Scissors and crazy glue: Lorne Babiuk, award-winning vaccine evangelist, speaks his (clear) mind in Ottawa

Vish Nene and new ILRI Board Member

Director of ILRI’s vaccine development program Vish Nene (left) with Canadian vaccinologist and ILRI board member Lorne Babiuk (right) at morning tea with ILRI staff (photo credit: ILRI/Susan MacMillan).

Canadian Lorne Babiuk, an internationally recognized leader in vaccine research, visited the International Development Research Centre (IDRC) in Ottawa yesterday (8 Oct 2013) to deliver a live webcast talk on exciting breakthroughs in the development of animal vaccines, which, he argued, can both improve global food security and reduce the global impacts of infectious diseases.

Babiuk is vice-president of research at the University of Alberta and the recipient of two recent distinguished awards for his outstanding career in vaccinology — the Gairdner Wightman Award in 2012 and the Killam Prize in Health Sciences in 2013. He serves on the board of trustees of the International Livestock Research Institute (ILRI).

For all his illustrious awards, Babiuk talked not like a scientist but rather like ‘a regular guy’, preferring to speak of  ‘scissors’ and ‘crazy glue’ to describe molecular advances in vaccinology rather than use scientific jargon.

Here’s some of what he said.

One billion people go to bed hungry every night. Not hungry like you and me when we miss a meal. But hungry, really hungry, every day, day in and day out. By 2050, we’ll have another 2 billion people to feed. The last time I checked, they were not making more land. So we’re going to have to do more with the land (and livestock) that we have. We have an opportunity to develop new approaches to increase food supplies or to have a lot more hungry people.

The developing world is looking for more and more protein; those of us in the developed world should not deny them that.

Livestock are a critical component of smallholder farming, which supports about two billion people, some two-thirds of them women

I’ve spent my career in infectious diseases. They matter partly because they cost so much. Alberta has still not recovered from BSE. And SARS cost a staggering USD100 billion—USD2 billion in Ontario alone.

Some 74% of new or emerging diseases are ‘zoonotic’, which means they’re transmitted from animals to humans, or from humans to animals. The economic impacts of zoonoses are huge for farmers, for producers, for international traders . . .

I have concerns about Rift Valley fever spreading to North America. The West Nile virus, which has the same kind of vector, has already arrived here.

Technology and biotechnology can be a saviour, but it’s a challenge because we have a large number of people against genetically modified food. We have to work with social scientists to make sure we have healthy animals for healthy people

Basic research and applied research are two sides of the same coin—the two of them need each other.
We no longer train our biologists in broad biology but rather in narrower molecular biology studies. That’s a mistake.
We biological scientists must get smarter at engaging social science and scientists.

Vaccination has saved more lives than all other treatments and prophylactics combined.
The traditional types of vaccines, live or killed, have given way to really interesting new types.
We eradicated smallpox with a vaccine; that research would never be approved today because the vaccine has too many side effects.
What can we do to change perceptions of vaccines and biotechnology?
It costs something in the order of one billion dollars to get a vaccine approved.

The major obstacle in Africa is to get a commercial company to invest in the regulatory component of a vaccine because there isn’t a financial incentive. You can’t sell a livestock vaccine for much more then 50 cents per dose in a developing countries. That’s why we have to work with African or Asian vaccine companies, which can produce vaccines much cheaper than industrial countries can.

Several diseases in the developing world are protozoan and those are, of course, much bigger challenges. But there have been new donors for protozoan vaccine research. We need to convince more donors that this research is needed.

I’m an evangelist for vaccination because I think we have lost the battle to the anti-vaccine lobby. In North Amercia there is a huge anti-tech group. They misquote or use data to push their own agenda at the expense of large numbers of lives lost. Look at the article published decades ago about a possible link between vaccination and autism. Despite decades of subsequent research showing no such links, we still haven’t managed to convince a lot of people that vaccines do not cause autism.

How do we encourage the scientific community to stand up and be more vocal about what they know? We have to continue to advocate and demonstrate what we can do using the new technology. We should promise less and deliver more. We have been our own worst enemies. We have to be realists and say what can be done in what time period. That will give us back some credibility.

People go into science because they like doing the science part of it. If they loved the podium, they would have gone into the social sciences. We need to encourage others to do this kind of communication.

Any successful researcher has to stimulate the team around him or her and make them all feel part of something big. Getting people excited about working together as a team, providing a vision, and saying how the team can achieve something, that’s what I’m good at. Get people passionate about something and get them to know it’s their idea. I’m a facilitator. I don’t tell people what to do. I create an environment that facilitates what they do. You have to accept different cultures, different ways of doing science. You have to have patience and go with the flow. I learned patience.

