Overcoming the Napier grass disease threat to East African dairy farmers

Also called elephant grass, Napier grass is planted on farms across East Africa as a source of feed for dairy cows. Farmers cut the grass for their livestock, carrying it home for stall feeding.

It is the most important forage grass in the region, constituting 40 to 80% of forages used by smallholder dairy farmers. In Kenya, half a million smallholder dairy producers rely on Napier grass to feed their cows. In Uganda, 90% of farmers rely entirely on Napier grass as fodder for their improved dairy cattle.

The livelihoods of these farmers are threatened by outbreaks of stunt and smut diseases affecting the Napier grass. To tackle the threat, the Association for Strengthening Agricultural Research in Eastern and Central Africa (ASARECA) funded a three-year project to determine the extent of the disease problem, to collect disease-resistant Napier grass clones identified by farmers, and to identify best management practices used by farmers to mitigate the impact of the diseases.

After three years researching the problem in Kenya, Tanzania and Uganda, project researchers from the International Livestock Research Institute, Rothamsted Research, the Kenya Agriculture Research Institute, the National Agricultural Research Organisation (Uganda) and the National Biological Control Programme (Tanzania) will meet with colleagues from the region to share results and recommendations, promote good practices and draw other scientists into the project.

The workshop will be held at ILRI Ethiopia from 1 to 3 June, 2010.

More information:

Project website

Project outputs

Project news item from Kenya

Livestock vaccine offers lifeline to many

ITM Vaccine

A vaccine is being made available to save the lives of a million cattle in sub-Saharan Africa against a lethal disease and to help safeguard the livelihoods of people who rely on their cattle for their survival.

East Coast fever is a tick-transmitted disease that kills one cow every 30 seconds. It puts the lives of more than 25 million cattle at risk in the 11 countries of sub-Saharan Africa where the disease is now endemic. The disease endangers a further 10 million animals in regions such as southern Sudan, where it has been spreading at a rate of more than 30 kilometres a year. While decimating herds of indigenous cattle, East Coast fever is an even greater threat to improved exotic cattle breeds and is therefore limiting the development of livestock enterprises, particularly dairy, which often depend on higher milk-yielding crossbred cattle. The vaccine could save the affected countries at least a quarter of a million US dollars a year.

Registration of the East Coast fever vaccine is central to its safety and efficacy and to ensuring its sustainable supply through its commercialization. The East Coast fever vaccine has been registered in Tanzania for the first time, a major milestone that will be recognized at a launch event in Arusha, northern Tanzania, on May 20. Recognizing the importance of this development for the millions whose cattle are at risk from the disease, governments, regulators, livestock producers, scientists, veterinarians, intellectual property experts, vaccine distributors and delivery agents as well as livestock keepers – all links in a chain involved in getting the vaccine from laboratory bench into the animal – will be represented.

An experimental vaccine against East Coast fever was first developed more than 30 years ago at the Kenyan Agricultural Research Institute (KARI). Major funding from the UK Government’s Department for International Development (DFID) and others enabled work to produce the vaccine on a larger scale. When stocks from 1990s ran low, the Africa Union/Interafrican Bureau for Animal Resources and chief veterinary officers in the affected countries asked the International Livestock Research Institute (ILRI) to produce more and ILRI subsequently produced a million doses of the vaccine to fill this gap. But the full potential for livestock keepers to benefit from the vaccine will only be achieved through longer term solutions for the sustainable production, distribution and delivery of the vaccine.

With $28US million provided by the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation and DFID, a not-for-profit organization called GALVmed (Global Alliance for Livestock Veterinary Medicines) is fostering innovative commercial means for the registration, commercial distribution and delivery of this new batch of the vaccine. A focus on sustainability underpins GALVmed’s approach and the Global Alliance is bringing public and private partners together to ensure that the vaccine is available to those who need it most.

