILRI’s research on livestock

LiveSTOCK Exchange LogoOn 9 and 10 November 2011, the International Livestock Research Institute (ILRI) Board of Trustees hosted a 2-day ‘liveSTOCK Exchange’ in Addis Ababa to discuss and reflect on livestock research for development. It was designed to contribute to the development of ILRI’s strategy in 2012 (see the current strategy). The event brought together about 130 participants from ILRI as well as from research and development partners.

The event was organized in six sessions

  • Livestock market opportunities for the poor: Value chain development, demand for livestock products, market-driven uptake of livestock technologies, market access and sanitary and phytosanitary (SPS) requirements … See a presentation and related issue briefs
  • Livestock impact pathways: In a session on livestock impact pathways, participants discussed ways to enhance ILRI efforts on capacity development, knowledge, gender, communication, partnerships and innovation platforms. Watch video feedback from the group discussion

Besides the rich discussions, what else came out from the event?

We prepared 19 short issue briefs synthesizing our work in the various areas. Some 30 short reflections and think pieces were also contributed by staff, partners and former staff. These are all accessible on the ILRI Clippings blog – also in ‘PDF format’ in our repository.

Hard seat interview: Brian Perry and Segenet KelemuBetween the sessions, we organized three ‘hard seat’ interviews; read – and see – them here:

The liveSTOCK Exchange also marked the leadership and contributions of Dr. Carlos Seré as ILRI Director General. During the meeting, Carlos reflected on his tenure saying “In some ways ILRI is very different from what it was 10 years ago; in other ways, it still is very much the same.” read the full blog post here and See photos of Carlos in this flickr set

This post is based on a draft prepared by Zerihun Sewunet at ILRI

Seminal and holistic review of the probable ‘futures’ of livestock production, food security and environmental protection

Watch the whole of this filmed slide presentation by ILRI’s Mario Herrero on ILRI’s film channel: The future of livestock in feeding the world (duration: 28 minutes, 25 Nov 2011).

On 9 and 10 November 2011, the ILRI Board of Trustees hosted a 2‐day ‘liveSTOCK Exchange’ to discuss and reflect on livestock research for development. ILRI systems analyst Mario Herrero gave a keynote presentation titled ‘Global Livestock: Drivers, Trends and Futures’. What follows are highlights of the first half of his talk.

We need to feed 9–10 billion people by 2050 and we need to do so at a far lower environmental cost, basically with the same amount of land and less greenhouse gas emissions and water and nutrient use and at the same time in socially and economically acceptable ways.

Food systems have been changing and they’re likely to change even more as our population increases. So the target is moving.

Livestock systems are in transition
The drivers and trends playing key roles in these changes include: the increasing human population, the ‘livestock revolution (as people get richer in emerging economies, they consume more animal products), and an unprecedented movement of people to cities.

The demand for livestock products to 2050 is going to be enormous. Total consumption is likely to be 2.5 times more than what we’ve experienced in the last decades. Just image the resource-use implications of producing all this meat and milk.

What are people eating and how are we going to produce all the new feed and food needed?
People want chicken, pork and milk; these are the livestock foods growing at the fastest rates across the world. We need to see how we can increase our efficiencies in use of fresh water, 70% of which is used for agriculture. How do we increase efficiency gains of water use in the livestock sector?

Climate change
To complicate the picture even further, we have climate change. Recent assessments are telling us that the costs of the agricultural sector adapting to climate change go as high as USD145 billion per year. That figure represents 3% of global agricultural costs per year. The $145 billion represents the cost of the added technological change that we are going to need to produce food and counteract the impacts of climate change. This is no small sum of money! Remember that the G20 committed to give USD20 billion for agricultural development. This is simply not enough.

Reality check
Food prices have been decreasing until recently. It’s likely that the increasing food prices, which severely affcct the poor, will keep on increasing. We need to be able to plan how to adjust our agricultural systems to produce more food and dampen those prices and do this without incurring a big environmental cost.

The livestock ‘balancing act’
We know that keeping livestock has many advantages—they are an important source of nutrition, especially for poor people; they generate great incomes (the value of production of livestock is in many cases far higher than that for crops); and they help poor people to manage risks; they help maintain productive landscapes; and they are raised on many lands unsuitable for other kinds of food production.

Of course, on the other hand, livestock are inherently inefficient users of land; they are large users of natural resources; they are polluters in places; they produce a significant amount of greenhouse gases; and they are an important vector for human diseases.