I still get up in the morning and put one leg in my pants and then the other, just like everyone else.

Lorne Babiuk manages a grant funded by the Canadian International Food Security Research Fund (CIFSRF), among others. CIFSRF is a CA$124.5-million program of IDRC undertaken with financial support from the Government of Canada. CIFSRF supports applied research partnerships between Canadian and developing-country organizations to find lasting solutions to hunger and food insecurity. It is a core element of Canada’s Food Security Strategy.

For more information, see the IDRC website.

The livestock boom in India: Pathways to an increasingly profitable, pro-poor and sustainable sector

Dairy cows, buffaloes and other livestock are kept in India's urban as well as rural areas.

India, already the world’s biggest milk producer and beef exporter (mostly water buffalo), is investing in research to ensure that its poorest people reap increasing benefits from raising farm animals and do so in increasingly sustainable and healthy ways (photo credit: ILRI/Susan MacMillan).

Key recommendations from a high-level partnership dialogue held last November (2012) by the International Livestock Research Institute (ILRI) and the Indian Council for Agricultural Research (ICAR) have recently been published. These policy recommendations from ILRI and ICAR were released last week in New Delhi, India, by ILRI’s director general Jimmy Smith and ILRI’s deputy director general for integrated sciences John McIntire.

The ILRI-ICAR white paper distills major recommendations made at the partnership dialogue and serves as a basis for pro‐poor and sustainable livestock policy interventions in India.

The following excerpt is from the executive summary of this new publication.

‘With 485 million livestock plus 489 million poultry, India ranks first in global livestock population. Livestock keeping has always been an integral part of the socio‐economic and cultural fabric of rural India. In recent years, India’s livestock sector has been booming. Livestock now contribute about 25% of the output of the agricultural sector and the sub‐sector is growing at a rate of about 4.3% a year. With over 80% of livestock production being carried out by small‐scale and marginalized farmers, the benefits livestock generate for India’s poor are enormous and diverse.

‘Aimed to help cultivate joint learning, knowledge exchange and future partnership, the meeting brought together participants from 12 countries, including India. The attendance comprised of senior departmental heads in the government, directors of ICAR animal sciences national institutes, university vice chancellors, deans of veterinary universities, senior staff of leading non‐governmental organizations operating, representatives of farmer cooperatives, heads of private‐sector companies, and leaders and managers of international agencies including the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation, the United Nations Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) and the World Bank. All members of the ILRI Board of Trustees participated, as did officials of other CGIAR bodies operating in India.

‘The high‐level dialogue was inaugurated by Dr M.S. Swaminathan, renowned for his role in India’s Green Revolution of the 1960s and 70s. Dr Swaminathan stressed the urgent need for research and development partnerships to maintain sufficient momentum for the Indian livestock growth story. . . .

Dairy and small ruminant value chains
‘The gathered experts articulated the challenges and opportunities for the country’s millions of farmers trying to earn their living from small dairy and ruminant enterprises. What was critical was the consensus among experts in understanding that development of the country’s livestock value chains depends as much on smallholder access to services and inputs as it does on supply and marketing of livestock and their products. The participants also agreed that transforming India’s livestock value chains required better infrastructure and development of a policy framework for improved animal breeding.

Improved disease control
‘A subsequent session on animal health highlighted the need for better disease diagnostics, more affordable vaccines and better veterinary service delivery for small‐scale livestock keepers if the country was to succeed in better controlling diseases of livestock, as well as the many ‘zoonotic’ diseases that originate in farm animals and infect people as well. The experts in the session agreed that ICAR‐ILRI partnership should aim at capitalizing on ICAR’s excellent decision‐support system for predicting animal disease outbreaks in the country, and modify it further so as to make it highly valued and accessible for extensive use by scientists, administrators and policymakers alike.

Livestock nutrition
‘In another session presenting problems in animal nutrition, it was agreed that both conventional and new technologies should take ecological as well as economic considerations into account. With constant increase of animal numbers anticipated over the coming decades, fodder scarcities will have to be addressed through research work conducted to ensure the bio‐availability and digestibility of fodders available to India’s small‐scale livestock farmers.

‘All sessions of the all‐day dialogue named productive partnerships as crucial to bringing varied expertise together for designing sustainable solutions. In unison, the participants opinioned that such multi‐institutional and multi‐disciplinary expertise must understand that India’s animal expertise needs to ‘go to scale’ even as resources in fodder, land and water become ever more stretched.

