News from ILRI

Pandemic proofing the world: An epidemiologist in Nairobi on preventing the next Zika virus

Unknown_PhysicianWearingProtectiveClothing

From Wikipedia: ‘Copper engraving of Doctor Schnabel [i.e. Dr. Beak], a plague doctor in seventeenth-century Rome, circa 1656. In the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries, some doctors wore a beak-like mask which was filled with aromatic items. The masks were designed to protect them from putrid air, which . . . was seen as the cause of infection. . . . The protective suit consisted of a heavy fabric overcoat that was waxed, a mask with glass eye openings and a cone nose shaped like a beak to hold scented substances and straw.‘

Written by Delia Grace

This article was originally published as part of How We Get To Next’s Vital Signs month, looking at the future of our global health throughout Jun 2016. (The original publication, on Medium, is here.)

From a perspective of centuries, humans have never been
healthier,wealthier, or more numerous.

In 2015, despite a fast-increasing world population, the proportion of the world living in absolute poverty dropped below 10 per cent for the first time in history. In parallel, the last few centuries have seen dramatic improvements in human longevity and declines in infectious illness.

But as the world becomes more well, people — particularly people in the West — seem to be more worried about health and disease, especially about the possibility of global pandemics (that is, widespread outbreaks) of newly emerging infectious diseases. Are these first-world fears? Or is there good reason why everyone should be concerned about coming plagues? And, if so, what should we be doing differently to protect ourselves better from newly emerging diseases?

I’m a veterinary epidemiologist working on global ‘One Health’ issues at the International Livestock Research Institute (ILRI), located in East Africa. ILRI’s headquarters lie on the outskirts of the city of Nairobi, Kenya’s capital and home to the highly fatal Nairobi sheep disease. Nairobi was also the origin of several tick fevers and the Kenya tick typhus, which caused skin lesions in people and sometimes death. The country itself is located at the edge of the spectacular Rift Valley, home to Rift Valley fever, the cause of abortions in sheep and hemorrhagic fevers that can kill people. To our east is the beautiful Kenyan coast, breeder of East Coast fever, a cancer-like disease that kills calves as well as adult cattle within three weeks of parasitic infection. Immediately to our west is Uganda, where the Zika virus was first detected in the lush Zika forest. First found in a captive rhesus monkey, caged and placed in the forest to detect yellow fever, the virus is the cause of the globally spreading birth defect known as Zika, or microencephalopathy. Still farther west flows the dark Ebola River, which gave its name to the Ebola virus, the cause of Ebola hemorrhagic fevers that recently killed more than 11,000 people in West Africa.

In all, it’s a good place to be conducting research on neglected and emerging infectious diseases — of animals, people, and pathogen flows between the two.

Researchers in recent decades have worked hard to find ways to prevent or better control such disease pandemics and plagues. One important finding was that most new human diseases — remarkably, at least 75 percent — are zoonotic in origin: that is, the pathogens causing them have jumped from animal to human hosts. A related discovery that most of these new diseases originate in wildlife led to a rush of work to find diseases in wild animals: In deltas and in jungles, in swamps and in forests, the virus-hunters went forth, and wherever they looked, they found. Not surprisingly, they confirmed that people, wildlife, and domestic animals are (metaphorically speaking) swimming together in an invisible sea of viruses, bacteria, and parasites. Many of the microbes they’re finding were previously unknown; most are mobile and potential species hoppers, but probably harmless. A few, however, are catastrophic, even civilization-altering, in their potential to hurt us.

This led researchers like me to ask how we could distinguish among the five nonillions—or 5,000,000,000,000,000,000,000,000,000,000—of microbes in the world (which vastly outnumber any other living organisms and even the estimated star count). We need an approach for identifying those that could cause global pandemics from others that are just harmless hitchhikers.

Here I’m going to focus on domesticated animals, the unacknowledged ‘Judas sheep’ that help microbes leap from their (traditional) wildlife hosts to their (new) human hosts. (The Judas sheep or goat is trained to associate with sheep or cattle, leading them to a specific destination, usually slaughter).

In 2012, the World Bank produced an important study on ‘big-league zoonoses‘: the ones that cost millions to billions of dollars and kill hundreds to thousands of people each year. The study found that of the 11 major pandemics that have afflicted the world since the 1980s — those being Zika, bird flu (highly pathogenic avian influenza, or HPAI), mad cow disease (bovine spongiform encephalopathy, or BSE), Nipah virus infection, plague, West Nile virus, severe acute respiratory syndrome (SARS), Rift Valley fever, Q fever, Middle East respiratory syndrome (MERS), and Ebola — eight have a common feature: They involve domestic animal hosts.

There are good reasons why domestic animals play a major role in transmitting disease: First is that there are simply increasing numbers of them.

Currently, 96 to 98 per cent of the planet’s mammalian zoomass is made up of humans and their animals — whether they’re for companionship, sport, work, or part of some 40 billion livestock. Compared to other genetically diverse species, humans and their domestic animals are very genetically similar (especially ‘out of Africa humans‘ who appear to have passed through a genetic bottleneck). These virtual clones, human and animal, make an ideal environment for pathogen emergence and spread.

I started by saying that humans today are more numerous and more wealthy than ever before. It’s more people with more money that is driving the increased global consumption of meat, milk, and eggs. The rising demand for livestock products — the so-called “livestock revolution” — has led to the production of ever-greater numbers of animals in ‘intensive systems’ that maximize their production. In these systems, large numbers of animals are raised together in confined spaces. In addition, the animals have been intensively bred and selected to make as much product as quickly (and with as few inputs) as possible.

The result is that today, particularly in industrialized systems, only a very few species and strains of livestock produce nearly all the animal products the world consumes. Among thousands of species of ruminants and omnivores, nearly all of our meat, milk, and eggs comes from just cattle, sheep, goats, swine, and poultry. And even within these we rely on very few breeds. For example, there are nearly 1,000 breeds of cattle but nearly all commercial dairy operation in the world uses just a couple of them (mainly Friesians). The same is true for other livestock—despite the many breeds, a small number dominate while the rest are marginal. The homogenous genetics and confined spaces of industrial production systems together have created a welcome incubator for disease pathogens.

At the same time, some domestic animals are kept in ways that have changed their exposure to wildlife pathogens. For example, keeping pigs in fruit orchards to eat windfalls is a good business model. It’s also a good way to connect (disease-transmitting) fruit-eating bats first with pigs and then with the people who eat them. The same goes for farming wild animals, as happens with civet cats in China. Civet is one of the main ingredients in the exotic wildlife dish dragon-tiger-phoenix soup, for which wealthy Chinese in Guangdong province will pay large sums to eat. But catching wild animals and putting them in close confinement in cages is ecologically unsound, since they are likely to have picked up pathogens in the wild, and the stress of capture and captivity predisposes to disease emergence.

On the other hand, in poor countries where people raise just a few farm animals to improve their livelihoods — and a mix of different animal species are often kept in close proximity to people and households — since veterinary care can be scarce livestock are often sick, malnourished, or immune-suppressed. This also serves as a bridge for pathogen transmission, as well as a crucible for the evolution of newly pathogenic organisms.

By giving greater focus to plagues that pass through livestock, we might better identify the ‘vital few’ from the ‘trivial many’ diseases that are emerging. That in itself would enable rapid responses to disease outbreaks that can stop pandemics, cutting their potential global costs alone by 90 per cent.

We’ve already seen that domestic animals can serve as disease bridges — transmitting emerging pathogens from their wildlife hosts, particularly in human-disturbed ecosystems, to human hosts. Like the canary kept in a 19th-century coal mine (the first to die in a poisonous gas event), identifying and investigating ill farm animals should be able help stop disease spread if we let them serve as disease sentinels.

Yet in too many cases, particularly in impoverished nations with fewer resources, we first find out that a zoonotic disease has erupted not when animals begin to die, but when people do. This was the case, for example, with Rift Valley fever in Kenya and bird flu in Sudan. These diseases, which must have felled animal populations long before they started affecting people, were never reported until the first human deaths occurred, by which time the disease was too advanced to be ignored — and too advanced to be easily controlled.

The reason for this is simple. Reporting disease at farm, district, or country levels in the developing world often brings nothing but problems. In response, officials are likely to tell farmers they can’t move or sell their animals, and/or to slaughter their animals, while offering little or no compensation. And among the many poor countries relying on the livestock trade, the last thing they want is news of a new disease in their territory. Changing the incentive structures for reporting livestock diseases, so that people and countries are rewarded instead of punished, would go a long ways toward improving rapid responses to initial disease outbreaks.

Even where disease surveillance is working well, our track record on managing emerging zoonoses is mixed. The rapid containment of sudden acute respiratory syndrome (SARS) in 2003 is certainly one of the biggest success stories in public health in recent years. Within six months of the World Health Organization’s worldwide alert that a severe acute respiratory syndrome of unknown cause was rapidly spreading from Southeast Asia, this entirely new disease was identified as a coronavirus, its transmission and risk factors elucidated, treatments for it developed, and its spread stopped.

The more recent case of Ebola, however, shows that control is not always so straightforward. The Ebola outbreak at the intersection of Liberia, Sierra Leone, and Guinea affected some of the world’s poorest and least developed countries. It took over three months just to confirm that Ebola was the cause of the region’s many severe illnesses and untimely deaths, by which time an immediate response to end the plague was out of the question. West African conflicts, population growth, poverty, and poor health infrastructure — along with delayed global attention — were the toxic mix that encouraged the unprecedented expanse, duration, and size of this Ebola tragedy.

The World Bank estimates that an annual investment of USD3.4 billion in animal health systems would avert economic losses due to delayed or inadequate responses to zoonotic diseases that cost us USD6.7 billion per year. And that does not include the incalculable non-economic losses of human lives and potential.

What does this actually mean? Well, for one thing, it suggests that the provision of proactive animal health services would be one of the world’s best investments in the battle against human disease plagues. A recent economics paper estimates that the cost of future pandemics could be in the same order as that of future climate change. Yet funding for managing pandemic diseases receives only a fraction of that when compared to the investment put toward managing a warming globe. This is deeply worrying. While we humans have historically adapted ourselves successfully to climate change by moving or altering our livelihoods, our responses to plagues to date has largely been to die or flee, with the latter only spreading the plague still farther.

Most people understand that we’re not going to slow climate change, already upon us, without significantly reducing our human-generated emissions of greenhouse gases. I’m arguing here that we’re not going to prevent future catastrophic emerging zoonotic diseases by treating their symptoms. We’re going to have to tackle the root causes of their emergence and confront the fact that human activities are imposing extreme stresses on natural ecosystems. We’ll need to enlarge the focus of our attention on emerging diseases from surveillance, epidemiology, and response (the symptoms) to encompass the fundamental drivers of plague (demography, agriculture, and land-use change).

In summary, the ‘wellness craze’ raging today in the world’s more privileged communities is most likely to be upended not by those things these communities worry most about — pollution or climate change or carcinogens or chronic disease — but rather by a microbe.

Preventing future global plagues, whether merely catastrophic in nature or civilization-altering in scope, depends largely on our adhering to three imperatives, all of them focused on livestock. We must attend to the (frequent) sources of zoonoses in domestic animals, reward rather than punish timely animal disease reporting, and address the underlying causes of plagues emerging from livestock.

With thanks to Abigail Ronck, who edited this article and got it published on Medium’s ‘How We Get to Next’ publication. How We Get To Next is a publication on Medium inspiring stories about the people and places building our future. It is created by Steven Johnson, edited by Ian Steadman, Duncan Geere and Abigail Ronck and supported by the Lemelson Foundation, Gates Foundation and Knight Foundation.

No one left behind: Livestock at the High-level Political Forum on Sustainable Development

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The International Livestock Research Institute (ILRI) participated in this week’s UN High-Level Political Forum on Sustainable Development (follow the proceedings on Twitter with #HLPF2016). This meeting is the first of many meetings and processes that will take place to monitor progress in meeting the United Nations’ 17 Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs).

Shirley Tarawali, assistant director general of ILRI, is in New York this week to take part in a livestock-focused side meeting, which took place yesterday evening (20 Jul 2016). A plant scientist by training who has spent her professional life working in research-for-development partnerships to help Africa’s small-scale farmers upgrade their agricultural practices, Tarawali is passionate about the theme of the forum, ‘No one left behind’. She’s also passionate that ‘livestock’—as an agricultural sub-sector, as a livelihood of most of the world’s poorest people, as a provider of nutritious foods for the malnourished, and much else—not be left behind in the many agenda’s being put forward to meet those 17 goals, all of which, Tarawali will tell you, rely directly or indirectly on sustainable livestock futures.

Tarawali was one of five panel members who gave a short talk to frame the following discussion. The other speakers were Dyborn Chibonga, CEO of the National Smallholder Farmers’ Association of Malawi; Jackie Klippenstein, vice president for Industry & Legislative Affairs at Dairy Farmers of America; Martha Hirpa, managing senior director at Heifer International; and Franck Berthe, leader of the Livestock Global Alliance that is facilitating joint communications of five of the world’s leading organizations focusing on global livestock issues. 

The essay that follows is based on Tarawali’s presentation at this livestock event.

Are livestock at a tipping point
for achieving the
Sustainable Development Goals?

Presentation by Shirley Tarawali,
assistant director general of the
International Livestock Research Institute (ILRI)

at the

‘Sustainable Livestock, Sustainable Lives’
Side event at the High-Level Political Forum on Sustainable Development
at the United Nations Headquarters, in New York City, 20 July 2016

The tipping point is that magic moment when an idea, trend, or
social behaviour crosses a threshold, tips, and spreads like wildfire.
—Malcolm Gladwell

I’m going to make the case that decisions made today about livestock will be critical for attaining the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs). I’m going to argue that we’re not going to manage to feed and nourish the whole world without paying greater attention to livestock issues. That we’re not going to rid the world of pernicious poverty; or conserve our lands, soils and water; or stop the next animal-transmitted global human disease, without paying greater attention to livestock issues. I’m going to argue that we risk leaving many people behind—many hundreds of millions of people—if we continue to fail to invest in, and work together on, livestock issues today.

Jimmy Smith's NDRI Convocation address

Why livestock matter for sustainable development
Livestock development for the SDGs is a huge opportunity. An opportunity that was in danger of being missed until the recent launch of a livestock report on Sustainable agricultural development for food security and nutrition: What roles for livestock? by the the High Level Panel of Experts on Food Security and Nutrition, which advises and serves as the science-policy interface of the United Nations Committee on World Food Security.

It’s not too late to employ livestock as powerful instruments of sustainable development, but we must act now; playing catch up by trying to put livestock on sustainable and equitable paths in future years will be exorbitantly expensive and very difficult, if not impossible in many regions.

Let me share some examples of just how much livestock is already contributing to sustainable development.

Within agriculture, the livestock sector is the fastest growing, the most controversial and the most diverse.

Slide03

Demand for meat, milk and eggs is sky-rocketing. By 2050 the world’s total dairy and meat requirements will double those in 2005—totalling almost 1 billion tonnes a year of dairy products and half a billion tonnes of meat. Almost all of this rising demand is occurring in low- and middle-income countries; in Africa, for example, the livestock sector is growing 2% annually, whereas in the US the sector is growing less than half a per cent each year.

This so-called ‘livestock revolution’ is occurring because of the developing world’s growing populations, with many people moving to the city and earning more income, making them newly able to afford to add a little milk, meat and eggs to their starchy diets. Such modest consumption of animal-source foods greatly improves the nutrition, health and well-being of poorer people in poorer countries, whose diets have relied mostly on cheap grains and root crops.

