New partnership agreement to extend ILRI’s livestock and forages research in China

New ILRI-CAAS partnership agreement signed

A new partnership agreement to widen research on livestock and forage diversity was signed, on 14 October 2011, between the International Livestock Research Institute and the Chinese Academy of Agricultural Sciences (photo credit: ILRI/Onesmus Mbiu).

The International Livestock Research Institute (ILRI) and the Chinese Academy of Agricultural Sciences (CAAS) today (14 October, 2011) signed an agreement to extend their shared operations in livestock and forage genetics research. Hosted in Beijing, the Chinese capital, the initiative will strengthen the already existing relationship between ILRI and CAAS that has seen the two research centres share research and facilities through the CAAS-ILRI Joint Laboratory on Livestock and Forage Genetic Resources for the past 7 years.

The joint laboratory carries out research into livestock genetics and forage species. ILRI scientists have been working in China for the past 10 years through a liaison office, which is hosted at CAAS.

This new agreement will expand operations of the joint laboratory to widen research into next generation genome sequencing that will help scientists better understand livestock and forage genetic diversity in China and other countries and conserve these unique livestock genetic resources and forage species. The new agreement will also improve training and capacity building of partners on the application of new technological discoveries in livestock and forage research.

Speaking at the signing ceremony held at ILRI’s headquarters in Nairobi, Jimmy Smith, the director general of ILRI, thanked CAAS and praised the on-going work between the two partners saying ‘the partnership in China had created new opportunities for enhancing livestock research in Asia and contributed to a better understanding on how livestock can help the poor in Asia, particularly in China.’

Read about the outputs of the CAAS-ILRI joint laboratory: http://mahider.ilri.org/handle/10568/2421

New program aims to spur state-of-the-art biosciences innovation to fight food insecurity, climate change and environmental degradation across eastern Africa

Bio-Innovate launch: Swedish Embassy's Bjorn Haggmark

Launched today at the International Livestock Research Institute (ILRI), the Bioresources Innovations Network for Eastern Africa Development (Bio-Innovate) program will support the fight against food insecurity in eastern Africa (photo credit: ILRI/MacMillan).

A new program that provides grants to bioscientists working to improve food production and environmental management in eastern Africa was launched today at the Nairobi headquarters of the International Livestock Research Institute (ILRI).

The newly established Bioresources Innovation Network for Eastern Africa Development (Bio-Innovate) Program—the first of its kind in Africa—provides competitive grants to African researchers who are working with the private sector and non-governmental organizations to find ways to improve food security, boost resilience to climate change and identify environmentally sustainable ways of producing food.

In its first three-year phase, the program is supporting five research-based projects working to improve the productivity of sorghum, millet, cassava, sweet potato, potato and bean farmers; to help smallholder farmers adapt to climate change; to improve the processing of wastes in the production of sisal and coffee; and to better treat waste water generated in leather processing and slaughterhouse operations.

In its second three-year phase, beginning mid-2011, Bio-Innovate will help build agricultural commodity ‘value chains’ in the region and a supportive policy environment for bioresource innovations.

The five-year program is funded by a USD12-million grant from the Swedish International Development Agency (Sida). Bio-Innovate is managed by ILRI and co-located within the Biosciences eastern and central Africa (BeCA) Hub at ILRI’s Nairobi campus. Bio-Innovate will be implemented in Burundi, Ethiopia, Kenya, Rwanda, Tanzania and Uganda.

‘By emphasizing innovations to help drive crop production in the six partner countries, Bio-Innovate is working at the heart of one of the region’s greatest challenges—that of providing enough food in the face of climate change, diversifying crops and addressing productivity constraints that are threatening the livelihoods of millions,’ said Carlos Seré, ILRI’s director general.

An increasingly large number of poor people in the developing world are hungry, or, in development-speak, ‘food insecure.’ In sub-Saharan Africa, where agricultural production relies on rainfed smallholder farming, hunger, environmental degradation and climate change present a triple threat to individual, community and national development. In eastern Africa alone, over 100 million people depend on agriculture to meet their fundamental economic and nutritional needs.

Although some three-quarters of the African population are involved in farming or herding, investment in African agricultural production has continued to lag behind population growth rates for several decades, with the result that the continent has been unable to achieve sustainable economic and social development.

‘Bioresources research and use is key to pro-poor economic growth,’ says Seyoum Leta, Bio-Innovate’s program manager. ‘By focusing on improving the performance of crop agriculture and agro-processing, and by adding value to primary production, we can help build a more productive and sustainable regional bioresources-based economy.’

Bio-Innovate works closely with the African Union/New Partnership for Africa’s Development (AU/NEPAD) and its new Planning and Coordinating Agency, as well as with the councils and commissions for science and technology in eastern Africa, to encourage adoption of advances in biosciences. The program builds on AU/NEPAD’s Consolidated Plan of Action for Africa’s Science and Technology and the Comprehensive Africa Agriculture Development Program (CAADP).

‘African governments are appreciating the importance of regional collaboration,’ says Ibrahim Mayaki, the chief executive officer of NEPAD. ‘Collaborations such as this, in science and technology, will enable the continent to adapt to the rapid advances and promises of modern biosciences.’

Bio-Innovate has already established partnerships with higher learning institutions and national agricultural research organizations, international agricultural research centres and private industries working both within and outside eastern Africa.

‘Bio-Innovate is an important platform for pooling eastern African expertise and facilities through a regional Bioresources Innovations Network,’ says Claes Kjellström, Bio-Innovate Sida representative at the Embassy of Sweden in Nairobi. ‘We believe this program will enable cross-sectoral and interdisciplinary biosciences research and enhance innovations and policies that will advance agricultural development in the region.’

The Bio-Innovate team is working with these partners to help guide development and adoption of homegrown bioscience policies in its partner countries and to spread knowledge of useful applications of bioscience. In the coming years, Bio-Innovate staff envision eastern Africa becoming a leading region in the use of biotechnology research and approaches for better food production and environmental management.

