Inauguration of a new forage diversity lab at the International Livestock Research Institute in Ethiopia

A new forage diversity lab was inaugurated yesterday afternoon, Monday 12th April 2010, at the International Livestock Research Institute (ILRI) in Addis Ababa, Ethiopia, in the presence of the ILRI board members, the forage diversity staff and guests. Jean Hanson, forage diversity leader, looked pleased at the result, and with emotion she spoke of the lab achievement. “It is an ILRI Ethiopia lab” she said, “it will give us and students much more space to work and has now allowed all the equipment that was previously scattered to be centralised. This will also help us and our National Agricultural Research Systems (NARS) partners to be cost effective.” The construction work started in December 2008 and the building was actually ready for the board meeting which took place in Addis in November 2009. The finishing touches, supervised by Jean Hanson, were added and the spotless lab is now ready to use. Prior to the visit to the lab by participants of the inauguration, was a very symbolic planting of two Acacia Tortilis trees which will, in a few years, give shade to the molecular lab. The Chairman of the board, Knut Hove, put on his gardening gloves and efficiently planted this indigenous, dry land tree, commenting that it was “the best possible tree we could have for this lab”. Dr Hanson then emphasized that the genebank not only works on conservation of forage diversity but also on improved use of diversity for better forages which requires more molecular work with newer techniques. “The lab will allow us to work more with our sister centers of the CGIAR”, she stated, “and the nicest thing would be to bring a group of students together, who will energize the group, emulate each other, share and learn, because a major role of CG centers is capacity building.” According to Dr Ananda Ponniah, in charge of capacity strengthening at ILRI, “there is now space for more students and therefore we can also diversify students, have them coming from Ethiopia but other countries as well.” After the official cutting of the ribbon by Knut Hove and applause, the visit was led by Janice Proud, Project coordinator of the Napier grass smut and stunt resistance project, and Alexandra Jorge, Global Public Goods Project Coordinator (SGRP/CGIAR). Janice Proud explained how the new lab would help the work on Napier grass diseases, smut and stunt, which cause feed loss in Kenya, Uganda and Tanzania. “The new facility will allow us to use PCR techniques in real time. We also have some students looking at milk proteins. The beauty of a molecular lab is that you can use it for different projects”, she concluded. Alexandra Jorge talked about tissue culture and how the space would now allow the Centre “to have one dedicated area for tissue culture and therefore avoid contamination”. She also feels that the new lab will help to link better with ongoing projects such as the Napier grass project because “vegetatively-propagated crops like Napier grass can greatly benefit from production of clean plants and distribution of in vitro materials”. “We hope that a lot of publications will follow!” added the Chairman of the board. Mr Traoré, board member, also expressed that “the lab nicely complements BeCA (Biosciences eastern and central Africa) in Nairobi. Students in Ethiopia will be able to do the preliminaries here then go to BecA to make use of more sophisticated equipment.” As a final word, the board Chair summed up the achievement by stating that “the whole building smelled of a brand new lab which is exciting for new students to come and work, get their hands dirty and green!”

Livestock goods and bads: Two European views

On 10 April, we interviewed ILRI Board Chair Knut Hove, from Norway, and Program Chair Jim Dargie, from the UK.

HOVE: In the last year media attention on livestock ‘bads’ has gone away in Norway. It has not had an impact on meat production in Norway. My country’s strategy to use the whole country, and we are located so far north, with such large grasslands, that ruminants will always have a place there.

DARGIE: In the UK, people are still questioning why so much of our crop area should be used for producing food for livestock. They have concerns about using so much energy for this in this era of climate change. Questions are being raised by the government about what should be its appropriate response to meet the rising meat requirements. There is going to be greater emphasis on home-grown food production to lessen the greenhouse gas emissions due to transporting foods. Bear in mind that people in our countries are overfed, and in that context, meat production is often seen as a public bad.

HOVE: On the other hand, in our countries diets like the Atkins are very popular, which encourage you to eat more protein and less carbohydrates. In Norway, the focus of most people’s concerns are the high levels of methane produced by industrial livestock production practices and the treatment of animals in these intensive systems, such as raising battery chickens and using feedlots for beef cattle. In the Scandinavian countries, we haven’t reached this industrial level yet—we tend to have small, family run farms that make use of grazing and grass production. We have strict controls on how many chickens or cows a farmer may raise. Norwegians are given many incentives for practicing small-scale sustainable agriculture.