‘Speakers and responders in the final session of the dialogue acknowledged the growing need of targeted research and development partnership in the country’s livestock sector. At the close of the day’s discussions, ILRI and ICAR signed a memorandum of understanding to help get research into use so as to accelerate the travel of research from laboratory to field, where it can transform lives of poor people.’

Download/read the publication: Livestock research and development summary report of the ICAR-ILRI Partnership Dialogue, 2013.

Read more about the Partnership Dialogue, 7 November 2012 on the ILRI News Blog:
India’s booming livestock sector: On the cusp?–Or on a knife edge?, 8 Nov 2013.

Zimbabwean beef farmer, livestock scientist and agricultural policy thinker assumes chair of ILRI’s Board of Trustees

Lindiwe Sibanda

Trained animal scientist and practicing commercial beef cattle farmer Lindiwe Sibanda, who for years has been one of the most influential thinkers in agriculture, food security and climate change global policy, has been appointed chair of the ILRI Board of Trustees.

New board chair
The board of trustees of the International Livestock Research Institute (ILRI), at its 38th meeting in New Delhi, India, in November 2012, appointed Lindiwe Majele Sibanda as board chair.

Lindiwe Sibanda takes over from Knut Hove, who has served on ILRI’s board since 2005 and as board chair since November 2009.

Sibanda has served on the ILRI board since 2009, most recently as chair of the board’s human resources and nominations committees.

Sibanda represents three ‘firsts’ for ILRI: She is ILRI’s first female board chair, ILRI’s first board chair from a developing country and the youngest of all of ILRI’s previous board chairs.

Sibanda has a wealth of experience in research, partnerships and management. Born in Bulawayo, Zimbabwe, she received her agricultural training in Egypt, the UK and Zimbabwe, where her doctoral studies focused on the nutritional requirements of lactating goats. Her portfolio includes policy research and advocacy programs on food policies, agricultural productivity and markets, rural livelihoods and climate change.

Since 2004, Sibanda has been CEO and head of mission of the Food, Agriculture and Natural Resources Policy Analysis Network (FANRPAN), based in South Africa, where she coordinates high-level policy research and advocacy programs aimed at making Africa a food-secure continent.

On her ‘hot topics’, which include poverty, hunger and malnutrition, water scarcity and climate change, Sibanda is a formidable force. Since 2008, Sibanda has been a leading advocate for Farming First—advocating a holistic approach to sustainable agricultural development. In 2009 she led the No Agriculture, No Deal global campaign and mobilized African civil society organizations to push for the inclusion of agriculture in the Copenhagen negotiations of the United Nations Framework for Climate Change Convention. In 2010 she was invited to serve on the Guardian’s Global Development advisory panel. In 2011, she was nominated to serve on the independent science panel of the CGIAR Research Program on Climate Change, Agriculture and Food Security.

Sibanda is as forthright as she is committed. This year, for example, at the 35th session of the governing council of the International Fund for Agricultural Research (IFAD), following an address by Bill Gates, Sibanda lamented ‘the lack of leadership amidst the African countries who are yet to put farming first, despite the 2004 CAADAP pledge to dedicate 10% of national budgets in Africa towards agriculture’. She also highlighted the ‘disjoint’ between technology and policy: ‘Despite the technologies being available to farmers for soil/animal management and water harvesting, policies are restricting farmers’ ability to use them.’

In an interview with the Global Citizens Initiative, Sibanda said: ‘I believe the world needs to take a 360 degree approach to development; that is, we must look at development not only for economic gain, but also for social gain and environmental gain. In other words we have to feed the fiscus, feed the family, and feed the environment. Without balancing our investment across these three domains, we will reach a tipping point and our growth will not be sustainable. We are currently taking more than we give back. Our goal should be to reap an optimum yield from our development investments not a maximum yield. Sustainability is about more for less.’

With all her passionate advocating and policy work, Sibanda still finds time in her busy schedule to manage her beef cattle farm in Zimbabwe. (Her imposing livestock credentials outstrip most of the rest of ILRI’s staff, management and board!) Find out more by visiting the FANRPAN website.

Two new board members
At the same November 2012 meeting of ILRI’s board of trustees, ILRI board members and management welcomed two new members to ILRI’s board.