Some presentations from today’s launch:

More information about Bio-Innovate:
Short Blip TV clips

Three interviews of Seyoum Leta, Bio-Innovate program manager:

http://ilri.blip.tv/file/4882255/

http://ilri.blip.tv/file/4882101/

http://ilri.blip.tv/file/4881914/

Four interviews of Gabrielle Persley, senior advisor to ILRI’s director general:

http://ilri.blip.tv/file/4882211/

http://ilri.blip.tv/file/4882005/

http://ilri.blip.tv/file/4882481/

http://ilri.blip.tv/file/4882486/

Website:

http://bioinnovate-africa.org/

Pictures:

http://www.flickr.com/photos/ilri/sets/72157624891160295/

Getting gender issues into people’s heads and hearts–An expert assessment for agricultural development

The gender-specific disadvantages and inequities faced by rural women in poor countries create challenges for the research and development specialists working to help them empower themselves. Political, social and cultural environments all need to change before most women will be able to take a larger role in generating incomes. Men and women both need to be involved for that to happen. And when that does happen, men and women both will benefit from women’s empowerment.

The views of four women experts in the area, shown in this short (3 minute: 40 second) film, were recorded at a February 28–2 March workshop held at the International Livestock Research Institute (ILRI), in Addis Ababa, Ethiopia, where a group of experts assessed the current state of gender-related agricultural research in Africa, particularly the experiences of a 5-year joint ILRI-Ethiopian government project called ‘Improving Productivity and Market Success of Ethiopian farmers (IPMS).

The following is a transcript

Ranjitha Puskur, Indian, agricultural economist at International Livestock Research Institute (ILRI)
One of the major constraints that we saw that came in the way of helping women to take part in market-oriented agricultural activities is their lack of technical skills and knowledge.

Seblewongel Deneke, Ethiopian, sociologist at the Canadian International Development Agency (CIDA)–Ethiopia Canada Cooperation Office
The project that we are looking at now from IPMS with ILRI has done a lot of experimenting on how to target women, how to target the household, how to get them engaged and how in some ways make people see the other side of things.

Ranjitha Puskur
One of the things that we tried to do was to make sure the women have more access to knowledge and skill development through a number of trainings—and also bringing actually both the husband and wife together for the training so that they have a shared knowledge. We have demonstrated that this is a good way of approaching knowledge and skill sharing with women and men.

Jemimah Njuki, Kenyan, sociologist
What we have recently done in ILRI in terms of women and livestock is tried to put together what is it that we know at the moment on women and livestock and how to use livestock as a pathway out of poverty for women.

Seblewongel Deneke
That I think is one of the gaps in this country—there isn’t much research happening. And on gender specifically, I think we look to ILRI for some of the research it’s done. And I think the approach that they are using, working with their development partners in getting those research works done, is excellent and it should be strengthened.

Anne Waters-Bayer, Canadian/Dutch, Ecology, Technology and Culture Foundation
I’m a bit surprised, I must say, to come to a workshop now in 2011 and to hear actually many of the same things being said that were said back in the early 1980s. We published this 30 years ago but publishing wasn’t enough. We obviously didn’t manage to get into people’s heads, into their hearts and into the materials that they are dealing with day to day our messages about the important role of women in agricultural development.

Jemimah Njuki
We are hoping that this then becomes a starting point from which development partners can then start saying this has worked before, this has not worked and research organizations can then say, these are the further questions that we need to address in terms of generating evidence.

Seblewongel Deneke
Education is important. The more educated the women are, the more they will have control over the number of family members they can have. Reproductive health, the population pressure, all those things—there are many factors out there: it’s not just agriculture in isolation. For the research side of things that interlink—inter-linkages between sectors may be looked at, and then, maybe the answers would come from different angles.

Ranjitha Puskur
There have been a number of projects, often localized—projects working on specific issues in specific areas and at specific times. So there’s all these pieces of the puzzle scattered everywhere, and this workshop is an attempt to bring all this together.

Seblewongel Deneke
Yes, IPMS has done quite a bit of work on making research linked with the development aspect, and we have other projects that are doing similar approaches, where research and the development partners have come together to actually do the work together. And I think that is the best way to go forward.

Jemimah Njuki
We have made a lot of progress in terms of at least understanding what the gender issues in agriculture are, of even identifying some of the strategies that could be used to address these gender inequalities. I think what remains to be done is to see how those strategies, how those interventions, can be done at a scale that’s large enough to reach millions of women—which we need to do!

Investments needed to help poor people take advantage of an on-going boom in livestock production in developing countries

Ploughing with cattle in West Bengal

Farmer Noor Ali ploughs his field in Brahampur, India. A better understanding of the multiple roles played by livestock in developing communities will help improve livestock production and accelerate economic development in poor countries (photo credit: ILRI/Mann).

Following the 2008/9 global food price crisis, agricultural experts agree that more investment in food production is needed to meet increasing world food demand. Global food security, however, is unlikely to be achieved unless livestock production is made more efficient.

Farm animals fulfil an important role in developing communities, where many people depend on mixed crop-and-livestock farming systems or live in marginal areas where animal agriculture is the only means of producing food. For most of the world’s poorest, about 600 million people, animals provide not only milk, meat and eggs but are also a source of draught power and manure for crop farming, resources that help livestock keepers diversify their income.

For many of these livestock keepers, greater investment in livestock production would make a significant difference in helping them come out of poverty by increasing their sources of food and income. 

The role of livestock in developing communities: Enhancing multifunctionality, a new book co-published by the University of the Free State South Africa, the Technical Centre for Agricultural and Rural Cooperation (CTA) and the International Livestock Research Institute (ILRI), argues that a better understanding of the multiple roles played by livestock in developing communities will help decision-makers and development practitioners not only improve the livestock sector’s efficiency and productivity but, through that, accelerate economic development in poor countries.

Livestock production in the developing world faces the challenge of how to meet an increasing demand for meat, milk and eggs with limited land, water and other natural resources, say two of the book’s authors, Siboniso Moyo, ILRI’s representative in southern Africa, and Frans Swanepoel, senior director of research and professor of sustainable agriculture at the University of the Free State, in Bloemfontein, South Africa.

