A regional biosciences hub in and for Africa: One woman’s personal, and institutional, odyssey

Biosciences eastern and central Africa (BecA) is a regional research platform located in Nairobi, Kenya, that was officially launched by Kenya’s President Mwai Kibaki and other dignitaries in November 2010. The BecA Hub gives scientists and students from across the region access to state-of-the-art facilities in the life sciences.

One woman’s long-term commitment is responsible for much of this achievement. Gabrielle Persley is an eminent Australian plant scientist who directs a Doyle Foundation, named after her late husband, Jack Doyle, who for some two decades served as deputy director general-research of the International Laboratory for Research on Animal Diseases, a predecessor of the International Livestock Research Institute (ILRI), headquartered in Nairobi, Kenya. For the last several years, Persley has served as senior advisor to ILRI’s director general, Carlos Seré.

In this 15-minute ILRI film, Persley describes an eventful, multi-year, and at times seemingly heroic, odyssey as she and others at ILRI, the Kenya Agricultural Research Institute, the New Partnership for Africa’s Development, and the Canadian International Development Agency, along with other organizations, nursed the BecA Hub project at ILRI from the drawing board through political deliberations and, finally, into a brand spanking new laboratory complex on ILRI’s campus serving as a regional biosciences resource.

This was Persley’s last seminar at ILRI, before she left to return to her native Australia, where she is continuing her life-long work for international agricultural research for development with Australia’s Crawford Fund and other institutions and initiatives.

For more about the BecA Hub, visit the BecA Hub website.

Or watch this 7-minute ILRI film describing the work being done at the BecA Hub done by young scientists and students.

Or watch this 3-minute ILRI photofilm that, through photographs and quotations, sums up the November 2010 opening of the research facility by Kenyan President Mwai Kibaki and other dignitaries.

Board members to select new head of International Livestock Research Institute

Wondirad Mandefro, State Minister of Agriculture, Ethiopia

New ILRI Board Member Wondirad Mandefro Gebru, State Minister in the Ministry of Agriculture in Ethiopia, giving the opening address at a workshop on ‘Gender and Market-Oriented Agriculture’ that was organized and hosted by ILRI in Addis Ababa, Ethiopia, 31 January to 2 February 2011 (photo credit: ILRI/Habtamu).

The 35th meeting of the Board of Trustees of the International Livestock Research Institute (ILRI), being held at ILRI’s headquarters in Nairobi, Kenya, 10–13 April 2011, will mark a milestone for the institute, with selection and appointment of a new director general.

The second five-year term of ILRI’s present director general, Uruguayan agricultural economist Carlos Seré, who took up his position in January 2002, expires at the end of 2011. Two candidates for his replacement will make presentations and interact with the ILRI board and staff during the week of the board meeting. The outcome of the selection process is expected to be announced at the end of the board meeting.

Board members will also review an interim strategy for 2011–2012 that ILRI has developed. ILRI developed its current strategy, ‘Livestock: A Pathway out of Poverty’, covering the years 2003 through 2010, in 2002 through institute-wide discussions and consultations with key stakeholders. Since then, ILRI’s management team and board of trustees have reviewed the strategy every 2 to 3 years. Given an on-going reform process in the Consultative Group on International Agricultural Research (CGIAR), to which ILRI and 14 other centres belong, plus the formation of a new Consortium of CGIAR Centres and the development of a new Consortium Research Program, ILRI’s board and management determined that it would be best for ILRI to modify rather than reformulate its existing strategy to guide the institute during the upcoming 2-year transition period, from the beginning of 2011 through the end of 2012, by which time it is expected that ILRI will initiate development of a full new strategy, when the new Consortium of CGIAR Centres is more firmly established, to guide the institute from 2013 onward.

The CGIAR Consortium recently approved a Strategy and Results Framework, which will guide funding in the future. And the CGIAR Consortium and Fund are working with the CGIAR Centres and partners to create some 15 CGIAR Research Programmes (CRPs). ILRI will be be involved in many of the 15 CRPs, and will play major roles in three of them: CRP3.7, focusing on increasing the productivity of livestock and fish farming, which ILRI leads; CRP4, on improving agriculture for better human nutrition and health; and CRP7, on climate change, agriculture and food security.

This 25th meeting of ILRI’s board of trustees will welcome Wondirad Mandefro Gebru, State Minister in the Ministry of Agriculture in Ethiopia, to the board. Wondirad Mandefro’s scientific career has focused on increasing crop production through improved plant protection. His specific training and expertise is in applied genetics (MSc from Addis Abeba University) and nematology (MSc from the University of Ghent, in Belgium). He worked as a researcher for more than two decades at the Ambo Plant Protection Research Centre of the Ethiopian Institute of Agricultural Research. For three years, from 2007 to 2010, Wondirad served as director of the Agricultural Extension Directorate in Ethiopia’s Ministry of Agriculture and Rural Development. In October 2010, he was appointed State Minister in the Ministry of Agriculture. He also serves as the national focal point for the Comprehensive African Agricultural Development Program and as a member of the Board of the Ethiopian Seed Enterprise.

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/

Livestock one of three ways to feed the growing world–Economist special report

Dairy cow looks out from her stall in a village in central Malawi

A dairy cow looks out from her stall in central Malawi. Can such ubiquitous backyard livestock farming in the developing world feed the growing world? (picture credit: ILRI/Mann).

A special report on feeding the world, ‘The 9-billion people question,’ appears in this week’s issue of the Economist, as the world continues to grapple with a global food crisis. The author is the Economist‘s globalization editor, John Parker. In an article titled ‘Doing more with less’, Parker argues that ‘the only reliable way to produce more food is to use better technology.’

The world has three main ways to produce more food for our growing populations, he states, and we’ll need new technology for each. The three ways are better seeds, more productive livestock systems and advanced use of plant genetics, including genetic modification.

Parker gives examples of how ‘it is possible to grow more food, more efficiently, on both a regional and a national scale.’ ‘But,’ he asks, ‘can it be done on a global scale . . . to feed 9 billion people? If so, how?’

‘The main gains will have to come in three ways,’ Parker writes: ‘from narrowing the gap between the worst and best producers; from spreading the so-called “livestock revolution”; and—above all—from taking advantage of new plant technologies.’

(1) Regarding the first way, Parker says better technology is already closing the gap between best and worst producers in comparable environments.

(2) Regarding the second way, Parker writes: ‘The second main source of growth will consist of spreading a tried and tested success: the “livestock revolution”. This consists of switching from traditional, open-air methods of animal husbandry, in which chickens and pigs scratch and root around the farm, eating insects, scraps and all sorts of organic waste, to closed “battery” systems, in which animals are confined to cages and have their diet, health and movement rigorously controlled. This entails huge losses in animal welfare, and European consumers are reacting against the system. But there are also gains in productivity and sometimes even in welfare, by reducing losses from diseases and predators that in traditional systems can be distressingly high.

‘Improving livestock farming is important because of meat’s growing share in the world’s diet. Meat consumption in China more than doubled in 1980-2005, to 50kg a year per person. Between now and 2050, meat’s share of calories will rise from 7% to 9%, says the FAO; the share of dairy produce and eggs will rise more.

‘Livestock matters for many reasons. It provides financial security in poor countries, where herds are often a family’s savings. It can affect people’s health: new infectious diseases are appearing at the rate of three or four a year, and three-quarters of them can be traced to animals, domestic and wild. Avian flu is just one example. Livestock also plays a part in global warming. Much of the methane in the atmosphere—one of the worst greenhouse gases—comes from cattle belching.

‘Since the 1980s livestock production has far outstripped that of cereals. World meat output more than doubled between 1980 and 2007. Production of eggs rose from 27m tonnes to 68m over the same period. Some countries have done better still. India has the world’s largest dairy herd. Its milk production trebled, to 103m tonnes, over a period when global milk output increased by half. Brazil increased its production of chickens fivefold in 1987-2007 to become the world’s largest exporter. Most spectacularly, China raised its output of both eggs and milk tenfold.

‘For sheer efficiency, there is little question that battery systems do a better job than traditional methods. A free-range hen scratching around might lay one or two eggs a week. Feeding her costs nothing, giving a net gain of 50-100 eggs a year. A battery chicken will lay six eggs a week. She might cost the equivalent of 150 eggs to feed, producing an annual net gain of 150 eggs. And selective breeding has made her more economic to keep. Battery chickens used to need 4kg of feed for 1kg of eggs; now they need only 2kg.

‘Moreover, it is almost impossible to scale up a farmyard operation: there are only so many insects to eat, and so many hens one family can look after. And to breed the most productive hens which convert their feed most efficiently into eggs and are most resistant to disease, you need large flocks.

‘So there are two reasons for thinking that the livestock revolution will continue. One is that some countries still lag behind. An example, surprisingly, is Brazil, which has just one head of cattle per hectare—an unusually low number even for a country with so much land. Roberto Giannetti da Fonseca, of the São Paulo industry federation, says Brazil should be able at least to double that number—which could mean either doubling beef production or using half the area to produce the same amount.

‘Carlos Sere of the International Livestock Research Institute thinks traditional systems could borrow some of the methods of closed battery-farm systems—notably better feeding (giving a small amount of animal feed makes a big difference to the weight of range-land cattle) and the introduction of new breeds for better yields (as Kabiyet did by switching from longhorn to Holstein cattle).

‘The second reason for expecting further gains is that recent genetic analysis could improve breeding dramatically. About a third of the livestock revolution has come about through selecting and breeding the best animals. Another third comes from improved feeding and the remainder from better disease control. In the 1940s and 1950s breeding relied on the careful recording of every animal in the herd or flock; in the 1970s on artificial insemination by the best sires; and in the 1980s on embryo transfers from the best females into ordinary breeding animals.

‘New genetic analysis now promises to bring in another stage, says the FAO’s Henning Steinfeld. It allows breeders to select traits more precisely and thus speeds up breeding by reducing generational intervals: if you know which genetic traits an animal has, there is no need to wait several generations to see how things turn out.

‘This will not happen everywhere. Europeans and—to some extent—Americans are increasingly influenced by welfare concerns. They jib at confining animals. The European Union has banned certain kinds of cages, and California is following suit. But, so far, people in emerging markets, where demand for meat and animal products is growing fast, are less concerned about such things, so the next stage of the livestock revolution will mainly be concentrated there.’

(3) Regarding the third way—making better use of plant genetics, Parker argues that ‘the change likely to generate the biggest yield gains in the food business—perhaps 1.5-2% a year—is the development of “marker-assisted breeding”—in other words, genetic marking and selection in plants, which includes genetically modifying them but also involves a range of other techniques. This is the third and most important source of growth.’

Read the whole special report in the Economist: The 9 billion-people question, 24 February 2011.

Read the whole article in the Economist: Doing more with less, 24 February 2011.

Listen to John Parker interviewed on this subject: A special report on food, 24 February 2011.

Scientists warn of farm failures and climate migrants in Africa in a 4-plus degree world

Maize farming in Mozambique

Smallholder maize and livestock farm in Pacassa Village, in Tete Province, Mozambique (photo credit: ILRI/Mann).

As climate change negotiations begin this week in Mexico, a new study published in the journal Philosophical Transactions of the Royal Society Series A, examining the potential impact of a four-degree temperature increase on food production in sub-Saharan Africa, reports that growing seasons of much of the region’s cropped areas and rangelands will be reduced in length by the 2090s, seriously damaging the ability of these lands to grow food.

Painting a bleak picture of Africa’s food production in a 'four-plus degree world,' the study sends a strong message to climate negotiators at a time when they are trying to reach international consensus on measures needed to keep average global temperatures from rising by more than two degrees Centigrade in this century. The study calls for concerted efforts to help farmers cope with potentially unmanageable impacts of climate change.

In most of southern Africa, growing seasons could be shortened by about 20 per cent, according to the results of simulations carried out using various climate models. Growing seasons may actually expand modestly in eastern Africa. But despite this, for sub-Saharan Africa as a whole, a temperature increase of five degrees by the 2090s is expected to depress maize production by 24 per cent and bean production by over 70 per cent.

'Africa’s rural people have shown a remarkable capacity to adapt to climate variability over the centuries,' said lead author Philip Thornton, with the Kenya-based International Livestock Research Institute (ILRI), which forms part of the Consultative Group on International Agricultural Research (CGIAR). 'But temperature increases of four degrees or more could create unprecedented conditions in dozens of African countries, pushing farmers beyond the limits of their knowledge and experience.' 

It seems unlikely that international climate policies will succeed in confining global warming to a two-degree increase, and even this will require unprecedented political will and collective action, according to the study.

Many options are already available that could help farmers adapt even to medium levels of warming, assuming substantial investment in new technology, institution building, and infrastructure development, for example. But it is quite possible that the adaptive capacity and resilience of hundreds of millions of people in Africa could simply be overwhelmed by events, say the authors.

The rate of cropping season failure will increase in all parts of the region except Central Africa, according to study results. Over a substantial part of eastern Africa, crops already fail in one out of every four years. By the 2090s, higher temperatures will greatly expand the area where crops fail with this frequency. And much of southern Africa’s rainfed agriculture could fail every other season.

'More frequent crop failures could unleash waves of climate migrants in a massive redistribution of hungry people,' said Thornton. 'Without radical shifts in crop and livestock management and agricultural policies, farming in Africa could exceed key physical and socio-economic thresholds where the measures available cease to be adequate for achieving food security or can’t be implemented because of policy failures.'

'This is a grim prospect for a region where agriculture is still a mainstay of the economy, occupying 60 per cent of the work force,' said Carlos Seré, Director General of ILRI. 'Achieving food security and reducing poverty in Africa will require unprecedented efforts, building on 40 years of modest but important successes in improving crop and livestock production.'

To help guide such efforts, the new study takes a hard look at the potential of Africa’s agriculture for adapting successfully to high temperatures in the coming decades; the study also looks at the constraints to doing so.

Buffering the impacts of high temperatures on livestock production will require stronger support for traditional strategies, such as changing species or breeds of animals kept, as well as for novel approaches such as insurance schemes whose payouts are triggered by events like erratic rainfall or high animal death rates, according to the study.

However, Thornton says that uncertainty about the specific impacts of climate change at the local level, and Africa’s weak, poorly resourced rural institutions, hurt African farmers' ability to adopt such practices fast enough to lessen production losses. Moreover, governments may not respond to the policy challenges appropriately, as demonstrated by the 2008 food crisis, when many countries adopted measures like export bans and import tariffs, which actually worsened the plight of poor consumers.

The study recommends four actions to take now to reduce the ways climate change could harm African food security.

1.     In areas where adverse climate change impacts are inevitable, identify appropriate adaptation measures and pro-actively help communities to implement them.

2.     Go 'back to basics' in collecting data and information. Land-based observation and data-collection systems in Africa have been in decline for decades. Yet information on weather, land use, markets, and crop and livestock distributions is critical for responding effectively to climate change. Africa’s data-collection systems could be improved with relatively modest additional effort.

3.     Ramp up efforts to maintain and use global stocks of crop and livestock genetic resources to help Africa’s crop and livestock producers adapt to climate change as well as to the shifts in disease prevalence and severity that such change may bring.

4.     Build on lessons learned in the global food price crisis of 2007–2008 to help address the social, economic and political factors behind food insecurity.

The CGIAR and the Earth System Science Partnership recently embarked on the most comprehensive program developed so far to address both the new threats and new opportunities that global warming is likely to cause agriculture in the world’s developing countries. The Climate Change, Agriculture and Food Security program assembles relevant experts to work with decision makers at all levels—from government ministries to farmers’ fields—to translate knowledge into effective action.

The ILRI study underlines the urgency and importance of that research. It will inform the discussions of some 500 policy makers, farmers, scientists and development experts expected to attend an ‘Agriculture and Rural Development Day’, on 4 December, which will be held alongside a two-week United Nations Conference on Climate Change taking place in Cancún, Mexico. Participants at the one-day event will identify agricultural development options for coping with climate change and work to move this key sector to the forefront of the international climate debate.

'A four-plus degree world will be one of rapidly diminishing options for farmers and other rural people,' said Seré. 'We need to know where the points of no return lie and what measures will be needed to create new options for farmers, who otherwise may be driven beyond their capacity to cope.'

For more information on the program on Climate Change, Agriculture and Food Security, visit www.ccafs.cgiar.org

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

Scientists meet in Ethiopia to broaden market opportunities for Africa’s livestock farmers, including its women farmers

Village women and livestock in Niger

Women and livestock in Niger: Leading scientists in African agriculture are gathering, this week, in Ethiopia, to discuss the challenges and opportunities of commercializing livestock agriculture in Africa (photo credit: ILRI/Mann)

As agricultural leaders across the globe look for ways to increase investments in agriculture to boost world food production, experts in African livestock farming are meeting in Addis Ababa this week to deliberate on ways to get commercialized farm production, access to markets, innovations, gender issues and pro-poor policies right for Africa’s millions of small-scale livestock farmers and herders.

More than 70 percent of Africa’s rural poor are livestock farmers. Each farm animal raised is a rare source of high-quality food, particularly of dietary protein, minerals, vitamins and micronutrients, for these households. Pastoralists, who rely on herding their animal stock to survive in the continent’s dry and otherwise marginalized environments, also make up a significant number of Africa’s population.

‘There is a growing recognition by governments and donors that expanding investment in the agricultural sector is a cornerstone for alleviating poverty and building assets in Africa and other developing regions,’ said Carlos Seré, director general of the International Livestock Research Institute (ILRI).

‘Smart investments targeting the developing world's growing numbers of livestock keepers (who make up about 1 billion people today) is a win-win-win,’ said Seré. ‘Such investments promise not only to greatly increase global food security but also to generate profits for both poor livestock producers and agribusinesses.’

Livestock production today employs more than 1.3 billion people globally. Most African small-scale farmers practice mixed farming systems that combine both crop farming and livestock keeping. Globally, these mixed systems produce the majority of the world’s food staples, including 89 percent of the maize, 91 percent of the rice, nearly 75 percent of the milk and 68 percent of the beef consumed.

Livestock-based enterprises are pathways out of poverty for many people in Africa, for whom animals are a source of nourishing foods and regular incomes. With demand for milk, meat and eggs rising fast in many developing countries, the raising and marketing of animals and animal products also allows many people to take advantage of the new growth opportunities in this sector.

Despite the vibrancy of the livestock sector in Africa, much of the investments in African agriculture for food security to date has focused almost exclusively on crop farming. That is a mistake, says Seré, as are many investments made to boost crop and livestock production systems independently.

A livestock scourge eradicated
This is an opportune time for a meeting of Africa’s leading livestock experts. On 16 October 2010, to mark the United Nations World Food Day, the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations and other world bodies chose to celebrate the eradication of rinderpest from the face of the earth. Probably the most remarkable achievement in the history of veterinary science, this milestone is expected to be announced in mid-2011, pending a review of final official disease status reports from a handful of countries to the World Organisation for Animal Health.

Rinderpest is a viral livestock disease that has afflicted Europe, Asia and Africa for centuries. It killed more than 90 percent of the domesticated animals, as well as untold numbers of people and plains game, in Africa at the turn of the 19th century, a devastation so complete that its impacts are still felt today, more than a century later. The last-known outbreak of rinderpest occurred in Kenya in 2001.

The key technical breakthrough in this effort involved development of an improved vaccine against rinderpest that did not require refrigeration up to the point of use. This allowed vets and technicians to backpack the vaccine into remote war-torn areas where the disease was a major problem. The AU-IBAR led the Pan-African Rinderpest Campaign, which coordinated the efforts that resulted in the eventual eradication of rinderpest from Africa.

Livestock conference to address main constraints to livestock production in Africa
It is against this background that leading scientists in African agriculture are gathering 25–28 October 2010 at the United Nation Conference Centre in Addis Ababa, Ethiopia, to discuss the challenges and opportunities of commercializing livestock agriculture in Africa at the Fifth All African Society of Animal Production.

Carlos Sere at the opening of the AASAP Conference

Carlos Seré, director general of the International Livestock Research Institute, gives a keynote address during the opening of the fifth all African society of animal production (photo credit: ILRI/Habtamu)

Among specific areas to be addressed are livestock trade and markets, pastoralism and natural resource management, animal genetics and commercialization, climate change and its effects on livestock systems, livestock feeds, and the delivery of livestock services to smallholders and herders.

Despite its wealth of livestock resources, Africa produces livestock at relatively low levels, due to a range of technical, socioeconomic and biological challenges faced by smallholders and herders on the continent. These include weak policies and veterinary and other institutions; widespread parasitic, tropical and other livestock and zoonotic diseases; poor-quality feeds; inadequate inputs for livestock production; insufficient access to livestock markets and market information; and low market prices.

‘This conference is addressing policy and strategy gaps that have prevented African livestock producers from making the most of their livestock resources,’ said Tadelle Dessie, a scientist with ILRI. ‘Addressing these gaps should help raise the level of investment in livestock production and improve market access for small-scale livestock producers.’

Fix gender-based problems in livestock livelihoods
One potent way to enable Africa’s farmers and herders to benefit more from livestock production, say many who have researched the topic, is to redress gender imbalances in access to resources for livestock production. ‘Institutional, social and economic gender-based constraints inhibit women’s full participation in livestock markets and marketing,’ says Jemimah Njuki, a scientist with ILRI.

Research shows that many African women already have access to very local markets and that they already participate in different stages of livestock value chains. ‘Helping women access market-related information will help them help raise the continent’s livestock production levels,’ Njuki said, adding, ‘and should allow them to benefit more from their livestock enterprises.’

Watch a short video interview with Carlos Seré: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=FIFiQJp-WaY

View presentations from the conference: http://www.slideshare.net/tag/esap

Livestock take centre stage at World Food Prize ceremonies

Livestock landscapes: Africa

At the World Food Prize ceremony (12 October 2010) and Borlaug Dialogue (13–15 October 2010) in Des Moines, Iowa, last week, issues surrounding small-scale livestock enterprises received a rare dose of major attention.

First, Jo Luck, president of Heifer International, an American livestock-based non-governmental humanitarian organization, received the World Food Prize, considered the ‘Nobel Prize of agriculture’. Only the third woman to be so honoured, Jo Luck shared this year’s World Food Prize with David Beckmann, head of Bread for the World, another American-based NGO.

Following the award ceremonies, the International Livestock Research Institute (ILRI) and other key livestock-for-development organizations took part in a special ‘Livestock in Smallholder Agriculture Symposium’.

Carlos Seré, director general of the Africa-based ILRI, was a member of a panel moderated by Alice Pell, vice provost at Cornell University. Seré provided context for the high-level discussions about the importance smallholder animal agriculture. ‘Feeding the next 2 to 3 billion people,’ he said, ‘will require the sustainable inte¬nsification of the world’s “mixed” farming systems, which combine livestock raising with crop production. ‘

Seré pointed out the need to find smarter ways for the world’s small-scale farmers to integrate crops, animals and trees on their farms. He explained how better livestock feeding systems can reduce methane and other greenhouse gas emissions from livestock enterprises in both developing and developed countries. And he described how stover and other wastes of crop production are increasingly being used by small-scale farmers in poor countries as supplementary feed for their animal stock, which subsist largely on grass and planted forages rather than grains.

‘Livestock bring cash into the small farming system,’ Seré said. ‘They constitute the motor that links farmers to urban producers, and they give millions of people who own no land at all the means by which to earn an income.’

Seré also pointed out the need for the private sector to find ways to engage with the ‘bottom billion’ of poor livestock farmers. By creating or joining farm cooperatives, food producer companies and contract farming schemes, he said, these dispersed smallholders become subjects of interest to the private sector. Once aggregated in such societies, small farmers become attractive to businesses looking to provide the agricultural sector with livestock services and other inputs, as well as processing plants and distribution channels for crop and animal products.

‘Smallholder farmers can be very competitive,’ Seré said. ‘Agribusiness would profit from thinking up imaginative ways to do business with them. Agri- and other businesses wanting to work broadly in rural sub-Saharan Africa, for example, all find themselves working with smallholder livestock farmers.’

Another panelist, Deepack Tikku, chairman of the National Dairy Development Board Dairy Services in India, described how his country surpassed the United States as the world’s largest milk producer.

‘Our model is not one of mass production but production by the masses,’ he said. He describe the food, income and gender distribution gains that India has made in increasing its milk production, almost all from smallholders, from 20 million tonnes in 1970 to 112 million tonnes today. 

Thad Simons, chief executive officer of Novus International, focused his panel remarks on eggs, ‘the original superfood’.  ’Eggs are one of the best ways to deliver protein to consumers at affordable costs,’ Simons said. ‘No other food provides as much nutrition in so few calories at such a low cost.’ Novus has begun an information campaign—www.eggtruth.com—to increase consumption of eggs, particularly among mothers and young children, to help families stay financially as well as physically fit.

Christie Peacock, chief executive of the non-governmental organization FARM-Africa, asked policymakers to pay more attention to helping smallholder farmers acquire livestock. ‘It’s my passionate belief that livestock are the fastest route out of poverty,’ Peacock said. ‘My experience in Ethiopia taught me that when crops fail, having one or two goats enables families to survive. Without animals, many families in such circumstances have to go on food aid.’ 

Peacock also argued that the commonplace views in the North about the environmental damage caused by livestock are among the biggest threats to livestock development in the South, where domesticated animals continue to play many central roles in the livelihoods of the poor. ‘Obviously, there are hotspots of livestock-related environmental damage, such as those in the Amazon and Southeast Asia, that we must address’ Peacock said. ‘But what we must not do is to let the life chances of the world’s poor livestock keepers be compromised by Northern prejudices against livestock.’

The agricultural development ‘luminaries’ attending the World Food Prize and Borlaug Dialogue in Iowa this year included, in addition to those named above, HE Kofi Annan, Nobel Laureate, former secretary-general of the United Nations and current chairman of the Alliance for a Green Revolution in Africa; Howard Buffett, president of the Howard G Buffet Foundation (and farm and livestock ranch owner); Marco Ferroni, executive director of the Syngenta Foundation, Christopher Flavin, president of the Worldwatch Institute; Kamal El-Kheshen, president of the African Development Bank;  Matt Kistler, senior vice-president of marketing for Walmart; Gregory Page, chairman and chief executive officer of Cargill; Amrita Patel, chairman of India’s National Dairy Development Board; Prabhu Pingali, deputy director of Agricultural Development, and Jeff Raikes, chief executive officer, at the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation; Rajiv Shah, administrator of the United States Agency for International Development; MS Swaminathan, chairman of the MS Swaminathan Foundation; and Tom Vilsack, secretary of the United States Department of Agriculture.

On dyeing baby chicks pink and other knowledge worth sharing: 300 experts meet in Addis Ababa to share Africa’s local knowledge

Learning day opening session - participants discussing

Two participants share experiences in the 'AgKnowledge Africa' Share Fair that is taking place this week at the Addis Ababa campus of the International Livestock Research Institute (photo credit: ILRI/Habtamu)  

Over 300 agricultural experts, including researchers, farmers, extension workers, scientists, rural development agents and government representatives from across Africa and other parts of the world are meeting this week in Addis Ababa, Ethiopia, to exchange ideas about how Africa’s local knowledge and information can be tapped and applied to drive Africa’s agricultural development.

Meeting at an ‘AgKnowledge Africa’ Share Fair, which began on 18 October 2010 at the Addis Ababa campus of the International Livestock Research Institute (ILRI), these experts are sharing their experiences in using local African knowledge and related approaches and tools to raise the profile and productivity of African agriculture.

‘Africa and its people have a lot of undocumented knowledge, information and data that could be used to help drive the continent’s development,’ said Nadia Manning-Thomas, a knowledge sharing specialist. Manning-Thomas works with a program of the Consultative Group on International Agricultural Research called ‘Information and Communication Technologies—Knowledge Management. This project (known by a mouthful of an acronym: the CGIAR ICT-KM) and ILRI are two of the organizers of this week’s Addis Share Fair.