Rodney Cooke, British, was until recently director of the Policy and Technical Advisory Division at the International Fund for Agricultural Research (IFAD), based in Rome. Before this (1995–2000), Cooke was director of the Technical Centre for Agriculture and Rural Development, in Wageningen, Netherlands. Before that, he was deputy director of the Natural Resources Institute, in Chatham, UK. Cooke brings a wealth of experience in agriculture and rural development, including aspects such as institutional appraisal, corporate planning and management of change; project identification, implementation, monitoring and evaluation; R&D management and technology transfer and training programs. Trained in biochemistry in the UK and US, Cooke has a breadth of skills in conventional science through to its application in agricultural development. He has worked in Latin America, Africa, India and Southeast Asia. View a recent presentation Cooke made at a Science Symposium hosted by the International Crops Research Institute for the Semi-Arid Tropics: Smallholder farmers confronting rain-fed agriculture: lessons learnt as we approach the MDGs of 2015.

Suzanne Petersen is also British but based in the USA, where she has been a marketing, brand, business and product manager for Land O’Lakes Purina Feed, leading the company’s marketing of feed for cattle, dairy cows and swine. Trained in physiology and poultry feed research in the UK and Australia, Petersen has  considerable experience in the feed sector, including market analysis and strategy development in a private sector context in Switzerland and the United States. She brings a unique blend of private sector, feeds research, business development and marketing skills to ILRI’s board. Find out more about Petersen’s work and company at the Land O’Lakes website:

New director general of global livestock research institute appointed: World Bank livestock advisor Jimmy Smith

Jimmy Smith

New director general designate of the International Livestock Research Institute (ILRI) Jimmy Smith (photo credit: ILRI/Paul Karaimu).

Jimmy Smith has been appointed the new director general designate of the International Livestock Research Institute (ILRI).

ILRI board chair Knut Hove made the announcement at the 35th meeting of the ILRI Board of Trustees, on 13 April 2011, to an afternoon gathering of ILRI staff, management and board.

In his announcement, Hove said, ‘We are facing challenges to make livestock more beneficial to the poor and less harmful to the environments of the poor. We think Jimmy Smith is a strong leader for ILRI, one who will open up new partnerships for pro-poor livestock research.’

Born in Guyana, in the Caribbean, where he was raised on a small mixed crop-and-livestock farm, Smith holds dual nationalities with Canada. He is a graduate of the University of Illinois, at Urban-Champaign, USA, where he completed hid PhD in animal sciences. Now based at the headquarters of the World Bank, in Washington, DC, he currently leads the Bank’s Global Livestock Portfolio.

Earlier in his career, Smith served for ten years at ILRI and its predecessor, the International Livestock Centre for Africa (ILCA) (1991–2001). At ILCA and then ILRI, Smith was the institute’s regional representative for West Africa, where he led development of integrated research promoting smallholder livelihoods through animal agriculture and built effective partnerships among stakeholders in the region. At ILRI, Smith spent three years leading the ILRI-led Systemwide Livestock Programme of the Consultative Group on International Agricultural Research (CGIAR), an association of 10 CGIAR centres working on issues at the crop-livestock interface. Since leaving his decade of work at ILCA/ILRI and the CGIAR, Smith has continued playing a major role in supporting international livestock for development in terms of both funding and strategizing.

Before joining the World Bank, where he has served for five years, Smith held senior positions at the Canadian International Development Agency (CIDA) (2001-2006) and the Caribbean Agricultural Research and Development Institute (CARDI) (1986–1991).

Smith will take over from Carlos Seré, ILRI’s current director general. The actual date of change-over will be announced in the near future and is expected to take place in the next 6 months.

Smith said, ‘I congratulate Carlos Seré, John McDermott [ILRI deputy director geneneral-research] and all ILRI staff for their work in making this institute such a strong player in livestock for development. Every member of staff has a contribution to make. My commitment is to take ILRI to even higher heights. I am excited about coming here and look forward to working with all of you. I hope I can demonstrate that I earn your trust and hard work.’

Seré commented, ‘I have known Jimmy for ten years and have learned to appreciate his many talents. He is familiar with important constituencies of livestock research and understands our partners well. We appreciate how strongly he has promoted the global livestock agenda in his work for CIDA and the World Bank and we believe he brings a number of important assets to the family. We will support him completely.’

ILRI Board Chair Hove said: ‘Jimmy Smith has an impeccable track record in developing extensive networks in the livestock sector globally and with development partners around the world. He is familiar with the CGIAR reform process and the international agricultural research agenda. We have full confidence that Jimmy Smith will build upon the strong ILRI foundation and provide the leadership and vision to propel ILRI to greater heights.’

Click on the slide presentation below to watch Smith’s presentation to the ILRI community.