What is key is realizing that livestock systems differ greatly by region and circumstance. We need a nuanced understanding of how this livestock ‘balancing act’ plays out in different parts of the world. . . .

Watch the whole of this filmed slide presentation by ILRI’s Mario Herrero on ILRI’s film channel: The future of livestock in feeding the world, duration: 28 minutes, 25 Nov 2011.

On 9 and 10 November 2011, the ILRI Board of Trustees hosted a 2-day ‘liveSTOCK Exchange’ to discuss and reflect on livestock research for development. The event synthesized sector and ILRI learning and helped frame future livestock research for development directions.

The liveSTOCK Exchange also marked the leadership and contributions of Dr. Carlos Seré as ILRI Director General.  See all posts in this seriesSign up for email alerts

Biometrics and Research Methods Teaching Resource: Enhanced version 2 released this week

Students and teachers of biometrics and applied statistics in agriculture and livestock have long faced a shortage of case studies and datasets suited to African settings.

Version 2 of the Biometrics and Research Methods Teaching Resource provides 17 case studies (each with its own Excel data sets) prepared by students, lecturers and researchers at the University of Nairobi, University of Swaziland, University of Kwazulu-Natal, Islamic University of Uganda and ILRI).

Each case study follows the typical stages in a research process:

  1. Research strategy (deciding research objectives; choosing the type of study)
  2. Study design (planning the study; accounting for variation; sampling; designing an experiment; designing a survey).
  3. Data management (collecting data; organising data; storing data)
  4. Data exploration (looking at data; describing data; formulating statistical models).
  5. Data analysis (modelling data; handling variation; applying different statistical techniques – analysis of variance, regression analysis, general linear models).
  6. Reporting (interpreting and presenting results; communicating research results).

Six teaching modules complement the cases and provide additional teaching and learning material of a practical nature.
In this second version, users can be linked directly to subjects of interest. The presentation and description of data sets has improved and GenStat dialog boxes now appear within the case studies. The Teaching Resource relies on the statistical package GenStat (two case studies also demonstrate the use of R), which can readily be downloaded with a ’Discovery’ version free for not-for-profit users in sub-Saharan Africa.

To make the resource more usable by teachers and students, this version will include both a zipped website version for those with intermittent internet connections so they can download the CD and separate pdf documents.

View the Teaching Resource online at

A CD version of the Resource is available on request from ILRI (contact

The Teaching resource was funded by the Ford and Rockefeller Foundations.

View an interview with John Rowlands on the resource:

New partnership agreement to extend ILRI’s livestock and forages research in China

New ILRI-CAAS partnership agreement signed

A new partnership agreement to widen research on livestock and forage diversity was signed, on 14 October 2011, between the International Livestock Research Institute and the Chinese Academy of Agricultural Sciences (photo credit: ILRI/Onesmus Mbiu).

The International Livestock Research Institute (ILRI) and the Chinese Academy of Agricultural Sciences (CAAS) today (14 October, 2011) signed an agreement to extend their shared operations in livestock and forage genetics research. Hosted in Beijing, the Chinese capital, the initiative will strengthen the already existing relationship between ILRI and CAAS that has seen the two research centres share research and facilities through the CAAS-ILRI Joint Laboratory on Livestock and Forage Genetic Resources for the past 7 years.

The joint laboratory carries out research into livestock genetics and forage species. ILRI scientists have been working in China for the past 10 years through a liaison office, which is hosted at CAAS.

This new agreement will expand operations of the joint laboratory to widen research into next generation genome sequencing that will help scientists better understand livestock and forage genetic diversity in China and other countries and conserve these unique livestock genetic resources and forage species. The new agreement will also improve training and capacity building of partners on the application of new technological discoveries in livestock and forage research.

Speaking at the signing ceremony held at ILRI’s headquarters in Nairobi, Jimmy Smith, the director general of ILRI, thanked CAAS and praised the on-going work between the two partners saying ‘the partnership in China had created new opportunities for enhancing livestock research in Asia and contributed to a better understanding on how livestock can help the poor in Asia, particularly in China.’

Read about the outputs of the CAAS-ILRI joint laboratory:

Catalogue of 100 livestock-for-development films now online

ILRI Film Page on the Web

A screenshot of a film from the catalogue of over 100 livestock-for-development films that are now online (photo credit: ILRI).