‘Our aim in this Fair,’ says Manning-Thomas, ‘is to help Africa’s innovators find and use ways they can apply African knowledge—whether from local communities or regional organizations or research institutions—to drive agricultural growth’.

This week’s Fair (18–21 October 2010) is making use of traditional African ways of sharing knowledge, from traditional story-telling, to Ethiopian coffee ceremonies, to Kenyan barazas (Swahili for gatherings held to raise awareness and to share collective wisdom) to marketplace discussions. The first of its kind in Africa, this event has attracted participants from Europe and Asia as well as the continent.

‘This is an opportunity for ILRI and other researchers to join the conversation taking place among development experts in Africa,’ said Peter Ballantyne, head of ILRI’s knowledge management and information services and a main organizer of the Fair. ‘It’s also an opportunity for all the participants to create new partnerships and to get new ideas. We’re giving people a variety of “spaces” in which to talk that are great opportunities for us at ILRI to “listen” to ideas and innovations in local knowledge, especially among partners driving agricultural development in Africa.’

The Fair’s participants are also reviewing how mobile phones, internet-based tools and other new ways of sharing information are being used to spread knowledge across the continent. A ‘social reporting team’ evolving at ILRI is broadcasting the Share Fair’s proceedings using a variety of tools and platforms, including a daily news sheet, video, radio (podcasting) and blogging.

The Fair started on 18 October 2010 with a ‘learning and training day’ before the official opening on 19 October, made by Bruce Scott, head of ILRI’s partnerships and communications programs, representing ILRI’s director general, Carlos Seré. The topics being debated by the 300 participants include agriculture, water, climate change, land and livestock.

More than 10 organizations—including the International Fund for Agricultural Development, the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations, the Technical Centre for Agricultural and Rural Cooperation, and the Pastoralist Forum Ethiopia—have erected exhibits illustrating particular ways of sharing knowledge.

Among the Fair’s more exciting exhibits is one about Shujaaz FM, a cutting edge comic set in Kenya targeting the half of Kenyans under the age of 18. Although this new multimedia initiative leads with a comic book, it also is pulling together all the existing communications technologies, including a daily radio show, a website, and downloadable comics for mobile phones (sms), computer television, newspapers, etc. The aim of the comic is both to entertain the young and to help them put money into their pockets, and thus help them build livelihoods. Among the first stories in the series is a cracking tale on how to dye baby chickens pink (and why) and another on how to grow kale (the popular Kenyan dish made with sukuma wiki) in sacks in slums.

Want to know more?
Listen to an IRIN radio podcast for more about Shujaaz FM.
Read an earlier story on the AgKnowledge Africa Share Fair on the ILRI News blog.

And follow the Share Fair proceedings daily via our:
Blogs: http://tinyurl.com/sfaddisblog
Photos: http://tinyurl.com/sfaddisphotos
Tweets: http://tinyurl.com/sfaddistweets

Smallholder livestock farmers are ‘big opportunities for global agribusiness and food security’–Sere

éFrom ILRI with love

Jo Luck, co-winner of this year’s World Food Prize (bestowed this week in Iowa) and president of the Arkansas- and livestock-based NGO Heifer International, receives a present from Carlos Seré, director general of the International Livestock Research Institute (ILRI), when Jo Luck paid a visit to ILRI’s Nairobi, Kenya, headquarters in August 2010 (photo credit: ILRI/Njuguna).

In an opinion piece published today in the Guardian‘s Poverty Matters blog, Carlos Seré, a leading agricultural economist from Uruguay serving as director general of the Africa-based International Livestock Research Institute (ILRI), says that backing smallholder farmers today could avert food crises tomorrow. Agribusiness investment would not only transform the lives of farmers in South Asia and Africa, Seré says, but also boost global food security.

Seré’s editorial follows.

As food riots continue in Mozambique and food crises persist in Niger and elsewhere, leaders in global agriculture, food and development are gathering in Des Moines, Iowa this week to highlight the significant role the world’s smallholder farmers could play in alleviating poverty and hunger.

In sub-Saharan Africa and south Asia, most people still live in rural areas, where they farm crops and livestock or derive other livelihoods from agriculture. With few other ways to feed their families or make a living, billions of rural people will continue to cultivate lands and raise farm animals.

These smallholder farmers form the backbone of global food production. Despite climate change, pests, diseases, water scarcity, and myriad other challenges, small family farms produce more than half of the world’s food. Most of the food staples consumed in the developing world come from small ‘mixed’ farms, which make efficient use of the resources at their disposal by combining crop and animal production.

