Saving lives and protecting livelihoods

Identifying livelihood interventions to reduce the vulnerability of
livestock-dependent households in Africa

The Assumption
Enormous sums of money are spent on relief
for people facing natural and human-made disasters.
Relief work is more efficient, and has more lasting impacts,
when it is done in conjunction with scientific research.

The increasing frequency and severity of climate shocks across Africa, compounded with disease outbreaks and price volatility of key commodities, threaten the livelihoods of millions of households. When such shocks occur, many find their coping capacity over-tasked and, without comprehensive risk-management options, are driven into chronic poverty.

Donors and policymakers acknowledge the inadequate and unsustainable nature of conventional responses to emergencies caused by droughts, floods and other natural and human-made disasters. Emergency responses have largely focused on short-term interventions, particularly food aid. While food aid often saves lives and reduces suffering, it has failed to provide long-term development solutions that support poor people’s livelihoods. What’s needed are social protection measures, including ‘safety nets’, which can protect people from falling into chronic poverty, and ‘cargo nets’, which can provide people with ways to climb out of poverty.

Growing evidence indicates social protection programs to protect livelihoods are more cost-effective over the long run than short-term emergency responses, which save lives but leave households vulnerable to future shocks and with little chance of escaping poverty. Recent empirical findings show that shocks that cause households to lose their productive assets can have irreversible impacts, trapping households in long-lasting poverty. This is particularly true for households largely dependent on livestock for their livelihoods.

Farm animals are key productive assets, a store of wealth and a source of nourishment for the poor worldwide. Losing livestock can spell disaster for household livelihoods, nutrition and resilience (those who lose their livestock not only lose their key assets, but also their prime, and often only, source of income). Little systematic research, however, has focused on developing interventions for livestock-dependent people within the context of broader social protection measures. Such interventions would work to protect households from livestock losses by, for example, providing emergency fortified feeds for starving animals during famines, implementing livestock insurance schemes to mitigate the consequences of livestock losses, and stimulating early destocking through markets. Such interventions would also work to raise livestock productivity and reduce livestock vulnerability by, for example, improving production standards, enabling small-scale farmers and pastoralists to tap into export markets, and identifying the conditions that give rise to successful livestock marketing cooperatives.

We propose to work with research and development organizations o develop  effective risk management options that help poor livestock households cope with a wide range of shocks and enhance their resilience. Results of qualitative and quantitative analyses will be used to develop policies that promote people’s adaptive capacity and reduce their vulnerability.

This initiative will build on relief work in livestock-dependent areas. It will conduct experiments within relief projects to come up with better and more long-lasting relief interventions. ILRI and partners can add value to relief work by, for example, providing new perspectives in brainstorming sessions, developing experimental designs for socio-economic studies, monitoring and evaluating relief projects, and engaging development agencies and governments in extracting broad lessons from relief projects, which help relief organizations and governments become more efficient relief providers while deriving lessons about global public goods.

The specific objectives of this collaborative initiative are the following.

  1. Identify cost-effective risk management interventions that would reduce the vulnerability of livestock-dependent households to external shocks, improve their resilience to future shocks, and protect their livelihoods from collapse in the face of shocks.
  2. Design and test identified interventions in the field and simulate their expected dynamic welfare impact in terms of their cost-effectiveness and their ability to protect households from falling into poverty, to rescue households from poverty traps, and to sustain livelihoods (social experimentation).
  3. Investigate novel risk-management innovations, such as index-based livestock insurance that participate in informal, public and market-based collaborative partnerships addressing chronic poverty and vulnerability among livestock-dependent households.
  4. Develop guidelines that help donors, governments and NGOs design and implement risk-management livestock projects conducted within broader social protection programs.

The action- and policy-oriented research we propose will involve close collaboration among researchers, development agencies and policymakers, who will jointly identify the key research gaps and questions and identify target research communities and sites. The core analytical team will comprise local and ILRI researchers working with strategic partners from advanced research institutions such as Cornell University. Government agencies, NGOs and others will be actively involved in identifying opportunities for interventions, selecting research sites, engaging selected communities and providing qualitative inputs into the analytical work. International agencies such as the World Food Program (WFP) and Food and Agricultural Organization of the United Nations (FAO), national development agencies, and NGOs will have primary responsibility for implementing programmatic interventions in pilot projects.

Jointly with development agencies, policymakers, country analysts, and NGOs, ILRI will develop a research plan providing details of the following.

  1. Questions, hypotheses, constraints, interventions, analytical approaches and sampling strategies to be used in the study.
  2. The most suitable geographic areas for the interventions to be designed, implemented, monitored and evaluated.
  3. The feasibility of proposed studies to develop livestock-based ‘safety net’ and ‘cargo net’ interventions.
  4. The roles and responsibilities of each project partner, including plans for joint decision-making, review, consultation and feedback.

Consultations will be held with key regional and country stakeholders at initiation of the study. Participants at these meetings will discuss the research plan and initiate a dialogue to help development partners explore innovative safety net and cargo net options targeting poor livestock-dependent households.

Detailed plans for field surveys and data analyses will be jointly drawn up once the overall research plan has been agreed upon and there is demonstrable stakeholder ownership of the initiative.

ILRI is looking for intellectual as well as financial partners with whom to conduct this work. If you are interested to collaborate or want more information, please contact any of the ILRI staff below.

Andrew Mude: ILRI economist, Nairobi,, +254 20 422 4369.

Nancy Johnson: ILRI director of Theme 1: Targeting opportunities & enabling innovation, Nairobi,, +254 20 422 3014.

Bruce Scott: ILRI director of partnerships and communications, Nairobi,, +254 20 422 3205.

John McDermott: ILRI deputy director general for research, Nairobi, +254 20 422 3207.

Carlos Seré: ILRI director general, Nairobi,, +254 20 422 3201.

1 thought on “Saving lives and protecting livelihoods

  1. Birilian work for ILRI and the great work they are executing in the region.
    Solidarity for Social and Environmental Services (SOSES) is a local registered organization in Kenya working in Nairobi, Coast and Northeastern Provinces in Kenya and cross-border programs as this regard, We are glad to establish our first cordial link with your great humanitarian office in the region and would be grateful to note your earliest possible collaboration, which is intended to bring our above organizations in the best way of future working relations.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published.