An updated catalogue of high-quality livestock-for-development films is now available for downloading. This catalogue features over 100 short videos and several 15-to-20-minute documentaries produced by the International Livestock Research Institute (ILRI) since 2006.

The 2011 collection includes features about the launch of one of the most advanced biosciences research facilities in sub-Saharan Africa, in Nairobi Kenya, where dozens of young scientists are researching ways of fighting hunger, and a new 5-year competitive grants program for researchers interested in biological innovations for food security. This year’s catalogue also includes videos on a workshop ambitious to scale up ways of empowering women farmers in Africa and Asia and films about how scientists are working to better control a wasting cattle disease that afflicts African livestock known as trypanosomosis.

Older films cover the development, in Kenya, of the first livestock insurance for African pastoralists, an award-winning film on balancing the needs of people, lands and wildlife in the Masai Mara, and interviews with scientists who are working to improve farmers’ capacity to cope with climate change in poor countries.

The catalogue lists all ILRI films and gives simple instructions on viewing them online or downloading them to your computer.

Download the ILRI film catalogue for more information

Livestock research for development focus of session at Rome Share Fair

On Tuesday 27 September, the AgriKnowledge Share Fair session on ‘Livestock Research for Development: Shifting the Paradigm’ brought together ILRI Director General Carlos Seré, FAO Assistant Director General Modibo Traoré, and IFAD Senior Technical Advisor on Livestock and Farming Systems Antonio Rota to discuss major changes, innovations and achievements in livestock research for development in the last 5-10 years.

The aim of ther session was to ‘tease out’ their views on 1) the major changes, innovations and achievements in livestock research for development – in the last 5-10 years; and 2) upcoming challenges and opportunities for sustainable livestock sector development, especially of smallholder livestock keepers.

What’s changing?

Responding to the question ‘What’s changing in the livestock sector’, Traoré answered “everything!” – but the most challenges face the smallest and poorest farmers – they are struggling to adapt to changes, to make money, and to benefit from positive trends – such as growing demands for livestock products.

Smallholder focus?

How we ensure that we grasp the opportunities offered by these growing demands is controversial, according to Seré. Should we invest in smallholders or go for large scale more commercial operations?

He argued that smallholders particularly depend much more on communal action and public sector support so we need to decide Where public knowledge will make the most difference for smallholders. Where do we have the best chances to bring people out of poverty through livestock? What will happen to the small livestock keepers when the market changes? Will they disappear?

According to Seré, the future in some areas is a transition [from small to large scale]; in others, smallholder ssytems are more sustainable. Indeed, smallholder livestock “can be very competitive” in some areas or situations.

Rota continued the focus on ‘smallness’ arguing that small livestock are ‘the’ livestock of the poorest. He said that the ere of ‘blanket solutions’ for livestock is over: We have to design projects responding to real needs, projects thast much better target specific needs, services, markets and people.

Traoré concurred that the focus of public investment in livestock development should be on small farming systems, but he cautioned that smallholders and small-scale farming don’t just need small animals; a cow is as much an asset as smaller sheep or goats.

Roles for research?

Seré suggested that livestock research as we know it struggles to meet the smallest scale. Nevertheless, we’ need to keep the focus of our investments on small farmers … as nobody else is interested in them.

A major challenge is to bring research much closer to the clients. Innovation systems that bring in many different actors, also farmers, are important to help us connect to communities.

We still need technologies, but if we want them to make a difference we need to expand what research does, encompassing institutional issues, knowledge, and capacities. For development impact, research needs to be much more than just technologies, vaccines and the like.

Rota further argued that the livestock chosen for research are also important. As a development agency, IFAD helps to catalyze research around promising ‘orphan’ animals (from a developemnt research perspective) – like poultry, camels, or guinea pigs – that offer much to smallholders but which are hardly researched and supported.

A major weakness in our approach, accoridng to Seré is that we have not been able to scale out promising livestock research results. It seems to be much more difficult and complex to design and scale livestock interventions than it is for crops. Innovation systems thinking is again important here as it helps us gain a better understanding of the whole picture.

For Traoré, what is wrong in our approach is not that we have been unable to make many improvements … the problem is that some people see small farming systems as a transition phase only, not something where improvements should be scaled and continued. In his view, small-scale systems will remain and will continue to provide livelihoods for millions of people.