Previous control of East Coast fever relied on use of acaracide dips and sprays, but these have several drawbacks. Ticks can develop resistance to acaracides and regular acaricide use can generate health, safety and environmental concerns. Furthermore, dipping facilities are often not operational in remote areas.

This effective East Coast fever vaccine uses an ‘infection-and-treatment method’, so-called because the animals are infected with whole parasites while being treated with antibiotics to stop development of disease. Animals need to be immunized only once in their lives, and calves, which are particularly susceptible to the disease, can be immunized as early as 1 month of age.

Over the past several years, the field logistics involved in mass vaccinations of cattle with the infection-and-treatment method have been greatly improved, due largely to the work of a private company, VetAgro Tanzania Ltd, which has been working with Maasai cattle herders in northern Tanzania. VetAgro has vaccinated more than 500,000 Tanzanian animals against East Coast fever since 1998, with more than 95% of these vaccinations carried out in remote pastoral areas. This vaccination campaign has reduced calf mortality in herds by 95%. In the smallholder dairy sector, vaccination reduced the incidence of East Coast fever by 98%. In addition, most smallholder dairy farmers reduced their acaracide use by at least 75%, which reduced both their financial and environmental costs.

Notes for Editors

What is East Coast fever?
East Coast fever is caused by Theleria parva (an intracellular protozoan parasite), which is transmitted by the brown ear tick Rhipicephalus appendiculatus. The parasites the tick carries make cattle sick, inducing high fever and lympho-proliferative syndrome, usually killing the animals within three weeks of their infection.

East Coast fever was introduced to southern Africa at the beginning of the twentieth century with cattle imported from eastern Africa, where the disease had been endemic for centuries. This introduction caused dramatic cattle losses. The disease since then has persisted in 11 countries in eastern, central and southern Africa – Burundi, Democratic Republic of Congo, Kenya, Malawi, Mozambique, Rwanda, Sudan, Tanzania, Uganda, Zambia and Zimbabwe. The disease devastates the livelihoods of small-scale mixed crop-and-livestock farmers, particularly smallholder and emerging dairy producers, as well as pastoral livestock herders, such as the Maasai in East Africa.

The infection-and-treatment immunization method against East Coast fever was developed by research conducted over three decades by the East African Community and the Kenya Agricultural Research Institute (KARI) at Muguga, Kenya (www.kari.org). Researchers at the International Livestock Research Institute (ILRI), in Nairobi, Kenya (www.ilri.org), helped to refine the live vaccine. This long-term research was funded by the UK Department for International Development (DFID) (www.dfid.gov.uk) and other donors of the Consultative Group on International Agricultural Research (CGIAR) (www.cgiar.org).

The first bulk batch of the vaccine, produced by ILRI 15 years ago, has protected one million animals against East coast fever, with the survival of these animals raising the standards of living for many livestock keepers and their families. Field trials of the new vaccine batch, also produced at ILRI, were completed in accordance with international standards to ensure that it is safe and effective.

How is the vaccine stored and administered?
Straws of the East Coast fever vaccine are stored in liquid nitrogen until needed, with the final preparation made either in an office or in the field. The vaccine must be used within six hours of its reconstitution, with any doses not used discarded. Vaccination is always carried out by trained veterinary personnel working in collaboration with livestock keepers. Only healthy animals are presented for vaccination; a dosage of 30% oxytetracycline antibiotic is injected into an animal’s muscle while the vaccine is injected near the animal’s ear. Every animal vaccinated is given an eartag, the presence of which subsequently increases the market value the animal. Young calves are given a worm treatment to avoid worms interfering with the immunization process.

Case studies illustrating the impact of the infection-and-treatment vaccine on people’s lives are available on the GALVmed website at: www.galvmed.org/path-to-progress
For more information about the GALVmed launch of the live vaccine, on 20 May 2010, in Arusha, Tanzania, go to www.galvmed.org/

Vaccine agency to reduce loss of human and animal life in developing countries is launched

The Global Alliance for Livestock Veterinary Medicine (GALVmed) recently unveiled animal health projects it will tackle over the next ten years.

