Livestock dairy scientist and former director general of ILCA John Walsh: An obituary

Former ILCA DGs John Walsh (left) and Hank Fitzhugh (right) in the 1980s

Former directors general of the International Livestock Centre for Africa (ILCA), a predecessor of ILRI, John Walsh (left), who passed away in Ireland at the end of Jan 2013, and Hank Fitzhugh (right) in the 1980s; in the middle is B K Johri, ILCA personel manager (photo credit: ILRI).

John Walsh, an Irish dairy scientist and former director general of the International Livestock Centre for Africa (ILCA), headquartered in Addis Ababa, Ethiopia, and one of two predecessors of the International Livestock Research Institute (ILRI), died on 31 January 2011, peacefully in his home in County Cork, Ireland. He is survived by his wife Marie, sons Brendan and Kevin, daughters Maeve and Emer, and six grandchildren.

John Walsh was appointed director general of ILCA in December 1986, following the departure of Peter Brumby (New Zealand), ILCA’s former director general. Walsh left ILCA in July of 1993, succeeded by Hank Fitzhugh (USA) that August.

Under Walsh’s tenure, a collaborative program between ILCA and the Kenya Agricultural Research Institute (KARI) was established in August 1988 at KARI’s Mtwapa Regional Research Centre, near Mombasa, Kenya. This program went on to play a major role in an award-winning ILRI-KARI-Kenya Ministry of Livestock Development Smallholder Dairy Project, under the direction of ILCA-ILRI scientist Bill Thorpe. ILCA also at this time established strong collaboration with the Ethiopian Agricultural Research Organisation (EARO), such as in smallholder dairy at the Holleta Research Station.

In September 1989, ILCA’s Semi-Arid Zone Programme was established in Niger at the Sahelian Centre of the International Crops Research Institute for the Semi-Arid Tropics (ICRISAT). In 1991 — the year in which the Ethiopia Government was overthrown — a joint ILCA-ILRAD African Trypanotolerant Livestock Network project, which had begun in 1980, was concluded. In 1992, ILCA launched a project to help conserve Africa’s indigenous animal genetic resources, which became a major program at ILCA and then ILRI under the leadership of ILCA-ILRI scientist Ed Rege.

‘Walsh brought to ILCA a strong emphasis on strengthening national agricultural research systems (NARS) of Africa’, says Hank Fitzhugh. ‘Training African scientists and extension agents and running collaborative research networks were given high priority. Among the collaborative research networks ILCA spearheaded at this time were the Small Ruminant Research Network, the Cattle Research Network and the Feed Resources Research Network. Many consider this emphasis on NARS, acknowledged by the Third External Program and Management Review of ILCA, to be Walsh’s legacy.’

Jean Hanson, a former and long-standing ILCA-ILRI scientist who headed ILRI’s Forage Genebank, and Fitzhugh both remember John’s kind heart, especially his concern for the disadvantaged.

Jean Hanson speaks for the ILRI family in her tribute that follows.

‘John had a strong background in livestock science in Ireland and strong administrative skills. One of the first things that John did when he joined ILCA was to put in place administrative policies and guidelines to bring order into the running of the institute. He liked things to be done in a very orderly way and led by example. He would walk up to the main gate and observe the time that staff arrived to make the point that he expected them to keep the working hours and he would pick up any waste paper lying on the ground and drop it into the bin to encourage others to keep the place tidy.

‘He was very hands on and used to walk around and drop into staff offices for a chat about how the work was going and what the challenges were and if as director general he could do anything to move the work forward. He was very proud of the compound and the image of ILCA and was responsible for the purchase of a sculpture at the front entrance of ILCA, which depicts a calf  being fed a special type of salt bar (‘amole chow’) by a woman, from the Art School at Addis Ababa University just before his departure in 1993.

‘He led ILCA through its period of expansion in sub-Saharan Africa and the difficult transition of power in Ethiopia in 1991. He was out of the country on official travel when things started to unfold and flew back to do what he could to ensure the safety of the staff and continued running of the research. He was very concerned about staff safety directly after the transition. He only gave me permission, for example, to go out to the field sites to pay staff and see how things were doing if I took his personal driver as my bodyguard.

‘John was very egalitarian and was deeply concerned about the rural poverty in Ethiopia. One year he asked the ILCA photographer to go out in the countryside on ‘International Christmas Day’, which is a normal working day in Ethiopia because the Orthodox Christmas falls on 7 January, to document a normal day in the life of poor livestock farmers as a contrast to the excesses on that day in many developed countries. He cared about his staff and instigated an annual thank you lunch for the housing and catering staff where senior management served them on that one day of the year.

‘John was a staunch supporter of ILCA’s Zebu Club and he and the children played tennis there. He was very attached to Ethiopia and was so excited when the Olympian distance runner Deratu Tulu won the first gold medal for Ethiopia at the Barcelona Olympics that he invited her to visit ILRI to meet our staff.

‘After he left ILCA, John returned to Ireland and was active in livestock research there for some time. He was on the organizing committee of the International Grasslands Congress that was held in Ireland in 2005.’

The ILRI family extends its condolences to John’s wife Marie and family.

Livestock scientist and former director general of ILCA Peter Brumby: An obituary

Roy Burke writes the following about Peter Brumby, former director general of the International Livestock Center for Africa (ILCA), one of two predecessors of the International Livestock Research Institute (ILRI), who died at the age of 82 on 31 January 2011.