Questions and answers

The panelists reacted to questions from the audience, including:

  • What’s the key factor determining the adoption of livestock technologies? Seré explained that research often does have the solutions and the technologies, but at different times, and for moving targets. If the incentives are right, technologies will get adopted. There is also a good reason why some technologies are [still] on the shelf … they will be needed in the future! Rota added that technologies will be adopted when we put more money in the pockets of the farmers.
  • Why is the livestock sector not better-funded? Is it because the image of livestock in developed countries is rather negative (methane emissins etc) –  and how do we counter this? Traoré commented that the image of livestock in the north is not the same as livestock in the south. We need to convert northern views to see that livestock [in the south] are goods whose development needs to be supported. This is a communication problem that we all need to work on.  Rota further argued that if we want the donors to fund livestock, then we need to have and to present convincing numbers, data and evidencee that show how livestock really do bring people out of poverty. At this time, “we dont have the data” we need.
  • Livestock on farms are integrated, how do we ensure that crops and livestock are integrated in development projects and in research?  According to Seré: we need to make sure that assessments of crops (returns, beenfits etc) also take account of the livestock dimensions.
  • How do farmers get the best advice and information, for instance on the ‘right’ types of cows for their situations? Seré emphasized the important commercial drivers determining what cows (or other technologies) are provided to farmers; it is thus difficult to provide quick clear-cut answers to this question.

View the webcast:

More on ILRI livestock scientists among top African women awardees: Panel remarks by Lillian Wambua

Announcement of AWARD Fellowship winners of 2011: Nairobi

Lillian Wambua (second right), a researcher in ILRI’s Biotechnology Theme and one of the 2011 African Women in Agricultural Research and Development (AWARD) fellowship winners, among panelists at the 2011 AWARD fellowship announcement (photo credit: ILRI/Njiru).

Following are remarks made by ILRI researcher Lillian Wambua during the announcement of the 2011 fellowships of the African Women in Agricultural Research and Development (AWARD) winners held on Thursday 18 August at Jacaranda Hotel in Nairobi

‘As a little girl, growing up in the arid Makueni District of Kenya’s Eastern Province, my family’s few goats, chicken and humped zebu cattle were the most important assets we had. The sandy and stony land although vast, was largely unproductive. Unable to count on growing food crops, our livestock were the key to our livelihood. The same holds true for rural populations across much of the African continent. Livestock are essential to their wellbeing.’

‘My work as a young scientist is particularly important when you consider the challenges we are facing with climate change and the current drought and the famine in our region. The drought has been particularly devastating for livestock keepers. At the same time, we are dealing with a mounting list of challenges. The world is getting warmer. We are seeing more sudden floods and more prolonged droughts. These changing weather patterns affect the distribution and prevalence of livestock diseases.’

‘During my studies, I realized that DNA technology held the key to future discoveries that would tackle many problems, including livestock diseases. During my first degree, I had the opportunity to work at the International Livestock Research Institute (ILRI) here in Nairobi.’

‘It was here that I knew I was on the right path.’

‘Now every day, my work is finding lasting solutions to secure healthy herds of livestock for rural populations. We are tapping into genetic diversity so these animals can adapt to changing environments and disease pressure and live long and strong to benefit farmers.’

‘In particular, I hope to help women farmers, as they and their children are the majority of the agriculture work force. I want to empower them so they can step up their agriculture activities and improve their own livelihoods.’

‘As a post doctoral fellow, in the early stages of an independent research career, I am truly looking forward to the opportunities that he African Women in Agricultural Research and Development (AWARD) will open up for me. I am looking forward to the visibility the fellowship might enable me to have and am excited about the potential to form strategic and lasting partnerships in my work. I see this as the start of a very exciting two-year period that has the potential to catapult my career.’

‘I look forward to the leadership skills I will acquire, to be a research leader and trend setter in my field.’

‘In this world you cannot accomplish great things alone. We need to collaborate. We need partnerships. I look forward to learning from my AWARD mentor and the other strong, intelligent and dedicated women scientists that I will have the opportunity to connect with through the AWARD program.

‘I have worked hard to get to this place, and know my work is just beginning. I am thankful for this opportunity offered by this program and look forward to each exciting day ahead in the process of finding solutions for our rural farmers.’

For more information on the ILRI’s 2011 African Women in Agricultural Research and Development (AWARD) fellowship winners and the projects they work in, visit the ILRI biotechnology theme blog: