ILRI’s Bruce Scott delivers a talk at an expert consultation on livestock systems in the Horn of Africa (photo credit: ILRI/Susan MacMillan).
Bruce Scott, acting director general of the International Livestock Research Institute (ILRI), delivered the following talk at the opening of an expert consultation convened by the Africa Union-Interafrican Bureau for Animal Resources (AU-IBAR), on ‘Interventions for sustainable livestock systems in the Horn of Africa’, held at ILRI’s campus in Nairobi, Kenya, on 2 September 2011.
‘I thank you all for accepting the invitation from the Africa Union to attend this expert consultation.
‘I thank the Africa Union Commission (AUC) and AU-IBAR for convening this meeting, which ILRI is pleased to host.
‘I especially appreciate each of you agreeing to attend this meeting at this time of crisis, where there are so many activities competing for your precious time. We are confident that your presence will help us identify steps towards a more holistic and practical approach for addressing livestock issues in the Horn.
‘I am delighted to welcome His Excellency Erasmus Mwancha, deputy chairperson of the Africa Union Commission, who has kindly agreed to officially open this consultation.
‘I also take pleasure in acknowledging the presence of the chief executive officer of the CGIAR Consortium of International Agricultural Research Centers, Lloyd Le Page. Yesterday (Thursday, 1 September), Lloyd convened a CGIAR media briefing and learning event also here at ILRI, and also on the crisis in the Horn, looking at the most promising agricultural research inputs for addressing these issues in future.
‘The consensus of the Consortium’s learning event was that we need greater investment in agricultural development, greater support for agricultural research, and greater cooperation between research, government, private sector and development actors. These can spread the adoption of innovations by farmers and herders, helping millions of food producers in the Horn of Africa, who are now facing the severest drought in this region in the last six decades.
‘The CGIAR and partner experts gathered yesterday called for a ‘matching of investments in infrastructure development with investments in knowledge’ to get more research into use.
‘We are all here at today’s Africa Union meeting because of our commitment to finding sustainable livestock-based solutions for this region’s food production problems.
‘I’d like to take a minute to set some context for this consultation.
‘Rangelands cover about one-half of the landmass in Africa. In Kenya, about 80 per cent of the landmass comprises arid and semi-arid lands. These drylands can be subdivided into the wetter drylands and the drier drylands. Most of the Horn now afflicted by drought is made up of the drier drylands. I caution us to keep in mind that food production options appropriate for the wetter drylands often are inappropriate for the drier drylands.
‘Droughts have frequented the Horn of Africa for centuries. But in recent decades they have become more frequent and the rainfall has become more variable from year to year. Both of these changes are increasing the vulnerability of the communities that live in these lands.
‘As you know, livestock are a central source of livelihoods in this region and the major way that pastoralists generate income and build their ‘asset base’. A remarkable 70 per cent of all the beef produced in Kenya comes from the arid and semi-arid regions of the country.
‘The Horn of Africa experiences bimodal rainfall, which occurs in only a few regions on earth. That means that the little rain that does fall in these drylands does so in two rather than one growing season, which of course reduces the low levels of annual rainfall available for either of the two annual growing seasons. While this is bad news for cropping, it serves animal production particularly well, with pastures renewed twice a year. Furthermore, the unpredictability of rainfall here is often so great as to allow only one crop every third, fourth or fifth season, which makes crop production unviable without irrigation of some sort.
‘Africa’s dry rangelands are, in fact, productive, and potentially very productive. They are good filtres of water, for example, with some parts of the continent’s drylands, such as in West Africa, having sizable aquifers below their surface (these aquifers, unfortunately, are much smaller in the Horn). The drylands are home to much of the continent’s wildlife diversity. The drylands sequester carbon, and carbon credits might one day provide the local populations with new income streams. And livestock enterprises are not only a major source of income for the peoples of the Horn, they also provide up to 50 per cent of the agricultural gross domestic product of these countries.
‘In spite of all this, the Horn’s drylands have been badly neglected. Governments have neither significantly invested in nor developed these drylands, whose people (pastoral livestock herders) have been marginalized for decades. Donor investments in this region have fallen drastically in the recent past and even ILRI has reduced its attention to these drylands since the late 1990s.
‘Meanwhile, over the last 30 years, more and more people and more and more animals have inhabited these fragile ecosystems, fragmenting the rangelands and reducing the mobility of the herders and their stock in seasonal search of new pasture. Pastoral mobility has also been restricted by governance issues, insecurity, and conflicts over natural resources. And as we well know, Somalia has been a non-state since 1990 and many of the region’s commercial livestock markets are functioning badly or not at all.
‘It is clear to us that the traditional way of managing livestock will need to change to adapt to changes in this region and that we’ll need to identify ways to help the Horn’s pastoralists diversify their incomes and livelihoods.
‘ILRI is investigating promising options for this region’s livestock herders, including better land-use policies, well-functioning livestock markets, pastoral livestock insurance and schemes to pay pastoral herders for their environmental services, such as sequestering carbon, filtering water and conserving wildlife.
‘It’s essential that this expert consultation identifies opportunities to ensure a sustainable future for this sub-region, which is changing rapidly under both external and internal pressures. This meeting should provide a framework for collecting some of our best professional advice on new opportunities for viable livestock enterprises for the future.’