Examining trends and drivers in livestock production in developing communities, the authors say that the smallholder livestock sector needs to adapt to increasing population and urbanization and the other changes coming in the wake of these changes, such as rapidly changing livestock systems, environments, climates and consumption patterns. All these changes, they say, require stronger policies and institutions.

The authors propose strengthening institutions and policies, providing livestock owners with credit, improving veterinary services, increasing the delivery and uptake of livestock technologies and improving the infrastructure of livestock markets.

The increasing demand for livestock in developing countries due to rising populations and incomes offers many poor livestock keepers new opportunities to raise their incomes by increasing the production and marketing of their livestock products. The main questions are how to include poor people in this livestock boom, and how to help smallholders increase their livestock production while making more efficient use of their land, water and native stock.

Three other big challenges of the fast-changing livestock sector in poor countries are finding ways to feed the increasing numbers of animals in the face of diminishing natural resources, developing diagnostics and vaccines to better protect animals against neglected tropical diseases of livestock as well as zoonotic diseases, which are shared by livestock and people, and finding optimal ways for small-scale livestock keepers to adapt to climate change and reduce their production of greenhouse gases.

The authors, however, note that rising prices of livestock products can open up new market opportunities for small-scale producers, though this alone will not guarantee their competitiveness. Without support, many smallholder livestock producers, especially those in marginal areas, with limited access to information and knowledge, will find it difficult to compete with larger livestock operations in meeting the increasing demand for livestock products while also meeting the more stringent food quality and safety standards the new market is demanding.

‘The livestock sector is an important part of developing communities and the multiple roles that livestock play in meeting the livelihoods of people need to be enhanced for the sector to continue contributing to poverty reduction,’ the book says. ‘Research and development agencies need to come together to address these challenges comprehensively.’

This book provides a list of ‘Livestock development projects that make a difference’ and ways to promote gender equality and empower women through livestock development. Watch for more highlights from the book in upcoming ILRI news articles.

Read more about The role of livestock in developing communities: Enhancing multifunctionality

Download the full text

Biosciences in and for Africa: A round-up of reports about the official opening of Nairobi’s Biosciences eastern and central Africa Hub

10BecA_Opening

Kenya President Mwai Kibaki receives flowers from Renee Njunge on his arrival at ILRI for the official opening of the Biosciences eastern and central Africa (BecA) Hub on 5 November 2010. Looking on is Beth Mugo, the minister for public health and sanitation (photo credit: ILRI/Masi).

On 5 November 2010, Kenya President Mwai Kibaki officially opened the Biosciences eastern and central Africa (BecA) Hub, a world-class biosciences research facility based in Africa and working for Africa.

Located at, and managed by, the International Livestock Research Institute (ILRI) in Nairobi, Kenya, the BecA Hub provides a common biosciences research platform and related services and capacity-building to the science community in Africa and beyond.

The laboratory facility at the Hub brings to par Africa’s research capability with that of the world’s most developed countries. Africa’s scientists, students and global partners can now conduct advanced biosciences research, and get advanced training in biosciences, without leaving the continent. The Hub is a focal point for the African agricultural research community and its global partners.

The BecA Hub began in 2004 as part of an African Biosciences Initiative of the African Union/New Partnership for Africa’s Development. This initiative was part of a framework of Centres of Excellence for Science and Technology in Africa and the Comprehensive African Agricultural Development Programme.

The Hub is supported by many partners and donors. The Canadian International Development Agency funded renovation of laboratories already existing at ILRI’s Nairobi campus as well as construction of new facilities. The Syngenta Foundation for Sustainable Agriculture is helping to fund the BecA Hub’s operations through 2014. Other investors are supporting specific research and training projects at the Hub.

The official opening at ILRI brought together government officials, donor representatives, researchers and the local community in a colourful celebration of the contributions agricultural research is making in addressing some of Africa’s most pressing problems.

For more information about the BecA Hub, visit hub.africabiosciences.org and www.ilri.org or email BecA-Hub@cgiar.org.

Watch a short video film about what young students and scientists think about working at the Hub: ‘The BecA Hub at ILRI—A new research facility in Africa and for Africa’.

Watch a 5-minute photofilm that captures the main messages and spirit of the opening ceremony last November (2010): ‘Opening ceremony – Biosciences eastern and central Africa research facilities’

See photographs of the opening ceremony on ILRI’s Flickr page: ‘2010 BecA Hub Opening’.

Read articles that appeared in the media about the opening:
Highlights from speeches at the opening of the Biosciences eastern and central Africa Hub at ILRI
New law to promote agricultural development, says Kibaki
New laws key in war on hunger: Kibaki

Listen to three of the speeches made at the opening ceremony:
Carlos Seré on the opening of the Biosciences eastern and central Africa Hub
NEPAD welcomes opening of the Biosciences eastern and central Africa Hub
Canadian High Commissioner celebrates birth of the Biosciences eastern and central Africa Hub

After successful eradication of rinderpest, African researchers now focus on peste des petits ruminants, the most urgent threat to African livestock

Mozambique, Gurue District, Lhate Village

Widowed farmer Maria Ngove feeds a goat at her home in Lhate Village, Mozambique. African veterinary service leaders and animal health workers recently adopted a new strategy to manage peste des petits ruminants, a disease that is increasingly threatening Africa's small ruminants. (Photo credit: ILRI/Mann) 

The recent announcement by the global scientific community of what is expected to be a successful worldwide eradication of rinderpest is providing a renewed drive to African animal health researchers to focus on ways of controlling its cousin, peste des petits ruminants, a similar disease that is increasingly threatening Africa’s small ruminant populations.

African veterinary service leaders and animal health workers last week (17 November 2010) adopted a new strategy for managing this viral disease of sheep and goats following an emergency meeting in Nairobi called to find ways to best tackle the threat of the disease. A strategy for controlling the disease will be rolled out in coming months to, among other aims, help prevent the spread of the disease into southern Africa following recent confirmation of its spread into southern Tanzania.

Participants at the one-day meeting discussed a ‘Pan-African strategy for the progressive control of peste des petits ruminants’, which has been jointly developed by the African Union-Interafrican Bureau for Animal Resources (AU-IBAR) and the International Livestock Research Institute (ILRI).

Representatives of the Inter-Governmental Authority on Development, chief veterinary officers from Burundi, Democratic Republic of Congo, Ethiopia, Kenya, Malawi, Somalia, Southern Sudan, Sudan, Tanzania, Uganda and Zambia, as well as representatives of national animal research centres from the region, attended the meeting.

The meeting sought to harmonize on-going control efforts in a shared strategy under the continental umbrella of AU-IBAR that would enable implementation of a ‘coordinated approach’ of dealing with this disease of small stock across Africa.

‘Peste des petits ruminants is causing significant economic impact on Africa’s people by constraining the livelihoods and endangering the food security of the poor and marginalized members of society, who rely on small ruminants for food and income; we are concerned about stopping its further spread southwards,’ said Ahmed El-Sawalhy, director of AU-IBAR.

Also known as ‘small ruminant plague’, this disease has killed great numbers of sheep and goats in Africa since it was first reported in West Africa in 1942. Since then, the disease has spread from localized areas to affect most of western and eastern Africa, and is now threatening herds in the southern areas of the continent.

Recent major outbreaks of the disease in Kenya, Tanzania and Uganda have killed millions of small stock, hurting the livelihoods of farmers. The disease has also been reported in Morocco, from where it threatens southern Europe, the Middle East, South Asia and China.

Small ruminants are ready sources of food and cash for women and disadvantaged households and are an important means of rebuilding herds after environmental and political shocks, especially in herding communities.

Unless coordinated action is taken to control the spread of the disease, small ruminant plague is likely to spread to most of Africa, bringing with it untold losses of livestock and endangering the livelihoods of millions of African farmers and herders.

‘We are looking for a regional approach to deal with this plague and right now we are working with 13 countries that are either affected by the disease or are located in high-risk areas. We also want to mobilize resources to support the tools we already have in order to maintain the momentum that has resulted from the eradication of rinderpest,’ said El-Sawalhy.

Already, there are on-going initiatives in countries where the disease is confirmed–supported by AU-IBAR, national governments and other partners–that are helping to deal with the impacts of small ruminant plague and support affected livestock herders. The new strategy seeks to consolidate these efforts into a harmonized AU-IBAR-led effort that will ensure standardized approaches are used to control the disease in affected countries and to prevent its spread to new areas. 

AU-IBAR is encouraging the setting up of emergency measures for dealing with the disease’s spread in southern Africa. These measures include working with national governments and research institutions to map out high-risk areas in countries such as Malawi, Mozambique and Zambia that border areas affected by the latest outbreaks, providing adequate vaccine stocks and making contingency funds available for targeted emergency vaccinations.

In the long-term, this new strategy seeks to eradicate small ruminant plague from Africa.

‘This is an important disease and we are confident to undertake the fight against it and eventually eradicate it from Africa,’ said Jeffrey Mariner, a scientist with ILRI who is leading ILRI’s research efforts on PPR. ‘One of the lessons from programs to eradicate rinderpest from Africa is that the AU-IBAR and the African veterinary services have the capacity to coordinate disease control operations successfully. Investments in a program for the progressive control of small ruminant plague will be well spent.’

An ILRI-hosted and managed Biosciences eastern and central Africa (BecA) Hub is currently implementing a project, funded by the Australian Commonwealth, Scientific, Industrial and Research Organisation, to develop a standardized thermostable vaccine against this plague that incorporates the vaccine strain already used to vaccinate against the disease in Africa.

‘We will also be evaluating vaccination service delivery systems based on public-private-community partnerships that build on experiences from the rinderpest eradication campaign,’ Mariner said. ‘The overall objective is to establish sustainable vaccination service models that make reliable and affordable control services available to farmers throughout the remote pastoral regions of Africa.’

‘The existing technical tools and animal health systems provide a solid foundation for initiating progressive control operations of this disease of small ruminants,’ said Dickens Chibeu, the acting chief animal health officer at AU-IBAR who also chaired the meeting. ‘Coordinated long-term action will add value to already on-going interventions that are helping to limit the immediate impact of the disease,’ he said.

AU-IBAR and ILRI are hoping to garner international donor support of national governments and research institutions for a well-coordinated effort that will support current initiatives by national governments in affected countries. ‘We are encouraging countries in southern Africa to initiate surveillance for the disease and to ensure preparedness in case of outbreaks. On our part, we are working to ensure the availability of emergency vaccine stocks as we bring together all partners involved and affected by this disease in a continent-wide strategy that will ensure we use the same strategy,’ said Dr.Chibeu.

—-

This article was also published in the AU-IBAR website: http://www.au-ibar.org/index.php?option=com_flexicontent&view=items&id=224

For more information on peste de petits ruminants, visit the following links:

http://www.fao.org/DOCREP/003/X1703E/X1703E00.HTM

http://www.merckvetmanual.com/mvm/index.jsp?cfile=htm/bc/56100.htm

Highlights from speeches at the opening of the Biosciences eastern and central Africa Hub at ILRI

10BecA_Opening_CarlosSereBruceScottRomanoKiome

Carlos Seré, director general of ILRI; Bruce Scott, director of Partnerships and Communications at ILRI; and Romano Kiome, permanent secretary in Kenya’s Ministry of Agriculture; in discussion at the official opening of BecA at ILRI (photo credit: ILRI/MacMillan).

Following are key highlights from speeches read on Friday 5 November 2010 during the official opening of the Biosciences eastern and central Africa (BecA) Hub, which is hosted and managed by the International Livestock Research Institute (ILRI), at its Nairobi headquarters and laboratories.

Mohammed Kuti, Kenya’s Minister for Livestock Development said ‘Kenya is proud to host BecA, a modern research facility for sub-Sahara Africa. I am gratified to learn that this facility has adopted an integrated research approach, using biosciences to address animal and plant research, human health as well as the sustainable use of Africa’s natural resources.’

His Excellency, David Collins, Canadian High Commissioner to Kenya said ‘Canada is pleased to celebrate the achievements that have been made in establishing this particular centre of excellence in bioscience in agriculture.