DARGIE: This was the European Union’s response to overproduction of livestock foods—the milk mountains and so on. Governments rather than farmers have been paying for the environmental costs of agriculture in Europe. HOVE: The rising human populations need to be fed and they need to be fed efficiently. And that is the hard problem we face. As long as we have this wealth of fossil energy, we in Europe have been able to scale up, scale up, scale up, to mechanize our agriculture, with most of us having left the farm. (In the seventeenth century, everybody was producing food here.)

DARGIE: What’s going to suit one country is not going to suit many others. Many rich countries have turned food production into big business—they are producing food to sell elsewhere. And this is depressing incentives for sustainable agriculture elsewhere. The question is, if we include the costs of environmental services, are these rich food producers really efficient? One of the problems at the moment is putting a dollar sign in front of environmental services, or environmental bads. That is a big big issue. And how we cost factors will vary enormously from one country to another.

HOVE: Many researchers are working to get these figures. We in the developed world have lived on polluting and we have had strong economic growth. Now we have to pay for that. Now we have to pay for our wealth by cleaning up. That’s the chance for developing countries.

This post is part of a series associated with the ILRI Annual Program Meeting in Addis Ababa, April 2010. More postings …

ILRI’s Board of Trustees holds its 25th meeting

Highlights from the ILRI Board of Trustees meeting held at the institute's Nairobi campus.

ILRI’s Board of Trustees held their 25th Meeting at ILRI’s Nairobi campus last week (2-5 April 2006). The Program Committee was pleased with ILRI’s research program, noting that ILRI has won eight scientific awards of excellence from the Consultative Group on International Agricultural Research (CGIAR) in the last eight years. Non-scientific matters covered at this Board Meeting were ILRI’s financial and human resources management and a new partnership policy.

Reporting to staff on these discussions, ILRI Board Chair Uwe Werblow said that the 15 centres that belong to the CGIAR (including ILRI) have formally come together in an alliance to speak with a common voice on agricultural research to reduce poverty, hunger and environmental degradation. The Board Chair went on to report on development of a regional medium-term plan for agricultural research institutes in eastern and central Africa, which is being led by ILRI. The task force involved is working on three fronts, he said: programmatic alignment of all CGIAR centres working in the region, alignment of support services of these centres to achieve greater efficiencies, and closer collaboration of the Boards of ILRI and its sister Future Harvest centre also headquartered in Nairobi, the World AgroForestry Centre (ICRAF).

The Chairman also reported that ILRI’s budget had increased from US$32 million in 2005 to $42 million in 2006. The Board put into place a new policy on how to manage reserves and reviewed its risk management policy. The Board considered a new ‘people management initiative’ at ILRI to be a welcome development and approved the hiring of a human resources manager who would serve at director level.

The ILRI Board welcomed two new members at its April meeting. The first, Dr Aberra Deressa, is an Ethiopian with a PhD in agronomy and soil science from Tashkent Agricultural University, in Uzbekistan. Dr Aberra began his scientific career in 1974 at Ethiopia’s Institute of Agricultural Research, working first as an agronomist, then as coordinator of research extension and finally centre manager. Dr Aberra has made outstanding contributions in research programme development; in extension services, technology transfer and capacity building; and in improving links among widely diverse stakeholders in agricultural development. In 1993 Dr Aberra was appointed Deputy Director General of the Ethiopian Agricultural Research Organisation (EARO), where he served until his recent appointment as State Minister in Ethiopia’s Ministry of Agriculture and Rural Development.

ILRI’s second new board member is Dr Knut Hove. Dr Hove is Vice Chancellor of the Agricultural University of Norway. He has a PhD in veterinary medicine. He has served as Chairman of the Norwegian Research Committee for research in plants, soils and farm animals, Chairman of the Department of Animal Sciences, NLH, and Deputy Chairman of the National Council on Animal Ethics, Ministry of Agriculture. He has conducted many international collaborations, including those with the University of Nottingham in the UK, the National Animal Diseases Laboratory in Iowa, USA, and Fort Hare University in South Africa.

