Experts comment on new drylands research program for eastern and southern Africa

Watch this brief ILRI video (run-time under 7 minutes) of quick comments made by six participants following a recent inception workshop hosted by ILRI to plan work in eastern and southern Africa by the CGIAR Research Program on Dryland Systems.

Excerpts of the filmed interviews follow.

Iain Wright, CGIAR/ILRI

There’s been lots of discussions on what we call the ‘impact pathway’—how do we get our research products and research outputs to have an impact on the lives of tens of millions of people who live in these drylands?

Peter Thorne, CGIAR/ILRI
We’re trying to get to what are the desirable developmental outcomes of this program and what research outputs will contribute to those outcomes.

As we move into the more marginal areas, issues of risk, vulnerability and resilience become much more important and we have to tread much more carefully intensifying those kinds of systems. It’s not us researchers who have to bear the risk; it’s the farmers or pastoralists who are engaged in them. So we have quite a lot of responsibility.

Farmers with vulnerable livelihoods have to be risk averse. If we produce technologies that don’t account for that, then we run into this longstanding problem of lack of adoption.

There’s no point our doing the research if it can’t be adopted. And that’s why we want to tie research outputs to developmental outcomes.

Jonathan Davies, International Union for the Conservation of Nature (IUCN)
This meeting has brought all these different disciplines together, which is what’s necessary. It resonates with what I’m trying to work on, which is ecosystem-scale planning.

If you want to protect ecosystems as the basis of life, as the basis of food or other kind of welfare, you can’t approach them from different sectors. You have to treat them as one thing, one entity, and figure out how to manage them as such.

And people don’t deal well with that sort of complexity, especially when you add people and livelihoods and economies into the mix. That’s far too complex for people to handle; they need much more simple things to deal with.

I think this meeting might take us towards that, not just to have tools or research but to have people who can think across all the different systems and at the necessary scale.

John Lynam, consultant/smallholder agricultural specialist
One of the challenges and opportunities of these new CGIAR research programs is determining how research can be better integrated into the development process. We have been too separate in the past. That integration necessarily is going to involve partnerships.

You can’t work with everybody, so there’s going to have to be some whittling down to a number of partnerships that actually work. But that’s one of the opportunities of these new CGIAR research programs.

Florence Wambugu, NGO/Africa Harvest
Regarding adoption of technology, the main thing the farmer wants to know is, ‘Can I find those improve breeds of cows or seeds or whatever it is—can I find it? Where do I find it?’ The next information farmers want to have is agronomic: ‘How do I get value from recommended foliage, from health care, from vaccination’. And the most important market is the home market: ‘Can I drink the milk? What kind of surplus and income can I generate?’

We have to consider the whole value chain and to begin to think of how to remove barriers and bottlenecks in the value chain. We need to take the research into farmer’s lives, and to do that we need partnerships that can make this work.

Wycliffe Kumwenda, NGO/National Smallholder Farmers’ Association of Malawi
Several factors are responsible for technologies not being adopted by farmers. In Malawi, like in other countries of Africa, the landholding size is small—on average, one hectare. From that one hectare, the smallholder farmer is supposed to produce enough to eat, and at the same time, to have money to send the children to school and to hospital where you mind find experts like this Dentist in Bellaire TX.

The key drivers of adoption of technology by the smallholder farmer are the principles of extension, which are: The farmer wants to see, the farmer wants to hear, and the farmer wants to touch.

Who’s who

Iain Wright is an animal nutritionist with 30 years of experience in developing agricultural systems for both agricultural and environmental objectives, the effect of policy on livestock systems and the role of agriculture in rural development; Wright is director of People, Livestock and the Environment Theme, one of ILRI’s three global research themes, and is based in Addis Ababa, where he also serves as ILRI’s representative to Ethiopia.

Peter Thorne, also based in Addis Ababa, is a crop-livestock systems scientist with expertise in feed, water, information and other resources needed by smallholder mixed crop-livestock farmers. Formerly working for the Natural Resources Institute, at the University of Greenwich, in Kent, UK, Thorne joined ILRI’s People, Livestock and Environment Theme at the beginning of 2012.

Jonathan Davies, an agricultural economist specializing in rangeland ecology and nomadic pastoralism, heads the Global Drylands Program at IUCN, in Nairobi, which works to overturn the widely held belief that drylands are wastelands by providing evidence that conservation of drylands, which cover 40 per cent of the earth’s surface, is critical not only to millions of their inhabitants but also to our global environment.

John Lynam, formerly of the Rockefeller Foundation and an independent Nairobi-based consultant since 2000, has worked for three decades for smallholder-led agricultural development in Latin America, Africa and Asia within diverse programs and approaches, from commodities to farming systems to natural resource management.