‘In May 2003, Canada announced a contribution of C$30 million to establish the Biosciences eastern and central Africa (BecA) initiative in Kenya. BecA is the first of four networks of centres of excellence across Africa to strengthen Africa’s scientific and technological development. It allows eastern and central African countries to develop and apply bioscience research and expertise.’

‘BecA,’ said Collins, ‘is conducting important research that will help address key agricultural issues, including those facing small-scale African farmers, the majority of whom are women.’

He said Canada’s investment in BecA has supported the construction of new facilities and the renovation of existing facilities, including laboratories. With the completion of construction, the Hub is now in full operation, with a number of significant research programs under way, and quickly gaining regional and international recognition as a world-class facility to support capacity for biosciences in Africa.

‘The hub will enable African scientists and researchers play a major role in helping Africa meet its Millennium Development Goals by 2015 as a more productive and profitable agricultural sector is a critical component in the successful attainment of the MDGs,’ he added.

‘It is exciting to see the birth of a hub that will play a key role in ensuring that Africa drives its own agenda in regards to agriculture and strengthens the research pillar of the Comprehensive Africa Agriculture Development Program.’ Collins said.

Carlos Seré, director general of ILRI, made the following remarks (full text).

‘It is indeed a very special honour to welcome you to the ILRI campus on the occasion of the opening of the Biosciences eastern and central Africa Hub.

‘Your Excellency, the statue you have just unveiled is an artistic representation of the double helix. The double helix is the recipe for life. Its chains of molecules, the DNA, encode the information that determines the inheritance shaping all living beings: plants, animals and microbes. This beautiful piece of art, produced here in Kenya, very aptly represents what BecA is about: understanding this code of life and using this knowledge to develop novel solutions such as livestock vaccines and improved crops.’

‘Much of this cutting-edge science could up to now only be undertaken in developed countries. The BecA-ILRI Hub now enables scientists from research institutions and universities across eastern and central Africa to come to Nairobi and undertake critical parts of their research with new tools and with support from colleagues with the requisite training and experience.’

‘How did this come about? NEPAD’s Science and Technology program and ILRI approached the Government of Canada in 2002 with a plan to refurbish ILRI’s laboratories and have ILRI provide, on behalf of NEPAD, a shared biosciences platform to provide African scientists with access to the most advanced facilities and equipment to conduct biosciences research of strategic importance for Africa’s development. This Hub forms part of NEPAD’s African Biosciences Initiative, which is creating a continent-wide network of shared biosciences research facilities.’

‘ILRI’s board of trustees and management team saw this as a logical evolution in its contribution to the continent’s development, responding on the one hand to the urgent need to boost biosciences capacity on the continent and on the other to the advantages of sharing such facilities. This is further driven by the fact that all agricultural research builds on the shared basic knowledge of biology, which underpins work in plants, animals and microbes. BecA is about exploiting this common body of knowledge to leapfrog the search for solutions. This is BecA’s unique contribution to Africa’s science endeavour.’

‘Beyond supporting the global community’s agenda of using livestock and livestock innovations as a pathway out of poverty, ILRI agreed to share its facilities with a wider array of African and international partners to better utilize this power of modern biosciences.’

‘Today we are witnessing the realization of that shared dream. Your Excellency, the strong support of the Kenyan Government to ILRI over the years has been critical to making this happen. Dr Romano Kiome, your Permanent Secretary of Agriculture and ILRI board member, passionately supported this initiaitive in its early days and chaired its first steering committee. Similarly, the financial and technical support of the Government of Canada  and many other development partners was absolutely critical. NEPAD’s vision and leadership in driving a continent-wide strategy for science and technology as a key building block for Africa’s development provided a strong case for creating BecA.

‘It is widely recognized that partnerships are critical to achieving significant impacts on the ground at the required speed. BecA is an innovative and complex partnership and a new way of operating across the boundaries of organizations. We are committed to working with all of you to make it flourish. To turn science into products for Africa, we will need to reach out to an even more diverse range of partners in the coming years. We thank your Excellency and the many other people and institutions who contributed to make BecA a reality.’

‘Your Excellency, this is a unique moment in history; Africa’s economy is growing faster than that of most Western economies. At the same time, we all know that there are serious concerns for food security globally and particularly on this continent. The BecA facility you are about to open today will deliver key elements to respond to the urgent demand for drastically increased agricultural productivity. It will provide practical hands-on experience in advanced biosciences to the next generation of African scientists. It will enable a wide range of African institutions, from research centres to universities to private-sector companies, to develop the technological solutions for today and tomorrow. We know there is a revolution going on in the biosciences worldwide. What has been lacking till now is effective grounding of this science in African realities. This will be done by Africans in Africa fully engaged in the global science community.’

Kenya’s President Mwai Kibaki officially opened the BecA-Hub at ILRI on Friday 5 November. Read key highlights from the president’s speech on the following link: http://ilriclippings.wordpress.com/2010/11/07/kenya-president-mwai-kibaki-officially-opens-state-of-the-art-biosciences-facilities-at-ilris-nairobi-campus/

Listen to and watch the BecA official opening speeches on the following links:
Podcasts
Short videos

Biosciences for Africa: Fuelling africa’s agricultural revolution from within

BecA official opening, 5 November 2010

His Excellency Mwai Kibaki, president of Kenya, listens to Lydia Wamalwa, a plant molecular biologist, during the official opening of the Biosciences eastern and central Africa Hub on 5 November 2010; in the middle, Carlos Seré, director general of the International Livestock Research Institute (ILRI), which hosts and manages the BecA Hub, looks on (photo credit ILRI/Masi).

A world-class research facility, the Biosciences eastern and central Africa Hub, was officially opened in Nairobi, today, by Kenya’s President Mwai Kibaki. This opening follows a scientific conference, Mobilizing Biosciences for Africa’s Development, which was held the day before at the International Livestock Research Institute (ILRI), which hosts and manages the new facility.

The BecA Hub is open for use by researchers from Africa and around the world who are working to improve African agriculture. The BecA Hub puts Africa’s research capacity on par with some of the world’s most advanced research institutes.

‘With the help of our many partners and investors, the research undertaken here will have a lasting impact in developing agriculture in Africa,’ says Carlos Seré, director general of ILRI.

The BecA Hub at ILRI brings the latest cutting-edge technologies into the hands of African graduate students and scientists. The Hub serves as a science integrator, allowing researchers to work together across institutional, national and disciplinary boundaries. There are already some 150 scientists, technicians and students using the facility today. The BecA Hub intends to double this number in the next five years. Since 2007, almost 1500 scientists have participated in BecA Hub conferences, workshops and short-term training and 100 graduate students and 57 visiting scientists have undertaken research at the facility.

‘This facility,’ said Kibaki, ‘will be used to develop what Africa requires and will serve as a focal point for Africa’s scientific community to enable them to carry out research to increase agricultural productivity and food security.’

Lydia Wamalwa, a Kenyan plant molecular biologist at the International Potato Center (CIP), says, ‘I left Kenya to start my PhD research with CIP laboratories in Lima, Peru. The opening of these facilities in Nairobi allowed me to return home to work on our agricultural challenges here in Africa.’

While the BecA Hub was formed to directly serve 17 countries in eastern and central Africa, demand for its use has been so strong that it now serves Ghana, Mali, Nigeria, Senegal, South Africa and Zambia, as well as other countries beyond the continent.

Research at the BecA Hub focuses on some of Africa’s biggest agricultural problems, including frequent droughts, devastating crop pests, diseases and weeds, lethal livestock diseases and unsafe foods.

‘We aim to help build Africa’s capacity by empowering its scientists to lead the coming African agricultural revolution from within,’ says the facility’s director, Segenet Kelemu, a leading Ethiopian bioscientist.

‘Many of the research findings generated so far look like they will find quick application in agriculture.’

African and international scientists are working here to develop drought-tolerant food crops. They are also working to improve food safety in Kenya by reducing the amount of its maize crop that is contaminated by aflatoxins, which cause cancer, stunt children’s growth, increase vulnerability to disease and, at high levels, kills. In addition, these scientists have developed and validated a new test for detecting bush meat being sold in Kenya’s butcheries, a diagnostic that can safeguard both wildlife populations and human health.

The BecA Hub began in 2004 as part of the African Union/New Partnership for Africa’s Development (NEPAD)’s African Biosciences Initiative, which was part of a framework of Centres of Excellence for Science and Technology and the Comprehensive African Agricultural Development Programme. The Hub was also aligned with regional priorities set by the Association for Strengthening Agricultural Research in Eastern and Central Africa.

Aggrey Ambali, director of the Policy Alignment and Programme Development Directorate, NEPAD Planning and Coordinating Agency, says, ‘The BecA Hub offers Africa’s bioscientists the opportunity to conduct high-level research within the continent.’

The Canadian International Development Agency strongly supported the Hub by funding renovation of laboratories already existing at ILRI’s Nairobi campus and the construction of new facilities. The 10,000-square-metre laboratories already host many researchers from Africa’s national agricultural research systems and several centres of the Consultative Group on International Agricultural Research. The facilities are now complete and the BecA Hub is ready to operate at full capacity.

The Syngenta Foundation for Sustainable Agriculture, a long-time supporter, is helping to fund the Hub’s operations through 2014. And many other investors are supporting specific research and training projects.

‘The BecA Hub at ILRI serves as a focal point connecting African science to fast-moving scientific superhighways in the rest of the world,’ says Knut Hove, chair of the ILRI Board of Trustees.

For example, BecA Hub graduate students have formed a group dedicated to bioinformatics. They are using the Hub’s high-performance computing platform, fast internet connectivity and bioinformatics expertise for ongoing peer-to-peer training. The group has organized international workshops and published a paper in a leading international journal. Some of these students have been awarded scholarships from the Australian Agency for International Development; Nescent, Durham, USA; and EMBL‐European Bioinformatics Institute, Cambridge, UK.

Romano Kiome, permanent secretary in Kenya’s Ministry of Agriculture, says that Kenya is proud to host a facility that is allowing leading African scientists to return home to work on African problems.

‘The BecA Hub,’ says Kiome, ‘should help this continent become a breadbasket for the world.’

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For more information on the BecA Hub, visit http://hub.africabiosciences.org

Listen to and watch the BecA official opening speeches on the following links:
Podcasts
Short videos

Joint efforts needed to help Nepalese livestock owners combat climate change

Why is climate change so important to agriculture-based countries?

Slide from ILRI presentation made at Nepal livestock and climate change workshop in October 2010: 'Adapting livestock systems to climate change in South Asia,' by Mario Herrero, Philip Thornton and Iain Wright (Graphic credit: de Jong 2005, World Bank 2005).

Participants in a workshop on livestock and climate change held last week in Kathmandu, Nepal, have called for greater collaboration in work to help Nepalese livestock producers adapt to climate change.

At the opening session of a ‘Consultative Technical Workshop on Climatic Change: Livestock Sector Vulnerability and Adaptation in Nepal’, held 28–29 October 2010, Iain Wright, regional representative for Asia at the International Livestock Research Institute (ILRI), said that the challenges of climate change in Nepal were too great for any one organization to tackle on its own.

‘Researchers’, Wright said, ‘must work more closely with governmental, non-governmental and international organizations, as well as with aid agencies and local communities, to help Nepal reduce the vulnerability of its livestock sector, and the many people who depend on it, to climate change.

Nepal, a landlocked Himalayan country with a human population 27 million, is ranked as one of the world’s poorest countries (142 of 147) by the recent Human Development Report, with one-third of the population living below the poverty line and a per capita annual income of just US$250. More than three-quarters of the population (85%) lives in rural areas and the agricultural sector employs 66% of the labour force and contributes 38% of the country’s gross domestic product.

A ‘Climate Change Vulnerability Index’ compiled by a UK-based firm, Maplecroft, has recently placed Nepal as the world’s fourth most vulnerable country to climate change, while the country produces less than 0.025% of the global greenhouse gas emissions.

Recent climate change scenarios suggest that mean temperatures in parts of Nepal are likely to rise faster than the global average, especially at higher altitudes, leading to less snow and ice. Farmers in the mountains are already feeling the effects of the higher temperatures. More climatic variability and extreme climatic events, including floods and droughts, are expected in future. Researchers anticipate an overall increase in precipitation in the region’s wet season, but a decrease in precipitation in the mid-latitude hills. Nepal’s relatively low rates of development render its population particularly vulnerable to these ongoing and future climate changes.