Tribute to John Vercoe, former Chair of ILRI Board of Trustees

John_VercoeILRI is sad to announce that John Vercoe, former Chairman of both the ILRI Board of Trustees and the Committee of Board Chairs of the Consultative Group on International Agricultural Research (CGIAR), died in September undergoing heart surgery in Brisbane, Australia.

A celebration of his life was held in Rockhampton, Australia, on 21 October 2005.

John Vercoe was a special member of the ILRI family. John nurtured the formation of ILRI and shaped the international livestock research agenda. He provided exemplary leadership while serving on ILRI’s Board of Trustees for six years, five of them as Chair, retiring from the Board only at the end of last year.

John's role in ILRI's work began long before ILRI was established. Perhaps uniquely, John played a significant role in the evolution of all three CGIAR livestock institutes in Africa: the Ethiopia-based International Livestock Centre for Africa, called by its acronym, ILCA, the Kenya-based International Laboratory for Research on Animal Diseases, known as ILRAD, and ILRI, the institute these two merged to become in 1995, with campuses in both Ethiopia and Kenya.

In 1981 John served on the CGIAR Technical Advisory Committee Quinquennial Review of ILCA in Ethiopia. This was a critical review for ILCA, and set that institute on firm ground in its earlier years. A decade later, John chaired an equally critical External Program and Management Review of ILRAD in Kenya. ILRI's current Director General, Carlos Seré, served on the same review committee as John's economist. It was John's vision for ILRAD to partner with other organizations in the developing as well as developed worlds in 'action research' to have more immediate impacts on poverty, hunger and environmental degradation. Carlos Seré is carrying on this legacy of John's today.

A few years later, John guided the consolidation of ILCA and ILRAD in the formation of ILRI, which began operations in 1995, and then ensured that the new institute was based on a solid foundation. He understood the role of board chair well, providing leadership by building a team of trustees who provided ILRI with wise counsel. Among many strategic contributions John made to ILRI was his promotion of pro-poor interventions made possible by an on-going Livestock Revolution and ILRI's revised strategy, developed in 2002, which focuses explicitly on reducing world poverty by exploiting three livestock pathways out of poverty.

John has left a strong imprint on ILRI and international livestock-for-development issues. His courage was manifested in three main ways for us – taking on an institutional merger daunting to others, never compromising on scientific excellence, and always being prepared to explore new opportunities, even when those carried risk. He enjoyed challenging ILRI's scientific and management assumptions. We are the better for it. That ILRI is now regarded highly  in international circles is due in no small part to John's unflagging commitment to this institute. John never stopped promoting ILRI and he never stopped telling us that we were creating the premiere international livestock research institute.

He also believed strongly in the CGIAR, which sponsors ILRI. He saw the CGIAR as a network of research institutions effectively helping the world's poorest people solve some of their severest agricultural problems through science. He was most recently engaged in creating more cohesion among the 15 research centres of the CGIAR.

John's heart was as big as his commitment. He was more than admired by ILRI staff. He was robustly liked by everyone from drivers to scientists to ministers. Everyone simply enjoyed being around this warm, funny, caring man. His laugh was infectious, his optimism unstoppable, his gentleness unmistaken. He always asked about the well being of our families and remembered even the most difficult names, however foreign to his Australian ears. He was for us, in brief, a good friend as well as an inspired leader.

We loved him well and will miss him badly. Our hearts go out to his family and his many many friends.

Carlos Seré, ILRI Director General
Uwe Werblow, ILRI Board Chair
For the ILRI family

New ILRI board chair

Former European Commissioner Uwe Werblow joins ILRI’s board of Trustees.

Dr. Uwe Werblow, a German agricultural scientist who for ten years headed the European Commission’s ‘Rural Development, Environment and Food Security’ department within its Directorate General for Development, became Chair of the Board of Trustees of the International Livestock Research Institute (ILRI). Dr. Werblow has spent most of his career working in and for Africa on issues related to tropical agriculture and development policy. On the ILRI board, he replaces Dr. John Vercoe, an Australian who stepped down as Board Chair after 6 years of outstanding service to ILRI.