Florence Wambugu, a plant scientist and biotechnology expert and the founder, director and chief executive officer of the non-profit, Nairobi-based Africa Harvest Biotech Foundation International, has won numerous awards and served on many distinguished boards of directors due to her longstanding work and commitment to increase food production in Africa.

Wycliffe Kumwenda is with the National Smallholder Farmers’ Association of Malawi, which, through a network of smallholder-owned business organizations, promotes farming as a business, develops the commercial capacity of its members and enhances their productivity.

For more on this workshop and related matters, see:

ILRI News Blog: Africa’s vast eastern and southern drylands get new attention–and support–from agricultural researchers, 6 Jun 2012

ILRI News Blog: Saving the plains: ILRI research team wins Sustainability Science Award for its pastoral research in Masailand, 7 Jun 2012

ILRI Clippings Blog: Hunger in Sahel worsens as ‘lean season’ begins: ‘The worst is yet to come’, 14 Jun 2012.

CGIAR Research Program on Drylands Systems website.

The productivity of ‘nomadic farming’ over the long term

Africa Everyday

Bao game, on loan from Gary K. Clarke, Cowabunga Safaris (photo on Flickr by Topeka and Shawnee Country Public Library).

Jan de Leeuw, a Dutch ecologist who leads research on pastoral and agro-pastoral production systems at the International Livestock Research Institute (ILRI), in Nairobi, Kenya, likens investments in livestock herding systems to investments in the stock market.

‘Both have their ups and downs,’ he says, ‘but in spite of the current crisis many pastoralists are facing in the Horn of Africa, most of those who invest in livestock herding here as elsewhere make a good profit over the longer term.’

‘The ongoing drought and hunger and famine crisis in the Horn is a terrible “depression,” de Leeuw says, ‘but some of the worst impacts of the drought could have been avoided if the region’s dryland livestock systems had been well regulated, just as the recent financial meltdown of some rich countries could have been avoided if the stock market and sub-prime mortgage investments had been better regulated.’

This idea that pastoral livestock herding actually works well much of the time, and that that is one reason why pastoralists continue to engage in it, is echoed in an article by Curtis Abraham published in the Nairobi Star earlier this year, who reminds us that although a current drought has devastated pastoralists in Kenya’s arid Northeastern Province, ‘other herders in Kenya are fighting back by adopting new ways of dealing with issues of water management, herding strategies, livestock health, conflict resolution/ security issues and land fragmentation—due to land purchases by foreign countries and companies.

‘Additionally, new markets are opening up, helping to improve livelihoods and generate substantial new wealth for local and national economies. New technologies such as mobile phones as well as improvements in roads are opening up pastoral areas to greater movements of people, goods, and ideas.

In Kenya, mobile pastoral farming accounts for 50 per cent of the country’s annual Gross Domestic Product (GDP). According to an IUCN study “Economic Importance of Goods and Services Derived from Dryland Ecosystems in the IGAD Region”, the estimated Potential Value of Livestock in Kenya amounts to $2.5 billion (Sh212.5 billion) annually, while natural products that might be derived from dry-land ecosystems is $3.6 billion (Sh306 billion)—a total of $6.1  billion (Sh518.5 billion).

Yet pastoralism has been criticised as a backward mode of production that ties its workers to poverty as well as leading to desertification and the decline of wild animal species. But the plight of pastoralists usually stems from ineffective government policies that have tried (or are trying) to change effective and viable production systems into something inferior such as ranching or settled agriculture.

‘Recent studies have shown that nomadic farming is 20% more productive than ranching in terms of annual calf and milk production. This has been widely documented in scientific literature. In 1995, for example, Ian Scoones, of the Institute of Development Studies at the University of Sussex in the UK, published Living with Uncertainty where he demonstrated that pastoralism is not only viable, but is by far the best option for drylands, and that African livestock systems can produce more energy, protein and cash per hectare than Australian and US ranches.

‘“The trouble has always been that administrators and service providers don’t like mobility, and in many cases neither do neighbouring communities,” says Dr Jonathan Davies, regional drylands co-ordinator for Eastern and Southern Africa at the IUCN, the International Union for Conservation of Nature in Nairobi, Kenya. “So everything possible has been tried to settle pastoralists. This restricts the opportunistic strategy of pastoralism and undermines its viability, leading to the images that sometimes appear on TV.”

What the colonial and post-independence African governments failed to understand was that pastoralist communities have from time immemorial depended on their natural surroundings for survival and, precisely for that reason; they have devised ways of sustaining their environment in the long run. . . .

Read the whole article at the Nairobi Star: Pastoralists innovate in the face of adversity, 19 May 2011.