Board members to select new head of International Livestock Research Institute

Wondirad Mandefro, State Minister of Agriculture, Ethiopia

New ILRI Board Member Wondirad Mandefro Gebru, State Minister in the Ministry of Agriculture in Ethiopia, giving the opening address at a workshop on ‘Gender and Market-Oriented Agriculture’ that was organized and hosted by ILRI in Addis Ababa, Ethiopia, 31 January to 2 February 2011 (photo credit: ILRI/Habtamu).

The 35th meeting of the Board of Trustees of the International Livestock Research Institute (ILRI), being held at ILRI’s headquarters in Nairobi, Kenya, 10–13 April 2011, will mark a milestone for the institute, with selection and appointment of a new director general.

The second five-year term of ILRI’s present director general, Uruguayan agricultural economist Carlos Seré, who took up his position in January 2002, expires at the end of 2011. Two candidates for his replacement will make presentations and interact with the ILRI board and staff during the week of the board meeting. The outcome of the selection process is expected to be announced at the end of the board meeting.

Board members will also review an interim strategy for 2011–2012 that ILRI has developed. ILRI developed its current strategy, ‘Livestock: A Pathway out of Poverty’, covering the years 2003 through 2010, in 2002 through institute-wide discussions and consultations with key stakeholders. Since then, ILRI’s management team and board of trustees have reviewed the strategy every 2 to 3 years. Given an on-going reform process in the Consultative Group on International Agricultural Research (CGIAR), to which ILRI and 14 other centres belong, plus the formation of a new Consortium of CGIAR Centres and the development of a new Consortium Research Program, ILRI’s board and management determined that it would be best for ILRI to modify rather than reformulate its existing strategy to guide the institute during the upcoming 2-year transition period, from the beginning of 2011 through the end of 2012, by which time it is expected that ILRI will initiate development of a full new strategy, when the new Consortium of CGIAR Centres is more firmly established, to guide the institute from 2013 onward.

The CGIAR Consortium recently approved a Strategy and Results Framework, which will guide funding in the future. And the CGIAR Consortium and Fund are working with the CGIAR Centres and partners to create some 15 CGIAR Research Programmes (CRPs). ILRI will be be involved in many of the 15 CRPs, and will play major roles in three of them: CRP3.7, focusing on increasing the productivity of livestock and fish farming, which ILRI leads; CRP4, on improving agriculture for better human nutrition and health; and CRP7, on climate change, agriculture and food security.

This 25th meeting of ILRI’s board of trustees will welcome Wondirad Mandefro Gebru, State Minister in the Ministry of Agriculture in Ethiopia, to the board. Wondirad Mandefro’s scientific career has focused on increasing crop production through improved plant protection. His specific training and expertise is in applied genetics (MSc from Addis Abeba University) and nematology (MSc from the University of Ghent, in Belgium). He worked as a researcher for more than two decades at the Ambo Plant Protection Research Centre of the Ethiopian Institute of Agricultural Research. For three years, from 2007 to 2010, Wondirad served as director of the Agricultural Extension Directorate in Ethiopia’s Ministry of Agriculture and Rural Development. In October 2010, he was appointed State Minister in the Ministry of Agriculture. He also serves as the national focal point for the Comprehensive African Agricultural Development Program and as a member of the Board of the Ethiopian Seed Enterprise.

Canadian vaccine research leader Lorne Babiuk joins the board of trustees of the International Livestock Research Institute

Vish Nene and new ILRI Board Member

ILRI biotechnology director Vish Nene (left) and new ILRI board member Lorne Babiuk (right) at the November 2010 meeting of the ILRI Board of Trustees (photo credit: ILRI/MacMillan).

Lorne Babiuk, a leader in Canadian vaccine research and vice-president for research at the University of Alberta, Canada, joined the board of trustees of the International Livestock Research Institute (ILRI) this month (November 2010), when he attended his first board meeting, held at ILRI’s headquarters, in Nairobi, Kenya.

As vice-president of research, Babiuk facilitates the University of Alberta’s research, builds research consortia and strengthens the university’s international research links and collaborations. In 2010, the university opened the Li Ka Shing Institute of Virology, an institute created through a combined gift of $25-million from the Li Ka Shing (Canada) Foundation and $52.5-million from the Government of Alberta. The donation—the largest cash gift in the university’s history—will provide a state-of-the-art home to some of the world’s very best researchers in virus-based diseases. The new institute is working to attract significant private-sector collaboration with multinational pharmaceutical and life sciences companies.

Since 2005, Babiuk has also served as principal investigator on a grant from the Bill and Melinda Gates ‘Grand Challenge in Global Health’ program, in which he and his team are developing vaccines against whooping cough (pertussis) in infants and young children, to be delivered in a single dose, without use of a needle. Children now need five doses of the vaccine to be fully protected and few children in the developing world get all the boosters.