Nepal’s Minister for Agriculture and Cooperatives, Mrigendra K Singh Yadav, told the workshop participants that measures to adapt to climate change are necessary to protect the country’s many small-scale farmers. Tek Gurung, Director of Livestock and Fisheries with the Nepal Agricultural Research Council, called the workshop ‘a milestone’.

‘This is the first time that the main stakeholders in Nepal’s livestock development have come together with international organizations to assess the vulnerability of the livestock sector to climate change and to determine ways to increase the sector’s resilience,’ Gurung said.

‘While Nepal’s contribution to global greenhouse gas emissions is trivial’, Wright explained, ‘it is one of the countries that will be affected most by climate change. Therefore, it does not make sense for Nepal to devote its scarce resources to research on ways to mitigate the effects of agriculture on climate change.’

‘Rather’, Wright said, ‘we urgently need to develop strategies that will allow poor Nepalese farmers and herders, who are among most vulnerable people in the world, to cope with changes in climate. We know the livestock sector will be affected by these changes, but there is a dearth of information and data on exactly what those consequences will be.'

The workshop was organized by the Nepal Agricultural Research Council in partnership with ILRI; Local Initiatives for Biodiversity, Research and Development (a non-governmental organization in Nepal); and Heifer Project International–Nepal.

See the slide presentation made at the workshop by ILRI scientists Mario Herrero, Philip Thornton and Iain Wright: Adapting livestock systems to climate change in South Asia.

Livestock researchers in Nairobi honour Heifer President JoLuck, co-winner of the ‘Nobel for Food’

From ILRI with love

The World Food Prize, known as the ‘Nobel for Food’ (no Nobel Prize exists for agricultural science), was created in 1986 by Norman Borlaug, who himself won the Nobel Peace Prize in 1970 for his work creating high-yielding crop varieties estimated to have saved more than 1 billion lives from famine. The World Food Prize honours those who improve the quality, quantity or availability of food in the world. A co-winner of this year’s World Food Prize, announced on 16 June by US Secretary of State Hilary Rodham Clinton, is Jo Luck, president of the popular American charity Heifer International, which provides farm animals to needy families, who then ‘pass on’ the gift of subsequent offspring to others in need.

Speaking in a seminar held in her honour at the Nairobi campus of the International Livestock Research Institute (ILRI), where she served as a member of ILRI’s Board of Trustees between 2002 and 2005, Jo Luck reflected on her life that was a preparation for the role she now plays. ‘All the time I was learning what has brought me to this road. My experiences as a teacher and as a parent taught me how to recognize both the strong and the weak and how to bring people together and empower them by listening and learning from them,’ she said.

‘I represent many people who are receiving this award through me and I hope to honour and represent them properly,’ she said.

Those lucky enough to meet Jo Luck are struck immediately, and almost physically, by the depth of her energy and passion. Her ability to quickly tell a moving story that inspires people to make a difference in the world has more in common with, say, Oprah Winfrey (who has interviewed Jo Luck on her show) or Bill Clinton (who Jo Luck used to work for) than with other heads of charitable or development organizations.

The results of much of Jo Luck’s life’s work can be seen in communities in the developing world. Since joining Heifer in 1992, she has vastly up-scaled Heifer’s programs, which provide food- and income-producing animals to poor families, and helped broaden Heifer’s agenda, which now includes improving livelihoods through education and community development as well as animal husbandry.

With skilful management and superb communications abilities, Jo Luck built innovative educational initiatives that link grassroots donors in rich countries to recipients in developing countries. This not only brought new (and renewable) resources to poor farmers in developing countries but also gave Americans much better understanding of global hunger and poverty issues. As a result of her efforts, both the scope and impact of Heifer International have grown throughout Africa, the Americas, Asia, the South Pacific and Central and Eastern Europe. At least 10 million families, including 1.5 million families in 2009 alone, have been helped both to put nutritious food on their own tables and to feed others.

Carlos Seré, ILRI’s Director General, said that recognition of Jo Luck’s work with Heifer International ‘shows not only that a committed individual can make a difference in addressing global poverty and food insecurity, but also how much livestock matter and to how many people—animals help some one billion people to sustain their livelihoods and helps many of those to escape poverty.’

‘Jo Luck has impacted world poverty through gifts of livestock’, Seré said. ‘Cows, sheep, goats, pigs, chickens, camels and other farmed animals provide poor households with a means of livelihood, with sustenance and with the regular income needed to educate their children, enabling them to finally escape the poverty trap.’

But Jo Luck emphasized that gifts of animal stock, however welcome, are not enough. ‘Livestock production cannot be made sustainable without understanding the environment,’ she said. And this is where she believes researchers, policymakers, government officials and others need to come together. ‘We need to ensure not only that the animals poor people depend on are healthy and productive but also that this livestock productivity can be sustained over the long term without harming the environments of poor communities.’

Jo Luck has worked with ILRI and other groups to bring about closer collaboration between experts and local communities. Such collaboration, for example, is at the heart of a Heifer-run East African Dairy Development Project being conducted in Kenya, Rwanda and Uganda. ILRI works with Heifer on this project along with TechnoServe, ABS-TCM and World Agroforestry Centre (ICRAF). ILRI researchers are providing technical advice on such matters as improved breeding and feeding and are monitoring and evaluating the project as it goes along. This project, which is creating dairy ‘hubs’ in the three countries, is helping 180,000 households to participate in, and profit from, a booming dairy industry in East Africa. By joining forces, the partners in this project aim to help one million people, mostly poor rural farmers, double their incomes in the next few years.

The key to such collaboration, Jo Luck says, is simple. ‘We work directly with the people we mean to serve. We listen to them and learn from them. They make their own decisions about what works best for them. We then seek the resources that will let them fulfil their goals.’

Jo Luck will receive the 2010 World Food Prize in Des Moines, Iowa, on 14 October this year. Both she and her co-winner, David Beckmann, President of Bread for the World, another American grassroots organization working to end world poverty and hunger, will make presentations at the event, as will ILRI Director General Carlos Seré and other leading heads of international development work.