But nutritional inequities will remain. In spite of such global dietary shifts, per capita consumption of animal-source foods in developing countries is expected to remain just a third of that in the US in the coming decades.

Given the negative news we often hear about livestock—that they emit greenhouse gases, for example, or can pollute land and use excessive water, or can cause food-borne and animal-transmitted diseases in people, or can contribute to obesity and related health disorders—an increase in global demand for meat, milk and eggs, and the increase in livestock production to meet that demand, might sound like bad news.

And it could well be bad news if an appreciation of the diversity of the livestock sector is not taken into account. Because in that great diversity lies many big opportunities for more sustainable development.

Slide04

Pause and picture for a moment what images are conjured up when I mention livestock. Do you see:

  • production units of tens of thousands of chickens?
  • feedlots of beef cattle?
  • air-conditioned pig-raising units?
  • mechanized dairy feeding and milking parlours?

Contrast these images with the practices of smallholder farmers; picture, for example:

  • an African household raising a couple of stall-fed dairy cows
  • an Asian family keeping a dozen pigs on a small plot
  • or pastoralists herding a few goats, sheep and cattle on tropical drylands

In those latter examples, which is where the demand for milk, meat and eggs will be greatest in the coming decades, the current source of these products are many millions of smallholder farmers and pastoralists. Some one billion people today depend in one way or another on farm animals for their livelihoods and food; livestock also provide them with a regular income from sales of milk and eggs, with manure and traction for growing crops, and with four-legged assets that serve as insurance against crop failure and other shocks.

Slide07

Transforming these small-scale livestock production systems to help meet the rising demand for animal-source foods is an opportunity to simultaneously address many dimensions of sustainable development. Let’s look at three.

Food and nutritional security
While many of the world’s richer people could improve their health and environments both by reducing overconsumption of animal-sourced foods, many poorer people would improve their nutrition by consuming a bit more of these foods. Simply adding a daily glass of milk or a single egg or a very small piece of meat to the diets of malnourished children, for example, significantly improves their physical and cognitive development. And because livestock are central to smallholder cropping—with about half of the cereals in the developing world produced where mixed crop-and-livestock agriculture still predominates—animal agriculture also remains key to crop production and consumption.

Inclusive growth
Animal agriculture is where a large part of the developing world’s agricultural action is: in the world’s fastest growing economies, livestock contribute at least 40% of agricultural GDP. And many of the nearly one billion people who rely on livestock for daily life are women for whom livestock are the sole asset they are allowed to own or manage.

Slide06

Environmental protection
Livestock emit about 14.5% of all human-induced greenhouse gases. This amount could be reduced by 20–30% simply by investing in options already available that would make smallholder livestock systems more efficient and productive.

There are also big opportunities for the 120 million or so pastoral people who herd their animals across some the harshest rangelands and highlands of the world while also serving as environmental and biodiversity stewards of nearly a third of the world’s total land area. For example:

  • Novel livestock insurance products are being piloted to reduce pastoral vulnerability to drought.
  • New incentives are being developed for managing rangelands sustainably and for safely storing a lot of carbon—potentially some 600 MT CO2 eq each year—an amount nearly equal to the carbon emitted by the 3 billion people who travelled by air in 2013.
  • Investments that stabilize pastoral livelihoods in the Horn of Africa and other such regions also tend to reduce conflicts.

Jimmy Smith presentation to UK parliamentary group
The good and not-so-good news
So we can see that livestock play many positive and critical roles in the lives and nations of the developing world—roles that can be made even more positive with greater support. Fortunately, livestock sector actors from both developed and developing countries are joining forces today in global initiatives to use livestock as powerful instruments for creating a more sustainable and equitable world through achieving the SDGs. Such livestock initiatives include the Global Agenda for Sustainable Livestock and Livestock Global Alliance.

While the many positive roles of livestock can be enhanced, and their negative impacts greatly reduced, by initiatives such as these, and by farmers and herders, of course, and also by governments and international and non-governmental agencies, by investment banks and private companies, by scientists and marketers and consumers, all of these actors and stakeholders in the future of livestock have been waging an uphill battle to get livestock issues the global attention and support needed to ensure that the sector benefits all.

That’s partly because many influential and well-meaning people in the world’s high-income countries and regions, no longer familiar with farm animals and viewing the world through a highly industrialized lens, can view livestock as either insignificant or causing more harm than good. The voices of such people, living lives far removed from those living in severe poverty, threaten to drown out the less privileged. We need to change that. We need to broaden people’s understandings and commitments. We need to protect the world against parochial interests and decisions that put the future of all of us at risk.Jimmy Smith presentation to UK parliamentary group

Conclusion
I hope I’ve convinced you that the livestock sector, expanding greatly and rapidly throughout the developing world, is already at a tipping point. Whether it tips for a better or worse world—for a sustainable or unsustainable, equitable or inequitable, future—is now up to us.

Jimmy Smith presentation to UK parliamentary group

About the High-level Political Forum on Sustainable Development
The High-level Political Forum on Sustainable Development (HLPF) is the United Nations’ central platform for the follow-up and review of the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development and the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs), adopted at the United Nations Sustainable Development Summit on 25 Sep 2015. The Forum, which adopts a Ministerial Declaration, is expected to provide political leadership, guidance and recommendations on the 2030 Agenda’s implementation and follow-up; keep track of progress of the SDGs; spur coherent policies informed by evidence, science and country experiences; as well as address new and emerging issues. This week’s HLPF is the first since the adoption of the 2030 Agenda and the SDGs. It included voluntary reviews of 22 countries and thematic reviews of progress on the SDGs, including cross-cutting issues, supported by reviews made by the Economic and Social Council functional commissions and other inter-governmental bodies and forums. The HLPF also included a range of side events, a partnership exchange event, and learning, training and practice sessions on the SDGs.


Badass Chinese sheep quickly evolved adaptations to extreme plateau and desert environments—New study

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Native Chinese sheep breeds, one of which is seen here grazing on the Tibetan Plateau, are serving as a climate change bellwether (photo credit: CRIENGLISH.com).

To paraphrase Luigi Guarino in his new and lively Science Blog series for the Crop Trust, with food demand estimated to increase by anywhere from 50–70% by 2050 (read Guarino for why the great spread in estimations), and with climate change bearing down upon us, manifested in more unpredictable and extreme climates, crop breeders will have to work faster and smarter, using all the tools at their disposal, to keep the world fed. And they will need all the diversity they can get their hands on. That’s the raw material of crop improvement, Guarino reminds us.

The same goes for livestock improvement, only, unlike the case for crop varieties, we have no similar genebanks storing the diversity of animals that would allow us to pull out of the freezer a whole goat or camel, say, the breed of which had disappeared from the world’s fields. Once gone, these animals are gone for good.

That’s one of the reasons that livestock genetics is such an important area of study. The world is losing its diverse livestock breeds at a rapid clip (estimated by the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations at an average loss of two breeds every week). If we want to understand the genetics underlying the ability of some animals to withstand great heat or cold, or to resist some diseases, or to thrive on scarce water or poor fodder, we need to be conducting those investigations today, while we still have a diversity of farm animals to investigate. And most of those diverse animals are being raised in developing countries.

Among the scientists focusing on the developing world’s remaining rich farmyard diversity is Han Jianlin, who is based in Beijing. Jianlin is a livestock geneticist on joint appointment at the International Livestock Research Institute (ILRI) and the Chinese Academy of Agricultural Sciences (CAAS)-ILRI Joint Laboratory on Livestock and Forage Genetic Resources (JLLFGR), which is housed in CAAS’ Institute of Animal Science. Jianlin is one of 22 Chinese authors of a new paper published in the scientific journal Molecular Biology and Evolution (7 Jul 2016, advance access).

In this paper, the authors say, ‘Through comparisons of the genomes of sheep from extreme environments with those from contrasting environments, we aimed to identify the candidate genes, functional Gene Ontology (GO) categories and signaling pathways responsible for the rapid adaptations (i.e., over thousands of years) of sheep to plateau and desert environments. Additionally, to elucidate the evolutionary history of Chinese native sheep, a comprehensive analysis of the genomic diversity, population structure and demographic history of these animals was performed based on genomic data.’

The findings in a nutshell

  • Comparisons of the whole genomes of native sheep from extreme environments and contrasting reference conditions revealed a variety of novel genes, important pathways and GO categories associated with local adaptations of sheep in plateau and desert environments
  • These results advance our understanding of the genetic mechanisms underlying the rapid adaptations of sheep and other livestock species, particularly small ruminants, to survive in similar extreme environments
  • The genomic data generated in this study will serve as a valuable resource for genomics-assisted breeding to develop new tolerant sheep breeds in the face of global climate change
***
As ILRI livestock geneticist Olivier Hanotte explains: This study illustrates how uniquely and rapidly domesticated animals can adapt to new environments. This is key to their survival and success. This remarkable adaptation is made possible only by the great genetic diversity found within and between breeds. We have a responsibility to catalogue that diversity, to annotate it and to understand it. This is why ILRI and its partners are shaping a new initiative to be led by the countries possessing the greatest livestock diversity. This project, dubbed the 10,000 Livestock Genome, aims to create a virtual livestock diversity biobank to catalogue and annotate, to better understand and use, the developing world’s wealth of animal genetic resources.

Those interested in supporting the 10K Livestock Genome project should contact Steve Kemp, leader of ILRI’s Animal Biosciences program (and see the program’s blog site) and LiveGene and related initiatives (s.kemp [at] cgiar.org).

***

The following extracts (some emphases added) from the paper exclude scientific references readers will find in the journal paper.

From the abstract
‘Global climate change has a significant effect on extreme environments and a profound influence on species survival. However, little is known of the genome-wide pattern of livestock adaptations to extreme environments over a short time frame following domestication.

Sheep (Ovis aries) have become well adapted to a diverse range of agroecological zones, including certain extreme environments (e.g., plateaus and deserts), during their post-domestication (approximately 8–9 kya [thousand years ago]) migration and differentiation.

‘Here, we generated whole-genome sequences from 77 native sheep, with an average effective sequencing depth of ~5× for 75 samples and ~42× for two samples.

‘Comparative genomic analyses among sheep in contrasting environments, i.e., plateau (>4,000 m above sea level) versus lowland (<100 m), high-altitude region (>1,500 m) versus low-altitude region (<1,300 m), desert (<10 mm average annual precipitation) versus highly humid region (>600 mm), and arid zone (<400 mm) versus humid zone (>400 mm), detected a novel set of candidate genes as well as pathways and GO [Gene Ontology] categories that are putatively associated with hypoxia responses at high altitudes and water reabsorption in arid environments. Additionally, candidate genes and GO terms functionally related to energy metabolism and body size variations were identified.

This study offers novel insights into rapid genomic adaptations to extreme environments in sheep and other animals, and provides a valuable resource for future research on livestock breeding in response to climate change.

From the introduction
‘. . . [I]t is important to understand the genetic basis of well-adapted local livestock breeds in extreme environments to develop appropriate breeding programs under scenarios of future climate change. After domestication in the Fertile Crescent approximately 8,000–9,000 years ago, sheep (Ovis aries) spread and became adapted to a wide range of agroecological conditions, especially those distributed on plateaus or in desert regions, which are sensitive to climate change.

Thus, these animals provide an excellent model to gain novel insights into genetic mechanisms underlying the rapid adaptations of livestock to extreme environments within a short period of time.

‘In recent years, to characterize adaptive genetic variations, whole-genome sequencing studies have been performed on a wide range of organisms that live in harsh or extreme environments. Studies conducted on livestock are limited, although they include work on adaptations to high altitudes in yak, Tibetan mastiff and Tibetan chicken, hot and arid environments in goat and sheep, severe desert conditions in domestic Bactrian camel and subarctic cold environments in Yakutian horse.

However, to our knowledge, no study has characterized the rapid genetic adaptations of livestock to various extreme environments based on whole-genome sequences.

‘Out of the dispersal center in the Mongolian region, Chinese native sheep breeds only have diverged for several thousands of years . . . . In the present study, we sequenced the whole genomes of 77 sheep (Ovis aries) including those from habitats in extreme (or harsh) environments: Tibetan areas on the Qinghai-Tibetan Plateau (>4,000 m above sea level), high-altitude region (>1,500 m), Taklimakan Desert region (<10 mm average annual precipitation), and arid zone (<400 mm average annual precipitation). The set of samples represented 21 native breeds of different genetic and geographic origins in China.’

From the conclusions
‘In conclusion, comparisons of the whole genomes of native sheep from extreme environments and contrasting reference conditions revealed a variety of novel genes, important pathways and GO categories associated with local adaptations of sheep in plateau and desert environments. Specifically, the candidate genes, pathways and GO terms were functionally related to hypoxia responses in the plateau environment, water reabsorption in the desert environment, and energy metabolism and body size in both environments.

‘These results advance our understanding of the genetic mechanisms underlying the rapid adaptations of sheep and other livestock species, particularly small ruminants, to survive in similar extreme environments. The population genomic analyses of 77 Chinese native sheep and three wild species provided new insights into sheep domestication, evolution and demographic history. In particular, we found strong genomic evidence for the partitioning of Chinese native sheep into three genetic groups (Qinghai-Tibetan, Yunnan-Kweichow and Northern and Eastern Chinese breeds) as well as for their divergence and gene flow. We also detected climate-driven population size fluctuations of ancestral sheep population over the past million years. The genomic data generated in this study will serve as a valuable resource for genomics-assisted breeding to develop new tolerant sheep breeds in the face of global climate change.’

Acknowledgments
This work was financially supported by the External Cooperation Program of Chinese Academy of Sciences, the International S&T Cooperation Program of China, the Breakthrough Project of Strategic Priority Program of the Chinese Academy of Sciences, the National High Technology Research and Development Program of China, the National Transgenic Breeding Project of China, the Taishan Scholars Program of Shandong Province and grants from the National Natural Science Foundation of China.

Han Jianlin leads genetics work at the CAAS-ILRI Joint Laboratory for Livestock and Forage Genetic Resources, located within the CAAS Institute of Animal Sciences, in Beijing, China. Jianlin’s research is conducted under ILRI’s Animal Biosciences program and within the multi-institutional CGIAR Research Program on Livestock and Fish.

More information
Read the whole science paper
Whole-genome sequencing of native sheep provides insights into rapid adaptations to extreme environments, by Ji Yang, Wen-Rong Li, Feng-Hua Lv,, San-Gang He,, Shi-Lin Tian, Wei-Feng Peng, Ya-Wei Sun, Yong-Xin Zhao, Xiao-Long Tu, Min Zhang, Xing-Long Xie, Yu-Tao Wang, Jin-Quan Li, Yong-Gang Liu, Zhi-Qiang Shen, Feng Wang, Guang-Jian Liu, Hong-Feng Lu, Juha Kantanen, Jian-Lin Han (ILRI), Meng-Hua Li and Ming-Jun Liu, in Molecular Biology and Evolution, 7 Jul 2016 (advance access).