Babiuk also supports Albertan research initiatives such as the Pan Albertan Neuroscience Network. As vice-president, he established an annual event that celebrates the breadth and depth of the university’s research in all disciplines—from social sciences to the arts, humanities, medical, agricultural, natural sciences and engineering. He has consistently fostered research that crosses traditional disciplinary boundaries by, for example, supporting collaborations between social scientists and medical, agricultural and engineering researchers. And he helped develop the infrastructure needed by researchers in all fields to be more successful in individual and team grants.

Before moving to the University of Alberta, Babiuk built up a research institute—the Vaccine and Infectious Disease Organization (VIDO), at the University of Saskatchewan—which became internationally recognized as a leader in new vaccine development. In 2005, he completed a US$19.4 million expansion of VIDO, and just before leaving VIDO, he assembled the funding needed to build a $140-million level-three bio-containment facility for work on infectious diseases.

Earlier in his career, Babiuk was part of a research consortium that developed and began testing a vaccine for SARS (sever acute respiratory syndrome) within 18 months of its outbreak in Canada. In addition to SARS and whooping cough, Babiuk has led research into the herpes virus and the respiratory syncitial virus and created a vaccine against rotavirus in calves, which allowed researchers later to develop a vaccine for rotavirus in children.

After completing a master’s degree in soil microbiology, Babiuk earned a PhD in virology from the University of British Columbia and a DSc from the University of Saskatchewan’s Department of Veterinary Microbiology. He has mentored over 90 graduate students and postdoctoral fellows and published over 500 peer-reviewed manuscripts and 100 book chapters or reviews. He holds 28 issued patents and has 18 patents pending.

ILRI board member Dieter Schillinger awarded Wilhelm-Pfeiffer Medal for his contribution to veterinary medicines

Dieter Schillinger

Dieter Schillinger, member of the board of trustees of the International Livestock Research Institute (ILRI), has been awarded the 2010 Wilhelm-Pfeiffer Medal of the Justus-Liebig University in Giessen, Germany, to honour his 'outstanding contribution and service to promote research and innovation in veterinary medicines'.

The medal is awarded annually by the German university's faculty of veterinary medicine to people who have provided outstanding services to veterinary medicine. Schillinger, a doctor of veterinary medicine, received the award on 16 July 2010 during a graduation ceremony at Justus-Liebig University.

German-born Schillinger is based in Lyon, France, where he has served the pharmaceutical company Merial as Head of Public Affairs for Europe, Middle East and Africa since 2006. He is responsible for government relations and the management of Merial’s activities in the political and public policy arenas. Merial is a world-leader in animal health with a proven track record in producing pharmaceutical products and vaccines for livestock, pets and wildlife.

For further information, please see the following news release (in German).

One world, one health, one airspace

Iceland’s recent volcanic eruption gives the international agricultural research community a welcome pause

Seldom has the world experienced a more dramatic demonstration of the interconnectedness of the modern world. Like the volcanic dust that since 14 April has spewed and spread from southern Iceland south and east over the upper airspace of northern Europe, air flights, and more than one million travelers and their planned activities, were suspended.

Three men who have likely not had three consecutive unplanned days for more than three decades were trapped by these unprecedented events for three glorious sunny days in Ethiopia’s highland capital of Addis Ababa. The three, all with veterinary backgrounds, are members of the board of trustees of the International Livestock Research Institute (ILRI), which had just completed its 33rd meeting on ILRI’s large leafy campus in Addis. They had just signed an agreement for ILRI to join a new Consortium of International Agricultural Research Centres, signaling a new phase in the nearly four decades of operations of ILRI and its two predecessors, the International Laboratory for Research on Animal Diseases and the International Livestock Centre for Africa.

Knut Hove, Rector of the University of Life Sciences in Norway, was trying to fly back to Oslo. Jim Dargie, chair of the program committee of ILRI’s board, was trying to get to his home in Austria. Dieter Schillinger was trying to get to Lyon, France, where he heads public affairs at Merial, one of the world’s largest animal health companies. All three men took this remarkable occasion to get out and about in Ethiopia, first taking a day trip into the farmland countryside. This was the first time many staff had seen these men in jeans and other casual wear. And it was the first for many to have extended, relaxed conversations with them while using the Budpop hemp . Indeed, many things during these abnormal days seemed hyper normal on ILRI’s Addis campus.