GALVmed announced progress on vaccine and treatments for Newcastle disease in poultry and East Coast fever and Rift Valley fever in cattle at its international launch at the Kenya Agricultural Research Institute (KARI), in Nairobi, on Friday 9 March 2007. This marked the beginning of a 10-year program aimed at creating sustainable solutions to the loss of human and animal life caused by livestock diseases, which threaten 600 million of the poorest people in developing countries in Africa, Asia and Latin America.

GALVmed, a non-profit organization funded by the UK Department for International Development (DFID), is partnering with private and public-sector organizations around the world. It has identified 13 livestock diseases as key targets for development of livestock vaccines and animal health diagnostics and medicines. Founder members of the agency include the International Livestock Research Institute (ILRI), FARM-Africa, Pfizer, Intervet and Merial. GALVmed exists to broker partnerships among pharmaceutical companies and other public and private-sector organizations to develop accessible and affordable animal vaccines for the whole world’s poorest farmers.

Zoonotic diseases, which are transmitted between animals and humans, mainly afflict the poorest households, as evidenced by the recent outbreak of Rift Valley fever in livestock in Kenya, which killed 150 people. Brian Perry, a senior scientist at ILRI, warns that ‘Today, combating livestock diseases is everybody’s business – tropical animal diseases are no longer “just a local problem”. For example, there is a threat that diseases like Rift Valley fever will follow bluetongue into Europe.’

GALVmed’s chief executive Steve Sloan explains that ‘Every year, poor farmers worldwide lose an average of a quarter and in some cases half, of their herds and flocks to preventable disease. This devastates developing economies. Many of these are zoonotic and so also cause human deaths.

Livestock play a critical role in helping people escape poverty. Livestock disease is one of the greatest barriers to development for poor livestock keepers. Flocks and herds die every year from diseases for which vaccine simply do not exist or are beyond the reach of the poor. John McDermott, ILRI’s deputy director general for research says, ‘ILRI scientists and partners have done ground breaking science to develop an experimental vaccines to protect cattle against East Coast fever. The next steps are to conduct trials to facilitate the delivery of this vaccine to the farmers. To do that, we need specialist partners who will test, manufacture and market the vaccine and make it accessible and affordable to the thousands of livestock keepers afflicted by this cattle killing disease.

Click here for the GALVmed News release.

To find out more about GALVmed visit the website

Innovative and collaborative veterinary organizations make vaccine available to Kenyan livestock keepers

A group of determined Kenyan livestock keepers set in motion an innovative collaboration that has benefited cattle-keeping communities throughout Kenya
Starting in 2000, word started getting out among Kenyan pastoralists that a vaccine being administered in Tanzania was succeeding in protecting cattle against East Coast fever. Kenya at that time did not condone use of this vaccine due to perceived safety and other issues, and so Kenya ’s livestock keepers could not get hold of it. In response, they began to walk their calves across the Kenya border into Tanzania to get them vaccinated.

‘East Coast fever is responsible on average for half of the calf mortality in pastoral production systems in eastern Africa . This vaccine represented a much needed lifeline for many pastoralists, and livestock keepers in Kenya wanted access to it,’ Evans Taracha, head of animal health at at ILRI explained.

‘ILRI faced a dilemma. We had produced a vaccine right here in Nairobi, at the International Livestock Research Institute (ILRI), that could protect pastoral and other cattle against East Coast fever, but, due to government regulations, our beneficiaries could not get access to it in Kenya.’

Kenya’s livestock keepers then started lobbying national authorities and called upon Vétérinaires sans Frontières (VSF)-Germany, an international veterinary NGO based in East Africa , to help them. Thus began a highly successful multi-partner collaboration.