Read about an earlier ILRI co-authored paper on sheep genetics
DNA analysis of Asian sheep reveals unique diversity crucial to contemporary food and climate concerns, 1 Sep 2015 (ILRI News blog); Sheep genomics: ‘Sheep—A very long yarn’—Financial Times, 8 Sep 2015 (ILRI Clippings blog). Read the earlier scientific paper itself: Mitogenomic meta-analysis identifies two phases of migration in the history of eastern Eurasian sheep, by Feng-Hua Lv, Wei-Feng Peng, Ji Yang, Yong-Xin Zhao, Wen-Rong Li, Ming-Jun Liu, Yue-Hui Ma, Qian-Jun Zhao, Guang-Li Yang, Feng Wang, Jin-Quan Li, Yong-Gang Liu, Zhi-Qiang Shen, Sheng-Guo Zhao, EEr Hehua, Neena A Gorkhali, SM Farhad Vahidi, Muhammad Muladno, Arifa N Naqvi, Jonna Tabell, Terhi Iso-Touru, Michael W Bruford, Juha Kantanen, Jian-Lin Han (ILRI/JLLFGR) and Meng-Hua Li, in Molecular Biology and Evolution, 16 Jun 2015.

Learn more about the ILRI-CAAS Joint Laboratory for Livestock and Forage Genetic Resources, in Beijing.

Read more from ILRI about safeguarding livestock diversity.


‘Leveling’ livestock information: Knowledge management at an ICAR–ILRI communications workshop

Note: This is the tenth in a series of articles on
‘Curds and goats, lives and livelihoods—
A dozen stories from northern and eastern India’.
PART 10: ‘Leveling’ access to livestock information:
Knowledge management talks at an ICAR–ILRI communications workshop  

By Jules Mateo and Susan MacMillan,
of the International Livestock Research Institute (ILRI)

This is the third of three reports on a Mar 2016 ICAR–ILRI communications workshop held at ICAR’s New Delhi research complex.

To share best practices and explore opportunities for collaboration, the International Livestock Research Institute (ILRI) and the Indian Council of Agricultural Research (ICAR) held a joint communications and knowledge management workshop on 4 Mar 2016 at the National Agricultural Science Centre Complex in New Delhi, India.

National Agricultural Science Centre Complex

The one-day communications workshop was held at the National Agricultural Science Centre Complex in New Delhi, India (photo credit: ILRI/Susan MacMillan).

The one-day workshop was co-organized by ILRI’s Communications and Knowledge Management (CKM) team and ICAR’s Directorate of Knowledge Management in Agriculture (DKMA). The workshop brought together 75 officials, scientists and communications experts from both organizations.

Former ICAR director (left) with Jimmy Smith and Alok Jha (right)

Officials and scientists from ILRI and ICAR attended the workshop (photo credit: ILRI/Susan MacMillan).

The workshop was organized around three focus areas: (1) creating impact through communicating research outputs, (2) communicating evidence for wider influence and (3) publishing and accessing research outputs and knowledge.

Workshop focus area 3: Accessing, publishing and disseminating research knowledge, information, data, products and outputs for wide accessibility and use

Focus area 3, the last session of the day, was divided into six 10-minute case studies on data and knowledge management and information dissemination from scientists and communications specialists from ILRI and ICAR, as well as a journalist covering science news in mass media. They shared experiences on how they access, manage and make agricultural information available online and on mobile phones.

ICAR-ILRI Communications Workshop was organized and facilitated by Peter Ballantyne

Peter Ballantyne, head of ILRI Communications and Knowledge Management, presented on open-access approach to livestock information (photo credit: ILRI/Susan MacMillan).

The first case study, on open access/open publishing at ILRI, was presented by Peter Ballantyne, head of ILRI Communications and Knowledge Management. Ballantyne listed the many ways that ILRI is ‘working in the open’. These include open projects, open platforms, open conversations on social media, open (Google) books, open online (DSpace) repositories (CGSpace), open source (Github), open data (portals and datasets), open news, open to re-use (Creative Commons licence) and open for feedback. ILRI’s open-access policy, with 95% of its content open to the public, aims to increase the uptake of research products, make outputs widely available and accessible, generate (borderless) international public goods, and enhance communication and collaboration with the institute’ many partners.

Participants in a group discussion that followed found the principles and practices of open-access policy attractive but mentioned that ICAR would have to also consider the trade-offs of implementing such policies. ICAR now gets some revenue from selling many of its books, journals, magazines, manuals and other materials, albeit at low prices (the government subsidizes this publishing). A completely open-access policy would run counter to their business model. The participants recommended that ICAR find a balance between its open access and commercial interests.

Dinesh Kumar, of ICAR IASRI

Data management expert Dinesh Kumar (right) of ICAR’s Indian Agricultural Statistics Research Institute (photo credit: ILRI/Susan MacMillan).

Dinesh Kumar, from ICAR’s Indian Agricultural Statistics Research Institute (IASRI), discussed data management at IASRI, particularly the handling of genomic data. Kumar said his team’s goal is to manage massive and complex data in ways that make that data easier and faster to access online.

His team has been working on managing data on genetic markers, as well as on developing tools to make managing genomic data more efficient and productive. IASRI has already placed a large amount of genetic data in the public domain, Kumar reported. In the group discussion that followed his presentation, Kumar noted other areas that still need improvement, including attracting more users and familiarizing them with the system and establishing networks among data management community, inadequate data, especially on phenomics (measuring physical and biochemical traits of organisms), and financial sustainability. He and the other members of his group recommended holding a bilateral discussion with ILRI on possible areas of collaboration and the co-development of a strategy for better use of genomic data.

WomanAtICAR-ILRIcommsWorkshop_Cropped

Aruna T Kumar, senior editor at ICAR Directorate of Knowledge Management in Agriculture, presents on managing access to research journals (photo credit: ILRI/Susan MacMillan).

The management of research journal publishing was discussed by Aruna T Kumar, a DKMA senior editor. ICAR publishes 26 journals in both print and digital formats. Making journal articles available online has greatly improved the global visibility and international viewership of these articles, she said. And synthesizing and repackaging years of research on given topics has enabled her team to increase the shelf-lives of ICAR’s scientific outputs and also to get them reviewed by international authorities. The primary goal of her team is to get ICAR’s research cited more often and to raise their impact factor.

In the following group discussion, Kumar and her DKMA colleagues said that a separate interactive website for each journal might improve its access and viewership. Regarding possible ICAR–ILRI collaborations, they suggested considering jointly publishing supplementary issues and linking ICAR authors to Research Gate, Mendeley and other academic networks, which would help not only to raise the authors’ profiles but also to increase the readership of ICAR journals. Use of metrics to determine viewership and audience was also recommended.

Group discussion on delivering livestock information through mobile phones

Group discussion on managing livestock content for mobile phones (photo credit: ILRI/Jules Mateo). 

A presentation on ‘Organizing and managing livestock content for mobile dissemination’ was given by Sagarika Gandhi, a consultant scientist for ILRI who worked on a two-year project using mobile technology for disseminating accurate and relevant scientific livestock information in forms readily understandable by farmers. A workflow was followed to identify farmers’ knowledge needs, to organize this knowledge according to ‘knowledge domains’, to develop draft content and to generate final content for mobile dissemination. The project learned the importance of two things, said Ghandi: Good-quality content of practical use by farmers is badly needed but very scarce. Other workshop participants agreed that good-quality content is one of the most important factors. They advised consulting agricultural extension workers and local stakeholders to get the content right. They also recommended that such projects regularly update farmer contacts and add alerts to their services.

A journalist covering agricultural science and technology stories, NB Nair, spoke about the challenges of repackaging ICAR information for use by mass media. He said science remains under-represented in Indian media, with just 0.2% of the country’s news coverage concerning agriculture. He argued that the problem is not that science doesn’t sell but rather that scientists tend to be reticent or shy about sharing their research results with journalists. He said scientists must provide the latest information they have in ways that can be ‘consumed’ by journalists. Popularizing science is ‘all about salesmanship’, Nair said; it must be ‘sold’ to the general public. Science stories for the Indian public should be written in ‘common language’, he added. And with English understood by only 20% of the population, they should also be translated and written in local languages.

The last presentation of the third focus area, and of the workshop, was on ‘Measuring use of knowledge outputs—some work in progress’ by ILRI’s Peter Ballantyne. He described ways he’s trying to assess the impacts of information made available on ILRI’s online knowledge portals. By collecting and collating relevant data, he investigates ‘who is using what materials and over what time periods’. Such assessments, which include the rate at which an individual scientist produces yearly outputs, can help an institute gauge its digital reach as well as its staff and institutional performance. ILRI uses Altmetric Explorer for compiling these kinds of metrics.

EntranceAtICAR0ILRIcommsWorkshop_Cropped

At the lobby of National Agricultural Science Centre (photo credit: ILRI/Susan MacMillan).

Read the first and second of three articles reporting on the ICAR–ILRI communications workshop: Getting the (science) word out: ILRI and ICAR share livestock communications and knowledge management practices, 25 May 2016 and Reaching stakeholders, influencing policies: ICAR–ILRI communications workshop, 11 Jul 2016.

Read previous parts in this blog series: Curds and goats, lives and livelihoods—A dozen stories from northern and eastern India

Part 1: Colourful convocation: Jimmy Smith addresses graduates of India’s prestigious National Dairy Research Institute, 30 Mar 2016.
Part 2: Elite buffaloes and other exemplars of advanced Indian dairy science at the National Dairy Research Institute, 31 Mar 2016.
Part 3: Culture of the cow: Curds in the city—Better living through smallholder dairying in northern India, 5 Apr 2016.
Part 4: Building better brands and lives through peri-urban dairying and smart crop-dairy farming, 6 Apr 2015
Part 5: Wonder women of Bhubaneswar, 12 Apr 2016.
Part 6: Odisha Odyssey: The Arcadian landscapes and tribal goat keepers of Mayurbhanj, 9 May 2016.
Part 7: Odisha Odyssey: A look at the emerging dairy value chains in eastern India, 12 May 2016.
Part 8: Getting the (science) word out: ILRI and ICAR share livestock communications and knowledge management practices, 25 May 2016.
Part 9: Reaching stakeholders, influencing policies: ICAR–ILRI communications workshop, 11 Jul 2016.

View the presentation by Sagarika GandhiOrganizing and managing livestock content for mobile dissemination, 4 Mar 2016.
View the presentation by Peter Ballantyne: Open access / open publishing at the International Livestock Research Institute, 4 Mar 2016.
View the presentation by Peter Ballantyne: Measuring use of ILRI’s knowledge outputs–Some work in progress, 4 Mar 2016.

Read an ILRI opinion piece by Susan MacMillan on evidence-based advocacy communications.

View all photographs of the workshop in this ILRI Flickr photo album.


Reaching stakeholders, influencing policies: ICAR–ILRI communications workshop

IndiaWomenAtICAR-ILRIcommsWorkshop_Cropped

Some of the ICAR scientists and communications staff at an ICAR-ILRI communications workshop in New Delhi in March 2016 (ILRI/Susan MacMillan).

Note: This is the ninth in a series of articles on
‘Curds and goats, lives and livelihoods—
A dozen stories from northern and eastern India‘.
Part 9: Reaching stakeholders, influencing policies:
ICAR–ILRI communications workshop

By Jules Mateo and Susan MacMillan,
of the International Livestock Research Institute (ILRI)

This is the second of three reports on a Mar 2016 ICAR–ILRI communications workshop held at ICAR’s New Delhi research complex.

A communications workshop co-sponsored by the International Livestock Research Institute (ILRI) and the Indian Council of Agricultural Research (ICAR) was held on 4 March 2016 in New Delhi, India.

Jointly organized by ILRI’s Communications and Knowledge Management (CKM) team and ICAR’s Directorate of Knowledge Management in Agriculture (DKMA), the workshop’s goals were to share experiences and best practices in livestock research communications and knowledge management and to explore opportunities for ICAR and ILRI communications teams to collaborate on future projects.

Jimmy Smith listens to the workshop presentations

Jimmy Smith (left), ILRI director general, attended the one-day workshop, along with officials and senior scientists from ICAR (ILRI/Susan MacMillan).

The one-day communications workshop was divided into three focus areas: (1) creating impact through communicating research outputs, (2) communicating evidence for wider influence and (3) publishing and accessing research outputs and knowledge.

Workshop focus area 2: Communicating evidence for wider influence by engaging with and influencing decision-makers

Similar to the preceding session on communicating research outputs (focus area 1), focus area 2 was divided into six 10-minute presentations/case studies from scientists and communications specialists from ILRI and ICAR.

A presentation on ‘livestock awareness and advocacy by working with media’ was presented by Susan MacMillan, who leads the awareness and advocacy team at ILRI. MacMillan talked about news media, the traditional form of news outreach, which has an institutional voice and is heavily produced and vetted by institutes. She said this traditional form of news is changing fast. With most news now appearing in both print and online vehicles, the boundaries between news media and social media are blurring. She stressed some media principles, such as the public’s right to know and keeping public awareness work separate from public relations. She highlighted the importance of visuals (infographics, videos, etc.) to complement news articles. She argued that it’s critical for voices of ‘the South’ to be distinct from those of ‘the North’. She urged the workshop participants, all of whom were communicators of one kind or another, to keep reinventing their writing styles, to as to keep them fresh and interesting. ‘You are not allowed’, she said, ‘to be boring in the name of agricultural science’.

SusanPresentingAtICAR-ILRIcommsWorkshop_Cropped2

Susan MacMillan, ILRI awareness and advocacy team leader, delivers a presentation on working with media on livestock research communications (ILRI/Jules Mateo).

In another presentation, MacMillan talked about her experience in using social media to engage and influence livestock stakeholders. As ILRI’s awareness and advocacy team leader, she talked about the social media platforms that she contributes to and manages for ILRI. She described social media work as less in need of ‘institutionally vetting’ as traditional news media work. ‘Social media publishing tends to be ‘conversational’ and ‘self-correcting’, she said (when you publish an error, you can simply apologize and correct it in your next message). To succeed on social media channels, MacMillan said, it’s important to be social, responsive, acknowledging and generous. She recommended that communicators be selective in the number of platforms and tools they use, so as not to become overwhelmed. During the group discussion, participants agreed that despite the advances in communications technologies, ‘content is still king’.

The use of social media at ICAR was presented by Mitali Ghosh Roy, from ICAR’s Directorate of Knowledge Management in Agriculture (DKMA). Roy said that ICAR currently uses three social media channels—Facebook, Twitter and YouTube—to promote events, education, opportunities and facts and figures and to engage audiences. Use of social media has given ICAR a wider reach, she said: the council has visitors from 45 countries, 17% of whom are women. In social as in other media work, Roy said that content is still ICAR’s top priority. But mobilizing relevant and good-quality content is remains one of their challenges.

Group work

Participants discuss lessons learned and come up with recommendations during group work (ILRI/Susan MacMillan).

Aside from engaging with farmers, partners and other stakeholders, ILRI and ICAR, like most agricultural organizations, hope to influence policymakers through evidence-based research and advocacy communications. There is always the hope that the results of rigourous research will be considered and used by policymakers in drafting legislations to promote agricultural development and improve farmers’ lives and livelihoods. For the workshop’s second focus area, three presentations focused on case studies in different states in India.

The story of India’s success in smallholder milk production—the ‘Operation Flood’ case story, was presented by Jignesh Shah, of India’s National Dairy Development Board (NDDB). He described India’s exponential growth in milk supply, from a national initiative created to address the country’s milk shortages in the 1950s and 60s to efforts to increase milk production in the early 70s by bringing milk from rural areas to satisfy urban demand. According to Shah, India’s 1964 ‘White Revolution’ followed a productive model—a layered system of milk production and collection that spread from districts to states to national levels. This system proved highly successful in several ways, such as by generating excess milk supplies, increasing the market share in four metro cities and increasing funds for loans and grants for smallholder milk producers. Importantly, this White Revolution benefitted urban as well as rural communities through what Shah called ‘holistic’ rural development.