Hitting the pause button
We will never know the full human costs of this volcanic eruption near the Arctic Circle, far from most human habitation. But we at ILRI already have quick and ready evidence of some of its human benefits. For once, the ILRI research community was forced to slow down, with many staff and board members experiencing enough time to take time with, and for, one another, getting to know each other better and in new ways. We would not go so far as to say that the busy ILRI community managed to approximate the civilized ‘slow time of the plough’ in the great livestock-keeping communities that ILRI’s research serves here in the Ethiopian highlands. But in the unexpected space that opened up this week, it did appear that ILRI took a moment to take a breath—and take stock, as it were.

This was doubly fortunate as ILRI’s scientific team leaders are now in the thick of marathon writing tasks as they prepare white papers on the roles of livestock research for ‘Mega Programs’ being fashioned by the new Consortium of International Agricultural Research Centres, which works to enhance agricultural livelihoods and lives in poor countries of the South. Much about these new global and long-term Mega Programs, and the roles of livestock research in them, apparently will be determined over the next two to three weeks. Much thus appears to be at stake for this research community and its many partners and beneficiaries.

It would thus appear advantageous that an icy volcano far to the North should have erupted when it did, giving members of the pro-poor international agricultural research community pause before embarking on their speedy development of frameworks for new research programs with and for countries of the South. For when all the drafts of all the white papers being developed are finalized, and when all the hard choices are finally made about what research will be funded and what not in the new Mega Programs of the new Consortium, one factor will have remained unchanged—that is the human factor. The volcanic pause this week serves to remind us that who and how we are for one another in this large and diverse community of agricultural scientists is likely to matter far more than what ideas we get onto paper, and embedded into proposals, over the next few weeks.

Looking to a bright future for livestock research

Lindiwe Sibanda Lindiwe Majele Sibanda joined the Board of Trustees of ILRI (International Livestock Research Institute) in 2009. She has just attended her second meeting, held in Addis Ababa, Ethiopia.  ‘By the time I arrived in 2009, it was clear that ILRI would be part of a new Consortium of International Agricultural Research Centers, and this was a particularly exciting time to join the board,’ she says.  The agreement to join the new Consortium was formally signed this week in Addis Ababa. ‘The Consortium is effectively saying: we are a family with 15 children with different expertise, but we want you to answer to one surname, and the new surname is Poverty Reduction.’  In the past, she says, the centres tended to work in ‘silos’, building their own empires and strengthening the walls between them.  Those days are now over.

Sibanda brings a range of skills to ILRI.  Born in Bulawayo, Zimbabwe, she received her agricultural training in Egypt, the UK and Zimbabwe, where her PhD studies focused on the nutritional requirements of lactating goats. She was known by villagers as ‘the woman who wears gumboots and overalls.’  Since 2004, she has been chief executive officer of the Food, Agriculture and Natural Resources Policy Analysis Network (FANRPAN), based in South Africa, and she still makes regular visits to her beef farm in Zimbabwe.

‘One of the reasons I was keen to join ILRI was because I'd been sceptical about the CGIAR and its contribution to development in the South,’ she says.  ‘At FANRPAN, we found it hard to see how research outputs from centers like ILRI informed policy, and we lacked the sort of evidence we needed in our dialogue with government and others.’ 

As a member of the board, Sibanda hopes she can take the research outputs and messages from ILRI to the wider world, making them relevant and useful to governments, NGOs, the private sector and to the key beneficiaries, the world's poor livestock farmers.  ‘Among other things, I will advocate for more resources,’ she says.  Over the past 30 years or so, funds for agricultural research have declined.  "That's partly because we haven't had enough ammunition, in the shape of good qualitative evidence about the importance of livestock, to counter the decline."

It is time to buck the trend, she says, but that will only happen if research organizations communicate their findings effectively to the outside world. ‘In this new era, I believe we have to invest heavily in communications, and make it clear that scientific research must be properly funded if we are to create a food-secure world where we don't have 1 billion people going to bed hungry every night.’

Livestock research at ILRI: A view from the North

Dieter SchillingerDieter Schillinger joined the board of trustees of the International Livestock Research Institute (ILRI) in 2009. This week he attended his second meeting of the board, held in Addis Ababa, Ethiopia.

He first got to know one of ILRI's forebears, the International Laboratory for Research on Animal Diseases (ILRAD), in the 1980s. He was then head of a German project developing new pharmaceuticals for trypanosomosis, a tsetse-borne disease that causes major problems for Africa’s livestock farmers. ‘We didn't have any success for trypanosomosis in cattle, but we did better with camels,’ he recalls, ‘and I still think of myself as a “camelophile”’.