Besides VSF-Germany, the collaboration includes ILRI, the Kenyan Agricultural Research Institute (KARI), the African Union-InterAfrican Bureau for Animal Resources (AU/IBAR), the Director of Veterinary Services (DVS), the NGO VetAgro, and the community-based Loita Development Foundation.

Gabriel Turasha, field veterinary coordinator for VSF-G said, ‘The demand for this vaccine was evident from the farmers’ actions. What we needed to prove – to the authorities restricting its use – was that the vaccine was safe, effective and a superior alternative to the East Coast fever control strategy already being used in Kenya .’

Armed with scientific evidence, the collaboration successfully lobbied the Kenyan government and then facilitated local production and local access to the vaccine. Three vaccine distribution centres have been established in Kenya and more than 10,000 calves vaccinated.

John McDermott, ILRI’s deputy director general of research, said, ‘This collaboration illustrates how the research from “discovery to delivery” can be facilitated by collaboration between research institutes, which are in the business of doing science, and development partners, which are in the business of on-the-ground delivery. This has been a great success story—and a great win for Kenya ’s pastoralists.’

This innovative collaboration has been selected as a finalist in the Consultative Group on International Agricultural Research (CGIAR) ‘Innovation Marketplace Awards’. These awards recognize outstanding collaborative efforts among CGIAR-supported centres and civil society organizations. Four winners will be announced at the CGIAR’s Annual General Meeting, to be held in Washington, DC , in December 2006.

Carlos Seré, director general of ILRI, said, ‘We are delighted to learn that this partnership has received recognition. ILRI is involved in a host of innovative collaborations and continues to seek new partners—from civil society organizations to the private sector to local research institutions—to help us deliver on our promises to poor livestock keepers in developing countries.’

ollaborative Team Brings Vaccine against Deadly Cattle Disease to Poor Pastrolists for the First Time

Related Articles on Innovation Collaborations
ILRI recently collaborated with VSF-Belgium, VSF-Switzerland and two Italian NGOs in an Emergency Drought Response Program in Kenya.

VSF, ILRI, Italian NGOs, and Kenya Collaborate to Mitigate the Effects of Drought in Northern Kenya

The ILRI collaborative effort described in this Top Story was featured in the Journal of International Development (July 2005) as an example of a ‘potentially new model of research and development partnership’ with a more ‘complete’ approach to innovation.


Further Information
VSF-Germany is a nongovernmental, not-for-profit organization engaged in veterinary relief and development work. VSF-Germany's primary role involves the control and prevention of epidemics; the establishment of basic veterinarian services and para-veterinarian programs with high involvement of local people; the improvement of animal health, especially among agriculturally useful animals; food security through increases in the production of animal-based food and non-food products; and the reduction of animal diseases that are transferable to humans. VSF-Germany carries out emergency as well as development operations. The organization's area of operation is East Africa.

Website: http://www.vsfg.org/eng.php

The role of research in a pro-poor dairy policy shifts in Kenya

The role of research in a pro-poor dairy policy shift in Kenya
New case study highlights lessons learned from Kenya's highly successful Smallholder Dairy Project.
The BBC ‘Small Is Beautiful’ series recently showcased Kenya’s Smallholder Dairy Project (SDP), which won four prestigious international awards during its eight years of operation. Researchers from ILRI and the Overseas Development Institute have now documented and analysed the circumstances and key factors that contributed to the overall success of the Project. This case study document will be particularly valuable to individuals and organizations engaged in policy processes or seeking to influence pro-poor policy changes. Some of the key success factors cited in the report are:

  • Use of evidence. Wide-ranging, highly robust, and relevant evidence was instrumental in influencing policy change in Kenya’s dairy sector. ILRI and the Kenyan Agricultural Research Institute (KARI) collaborated on this project with the Ministry of Livestock and Fisheries Development; the inputs of both highly reputable research institutions added to the credibility of the evidence.