Participants in the following discussion group attributed part of the success of Operation Flood to effective local governance, a pro-active approach and a good understanding of the stakeholder needs. The participants suggested that ICAR and ILRI consider working together on a cooperative structure for livestock products such as meat and on indigenous breeds of dairy cattle.

RK Singh, director of ICAR Indian Veterinary Research Institute

India Veterinary Research Institute director RK Singh presents case studies on animal health issues (ILRI/Susan MacMillan).

RK Singh, director of ICAR’s Indian Veterinary Research Institute (IVRI), presented highlights of ICAR’s animal health research, using case studies from India, particularly on improved control of rinderpest control in cattle and buffalo, pestes des petits ruminants (PPR) in small ruminants and diseases of horses and asses; development and deployment of livestock vaccines; and the pests that transmit livestock and zoonotic (animal-to-human) diseases. Singh argued it was imperative to create more public awareness of the benefits of livestock disease control and to engage more with policymakers, who need brief content for their decision-making.

Regarding future ICAR-ILRI collaborations, IVRI is interested in effective and region-specific communication models to support input supplies (vaccines, medicines, feeds), livestock production, research on feed biotechnology and antimicrobial resistance, and epidemiological and economic studies.

Padmakumar leads a group discussion

ILRI scientist V Padmakumar (centre) and fellow workshop participants talk about the role of communications in dealing with classical swine fever in northern India (ILRI/Susan MacMillan).

V Padmakumar, an ILRI scientist based in Hyderabad, showed how research evidence can be used to influence agricultural policies. He described ILRI-partner work to improve control of classical swine fever (CSF) in Nagaland, where high pig mortality was compounded in that state’s remote areas by lack of animal health services and inadequate supplies of livestock vaccines. To address these problems, ILRI and partners conducted a participatory epidemiological study and economic loss assessment, with a focus on vaccine delivery, storage and use. A policy brief was distributed to raise awareness, a stakeholder consultation was carried out to gather inputs, and a policy roundtable was held to get the attention of decision-makers.

As a result, the Government of India initiated a national program to control classical swine fever, licensed cell culture work needed for the production of this vaccine, and generally supported the vaccine’s mass production. Additional support for this government initiative came from a Tata–ILRI livestock-research-for-development partnership, which trained village workers in providing animal health services.

This is the second of three articles reporting on the ICAR–ILRI communications workshop. Read the first: Getting the (science) word out: ILRI and ICAR share livestock communications and knowledge management practices.

View the ILRI slide presentations on news and social media.

Read previous parts in this blog series: Curds and goats, lives and livelihoods—A dozen stories from northern and eastern India

Part 1: Colourful convocation: Jimmy Smith addresses graduates of India’s prestigious National Dairy Research Institute, 30 Mar 2016.
Part 2: Elite buffaloes and other exemplars of advanced Indian dairy science at the National Dairy Research Institute, 31 Mar 2016.
Part 3: Culture of the cow: Curds in the city—Better living through smallholder dairying in northern India, 5 Apr 2016.
Part 4: Building better brands and lives through peri-urban dairying and smart crop-dairy farming, 6 Apr 2015
Part 5: Wonder women of Bhubaneswar, 12 Apr 2016.
Part 6: Odisha Odyssey: The Arcadian landscapes and tribal goat keepers of Mayurbhanj, 9 May 2016.
Part 7: Odisha Odyssey: A look at the emerging dairy value chains in eastern India, 12 May 2016.
Part 8: Getting the (science) word out: ILRI and ICAR share livestock communications and knowledge management practices, 25 May 2016.

Read an ILRI opinion piece by Susan MacMillan on evidence-based advocacy communications.

Visit ILRI News for a series of articles on ‘Curds and goats, lives and livelihoods—
A dozen stories from northern and eastern India’.

View all photographs of the workshop in this ILRI Flickr photo album.


High-Level Panel of Experts on Food Security and Nutrition launches sustainable livestock development report

Slide2

A High Level Panel of Experts on Food Security and Nutrition (HLPE) is the science-policy interface of the Committee on World Food Security (CFS), which is, at the global level, the foremost inclusive and evidence-based international and intergovernmental platform for food security and nutrition.

HLPE reports serve as a common, comprehensive, evidence-based starting point for intergovernmental and international multistakeholder policy debates in CFS. The HLPE draws its studies based on existing research and knowledge and organizes a scientific dialogue, built upon the diversity of disciplines, backgrounds, knowledge systems, diversity of its Steering Committee and Project Teams, and upon open electronic consultations.

HLPE reports are widely used as reference documents within and beyond CFS and the UN system, by the scientific community as well as by political decision-makers and stakeholders, at international, regional and national levels.

In October 2014, the CFS requested the HLPE to prepare a report on sustainable agricultural development for food security and nutrition, including the role of livestock. An important planning meeting was held at the International Livestock Research Institute (ILRI).

Delia Grace, a veterinary epidemiologist and food safety expert at ILRI, served as one of ten members of the HLPE livestock project team members.

What follows are excerpts from the report, which was launched at the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations (FAO) on 1 Jul 2016, in Rome. ILRI Director General Jimmy Smith, who the day before gave a keynote presentation at a Partnerships Forum on Livestock at the Rome-based International Fund for Agricultural Development (IFAD), attended the FAO launch of the report on the role of livestock in sustainable agricultural development.

This report focuses on the livestock sector because it is:
  • a powerful engine for the development of the agriculture and food sector
  • a driver of major economic, social and environmental changes in food systems worldwide
  • a uniquely powerful entry point for understanding the issues around sustainable agricultural development as a whole
Livestock production is central to food systems’ development and is a particularly dynamic and complex agricultural subsector, with implications for animal-feed demand, for market concentration in agricultural supply chains, for the intensification of production at the farm level, for farm income, land use, and for nutrition and health. Livestock has often set the speed of change in agriculture in recent decades. Livestock is strongly linked to the feed crop sector, generates co-products including manure and draught power, and in many countries acts as a store of wealth and a safety net. It is integral to the traditional practices, values and landscapes of many communities across the world. Livestock has significant effects on the environment, both positive and negative, particularly when indirect land-use changes and feed crop production effects are taken into account. . . . The report offers policy-makers and other stakeholders a framework to design and implement feasible options of sustainability pathways for agricultural development. It will hopefully contribute to sustainable food systems and to food security and nutrition for all, and more broadly to the 2030 Agenda, now and in the future. . . . As reflected in its title, this report is focused on livestock because of the importance and complexity of its roles and contribution to sustainable agricultural development for food security and nutrition. . . .

Slide3

‘Livestock has often set the speed of change in agriculture in recent decades. Livestock is the largest user of land resources; permanent meadows and pastures represent 26 percent of global land area and feed crops account for one-third of global arable land. Livestock is strongly linked to the feed crop sector, generates co-products including manure and draught power, and in many economies acts as a store of wealth and a safety net. It is integral to the cultural identity, traditional practices, values and landscapes of many communities across the world. Livestock has profound effects on the environment, particularly when indirect land-use changes and feed crop production effects are taken into account.

‘Livestock production takes place in a wide range of farming systems: extensive (e.g. grazing in the case of ruminant livestock or foraging in the case of poultry and pigs); intensive (in which thousands of animals are fed with concentrated feed rations in confined facilities); and in the many intermediate systems that exist between the two. . . . [T]o value and address this diversity of farming systems and their distinct challenges, the report considers four broad classes of livestock rearing: smallholder mixed farming; pastoral; commercial grazing; and intensive livestock systems. . . .

‘While food security concerns historically focused on total calorie intake, today they encompass the so-called “triple burden” of malnutrition: hunger (deficiencies in dietary energy intake), estimated by FAO to affect some 792 million people worldwide; micronutrient deficiencies (such as iron, vitamin A, iodine and zinc), which, according WHO, affect some two billion people; and increasing overnutrition that now affects more people than hunger does. In 2014, WHO estimated more than 1.9 billion (39 percent) adults, aged 18 years and over, were overweight, of which over 600 million (13 percent) were obese. The relationships between food systems and nutrition will be explored in depth in a forthcoming HLPE report (2017).

‘In a context of increasing resource scarcity, and with the urgent need to reduce greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions and adapt to climate change, numerous studies have identified livestock as a key area for action. Resource efficiency in livestock production will have to be improved in order to: maintain production systems within critical planetary limits; preserve the ecosystem services on which agricultural production relies; and reduce land degradation, biodiversity loss and pressure on water use and quality.

‘As a driver of deforestation, demand for feed, and transportation and processing infrastructure, the livestock sector is directly and indirectly responsible for 14.5 percent of GHG emissions. At the same time, some livestock systems are among the most vulnerable to climate change (particularly those in dry areas) and to new environment-related emerging diseases. These challenges are huge but the livestock sector also has huge potential for improvement, if the best existing practices in a given system and region can be shared and learned from more widely.

‘Livestock plays a crucial economic role in many food systems: providing income, wealth and employment; buffering price shocks; adding value to feedstuffs; providing a source of fertilizer and draught power. Agricultural markets face three challenges: (i) imperfect competition, due to lack of information, barriers to market entry, infrastructure constraints; (ii) externalities that create significant costs not borne by producers; and (iii) market distortions arising from poor public policies, including subsidies and taxes that reward unsustainable practices.

‘More specifically, agricultural markets are subject to unpredictable forces, such as the weather, and to time lags averse unless they are supported by safety nets. International trade has introduced opportunities but also new challenges, including an increased potential for diseases to spread. International trade has also been accompanied by a growing role for multinational private actors in making investment decisions in agricultural systems. Concentrated corporate control of agriculture has also increased in the face of uneven access to market information and technologies, undermining competition.

‘Different livestock systems face different economic risks and opportunities in this more general context. Determining factors include: the degree of integration into international markets and urban distribution systems; the level of dependence on external inputs (such as feed); and the degree of concentration in the markets upstream and downstream from livestock producers. . . .

Slide4

‘[G]lobal challenges concern the different livestock systems to various degrees. Each system is also confronted with specific challenges.

  1. Smallholder mixed farming systems face limited access to resources, markets and services, variable resource efficiency and big yield gaps, and have little capacity to adapt to deep and rapid structural transformation in the agriculture sector and in the wider economy.
  2. Pastoral systems: in addition to the challenges they share with smallholders, pastoral systems must cope with conflicts for land and water, economic and political exclusion, social (including gender) inequity, poor animal health and high risks of zoonotic diseases.
  3. Commercial grazing systems face the degradation of the natural grasslands they depend upon, conflicts with other sectors over land and resource use, poor conditions for workers and, in some cases, technical inefficiencies.
  4. Intensive livestock systems face environmental challenges resulting from intensification (land and water use; water, soil and air pollution); the harm to human and animal health created by antimicrobial resistance, the emergence of new diseases; the social consequences of intensification (rural abandonment, poor working conditions, low wages, vulnerability of migrant labour, occupational hazards); and economic risks in the form of dependence on external inputs, including feed and energy, market concentration, price volatility, inequitable distribution of value added, as well as the difficulty of internalizing externalities in price signals. . . .

‘[T]hree interlinked principles help shape those pathways towards sustainable agricultural development for food security and nutrition:

‘Improve resource efficiency. Considerable potential exists to improve resource efficiency through the transfer and adoption of best available practices and technologies in a given context and through the adoption of diverse approaches (including “sustainable intensification”, “save and grow”, “ecological intensification”, and “agro-ecology”), all with a growing emphasis on ecosystem services. This would make it possible to simultaneously increase productivity, to preserve and make better use of limited resources, and to reduce GHG emissions. Resource efficiency can be improved through different technical means including: improving livestock management, careful breeding, health and feed efficiency; closing the nutrient cycle; and reducing food losses and waste.

‘Strengthen resilience. To address changing risks and shocks, whether environmental, economic, financial, or related to human and animal health, requires building resilience in livestock systems. The diversification of production and integration of crops and livestock at all levels – from farm to landscape, community, territory and region – will contribute to strengthen resilience and improve resource efficiency.

‘Improve social equity/responsibility outcomes. The failure to protect social equity and cultural integrity raises some of the most wide-ranging and politically sensitive challenges for sustainability. The norms, practices and priorities of social equity/responsibility, the property rights and land tenure laws and customs, all differ across countries and communities and change over time. Working conditions need to be improved at all levels of food value chains. In line with the SDGs, national SAD strategies will have to prioritize the needs and interests of the most vulnerable populations (which typically include women, children, migrants, and indigenous peoples). . . .

Slide5

In addition to these more general principles, orientations and actions, each category of livestock system has some priority areas of intervention that better take into account its specificities.

For smallholder mixed farming systems, the priorities include: ensure better access to markets and more choice of markets; secure tenure rights and equitable access to land; design feasible growth pathways taking into consideration available resources; recognize, empower and enable the role of women; improve animal health management; encourage the use of local, more resistant, breeds; implement appropriate, tailored and participatory programmes that respond to farmers’ needs; facilitate smallholders’ participation in political processes; provide good quality training programmes and information; and redirect development policies and tax incentives towards the design of diversified and resilient farming and food systems.

For pastoral systems, the priorities include: improve governance and security by involving pastoral societies in participatory governance mechanisms; improve connections to markets and market choices; provide and protect access to public services, including for animal and human health, and access to pastoral resources (water and land); implement a fairer taxation system to enhance value-added activities through the processing and marketing of pastoral products; better target emergency assistance; and devise development strategies that take into account the specific needs of pastoral systems, including mobility.

For commercial grazing systems the priorities include: the maintenance and improvement of grassland management practices to improve resource efficiency and contribute to climate change mitigation and adaptation; the development of integrated crop–livestock–forestry systems that enable several kinds of production on the same land and allow synergies between those productions; and the protection of native forests from deforestation.

For intensive livestock systems, the priorities include: investment in R&D along the complete food chain to strike a balance between increasing production and reducing environmental harm, including food losses and waste; the expansion of precision livestock farming; action to reduce the prophylactic use of antibiotics in animal care and to improve animal welfare; policies to reduce the environmental impact of intensive systems including systems that promote more recycling of animal waste to promote efficiency and reduce the harm caused by unbalanced nutrient cycles (too much depletion where the feed crops are grown and too much addition where livestock are raised and fed); and increase the sustainable production of feed while improving the ratio of feed to animal conversion. . . .

Slide7

Recommendations
The following recommendations have been elaborated building upon the main findings of the report on Sustainable agricultural development for food security and nutrition: what roles for livestock? They aim to strengthen the contributions of the livestock sector to sustainable agricultural development (SAD) for food security and nutrition (FSN). They are directed at different categories of stakeholders as appropriate: states, intergovernmental organizations (IGOs), the private sector and civil society organizations, and other stakeholders. They should:

  • Elaborate context-specific pathways to sustainable agricultural development for food security and nutrition
  • Strengthen integration of livestock in national sustainable agricultural development strategies
  • Foster coherence between sectoral policies and programs
  • Develop gender-sensitive livestock policies and interventions
  • Better integrate sustainable agricultural development issues for food security and nutrition in trade policies
  • Limit and manage excess price volatility
  • Protect, preserve and facilitate the sharing of livestock genetic resources
  • Improve surveillance and control of livestock diseases
  • Promote research and development
  • Review and improve indicators and methodology and identify data gaps

Recommendations related to specific livestock systems:

  • Recognize the importance of smallholder mixed farming systems for food security and nutrition and support them
  • Recognize and support the unique role of pastoral systems
  • Promote the sustainability of commercial grazing systems
  • Address the specific challenges of intensive livestock systems

Read the whole report:
HLPE. 2016. Sustainable agricultural development for food security and nutrition: What roles for livestock? A report by the High Level Panel of Experts on Food Security and Nutrition of the Committee on World Food Security, Rome, 139 pp.

Read the report’s Summary and Recommendations, 12 pp.

Read related recent news:
Balancing the plate: Jimmy Smith opens ‘Private Sector Mechanism Partnerships Forum on Livestock’, ILRI News blog, 6 Jul 2016.

Jimmy Smith’s address to UK parliamentary group on the potential of livestock for development, ILRI News blog, 4 Jul 2016.


Balancing the plate: Jimmy Smith opens ‘Private Sector Mechanism Partnerships Forum on Livestock’

Private-Sector Mechanism Partnerships Forum on Livestock
30 June 2016, International Fund for Agricultural Research
Luncheon on the ‘Zero Hunger Challenge’

Keynote address
Balancing the Plate

By Jimmy Smith, Director General
International Livestock Research Institute (ILRI)

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Will livestock help us address Agenda 2030, in particular the Zero Hunger Challenge?

I’m here to make the case that we have a golden and rare opportunity to ensure that livestock are viewed not as a problem to be fixed but as part of many solutions to many global problems. I’m going to argue that livestock are powerful, if as yet underused, instruments for leveraging the systemic changes we need both to end hunger and to create sustainable food systems globally.

Balancing the plate
As we’ve just sat down to this fine meal, let’s start with how we can ‘balance the plate’. Can we manage to reduce the over-consumption of meat, eggs and dairy products that’s harming human health and the environment while also increasing under-consumption of these nutritionally dense foods by one billion of the world’s poorest people, thereby improving the nutrition and health of the latter?

In a word, yes.

I’m going to focus here on the big opportunity for the latter. As you know, one reason the livestock sector can play such a big role in sustainable development is that the skyrocketing demand for livestock products is taking place almost entirely in poor countries and emerging economies, where, of course, development of all kinds, particularly in meeting the ‘Zero Hunger Challenge’, remains paramount.

Let’s review the astonishing predictions of global livestock growth brought about by the rising populations, incomes and urbanization in poorer countries and emerging economies. This is where all the action is. In just 45 years, from 2005 to 2050, the world’s dairy requirement is expected to double, reaching almost 1 billion tonnes per year, with some 65% of that demand occurring in low- and middle-income countries. Demand for meat will also rise, nearly doubling from 258 to some 450 million tonnes each year, with over 70% of that demand occurring in these same developing and emerging economies. Demand for monogastric foods—pork, poultry meat and eggs—will rise at least four-fold, again mostly in developing countries.

Large inequities, however, will remain. In spite of good progress in nutritional security in recent years, undernutrition today continues to reduce global GDP by a stunning US$1.4–2.1 trillion a year, stunting 159 million children (IFPRI 2016). And while total global demand for livestock will continue to rise, the per capita consumption of meat in low-income countries will continue to average just one-third that of consumption in the USA.

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Balancing the messages
Thus, to bring about more balanced food plates, we’re going to have to do more than enhance small-scale livestock productivity. We’re going to have to also balance the public messages about this sector that so regularly become damning headlines in major media. We’re going to have to persuade Western publics and donors and decision-makers that while ‘livestock bads’ are real and must be addressed, and while the health and nourishment of all the world’s people matter, there is simply no moral equivalence between those who make poor food choices and those who have no food choices at all, between those who over-consume livestock-source foods and those who can afford no livestock-source foods at all.

This is not a zero-sum game. Sustainable development is a goal for all countries today, whether rich or poor, and whether service- or industrial- or agriculture-based. Today’s livestock researchers are delivering options for sustainable livestock systems of all kinds, operating in all circumstances and in all countries.

cgiar-research-program-on-agriculture-for-improved-nutrition-and-health-14-638

Balancing the partnerships
Let me now mention a third balance that we need to effect. This is arguably the most important. This is balanced partnerships—partnerships between publicly funded not-for-profit organizations such as my mine and the private for-profit companies in livestock, agricultural and related fields such as those represented in this room.

With the market value of Africa’s animal-source foods in 2050 estimated at USD151 billion, it will not have escaped those of you representing the private sector that the on-going livestock revolution in Africa and other regions of the developing world presents significant opportunities for private-sector investment, whether that be (first opportunity) investing in production of livestock products in Europe, North America or Australasia for export to Africa and Asia or (second opportunity) investing in new ventures to establish major livestock production units in the developing regions.

Perhaps an even greater investment opportunity for the private sector is the provision of livestock inputs and services for the plethora of small- to medium-scale livestock operations that characterize livestock systems in today’s developing and emerging economies. This would not only meet a significant market need but also enable livestock enterprises to become a major player in meeting the Sustainable Development Goals. This (third opportunity) is the opportunity to begin partnering with the nearly one billion smallholders whose livelihoods—as well as income, food, jobs, fertilizer, traction and insurance—depend on livestock.

Not all of today’s livestock smallholders will become efficient, market-linked producers or involve themselves in processing and trading animal products. Many will leave the sector altogether. Over time, it’s expected that most of today’s smallholders will be replaced by larger, more efficient livestock operations (with transitions in poultry and pig units occurring faster than those in the dairy sector). These millions of people and livestock systems in big transition over the coming decades offer companies business opportunities not to be missed.

Meeting the growing demand of the growing developing-world’s populations for meat, milk and eggs will require big on-going changes in how today’s smallholders produce and market their livestock products. The private sector can help guide these transitions so that they not only become profitable for all but also serve to enhance livelihoods and food and nutritional security; to ensure food is safe to consume; to provide employment for women, youth and other unskilled labour; and to protect the natural resource base.

About a third of today’s smallholders are already in the process of commercializing their livestock operations, which means they’re already customers for the right private-sector inputs and services. Another third may live in regions too distant from markets to take advantage of private-sector services, although there are exceptions, which I’ll get to in a minute. The last third of today’s smallholders could move in either of these two directions, becoming commercially viable livestock producers or exiting the livestock sector altogether. For this last group, public investments will be key in helping people shift their production systems from subsistence- to market-oriented, whereupon, of course, they would likely become customers of appropriate private-sector inputs and services.

What the public sector offers the private sector are the initial research and development investments, such as the development of new vaccines or diagnostics, that lay the groundwork for further investment and engagement by private companies. Working together productively and efficiently, public-private partnerships can pay off handsomely, helping next-generation livestock entrepreneurs build and expand vibrant local, regional and international markets. Such public-private partnerships can provide the company’s stakeholders with a profitable bottom line while also fulfilling on the company’s social corporate responsibility and the public organization’s ‘public good’ mandate.

I must now include a caveat, which is that the small-scale livestock systems so ubiquitous in the developing world are very different ‘beasts’ from the large-scale livestock operations private companies are accustomed to dealing with in the developed world and in the emerging economies of Brazil, Russia, India, China and South Africa. Agricultural business models employed today in the North cannot be directly transferred to the South. New business models suiting smallholders need to be jointly innovated, tested, refined and applied. Working together and combining our different areas of expertise, those of us in local, public and private organizations have the chance to build new models of great practical use by smallholders ambitious to build viable livestock businesses. At the same time, we also have the chance to help steer the fast-evolving smallholder livestock systems of developing countries in healthy, equitable and sustainable directions.

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Examples of pubic-private-partnerships at ILRI
How specifically can the private sector help bring this about? Let me end by telling you of a few of the ways we’re working with the private sector at ILRI.

Livestock vaccines
ILRI is working with Harris Vaccines Inc to test its proprietary vaccine technology for East Coast fever and with Senova GmbH to develop a lateral flow diagnostic test for contagious bovine pleuro-pneumonia. We’re working with Hester Biosciences Ltd to improve development of a thermostable vaccine against peste des petits ruminants. This veterinary vaccine company with R&D units, production sites, distributors and diagnostic labs in India is interested in developing Africa as a market for small-scale poultry and other livestock vaccines. New livestock vaccines should help reduce the need for drug treatments, whose mis- or overuse is leading to antimicrobial resistance. Disease reduces global livestock productivity by 25%—valued at USD300 billion per year—and costs Africa USD9–35 billion per year. ILRI has estimated that an annual global investment of USD25 billion in One Health approaches could save as much as USD100 billion annually in disease costs.

Livestock feeds
Production and sales of combined and processed feeds is emerging as a small- to medium-scale industry in some parts of the developing world, such as in India, where smallholder producers dominate the dairy sector. Better livestock feeding not only improves the productivity of livestock but also reduces the amount of greenhouse gases livestock emit as they digest their feed. ILRI has worked with the animal feed company Novus International to develop livestock feed supplements (starter pellets and molasses blocks) designed specifically for use by African smallholders. We’re working with the Kenya Cereal Millers Association, which has over ten million customers, to reduce the risk of Kenya’s consumers to exposure to high levels of carcinogenic aflatoxins in maize flour; a related group is investigating the use of contaminated cereals as livestock feeds.

Livestock insurance
We’re working with private insurance and reassurance companies to provide index-based livestock insurance to poor and never-before-insured remote livestock herders in Africa to protect them against catastrophic drought. Because insuring animals moving across vast landscapes is impossible, the team uses satellite data to assess the health of rangeland vegetation. When feed availability falls below a certain level, it triggers an insurance pay out. Insurance policies can be bought for any number of animals. Aid agencies can invest in (or subsidize) this insurance rather than investing in more costly and unpredictable emergency responses to severe drought. Preliminary results indicate that those insured were less likely to sell their animals in distress sales (36%), to reduce their meal intakes (25%) and to depend on food aid (33%).

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Conclusions
At my institute, we’ve found that working closely with people and organizations with very different mindsets and modus operandi, while often challenging, can also be highly productive and rewarding. Having to learn the language of different organizations, and to modify our thinking and behaviour accordingly, has stretched us, encouraged us to think big and outside the box, to take risks we wouldn’t normally take.

The huge appetite growing in the developing world for meat, dairy and eggs is unprecedented; it’s not going to remain ignored for long by the private sector. Where there is such growth, private companies will jump in. I’ve said that this moment offers companies great opportunities to extend their markets, often accompanied by opportunities to fulfil their corporate social responsibilities. I’ve argued that by working together, private, public and civil society organizations can help rebalance global livestock diets, global views of livestock and global livestock partnerships. I invite all of us in this room to work together to find better ways of serving the world’s pastoralists, commercial grazers, mixed crop-livestock farmers and intensive livestock producers, ensuring that they are not left behind, but become part of the world’s sustainable as well as profitable livestock futures.

So, can we achieve balance? Can we meet the demand for animal-source foods while addressing Agenda 2030? Yes, I believe we can. We have a unique opportunity to grasp right now. Can the private sector do this alone? No. Can we do this without the private sector? No. This kind of accomplishment can be achieved only by making the (collective) whole greater than the sum of the (individual) parts. And to manage that, we’re going to need all the balanced food plates, messages and partnerships we can get.

Thank you for your kind attention.


Jimmy Smith’s address to UK parliamentary group on the potential of livestock for development

Jimmy Smith presents on livestock to UK parliament

‘Animal agriculture is the Cinderella of the agricultural world’,
Jimmy Smith tells the UK All-Party Parliamentary Group
on Agriculture and Food for Development.
Presentation to the UK All-Party Parliamentary Group on Agriculture and Food for Development The role of livestock in smallholder livelihoods 29 June 2016

by Jimmy Smith, director general of the International Livestock Research Institute

Livestock can play major roles in development. Today I’m going to talk about the diversity of the livestock sector—and the many diverse ways that livestock contribute to economic growth and poverty reduction, to food and nutritional security and to sustainable food production.

Of course, mention of the ‘livestock sector’ conjures up greatly diverse images. The intensive livestock production systems common in rich countries—with sheds housing thousands of broiler chickens, or feedlots of beef cattle, or air-conditioned pig units, or high-tech dairy milking parlours—contrast sharply with the practices of small-scale farmers raising a couple of stall-fed dairy cows, or keeping a few chickens or pigs in a backyard, or herding goats, sheep and cattle on rangelands.

Slide04

Taking account of such livestock diversity to determine appropriate interventions and development opportunities is challenging. The approach taken by ILRI and its partners to assess the roles of livestock in development, particularly for smallholders, in many ways parallels the conceptual framework used by the UK’s Department for International Development (DFID) for the agricultural sector as a whole. We consider the dynamics of livestock sector growth (often underpinned by market and value chain transformation), the diversity of livestock and livestock commodities and production systems, and the implications (and opportunities) of the transition of the livestock sector on smallholder livelihoods.

We also have to take account of some peculiarities that distinguish the livestock sector from agriculture as a whole.

  • First, there are the livestock ‘bads’. These include the environmental footprints of farm animals (carbon, water, land), the public health obesity epidemic and associated ill health due to overconsumption of meat and other foods, the zoonotic diseases that livestock transmit to humans, and illnesses caused by consuming contaminated livestock foods. All of these are real challenges and must be addressed. And transformation of the world’s smallholder livestock systems can certainly help address these challenges.
  • Then there is the fact that the on-going rapid transition of small-scale livestock production systems is demand-led; it is occurring because of rapidly rising demand for animal-source foods, primarily in developing countries.
  • Finally, there is continued neglect of smallholder livestock keepers and herders by official development assistance (ODA) and national government policies and projects. While providing developing countries with some 40% of agricultural gross domestic product, for example, the livestock sector receives less than 4% of agricultural ODA (which itself makes up less than 5% of total ODA).
Developing-world livestock

Slide03
And this neglect is happening while demand for livestock commodities is rising rapidly. From 2005 to 2050 it is estimated that the world’s total dairy requirement will double to almost 1 billion tonnes per year, meat demand will nearly double, from 258 to some 450 million tonnes each year, and demand for pork and poultry meat and eggs will increase at least four-fold.

Almost all of this rising demand for animal-source foods is happening in developing countries, where populations, urbanization and incomes are all increasing. But although total consumption will rise, by mid-century per capita consumption of meat in the developing world is expected to be only one-third that of the USA.

In the developing countries where this massive demand is taking place, at least 70% of the milk, meat and eggs today is being produced by smallholders, with most of the products sold in domestic and so-called ‘informal’ markets.

How will the rising demand for these foods be met tomorrow? ILRI researchers see three possible ways, each of which has advantages and disadvantages. All three will co-exist and evolve over the coming decades.

Slide05

By importing: While imported animal-source foods are often cheaper than locally produced ones, imported foods place a significant demand on often scarce foreign exchange (Africa’s total food import bill [some of which was intra-regional trade] in 2013 was USD44 billion, one-fifth of which was for livestock products). And imported foods provide importing nations with no employment or livelihood opportunities.

By industrializing: Establishing large, industrial-scale production units, as has been done for pigs and poultry in China and to some extent in India, with nascent industries in many Asian and African countries, may generate some jobs and provide economies of scale and production efficiencies. But the downsides can be environmental damage, reduced animal welfare and, at times, also reduced animal health and genetic diversity.

By transforming: Helping today’s smallholders convert their livestock production systems into commercially viable operations can also help nations overcome several development challenges at once. With the fast-rising demand for meat, milk and eggs, smaller scale livestock systems are in big transition already, and these systems will continue to modify themselves over the coming decades as they work to accommodate themselves to the vibrant and growing livestock markets.

Let me illustrate some of the many development opportunities to be grasped in the smallholder livestock sector.

Inclusive and sustainable growth
Livestock enhance the economic and social wellbeing of people in the developing world, providing highly nutritious foods, income streams, assets against which to borrow, a primary source of organic fertilizer, energy for cultivation and transport, and a host of social functions. Animals are a key asset in mitigating the many risks farmers face, especially in rainfed and pastoral areas. In 2010, there were 752 million livestock keepers living on less than USD2 per day, so increasing livestock productivity and resilience can help many people lift themselves (and their communities) out of poverty. Investing in livestock-dependent women benefits whole households (women in poor countries are far more likely to own animals than land). Enhancing equitable market participation also helps women and young people to professionalize their livestock enterprises. And then there are the many more people who derive indirect benefits from livestock through, for example, livestock trading and supplying inputs for livestock production, marketing and processing. These people as well as livestock producers and consumers are benefiting from new ways to improve livestock breeding, feeding and veterinary care.

Food and nutritional security
Livestock contribute to better nutrition for the poor. Development of new or improved livestock vaccines and ways to ensure appropriate drug use help to control the emergence of antimicrobial resistance and are important for human as well as animal health. And management practices that reduce food safety risks continue to be important as the sector grows. Even consuming very modest amounts of meat, milk and eggs enhances diets of the poor, thereby enhancing inter-uterine growth, reducing child stunting and improving the cognitive development of children. The few empirical studies of the relationship between increased livestock production and productivity and greater consumption of animal-source foods show both direct and indirect benefits for better household nutrition.

Environmentally sustainable food production
Small-scale systems are also strategic from an environmental perspective. Smallholder systems, which dominate where most domesticated animals are found, are usually inefficient, and thus are strong candidates for improvements to make animal agriculture environmentally sound. For example, improving production efficiency in smallholder livestock systems could reduce greenhouse gas emissions by 30 per cent. Similar livestock opportunities exist for better waste and water management and for better conservation of biodiversity.

Enhancing three smallholder livestock trajectories

To prioritize and target livestock research-for-development efforts, we need to be able to take into account the vast diversity of livestock systems in use in the world, particularly the dynamic transitions taking place in the world’s smallholder livestock systems. ILRI is working to help transform three probable trajectories of livestock systems in developing countries.

Slide06
In drylands and other regions of the South where the growth of livestock systems is fragile, livestock productivity can be severely limited by harsh climates and scarce resources, often occurring in tandem with weak institutions, poor infrastructure and limited market access. ILRI’s work has shown that losing livestock assets is the most significant factor in causing pastoral families to fall into poverty and to require aid. Heavy livestock losses also have major national economic implications: Droughts between 2008 and 2011, for example, cost Kenya an estimated USD3.3 billion in the livestock sector.

Examples of how UK-supported research is helping
Increasing rangeland carbon storage: As rangelands that support livestock grazing systems take up about one-third of the earth’s ice-free surface, they are central to environmental stewardship. Recent data from the United Nations Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) suggests that improved grazing management and enriching pastures could enable the world’s grasslands to safely store about 600 mega tonnes of CO2 equivalent each year, nearly matching the amount of carbon—some 700 mega tonnes CO2 equivalent—that is annually spewed out by all the world’s air travel. ILRI research funded by the UK’s Ecosystems Services for Poverty Alleviation (ESPA) and conducted in collaboration with UK institutions has helped to identify incentives and management practices that support such carbon sequestration on rangelands while not harming pastoral livelihoods.

Providing livestock drought insurance: Because insuring individual animals herded across vast and often remote drylands is challenging, ILRI has worked with partners to devise a way of using satellite images of rangelands to determine when drought has reduced the available forage to such an extent that livestock are likely to die in great numbers. ILRI then got private insurance and reinsurance companies to sell the ‘index-based’ insurance policies, which can be purchased for any number of animals. Those insured receive payouts not when their animals die but rather when the satellite-derived predictions of feed availability fall below a certain level. Aid agencies have found that funding or subsidizing this novel insurance is a better investment in pastoral resilience than only responding to drought emergencies, which is more costly and unpredictable. Preliminary results indicate that the livestock keepers who buy the index-based livestock insurance are less likely during severe droughts to sell their animals in distress sales (36%), to reduce their meal intakes (25%) and to depend on food aid (33%). This insurance project has been piloted in the pastoral areas of northern Kenya and southern Ethiopia and the team is now exploring a number of IT-based approaches to collect relevant information from pastoralists, to ground-truth forage availability and to sell the insurance products. They have also identified areas of West and southern Africa where this kind of livestock insurance could be extended. The UK’s Department for International Development (DFID) has generously funded some of this insurance work.

Slide07
In this transition, many small-scale livestock producers in low-productive systems will exit the sector and fewer households will be raising more productive animals in more efficient and intensive production systems linked to markets. Such systems are likely to grow fastest in the coming decades. Most of this growth will occur in mixed crop-livestock systems, but some strong growth will also occur in rangeland systems where appropriate market connections and sustainable productivity increases can be achieved.

Examples of how UK-supported research is helping
Smallholder dairying:
Award-winning smallholder dairy research partly funded over many years by the UK and conducted by ILRI with the Kenya Ministry of Livestock Development, the Kenya Agricultural Research Institute, the Indian Council for Agricultural Research and others continues to provide lasting benefits to the poor, including more than USD33 million worth of benefits to Kenya each year. This work has trained and certified small-scale traders of unpasteurized milk, ensuring safer milk and supporting thousands of people to enter the commercial dairy value chain. Some 6.5 million people in Kenya and in Assam, India, now have safer milk and 700,000 people in Kenya have been able to maintain their dairy livelihoods and incomes.

Improved livestock feeds: DFID has long supported ILRI and partner research on livestock feeds. Better feeds, and better use of locally available resources for smarter animal feeding, could as much as double milk production of smallholder farmers without any addition of concentrates while at the same time reducing greenhouse gas emissions due to two factors: (1) the need to keep fewer (higher-producing) milking animals and (2) better-fed cows emit less methane gas. New research by ILRI is determining, for the very first time, exactly how much and what kind of greenhouse gases are being emitted by tropical animals consuming tropical feed. Preliminary results on livestock waste indicate that African livestock are emitting lower levels of greenhouse gases than are now being used by the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change to assess emission levels.

Improved livestock breeds: Having the right livestock breeds is also important. An important new collaboration between ILRI, Roslin Institute, Scotland’s Rural College and the University of Edinburgh brings high-end genomics to bear on improvements to livestock productivity while reducing livestock’s environmental impacts by means of genetic improvement. The Centre for Tropical Livestock Genetics and Health that this collaboration with the UK has created is studying the uniquely adapted and diverse indigenous livestock in the developing world. It is applying state-of-the-art genetic technologies to understand and make better use of such desired tropical livestock adaptations as resistance to infectious disease and heat tolerance.

Slide08
The on-going intensification of smallholder animal production in developing countries brings risks as well as benefits. Today’s dynamic livestock markets are driving rapid changes that can damage the environment and expose communities to increased public health risks. At the same time, ensuring participation by the poorest livestock keepers and other livestock value chain actors in these new markets requires appropriate incentives, technologies, policies, strategies and innovations.

Examples of how UK-supported research is helping
Improved food safety and disease control: Research by ILRI and UK partners is working to ensure that meat, milk and eggs sold in the ubiquitous ‘informal’ markets of poor countries is safe to consume and that diseases are not transmitted from animals to people. Some examples of this work are the following.

  • Urban Zoo project: Understanding the emergence of pathogens in dense urban settings with a view to reduce public health risks, conducted by ILRI with the universities of Edinburgh and Liverpool and the Royal Veterinary College (RVC) and with funding from the UK’s Environmental and Social Ecology of Human Infectious Diseases (ESEI), Medical Research Council (MRC) and Research Councils UK (RCUK).
  • ZELS ZoolinK project: Developing and deploying surveillance systems at the human-animal interface in intensifying agricultural systems, conducted by ILRI in western Kenya with the universities of Edinburgh, Liverpool and Nottingham and RVC and with funding from DFID and the Biotechnology and Biological Sciences Research Council (BBSRC), the Economic and Social Sciences Research Council (ESRC), MRC, the Natural Environment Research Council (NERC) and the Defence Science and Technology Laboratory (DSTL). The evidence obtained is advancing understanding and anticipation of changes in zoonotic disease burdens and effective interventions.
  • Antimicrobial resistance: Evaluating and using new evidence to inform solutions to antimicrobial resistance (AMR) in intensifying systems conducted by ILRI with Edinburgh, London and Oxford universities and funded by DFID. This research is investigating the biological, economic and health consequences of use of antimicrobials under different trajectories, on farms and in clinics. The results of a DFID-commissioned report by ILRI in 2015 and ILRI’s own observations in Uganda, Kenya, Ethiopia, India and Vietnam suggest that there is considerable under-estimation of antibiotic use in developing countries, which face the dual problem of lack of access to antimicrobials among smallholders and over-use in the intensive sector.
  • Disease emergence: Understanding land-use changes underlying disease patterns and driving disease emergence, conducted by ILRI within a UK-based Dynamic Drivers of Diseases in Africa Consortium (DDDAC) and including the Institute of Development Studies (IDS), Cambridge University and University College London (UCL).
  • Food safety: Facilitating enabling policy environments for the informal milk sector with the International Institute for Environment and Development (IIED) and working on food safety in informal markets with RVC and the London School of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine (LSHTM).
  • Agriculture for public health: ILRI is co-leading with LSHTM a new flagship on agriculture for improving public health that will be part of the forthcoming second phase of the CGIAR Research Program on Agriculture for Nutrition and Health (CRP A4NH).

Slide09
Livestock vaccines and diagnostics: ILRI receives generous UK funding and works closely with many UK bioscientists to develop vaccines for important livestock diseases, including East Coast fever, with the Global Alliance for Livestock Veterinary Medicines (GALVmed), Jenner Institute, Oxford University, Roslin Institute, RVC and University of Edinburgh; African swine fever, with Pirbright Institute; Rift Valley fever, with Jenner Institute, Oxford University and Pirbright Institute; and contagious bovine pleuropneumonia and contagious caprine pleuropneumonia, with GALVmed.

UK investments, resources and collaborations

As can be seen, UK investments, resources and collaborations have been key to fulfilling ILRI”s agenda. Today, ILRI has 13 projects funded wholly or partly by UK organizations, amounting to a total value of more than £14 million (USD18 million). ILRI employs 19 scientists from the UK, a number of whom on joint appointments with UK institutions. And since 2010, 15 students from the UK have undertaken PhD or MSc work with ILRI supervision.

Some of ILRI’s current UK collaborators and funders

 


Kenyan cattle found to have much smaller faecal carbon footprints than those used in climate change inventories

CCAFS_Mazingira_Collage3

A visitor (left) tours an ILRI Mazingira Centre lab (left),
Mazingira scientist David Pelster (right)
(photo credit: CCAFS/Vivian Atakos).

Greenhouse gases emitted
by Kenyan cattle excreta
are found to be much lower
than estimates derived from
models in industrialized countries. African cattle nitrous oxide (N2O) faecal emissions are 10–20 times lower—
and their faecal methane (CH4) emissions two times lower—
than IPCC estimates now being used to determine
the carbon footprints of African livestock agriculture.
§ § § ‘The diets used in this study were consistent with those used
in smallholder farms in the region and similar in digestible energy
to the low-quality fodder category used
by the IPCC to estimate livestock emissions,
suggesting that emission factors used for
GHG inventories in this region may need to be revised.’
—From the conclusions to the paper
More studies—performed under different climatic seasons,
linked with measurements of enteric fermentation
and with measurements performed over extended periods—
will be needed to confirm these results. § § §

The following is excerpted from ILRI’s Livestock Systems and Environment blog site:
‘For a long time, African countries have relied on default emission factors provided by the UN Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC), to develop strategies on reductions of greenhouse gas (GHGs) emissions. This is because there are very limited GHG measurements from cropping and livestock systems in most developing countries. However, there has been a growing concern on the applicability (or lack thereof) of data from IPCC to sub-Saharan African agricultural systems, and the subsequent development of mitigation interventions that may not be tailored to these systems. . . .

‘Part of the research at the International Livestock Research Institute (ILRI) focuses on understanding and managing the environmental footprint of livestock. At ILRI’s Mazingira Centre, this research aims to provide accurate context-specific information on the environmental impacts, particularly on nutrient cycles and GHG emissions of current livestock production systems, to enable predictions of intensification in these systems, and opportunities to mitigate GHG emissions. . . .’

In an important first for Kenya,
research from ILRI’s Mazingira Centre
has generated greenhouse gas data
measured and analyzed for Kenya, in Kenya.

The Mazingira Centre is a state-of-the-art environmental research and education centre established at the International Livestock Research Institute (ILRI). The goal of the Mazingira Centre (mazingira is the Kiswahili word for ‘environment’) is to enhance the infrastructure and capacity for environmental research in East Africa with a focus on livestock systems and land use change. It has capacity to measure and analyze environmental parameters brought about by agricultural and livestock production. Established in 2014 and now fully operational, the centre promises a step change in Africa’s environmental research infrastructure and capacity.

Read the full ILRI article about this new paper on ILRI’s Livestock Systems and Environment blog: Greenhouse gas emissions from livestock waste in East Africa are significantly lower than global estimates: New study reveals, 16 Jun 2016.

Access the ILRI paper here: Methane and nitrous oxide emissions from cattle excreta on an East African grassland, by David Pelster, Betty Gisore, John Goopy, Daniel Korir, James Koske, Mariana Rufino and Klaus Butterbach-Bahl.

For further information about the study and Mazingira Centre, contact Lutz Merbold (L.Merbold[at]cgiar.org) or David Pelster (D.Pelster [at] cgiar.org).

The CGIAR Research Program on Climate Change, Agriculture, and Food Security (CCAFS) and the Deutsche Gesellschaft für Internationale Zusammenarbeit (GIZ) project on ‘In situ assessment of GHG emissions from two livestock systems in East Africa’ provided technical and financial support for this ILRI project.


Elite cultivars of the livestock feeding kind–‘FORAGES for the FUTURE’

ForagesForTheFuture_Mashead

A new strategy and newsletter set out the argument for, and the specifics of, better conservation and use of tropical and subtropical forages.

A much-declined skills and resource base for tropical and subtropical forage work is occurring in the face of increasing demand for livestock products and forages across livestock systems in the tropics. Greater efficiencies, effectiveness and collaborations in tropical and subtropical forage collection, conservation and use will help maximize the diversity, rationalize the conservation and optimize the health and use of germplasm held in international and national genebanks. The newsletter

Author of the forage strategy, consultant Bruce Pengelly, a forage specialist who formerly worked with Australia’s Commonwealth Scientific and Industrial Research Organisation (CSIRO) and the CGIAR Bioscience eastern and central Africa-International Livestock Research Institute (BecA-ILRI) Hub, along with Brigitte Maass, a forage agronomist  and associate professor at the University of Gottingen and formerly of the CGIAR International Center for Tropical Agriculture (CIAT), have just announced the first issue of a forage newsletter they are producing, under the auspices of the Global Crop Diversity Trust, that is a first step in fulfilling on the new strategy.

Here is how Pengelly and Maass describe their newsletter.

It is our pleasure to share the first Newsletter on Forages for the Future with you. The newsletter is meant to start building again a community that is interested and engaged in tropical and subtropical forage genetic resources, their conservation and utilization.

