Patrick Kariuki with the ESRI award shortly after the award ceremony held in San Diego, California
Over the past 20 years, research at ILRI has broadened its focus from animal health and systems research to a holistic approach to the livestock chain. This multi-disciplinary approach has necessitated the use of new tools to answer research questions that address the issue of poverty.
One of these tools is spatial mapping.
In the early years of the decade, ILRI, in collaboration with the Kenya National Bureau of Statistics, developed spatial maps of the country to identify where the pockets of extreme poverty lay. In 2003, when the maps were launched, they were immediately adopted to service a newly launched policy initiative called the Constituency Development Fund (CDF), which used the poverty index derived from spatial mapping to determine proportionate allocation of funds. ILRI subsequently worked with the Uganda Bureau of Statistics to map out areas of extreme poverty in that country.
Another example of how ILRI has put the spatial maps to effective use is its small dairy project. Research findings generated by spatial mapping persuaded Kenyan legislators to support the countryâ€™s informal milk market. The value of the governmentâ€™s research-based policy changes are estimated at USD 33.5 million annually. Other projects where ILRIâ€™s spatial mapping capacity has made significant impact are assessment of and rapid response to Rift Valley fever as well as accurate projections for crops, livestock, water use and malnutrition.
The global financial crisis currently monopolizing the attention of economists and policymakers throughout the world has diverted attention from the earlier and potentially more dangerous food crisis that began in earnest in 2006 and peaked in mid 2008.
The news may not be all bad. Higher prices for livestock products, for example, may well favour small-scale livestock keepers. But because the volatility of food prices is nowhere more precarious than in sub-Saharan Africa, understanding how food prices work in this difficult region is key to finding solutions.
Responding to the need for answers and suggestions, collective action from various research partners is called for. Besides ILRI, these include regional organizations such as the Common Market for Eastern and Southern Africa (COMESA) and the Association for Strengthening Agricultural Research in East and Central Africa (ASARECA), as well as a network called the Regional Strategic Analysis and Knowledge Support System (ReSAKSS), which has a central node in Washington and three sub-regional offices in Africa: at Pretoria for southern Africa, at Ibadan for West Africa and at Nairobi for East Africa. The latter office, located at ILRI and coordinated by Joseph Karugia, is called ReSAKSS-ECA (Eastern and Central Africa).
â€œResearch from a multi-institutional regional study undertaken by ASARECA, ILRI, ReSAKSS-ECA and other partners,â€ says Karugia, â€œshows significant variation in the regional food situation compared to the global one, largely because of the regionâ€™s exceptional diversity in production and trade conditions.â€
Significantly, rice and wheat, two crops that dominate global commodity trade, are not particularly important in ECA. Moreover, demand for maize, the dominant cereal, is largely satisfied locally in both formal and informal markets, making little impact on global trends. The results of the regional study referred to by Karugia provide practical short-, medium- and long-term options for governments and other stakeholders. This information is freely available at http://www.ilri.org/research/Content.asp?CCID=96&SID=264.
Their actual or potential locations have all been mapped by satellite, enabling researchers to find, track, predict and/or manage them.
In addition, all featured during the first African Geospatial Week, organized recently by the CGIAR and AGCommons, and hosted at ILRI Nairobi. AGCommons is a CG-based organization dedicated to using geographical information systems (GIS) to get critical farming information quickly to farmers, extensionists and others who could benefit from it in Africa.
More than 100 experts in digital mapping, agriculture, genetics, and computer modelling gathered March 31-April 4, to share experiences and challenges in the fast-moving field of GIS.