For more information about Jo Luck’s work with Heifer please read this related article.

In the following two short video interviews, Jo Luck discusses 'how livestock catalyze community development' and 'delivering livestock research that makes a difference'.

The World Food Prize website has further information about the Laureate Award Ceremony and Borlaug Symposium.

When small is both beautiful and big: Heifer President JoLuck is co-recipient of 2010 World Food Prize

JoLuck With Cow In Europe

US Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton yesterday (16 June 2010) named Jo Luck, President of Heifer International, and David Beckmann, President of Bread for the World, co-winners of the 2010 World Food Prize for spearheading two of the world’s foremost grassroots organizations working to end hunger and poverty.

In awarding the World Food Prize to Jo Luck and Beckmann, the World Food Prize Foundation is honouring not only these extraordinary individuals, but also the central role of non-governmental humanitarian organizations generally in mobilizing and empowering everyday citizens to end hunger worldwide.

David Beckmann has been head of Bread for the World — a collective Christian voice to end hunger — since 1991. Beckmann has marshalled some quarter of a million constituents to legislate for changing policies, programs and conditions that allow hunger to persist.

Jo Luck has built Heifer International, founded in 1944 and headquartered in Little Rock, Arkansas, into one of the world’s premier hunger-fighting non-profit organizations. Her organization provides farm animals to extremely poor families, and in so doing, helps those families to become self-reliant.

Since becoming CEO of Heifer in 1992, Jo Luck expanded both the scope and impact of Heifer’s battle against hunger and poverty. To do this, she and her staff have worked with many local and global partners to institute animal husbandry policies, systems and practices that help people improve their lives.

One of Heifer’s partners is the Africa-based International Livestock Research Institute (ILRI). Jo Luck has served on ILRI’s board of trustees and her organization works with ILRI on a project to lift one million people in East Africa out of poverty through improved small-scale dairying.

Jo Luck has provided more than 30 kinds of farm animals—from bees to water buffaloes — along with trees, seeds and training — to families in desperate need of assets with which to build sustainable livelihoods. She has increased the number of long-term supporters of Heifer from 20,000 in 1992 to more than 500,000 in 2009. Her organization’s outreach has helped 12 million families –1.5 million families in 2009 alone — to put nutritious food on their tables while also helping to feed others through Heifer’s Passing on the Gift, which asks every family that receives an animal from Heifer to give one of its female offspring to another family in need.

Jo Luck's leadership at Heifer is characterized by full engagement of the hungry families and communities her organization works to benefit. And she has worked tirelessly to ensure that the American public has a better understanding of global issues, and the appropriate roles America and its people can play on the global stage. Heifer now has a broad and innovative portfolio of educational strategies promoting such understanding among its many US supporters. In particular, Jo Luck has raised public understanding of how life choices made by people in rich countries affect people living in chronic hunger and severe poverty.

To complement Heifer’s Passing on the Gift tradition, Jo Luck created an enabling framework, Cornerstones for Just and Sustainable Development, that imaginatively joins concerns for human nutrition and spiritual growth to management of animal and natural resources, gender equity, leadership and organizational and business development.

By placing animals and knowledge directly in the hands of farmers, Heifer has empowered millions of people, particularly women, to convert these assets into foods, jobs and incomes. A lasting legacy Jo Luck’s leadership of Heifer appears to be engaging aid donors and recipients alike emotionally as well as economically, which has proved to be a potent combination that provokes humanitarian action as well as visionary thinking.

Starting at Heifer as Director of International Program from 1989 to 1992, Jo Luck then served as president and CEO of Heifer International from 1992 to 2010. Earlier this year she stepped down as CEO and will remain president until 2011. She is writing a book about her experiences with the organization.

The 2010 World Food Prize will be formally presented to Jo Luck and David Beckmann at a ceremony at the Iowa State Capitol on 14 October 2010, which will be part of a 2010 Borlaug Dialogue that starts the previous day.

The theme of this year’s Dialogue is ‘Take it to the Farmer: Reaching the World’s Smallholders.’ Among the dignitaries who will make keynote presentations at the Dialogue are Kofi Annan, Chairman of the Alliance for a Green Revolution in Africa and 2001 Nobel Peace Prize Laureate; Howard Buffett, American philanthropist; Prabhu Pingall, Deputy Director of Agriculture at the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation; Thomas Vilsack, US Secretary of Agriculture; and Carlos Seré, Director General of the International Livestock Research Institute. Seré will speak on the value of livestock in smallholder agriculture. 

Further information about the Laureate Award Ceremony and symposium can be found at The World Food Prize.

East and central African countries meet in Addis to address climate change regionally

Here water is life,

The Association for Strengthening Agricultural Research in Eastern and Central Africa (ASARECA) is holding a conference—Climate Change Adaptation Strategies, Capacity Building and Agricultural Innovations to Improve Livelihoods in Eastern and Central Africa: Post-Copenhagen—in Addis Ababa, Ethiopia, 7–9 June 2010.

Joining ASARECA for this 3-day sub-regional meeting are representatives from the Ethiopian Ministry of Agriculture and Rural Development; the Ethiopian Institute of Agricultural Research; the International Livestock Research Institute (ILRI), which has a principal campus in Addis Ababa; the International Center for Agricultural Research in the Dry Areas (ICARDA), based in Syria; and other regional and international partners.

Participants of the ten countries that are members of ASARECA are being presented with the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC) and implications for African countries of the resolutions of last December's climate conference in Copenhagen. The participants will assess the relative vulnerability to climate change of its ten member countries, as well as the impacts expected from climate change and the national agricultural adaptation strategies developed in those countries.

The agricultural innovations and technologies already available for responding to climate change and variability will be assessed for their ability to improve livelihoods in the region's arid and semi-arid areas. The participants will recommend optimal ways to negotiate and facilitate implementation of international climate change agreements in the region as well as ways simultaneously to reduce the impacts of climate change and climate variability while improving livelihoods of dryland peoples, who are particularly vulnerable to a warming planet.