A veterinarian by training, he now works as head of public affairs for Merial, one of the world's largest animal health companies, and chairs the Food Chain Committee of the International Federation for Animal Health.

One of the first things to impress Schillinger at ILRI was the broad range of interests represented on the board. ‘This came as a welcome surprise,’ he explains, adding that ILRI is a very different beast to ILRAD. ‘ILRAD was very focused on animal health research, whereas ILRI has a more balanced approach, integrating a range of different research activities related to livestock farming,’ he explains.

According to Schillinger, ILRI has an important role to play not just in providing solutions to the problems facing livestock farmers in the developing world, but in alerting people in the North to the importance of animal health issues. ‘Nowadays, everybody in Europe—politicians, the public, nongovernmental organizations—looks at livestock from the point of view of animal welfare,’ he says. ‘That's a good thing, but without good animal health, you don't have good animal welfare, and the research conducted by ILRI is therefore leading to better animal welfare.’

Schillinger also believes that ILRI's research can provide significant benefits for human health in the North. ‘Here’s an institution that’s working on diseases in Africa that could spread to Europe, including zoonotic diseases that can be transmitted from livestock to humans,’ he says. With the increase in travel and trade, and the likely effects of global warming, the risk of diseases spreading from one continent to another has risen.

‘If we can control livestock diseases in Africa, they are less likely to spread, and I think there will be more funds for this sort of research in the future,’ he says. ILRI can legitimately claim to be conducting research that benefits not only the rural poor in Africa but also the wealthier populations in the North.

International Livestock Research Institute joins new Consortium of International Agricultural Research Centres

Knut Hove signs document, right Carlos SereKnut Hove, chair of the board of trustees of the Africa-based International Livestock Research Institute (ILRI), yesterday, 14 April 2010, signed an agreement on behalf of ILRI to join a new Consortium of International Agricultural Research Centres.

A ‘Resolution of the ILRI Board of Trustees Regarding the Agreement of the Consortium Constitution’, developed during the 33rd Meeting of the ILRI Board of Trustees, held on ILRI’s campus in Addis Ababa, Ethiopia, states that the ILRI Board ‘endorses the principles outlined in the Consortium Constitution and wishes to reiterate its support for the CGIAR [Consultative Group on International Agricultural Research] reform process’.

The ILRI Board noted the following in its resolution. ‘The livestock sector accounts for as much as 40 percent of agricultural gross domestic product in many developing countries and is the basis of livelihoods for hundreds of millions of poor people. Further, zoonotic diseases—i.e. diseases that spread from animals to humans—account for 70 percent of emerging diseases, and yet, in developing countries and internationally, investments in livestock research are not commensurate with its importance in the agricultural sector.

The ILRI Board is confident that the Consortium recognizes this inconsistency and that together we will be able to redress this imbalance.’

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Rencontre avec Modibo Traore, membre du Conseil d’Administration de l’Institut International de Recherche sur l’Elevage (ILRI)

Modibo Traore Membre du Conseil d’Administration de l’ILRI depuis 2005, Modibo Traoré a d’abord débuté comme jeune vétérinaire au Mali. Il travaillait sur les maladies du bétail, notamment la trypanosomose, et est venu régulièrement en formation à l’ILCA (maintenant ILRI) à Addis Abeba, centre qui travaillait sur les mêmes problématiques. Il peut encore vous décrire le campus dans les années 80 et s’amuse d’être parmi les anciens maintenant. M. Traoré est ensuite revenu en Ethiopie en tant que porte-parole de son pays, quand il était Ministre du Développement rural de l’Agriculture. Ensuite il a dirigé le Bureau inter-africain des resources animales de l’Union africaine pendant trois ans puis a été nommé sous-directeur général chargé du Département de l’agriculture et de la protection des consommateurs de l’Organisation des Nations Unies pour l’alimentation et l’agriculture (FAO) en 2008. “A la FAO, mon rôle est de coordonner le travail de cinq divisions qui tâchent de répondre aux questions provenant du terrain, afin de créer les synergies nécessaires”, précise t-il. Actif au Conseil d’Administration de l’ILRI, il estime que “l’important est de nous assurer de la continuité des programmes de recherches, et de respecter les orientations initiales. Le rôle de l’ILRI est aussi d’aider à organiser la réflexion par rapport à ces orientations.” Pour Modibo Traoré en effet “au Mali notamment on voit partout des nouvelles façons de faire et nous sommes peut être une espèce en voie de disparition mais il est important d’activer une mémoire collective, de ne pas foncer tête baissée dans la nouveauté.”