  • Highly collaborative approach. The strong collaborative approach taken by this Project was a major factor in its success in changing policy. Much of this was underpinned by years of previous collaboration between the implementing organizations. Innovative links between the project and advocacy-focused civil society organizations (CSOs) also played a key role. Although research organizations and CSOs differ in mandates and operational modes, effective collaboration between them was achieved by developing and maintaining a shared vision. Linking with CSOs to advocate policy change was crucial to the success of this Project. These links helped the Project open new channels for influencing key individuals and groups and provided the Project with access to grassroots organizations.
  • Citizen voice and representation. The Project staff took advantage of the changing political context in Kenya, including the role of civil society and increased influence of citizens. Project staff took every opportunity to participate in meetings to communicate evidence. Indeed, the years the Project spent regularly feeding research-based information and evidence to other organizations  and stakeholders in the develoment of Kenya’s dairy industry proved highly important. Armed with credible facts, farmers were empowered to speak at a Dairy Policy Forum held at the close of the Project, in April 2005. By holding this Forum, the Project was able to gain support of politicians and other key officials.

The full report, ‘Informal Traders Lock Horns with the Formal Milk Industry: The Role of Research in Pro-Poor Dairy Policy Shift in Kenya,’ can be downloaded here.

Listen to Kenya’s Dairy Story

Small is Beautiful – The Kenya Dairy Story
Kenyans love their milk. Most of the 3 billion litres consumed there each year is produced by smallholders with a couple of cows, and sold house-to-house by thousands of street hawkers and doorstep milkmen. But this whole milk business was under threat. In the third edition of the One Planet series (on BBC World Service) which is sharing small business success, Susie Emmett discovers how the farmers and traders fought back to keep the milk flowing.

Listen to a recording of the BBC World Service broadcast produced by WRENmedia. (See Note below)

Note: The latest numbers

Some of the numbers quoted in this BBC World Service broadcast ‘Small is beautiful’ have been obtained from much earlier estimates. These figures, however, grossly understate the true size and extent of Kenya’s milk sector. SDP has provided recalculated figures, which more accurately reflect the picture in Kenya today.

1. Smallholder dairy farms recalculates to be 1.8 million (up from 800,000)
The estimated 800,000 smallholder farms has been widely cited for many years, during which time Kenya’s population has grown significantly. SDP recalculates the number of smallholders to be 1.8 million.

2. Milk hawkers recalculated to be 39,650 (up from 30,000)

SDP recalculates the number of small milk vendors in Kenya to be 39,650.

3. Number of dairy cattle recalculated to be 6.7 million (up from 3 million)
There are concerns about the reliability of the official cattle figures for Kenya; no livestock census has been conducted for decades and the methods used to estimate cattle numbers are imprecise. A conservative estimate of the size of the national dairy herd using detailed SDP survey data suggests that there are about 6.7 million dairy cattle (2.7 million high grade and 4 million crosses) owned by 1.8 million rural smallholder farms mainly in the Kenyan Highlands. This projected cattle population is more than twice the officially reported figure of 3 million for the national herds.

4. Total milk produced recalculated to be 4 billion litres per annum (up from 3 billion)
Based on SDP’s recalculated cattle projections above, SDP recalculates total milk production in the rural highlands to be an estimated 4 billion litres per annum.

5. Annual consumption of milk recalculated to be 145 litres per person (up from 100 litres)
SDP recalculates annual milk consumption by Kenyans to be 145 litres per person, making Kenyans amongst the highest milk consumers in the developing world. The rural areas have an estimated population of about 14.5 million people. Assuming that the estimated 9.6 million people living in the urban areas mainly depend on milk from the high potential areas, and that 13 percent of production goes to calf feed or spoilage loss, milk availability from the highlands was estimated to be about 145 litres per person per year. Previously, milk consumption in Central and Rift Valley provinces, which are important milk production areas, has been estimated to be between 144 and 152 litres per person per year.

Source: SDP Policy Brief No.10.