‘Peter, a Massey College graduate, was a Ruakura researcher. He springboarded from there to the United Nations Food and Agriculture Organisation (FAO) and later also with the World Bank. There, in a number of senior posts, he effectively advanced the lot of populations-in-poverty by building their agriculture skills. He “retired” in 1989 to live his life-held dream – to be a farmer. He and wife Patricia had bought a farm in the Waihi area. Today it milks 400 cows. His herd is one of the most productive in New Zealand.

‘His was a brilliant career, quietly achieved and warmly remembered by colleagues. Tributes to Peter came from all points of the world when former colleagues and friends learned of his death from cancer on January 31. He was 82.

‘He is survived by Patricia, one daughter, two sons and four grandchildren.

‘Peter is particularly remembered for notable achievements, his leadership, vision and commitment to agricultural advancement, his ability to develop strong teams, his encouragement and enthusiasm.

‘He was born in Melbourne on January 4, 1929, the elder of two children of Ada and Aubrey Brumby. Aubrey was an orchardist and agriculturalist. At Melbourne University Peter earned a scholarship to study at Massey College, Palmerston North. He did well, yet found time to immerse himself in Massey life – rugby, tramping, skiing, tennis, squash, debating. He was a member of the publication committee of the Massey student magazine and in the 1949 issue wrote of agriculture, famine and the wellbeing of peoples – thoughts that would preoccupy him for much of his career.

‘He broke his nose playing rugby and it changed his life, for at Palmerston North Hospital while being treated he met nurse Patricia Caldwell. The courtship that followed was stamped by significant ecstasy. Peter Hildreth, a fellow student, recalls being sound asleep in his hostel room “when at some unearthly hour my door opened, the light came on, I opened my eyes and I was facing a euphoric and ruddy Peter.” He excitedly announced: “I am engaged to Patricia and it is the most exciting event in my life!”

‘How many others in the hostel were woken in similar style to learn that news is unknown.

‘Peter and Patricia married from her parents’ home in Suva, Fiji, on December 27, 1952.

‘He completed his Master of Agricultural Science degree in 1953 and joined the Ruakura staff under Dr C P (Mac) McMeekan, a Massey graduate who had transformed Ruakura Research Station from a farm into one of the most efficient agricultural research centres in the British Commonwealth. Mac was a scientific leader Peter held in highest esteem.

‘They were exciting times at Ruakura with strong emphasis on rigorous scientific principles being put to good use to improve farming practices. There was opportunity for Peter to work in his special interests of genetics and livestock agriculture. At this time he was told he must return to Australia under the conditions of his scholarship or refund his bond. Peter was determined to be part of the exciting developments at Ruakura. He and Patricia worked to repay the bond.

‘In the late 1950s the family (now with daughter Suejane and son Ian) moved to Edinburgh where Peter completed a doctorate degree in two years at the Institute of Animal Genetics. They returned to Hamilton and Ruakura for the birth of David in 1960.

‘Peter joined the FAO in 1962 and the family headed for Nicosia, Cyprus, where he helped establish the livestock research programme of the Agricultural Research Institute of Cyprus. Civil war broke out and Patricia and the children would lie on the floor of the car when they left the Greek compound to visit Turkish friends – a bullet in their direction was always a possibility.

‘Two years later Peter was appointed director of the World Bank Livestock Project in Santiago, Chile. In 1967 he moved his family to Rome to become chief officer for the FAO/International Bank of Rural Development Livestock Group. His job involved reviewing the livestock sector of member countries of the World Bank including in Asia, the Middle East, Africa and Latin America.

‘He became senior agriculturalist to the World Bank’s headquarters in Washington DC in 1974, responsible for the appraisal, negotiation and implementation of major agricultural and livestock loans. From 1978 to 1981 he was based in New Delhi, India, handling developmental loans to the Indian dairy industry and initiating new livestock projects in several other Asian countries including Cambodia, Vietnam and Sri Lanka.

‘Peter was seconded from the World Bank to the Consultative Group on International Agricultural Research (CGIAR) in 1981. This global partnership engaged in research for sustainable development, something close to Peter’s heart. It was responsible for improving science that underpins world food production. He was appointed director-general of CGIAR’s International Livestock Centre for Africa (ILCA) and moved his family to Ethiopia. The eyes of the world were on Ethiopia’s famine. Rock stars were singing “Feed The World.”

‘Jeff Durkin, emailing from Ethiopia, says Peter and Patricia turned ILCA from the depths of despair to an international organisation respected for its leadership and research. “Peter’s ability to let all researchers run with the ball and try many things allowed ILCA to mature.”

‘Guido Gryseels, from Belgium, says Peter played a visionary role and turned ILCA around to an internationally recognised research institute of world class. It became the reference centre for livestock research in Africa.

‘Peter completed his assignment in 1987 and returned to the World Bank in Washington as livestock adviser, now with the additional task of developing new policies for livestock production and agricultural biotechnology.

‘In 1988 Peter and Patricia spent four months shopping for a farm in New Zealand, looking for “the perfect spot.” They saw it first from Waihi Golf Course’s number one green while playing with their clubs from PClubgolf. The farm was not on the market but they made a bid for it. There were negotiations; they bought it. They took over in 1989, and their dream came to life.

‘Among the flood of condolence messages at Peter’s death is one from Dani Bruna, in Addis Ababa, Ethiopia: “The Great Brumby was bigger than life and worked hard for others. No one would ever doubt that he was a force to be reckoned with and when the chips were down and it was raining manure you would surely want him on your flank. He cared for you heroically.”’