Smallholders also represent an emerging market opportunity for local and international agribusiness alike. Because opportunity costs for their land and labour are relatively low, these farmers are competitive food producers. Their mixed crop-and-livestock farming systems can compete effectively against large scale commercial operations.

Smart investments by agribusiness could help millions of these smallholders in south Asia and Africa. By helping them to become even more efficient and improving their links to other markets, agribusiness could enable them to make the transition from subsistence farming to remunerative enterprise.

Agribusiness can help farmers gain better access to improved seeds, knowledge, and other agricultural inputs, and link smallholders to local and international private sector enterprises, reducing transaction costs and risks as well as adding value to their agricultural products. Farmers would see a sustainable boost in production and income, while agribusinesses would gain new access to billions of potential buyers.

The award of the World Food Prize this week to Heifer International, a livestock oriented non-governmental organisation, should help promote smallholder livestock production, in particular, as a vital pathway out of poverty and hunger.

Farm animals kept on the world’s small farms serve as the building blocks of prosperity. With global human population rising (it is expected to increase by 2 to 3 billion people over the next four decades, after which it should begin to decline), livestock are becoming agriculture’s most economically important sub sector, with demand in developing countries for milk, meat and eggs projected to double over the next 20 years alone.

A wealth of innovative business opportunities exists for companies to invest in livestock-related enterprises by providing infrastructure, credit, feed, vaccines, or milk cooling systems. Smart investments targeting the developing world’s billions of livestock keepers could greatly increase global food security, as well as generate profits for both livestock producers and agribusinesses.

Small scale livestock enterprises drive dairy production in eastern Africa and south Asia. India is now the largest dairy producer in the world, with most of the country’s milk produced by small farmers. More than 80% of the milk output in Kenya is produced not by large milk companies, but rather by approximately 800,000 small scale dairy farmers. It is sold to customers by some 350,000 small scale milk vendors.

The potential of livestock and the ongoing ‘livestock revolution’ to better the lives of poor farmers in developing countries drives the scientific agenda of the Africa-based International Livestock Research Institute (ILRI). We see the great opportunities livestock offer the poor. Every day, we see how much difference the meat, milk, muscle, manure and money supplied by a cow, goat, pig, camel or other domesticated animal makes to people struggling to produce enough food and income for their families. We see also how much the loss of farm animals – through disease, drought or other disaster – devastates such households.

With the help of agribusiness expertise and increased public investment, we think the world’s smallholder farmers could become a major force in global food security, helping to sustain increasing levels of world food production over the long term.

Read Seré’s opinion piece on the Guardian‘s ‘Poverty Matters’ blog: Backing smallholder farmers today could avert food crises tomorrow, 14 October 2010.

Watch two short filmed interviews of World Food Prize winner Jo Luck on her visit to ILRI in August 2010:

Livestock Catalyze Community Development

Delivering Livestock Research That Makes a Difference

ILRI's Carlos Sere on expert panel on sustainable food production at University of Minnesota

Carlos Sere, Director General

Carlos Seré, director general of the International Livestock Research Institute and member of a forthcoming expert panel on sustainable food production at the University of Minnesota (credit: ILRI).

Carlos Seré, director general of the Africa-based International Livestock Research Institute (ILRI), is one of three leaders of worldwide agricultural research centres who will discuss how increasing global demands for food can be addressed in sustainable ways during a forum on 'Sustainably Feeding the World' next week at the University of Minnesota (USA). The panel discussion will start at 1:30pm, on Monday, 18 October 2010, in the university's Cargill Building for Microbial and Plant Genomics.

All three panelists are directors-general of international research institutes that are part of the 15-member network known as the Consultative Group on International Agricultural Research (CGIAR). Besides Carlos Seré, who leads the International Livestock Research Institute, based in Nairobi, Kenya, the panelists include Shenggen Fan, of the International Food Policy Research Institute, based in Washington, DC, and Ruben Echeverria, of the International Center for Tropical Agriculture, based in Cali, Colombia.

'This is a rare opportunity to hear from some of today's most knowledgeable experts on global food prospects and policy,' said professor Brian Buhr, head of the university's Department of Applied Economics. 'To have all three of them together on one panel is unprecedented.'

Fan and Echeverria are graduates of the university's Department of Applied Economics. Later in the afternoon of 18 October 2010, Echeverria will be awarded the university's Distinguished Leadership Award for Internationals. The department also will celebrate the accomplishments of the late Vernon Ruttan, who advised both Echeverria and Fan, with a ceremony officially naming its home building 'Ruttan Hall'.

Philip Pardey, of the university's Department of Applied Economics, co-directs a CGIAR HarvestChoice project and will moderate the panel of speakers. HarvestChoice works with all three international centres with funding from the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation. Prabhu Pingali, Deputy Director of the Agricultural Development Program of the Gates Foundation and an international expert on global food issues, also will attend.