In the lead story of the newsletter, Pengelly reports on the results of a 2015 global survey: ‘There are at least 6 large genebanks and a number of smaller centres focusing on tropical and subtropical forages. The main centres were the international centres of CIAT and ILRI and the national centres of Australia, Brazil, USA, and South Africa. All of these have collections of between 7,000 and 21,000 accessions and most report that they have good storage conditions. That’s the positive news. . . .

‘A significant number of respondents to the survey reported that less than 10% of collections were backed‐up in other institutes, national or international.

Other stories in the newsletter:

  • Native Brachiaria germplasm of Uganda
  • Guineagrass breeding in Brazil
  • Using Gliricidia sepium in Indonesia

Read the first issue of the newsletter: Forages for the Future, Global Crop Diversity Trust, Feb 2016. The next issue is due in Aug 2016. To subscribe or share your forage stories with the global community, contact Brigitte Maass (Brigitte.Maass [at] yahoo.com).

As Chris Jones, the British forage biotechnologist who leads ILRI’s Feed and Forage Biosciences program, says:
‘The tropical and subtropical forage strategy was initiated at a meeting of forage and genebank experts held in Bonn last October [2015]. I have been recruited as a member of a core group, with representatives from national and CGIAR centres, to guide strategy implementation. This is the first of a series of newsletters outlining the strategy and highlighting activities and opportunities in its development. I’d encourage all interested to engage in future activities and editions.’

The strategy

What follows is a summary of Pengelly’s strategy document.

Tropical and subtropical forages are critically important for the supply of livestock feed and environmental services. But support for the collection and conservation of these forages, and research on their diversity, has declined significantly since 1990. This decline, which has reduced capacity and knowledge in the networks of national and international genebanks that maintain the world’s tropical and sub-tropical collections, has (strangely) coincided with a rapid growth in demand for livestock products across the developing world. This decline thus needs to be redressed, and quickly, if the tropical and subtropical world is to have access to the best forage material and knowledge to meet its growing demands for more and better food and natural resource management.

About the new forage strategy
A new strategy has been developed with input from across the tropical forage genetic resources community. The aim of the strategy is to rebuild a strong, functional network of national, regional and international tropical and subtropical forage genetic resource centres and genebank users. Such a strengthened network will help improve the conservation and study of the most important germplasm by introducing efficiencies and greater rationalization within and between genebanks. It will help raise the game for genebank managers, enabling them to play more central roles as knowledge managers and advisors in wider research and development programs. And it will help genebank staff to anticipate germplasm needs and respond more directly to user requests for information and seeds.

Development of the strategy has been supported by three activities. Discussions were held with national and international genebank managers between Apr and Jun 2015 to gain their views. A survey of key tropical and subtropical forage institutions at the national level (genetic resource centres in Australia, Brazil, Kenya, Mexico, South Africa, USA), subregional level (the Southern African Development Community centre in Zambia) and international level (CIAT, ILRI, ICRAF) was conducted in Aug 2015. A workshop of genebank managers and forage specialists was held at the headquarters of the Global Crop Diversity Trust, in Bonn, Germany, in Oct 2015.

The need for a strategic plan to conserve and use tropical and subtropical forages is arguably greater than that for other ‘crops’. That’s because tropical forage plants are usually not regarded as a commodity in themselves, are made up of a large range of species, and are often being conserved in poorly resourced genetic resource centres in developing countries. Forage plants in addition have special biological challenges —made all the more difficult to address by reduced agricultural research-for-development funding in recent decades. The need for a strategy is strengthened further by the broadening role of tropical and subtropical forages beyond livestock feed to environmental uses such as control of soil erosion, green manure crops and sources of biomass for biofuels.

The aims of this strategy will take many years to achieve—but they will not be achieved without first rebuilding community, value, capacity and efficiency.

About legumes and grasses
The tropical and subtropical forages being collected and conserved comprise mostly the many legume and grass genera and species that have contributed to the development of livestock feed systems or that have been collected with this potential in mind. The region of Central and South America and the Caribbean is the key centre of diversity for forage legumes while sub-Saharan Africa is the key centre of diversity for forage grasses. (Among exceptions to this are important legume genera such as Stylosanthes, Leucaena, Desmodium, Centrosema, and Gliricidia, which are primarily American in origin, while important grass genera such as Urochloa (syn. Brachiaria), Pennisetum, Megathyrsus (syn. Panicum) and Digitaria have predominantly sub-Saharan African origins.)

On the importance of forages
Tropical and subtropical forage genetic diversity has improved livestock production in many environments and farming systems, particularly over the last 50 years. These forages have underpinned large-scale pasture-based beef production in the subtropical and warm-temperate regions of North America, South America (especially Brazil), and northern Australia; have provided the essential feed-base for more intensive small- to large-scale livestock production systems, including beef, small ruminant and dairy production; and are important in feeding pigs in some regions. These forages have benefited sown pastures and alley cropping as well as agroforestry and cut-and-carry production systems, to name some.

The economic importance of tropical and subtropical forages is rising fast along with the fast-rising demand for, and consumption of, milk, meat and eggs across the developing world, while the environmental benefits tropical forages deliver—such as storing carbon, reducing soil erosion, reducing use of nitrogen fertilizers in green manure systems, and reducing greenhouse gas emissions generated by ruminant livestock—are also increasing in importance. Some tropical forage species, such as Napier grass (Pennisetum purpureum) and switchgrass (Panicum virgatum), have potential for use as feedstocks for cellulosic biofuels. And some tropical grasses have become important in recreation use, where they are widely used for turf.

On breeding programs
Breeding programs to develop forage cultivars have been used over the past 50 years with some outstanding successes, such as the introduction of resistance to major pests and diseases. While major breeding programs stopped being conducted in Australia after about 1990, the USA has a number of active breeding programs conducted by the United States Department of Agriculture and the University of Florida. International centres have continued investment in major breeding programs. A program on Urochloa (syn. Brachiaria) spp. conducted by the International Center for Tropical Agriculture (CIAT) has been one of the largest and most sustained, releasing several new cultivars in the past decade. Brazil also conducts forage breeding programs (on Urochloa, Pennisetum and Megathyrsus maximus [syn. Panicum maximum]). ILRI is working with dairy scientists at the Brazilian Agricultural Research Corporation (EMBRAPA) to exchange Napier grass materials and has initiated a molecular biosciences program to exploit the variation found in Napier and other species it holds in its forage genebank.

There are probably less than ten major breeding programs operating today worldwide on tropical and subtropical forages. Far more frequently, cultivars have been developed by comparison among wild populations and/or selections from within wild populations. Some of the most important tropical and subtropical forage cultivars have been commercialized through straight selection from wild populations.

Tropical forage germplasm collections contain more diversity than any other crop or forage collection in terms of numbers of genera and species. As in all forage collections, grasses (Poaceae) and legumes (Fabaceae) dominate. The collections contain about 600 recognized genera and most of those are represented by more than one species. ILRI reports it alone has some 1400 species in its collection. There is also diversity in form: while herbs dominate, climbers, shrubs and trees are all represented and each form by several species.

Unconvinced? Here are another nine reasons

1 We’re losing forage genetic resources along with habitats
Many of the forage accessions currently held ex situ (removed from their natural habitats) are from regions that have undergone significant land-use change over the past half century. Much of the forests, grasslands and savannahs in South and Central America, for example, have been replaced with urban infrastructure. Expansion of agriculture in Brazil in particular has transformed vast natural forests and grasslands into intensive soy and other croplands or into improved monospecific pastures. Brachiaria brizantha cv. Marandu, for example, now grows on some 60 million hectares (148 million acres) of Brazilian land, forming a dangerously narrow genetic base. Development and population growth in many parts of Africa have resulted in expansion of cropping and overgrazing of rangelands, which has also reduced biodiversity. These changes across the tropics have made the tropical and subtropical forage germplasm already held ex situ extremely valuable, and sometimes irreplaceable.

2 Forage plants are wild relatives of crop plants
The world’s tropical and subtropical forage collections contain several species that can be considered crop wild relatives. Some are known to be wild types of the same species as major crops. Others will require a more detailed understanding of taxonomy and species to sort out their relationships to crops. The forage genus Rynchosia and, until recently, the genus Atylosia (now Cajanus), for example, are both close relatives of pigeon pea (Cajanus cajan). Many crop breeders do not even know this material exists. To contribute to crop plant improvement, there needs to be easier and better access to information on what forage genetic materials are being held and where.

3 Resources for forage work has declined big time
Investment in the conservation and use of tropical and subtropical forages, unlike that of crop plants, has declined since about the 1990s, even in those developed countries and emerging economies, such as USA, Australia, South Africa and Brazil, that have significantly benefited from investments in forage conservation and use. This investment decline over the past 25 years is evidenced by the poor viability of many tropical forage collections, the fewer staff and resources for collecting forage resources and managing forage collections, loss of expertise and use outdated genebank operating systems. Policymakers and donors need to be convinced of the greater roles that conservation, research and use of tropical forages can play in food security, enhanced livelihoods and healthy environments.

4 Scientific staffing for tropical forage work has declined drastically
Until the 1990s, CIAT, ILRI, Brazil’s EMBRAPA Brazil, Australia’s Commonwealth, Scientific and Industrial Research Organisation (CSIRO) and other institutes employed more than 250 scientists specializing in tropical and subtropical forage genetic resources. The number of active, employed tropical and subtropical forage scientists is now probably less than 30 and the bulk of knowledge built up over many decades now rests with about 40 mostly retired scientists.

5 Forages possess exceptional diversity
ILRI reports about 600 genera and 1400 species in its collection of tropical and subtropical forages, while CIAT holds about 730 species. And there are other taxa held in national genebanks that are unrepresented in the collections of ILRI, CIAT or the World Agroforestry Centre (ICRAF). Preservation of this exceptional diversity will require that genebank managers and researchers stay abreast of continuous changes in taxonomy and technical issues in such matters as viability testing, seed dormancy, seed longevity, security backups, pollination and pollinators, diseases, day length sensitivity, ploidy levels and the wide range of breeding systems. While there is much diversity, less than 100 species have proven useful as forages to date. This means that 1200 species of limited or no immediate forage, feed or environmental value are being conserved globally. This does not mean that 86% of the accessions held are of limited value. The largest collections of any one species are mostly those perceived to have had the greatest potential value, and hence, most plant collecting focus. This is reflected in CIAT’s genebank, where 45% of the accessions of some 730 forage species are from just 20 species.

6 Transformational technologies are opening new frontiers in forage research
Dramatic advances in bioscience technologies have transformed tools for understanding the vast genetic diversity, and potential use, of crop and forage plants and their wild relatives. While exploiting this plant diversity to overcome climatic and other agricultural constraints is now possible due to the explosion of breakthroughs in genomics and related fields (‘genotyping’), practical outcomes of use of these ‘omic technologies’ depend on knowledge of the plants’ observable traits (‘phenotyping’) and possibilities for their adaptation and use.

7 Selection and seed availability both need speeding up for scaling up
With so many tropical and subtropical forage species and genotypes proven to be useful in particular environments and systems, livestock programs need to be able to access the best advice from forage specialists using the best selection tools. But such selection of well-adapted germplasm needs to be followed by ready availability of viable seed (or vegetative planting material) in sufficient quantities for quick evaluation and use at scale.

8 Current CGIAR forage work is insufficient
CGIAR genebanks comprise the largest and among the most diverse collections of tropical and subtropical forages in the world. These international collections also provide some backup storage for other collections and tend to be better resourced than national system collections. Notwithstanding CGIAR’s mandate to conserve this germplasm and to supply its materials to users globally, CGIAR centres have strong regional foci that have skewed their geographic distributions in the past. And although CIAT and ILRI have been expanding their regional foci (e.g. ILRI research on breeding for disease resistance and greater use in Napier grass, for diversity in buffel grass and for both diversity and dual-purpose food-feed roles in cowpea and other legumes), the combined resources of all CGIAR centres probably do not include the technical skills that would enable them to cover the full range of priorities and needs in tropical forage work. Greater collaboration and efficiency should provide a more comprehensive and unified strategic position for the CGIAR.

9 Forage treaties and agreements are inadequate
The great majority of the world’s tropical and subtropical forage resources are not listed in Annex 1 of the International Treaty on Plant Genetic Resources for Food and Agriculture (ITPGRFA). The CGIAR collections are managed under Article 15 of this treaty and may be made available under standard material transfer agreements. The exchange of material from national collections can be constrained by a reluctance of countries to share their germplasm with others outside of the multilateral ITPGRFA agreement. In addition, the vast majority of tropical and subtropical forage germplasm that has been collected was collected before the Convention on Biological Diversity came into effect in 1994, meaning that most forage germplasm held outside of the CGIAR genebanks can in fact be exchanged without attending to treaty obligations. This is an important issue for forage conservation, but possibly more so for utilization. A strategy taking all this into consideration needs to be developed.

Read the whole of the new strategy: A global strategy for the conservation and utilisation of tropical and subtropical forage genetic resources, by Bruce Pengelly, Pengelly Consultancy Pty Ltd., Dec 2015.

To find out more about ILRI Feed and Forage Biosciences program, contact Chris Jones  (c.s.jones [at] cgiar.org).


UN adopts resolution promoting sustainable pastoralism and rangelands

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Ethiopia’s Minister of Environment, Forests and Climate Change, Shiferaw Teklemariam, speaks at UNEA-2 (photo credit: ILRI/Dorine Odongo).

Written by Dorine Odongo, communications and knowledge management specialist for ILRI’s Livestock and Environment Program.

A new  resolution on Combating desertification, land degradation and drought and promoting sustainable pastoralism and rangelands was presented and adopted at the second session of the United Nations Environment Assembly (UNEA-2) held 23–27 May 2016 at the United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP), in Nairobi, Kenya.

At a UNEA-2 side event on sustainable pastoralism, high-level discussions among key players in the livestock sector highlighted pastoralism’s ability to promote healthy ecosystems in the face of climate change, showing that common pastures are potential reservoirs of greenhouse gases.

Kicking off the side event, the deputy executive director of UNEP and assistant secretary-general of the United Nations, Ibrahim Thiaw, reminded participants that ten years ago, myths and misconceptions surrounding pastoralism were already being strongly debunked—particularly those portraying it as ‘primitive, unproductive and environmentally destructive’.

Research showing that pastoralism promotes healthy productive ecosystems continues to be largely ignored, underexploited or misunderstood. The side event was spearheaded by UNEP, the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations (FAO), the International Livestock Research Institute (ILRI) and other collaborators.

UNEA’s then president and minister for environment and green development in Mongolia, Oyuna Sanjasuren, argued that pastoralism plays a key role in protecting ecosystems but must be managed well to be sustainable.

Ethiopia’s minister for environment, forests and climate change, Shiferaw Teklemariam, said that to achieve the United Nations 2030 and Africa 2063 agendas, pastoralist issues must be addressed and with a unified voice. Such issues include policies to protect pastoralists, increased investment in drylands, improved pastoralist access to markets and incentives for pastoral environmental stewardship.

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Ethiopian Minister of Environment, Forests and Climate Change, Shiferaw Teklemariam, left, with Iain Wright, ILRI Deputy Director General, at UNEA-2 (photo credit: ILRI/Dorine Odongo).

Land tenure for pastoralists: how best to achieve?
Lack of land rights is a huge challenge for pastoralists, posing big threats to pastoral sustainability and viability. This is recognized in the UN’s recently adopted Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs #1, 2 and 5).

ILRI conducts research on pastoral and agro-pastoral dryland environments, investigating such issues as institutional and governance approaches to promoting participatory land-use planning and land tenure systems. In addition, ILRI works to promote sustainable use of rangelands and to improve livestock-based livelihoods. Together with its Kenyan NGO partner RECONCILE (Resource Conflict Institute), ILRI coordinates and supports the Global Rangelands Initiative of the International Land Coalition (ILC). The initiative, established in 2010, supports governments and members of the ILC in Africa, Asia and Latin America to develop and implement enabling policies and legislation for more tenure-secure rangelands.

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Abdelkader Bensada, an officer responsible for UNEP’s work on sustainable pastoralism and rangeland conservation and UNEP’s focal point for the International Land Coalition, talks with Fiona Flintan, a rangelands governance scientist on joint appointment with ILRI and the International Land Coalition, at the rangelands side event at UNEA-2 (Global Rangelands Initiative) (photo credit: ILRI/Dorine Odongo).

Pushing the sustainable pastoralism agenda higher
A coalition of international organizations working on livestock and environment issues, in addition to several African governments, led by Ethiopia, Namibia and Sudan, fronted the resolution for adoption by UNEA 2, and in so doing managed to push sustainable pastoralism and rangelands higher up the international development agenda. The passing of this resolution was the latest example of the importance people are placing on SDG 15, ‘Sustainably manage forests, combat desertification, halt and reverse land degradation, halt biodiversity loss’, and of the need for multilateral environmental agencies to cooperate and collaborate.

This move has provided much-needed impetus for investing in pastoralism in order to optimize and realize its full potential and comparative advantage as a livelihood system, particularly suitable for coping with climatic variability and change.

See photos from the side event here.

For further information, see ILRI’s Livestock Systems and Environment blog or contact Dorine Odongo (d.odongo [at] cgiar.org) or Fiona Flintan (f.flintan [at] cgiar.org).


Vaccine research on Africa’s cattle-killing East Coast fever: A short (somewhat potted but handsomely illustrated) history

PowerPoint Presentation

Life-cycle of Theileria parva. This figure illustrates the different life cycle stages of the single-celled tick-transmitted Theileria parva parasite, which causes East Coast fever in cattle. The parasite undergoes transformations into different forms as it cycles through its mammalian and tick hosts. The figure, created by ILRI scientist Nicholas Svitek, was inspired by fluorescence and electron micrograph images of the parasite life cycle (Fawcett et al., 1982a, Norval et al., 1992von Schubert et al., 2010). 

Here’s what’s going on in this complicated, and complex, parasite life cycle: Within minutes of their injection by an infected tick into a cow, parasite forms known as ‘sporozoites’ zip open the membrane of the white blood cells (lymphocytes) of the cow to gain entry. Once safely inside, where the parasite is out of reach of attack by the cow’s immune system, the parasites develop to a ‘schizont’ stage, a process that results in genetic ‘transformation’ of the bovine cell, in which it acquires the properties of cancer and begins to divide, along with the parasites inside of it, endlessly. (T. parva is the only eukaryotic organism known to transform lymphocytes.) Some of the schizont parasite forms then undergo merogony, giving rise to yet another form of the parasite, called merozoites, which cause their host’s white cells to rupture, after which the parasites further mature into ‘piroplasm’ forms, which invade the cow’s red blood cells, where they are then ready for uptake by ticks taking their next bloodmeal from the cow.

Tick larvae and nymphs acquire an infection by feeding on infected cattle or buffalo, and transmit the parasite as the next tick instar, nymphs and adults. Kinete forms, the final products of the parasite’s sexual cycle, invade the tick salivary glands where sporogony occurs. Mature merozoites (Mz) and sporozoites (Sz) originate from a multinucleated residual body.

Notes: Stages of the life cycles are not drawn to scale. The vertebrate host cell nucleus is coloured in purple and the parasite nucleus is in orange. Microspheres in sporozoites and micronemes in merozoites are depicted as small dark green dots inside the parasite. Host cell microtubules in the dividing schizont-infected cell are drawn in green. Drawings and artistic creation by ILRI scientist Nicholas Svitek. (This drawing illustrates a new ILRI paper, published by Elsevier under a Creative Commons licence, in Ticks and Tick-borne Diseases on 26 Feb 2016: doi:10.1016/j.ttbdis.2016.02.001).

Article by Susan MacMillan and Vish Nene, illustration by Nicholas Svitek

Tremendous research progress has been made over the last ten years to better control the deadly African disease of cattle known as East Coast fever. This disease is caused by a single-celled organism, Theileria parva, which is carried by some tick species. Cattle become infected when a tick carrying the parasite takes a blood-meal from the animal over several days.

The disease was named for its importation into southern Africa by cattle that originated from the East Coast of Africa at the start of the 20th century. The parasite was named after Arnold Theiler, a Swiss veterinary researcher who had emigrated to South Africa, where he became famous for co-developing the first safe vaccine against the rinderpest cattle plague, an accomplishment that ushered in systematic, mission-orientated veterinary research in that country. Theiler, whose youngest son Max would later win the Nobel Prize for developing the yellow fever vaccine, was first to distinguish East Coast fever, then entirely unknown to science, in 1903.

Cattle infected with the T. parva parasite develop a cancer-like disease manifested by high fever, swollen lymph nodes and lungs filled with excess fluid, which eventually literally drowns the animals, typically within just three weeks of infection. This remarkable protozoan has genes that enable it—within minutes of being injected into an animal—to attach itself to the surface of a cow’s white blood cell, ‘unzip’ the cell membrane and slip into the cell. Once inside the bovine cell, the parasite is unseen and safe from attack by the cow’s antibodies. T. parva then proceeds to take over the cell machinery. Activating the cow’s cell division pathway, it multiplies along with its host cell, causing the cancer-like state.

Those animals that do not succumb to East Coast fever are thereafter immune to subsequent infections with the same strain of parasite. Such natural full recovery and immunity is what first piqued the interests of scientists, who reasoned that it must be possible to develop a vaccine that would provoke similar immune processes, thus providing cattle with life-long protection against the disease.

The sequencing of the genome of the T. parva parasite, completed in 2005, and its publication in the scientific literature enabled scientists to thoroughly characterize the protozoan’s genetic makeup, including the diversity of the parasite’s antigenic molecules that provoke the cow’s immune system to generate protective antibodies and killer T cells that attack and clear the parasite from the host. This is the basis of an effective ‘infection-and-treatment’ (ITM) immunization method, in which live parasites are inoculated into cattle along with a long-acting antibiotic. A ‘Muguga cocktail’ ITM vaccine combining several parasite strains and providing broad-spectrum immunity to East Coast fever is now a registered product in three countries in eastern Africa. Effort today is being directed at improving and scaling up the production of this ‘live vaccine’ to make it more widely and cheaply available to the millions of people whose livelihoods depend on livestock in the twelve countries of eastern, central and southern Africa where the disease remains endemic.

Meanwhile, research to develop a ‘subunit’ vaccine, which is based on bits of parasites rather than whole parasites, with the bits eliciting production of neutralizing antibodies and killer T cells, has been revived by a research consortium that is developing proof-of-concept for a next-generation East Coast fever vaccine. The pioneering genomic, molecular and immunological advances that are making this subunit vaccine work possible promise to finally and fully control this devastating disease within the next decade or so.

See the recent science article on which this article is developed:
The biology of Theileria parva and control of East Coast fever—Current status and future trends, by Vish Nene, Henry Kiara, Anne Lacasta, Rogé Pelle, Nicholas Svitek and Lucilla Steinaa, 2016, in Ticks and Tick-borne Diseases, 26 Feb 2016, http://dx.doi.org/10.1016/j.ttbdis.2016.02.001

Read other articles about this publication on ILRI’s ILVAC blog site:

Susan MacMillan leads ILRI’s Awareness and Advocacy communications work. Vish Nene leads ILRI’s Vaccine Biosciences program (ILVAC). Nicholas Svitek is a cellular immunologist within ILRI’s Vaccine Biosciences program.


DID YOU KNOW? ILRI in the Livestock Global Alliance

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The following remarks were made by Shirley Tarawali, assistant director general of the International Livestock Research Institute (ILRI), on 26 May 2016 at a side event held at the General Assembly of the World Organisation for Animal Health, in Paris. At this event, an alliance of leading organizations in global livestock issues launched an advocacy brief and related materials aiming to bring the often overlooked sector to the forefront of solutions to global development challenges such as food security, health, economic growth and climate change.

The Livestock Global Alliance unites the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations (FAO), the International Fund for Agricultural Development (IFAD), the International Livestock Research Institute (ILRI), the World Organisation for Animal Health (OIE), and World Bank Group.

Snapshot of ILRI

The International Livestock Research Institute (ILRI) is one of 15 international agriculture research centres of the CGIAR Consortium and the only one dedicated entirely to livestock research for the developing world. ILRI is co-hosted by the governments of Ethiopia and Kenya and also has regional or country offices in 16 other locations in Africa, South and Southeast Asia. Drawn from 40 nationalities, ILRI has a work force of about 750 staff globally.

The institute works through extensive partnership arrangements with research and development institutions in both the developed and developing parts of the world. ILRI’s research and development work covers areas ranging from laboratory-based biosciences in animal health, genetics and feeds to field-based integrated sciences in the areas of animal productivity, food safety and zoonoses, livestock and the environment, gender and livelihoods, and policy and markets. Capacity development and communications and knowledge management are important parts of the institute’s mandate and cut across all its research and development areas.

Livestock Global Alliance

ILRI and the World Bank jointly convened the first meeting that created the Livestock Global Alliance in April 2012 at ILRI’s headquarters, in Nairobi, Kenya. At that time, both ILRI and the World Bank were developing new institutional strategies and recognized the need for greater coordination among the key global livestock sector actors working in the public domain. Particularly in the face of increasing criticism of the livestock sector by industrialized countries and agenda, there was perceived need for a coherent and common voice providing evidence-based information and balanced perspectives about livestock issues.

Participants at the initial meeting identified the need for closer partnerships, with each organization bringing to bear its comparative advantages. It was believed that by working together more closely, institutions in a Livestock Global Alliance could more effectively communicate why livestock remain essential to the society, health and wellbeing of the world’s poor and why addressing both the challenges and the opportunities presented by the livestock sector is critically important.

While the five organizations involved in the alliance are diverse in their operations and mandates, all share a common vision of the multiple and central roles that livestock can play in meeting the UN Sustainable Development Goals. Each of the participating institutions has committed to reaching out to its constituencies with these central common messages. As a member of the CGIAR Consortium, ILRI will also harness the breadth and depth of agricultural research from across the CGIAR’s 15 member centres and global research programs to communicate science-based options for sustainable smallholder livestock futures.

As the livestock sector globally remains greatly underfunded, ILRI and its Alliance partners are working together to raise understanding of just how adequate funding will enable the livestock sector to serve the SDGs.

The three pillars of the Livestock Global Alliance are social equity, global health and environmental sustainability.

Social equity

ILRI researches the roles of livestock in livelihoods of the poor, spanning the following.

  • Gender roles in livestock livelihoods and households.
  • Income-generating opportunities for producers, processors, traders and service providers along livestock value chains.
  • The role of livestock as both assets and safety nets for the poor.
  • Development, with private companies, of the first-ever (index-based) livestock drought insurance serving pastoralists in remote regions of East Africa.
    DID YOU KNOW?
    Between 2008 and 2011, recurring droughts cost Kenya some USD12.1 billion, with the livestock sector incurring 27% of this loss, about USD3.3 billion. Early impact assessments suggest that those who purchased ILRI’s livestock insurance policies experienced a 36% reduction in distress sales of livestock, a 25% reduced likelihood of eating much smaller meals, and a 33% reduction in dependence on food aid.
  • Technological solutions for increasing livestock productivity and opportunities for small-scale livestock producers to participate in markets.
    DID YOU KNOW?
    Markets for livestock commodities are growing rapidly in developing countries, where most livestock production growth is occurring, and are expected to continue to grow for several decades, opening opportunities for small-scale producers, with as many as half of them women.

Global health

ILRI’s longstanding animal health research is conducted in the following areas.

  • Better control of key livestock diseases—especially those that are endemic and devastating to developing countries and for which major commercial vaccines are unavailable.
  • Development of new vaccines, including East Coast fever, African swine fever, Rift Valley fever, contagious bovine pleuropneumonia and pestes des petits ruminants.
  • Production of the first-ever vaccine broadly available and affordable to the poor to control East Coast fever in African cattle.
    DID YOU KNOW?
    East Coast fever annually kills more than one million cattle and causes 12 African countries losses of some USD300 million. One million doses of the ILRI-produced East Coast fever vaccine has benefitted half a million people’s lives.
  • Development of new and improved ‘penside’ diagnostic toolkits to better identify disease and control disease outbreaks in smallholder environments where there is limited veterinary care.
  • Food safety and other challenges lying at the interface of human health, human and animal nutrition and animal agriculture.
  • Development and facilitation of One Health approaches to controlling emerging and re-emerging zoonotic diseases, which are transmitted between animals and people.
  • Development of practical risk-based approaches to ensuring the safety of milk, meat and eggs sold in the informal markets of developing countries.
    DID YOU KNOW?
    5 million consumers in Kenya and 1.5 million in India’s state of Assam are benefiting today from ILRI-partner research on safer milk.
  • The role of milk, meat and eggs in the nutrition of the poor, especially that of women of child-bearing age and infants in their first 1000 days of life.

Environmental sustainability

ILRI’s environment research focuses on increasing livestock ‘goods’ and reducing livestock  ‘bads’ in the following areas.

  • Opportunities for mitigating livestock impacts on the environment, in particular greenhouse gases, and for helping poor livestock keepers adapt to climate change.
  • Options for improving small-scale livestock productivity, with better manure management to mitigate greenhouse gas emissions from intensifying smallholder systems.
  • Practical incentives and policies for reducing livestock harms to the environment.
  • Good grazing management for rangelands
    DID YOU KNOW?
    Rangelands have the potential to sequester 8.6 million tonnes carbon each year.
  • Interventions enhancing community resilience, particularly in pastoral and agro-pastoral regions.
  • Establishment of a Mazingira (‘Environment’) Centre to assess for the first time the greenhouse gas emissions of Africa’s livestock.
    DID YOU KNOW?
    Current estimates of livestock greenhouse gas emissions used by the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) are based on livestock emission figures in developed countries and may be overestimating such emissions in Africa by as much as tenfold.
  • Facilitation of economically and socially viable community-based ‘eco-conservancies’ through early research in East Africa’s Masailands co-conducted with Maasai communities and communicators.
    DID YOU KNOW?
    More than 200 eco-conservancies have been established recently in Kenya alone, which are now protecting biodiversity as well as livestock populations, restoring rangelands to health and providing local pastoral communities with added income for their wildlife and environmental stewardship.

For further information, visit the website of the Livestock Global Alliance, where this communiqué is posted, along with an advocacy brief, a short animated film and other research-based information materials.

ILRI News blog: Sustainable livestock, sustainable lives: Livestock’s role in global health, equity and environment, 26 May 2016.

ILRI Clippings blog: Livestock are coming to the fore of sustainable development to-do lists, 25 May 2016.

ILRI News blog: A new global alliance for a safer, fairer and more sustainable livestock sector, 13 Apr 2012.

 


Livestock for better nutrition and disease control–One Health Colloquium held this week at Chatham House

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Stacked farm animal figurine (from zulily on Pinterest).

One Health Colloquium
Sustainable Livestock, Disease Control,
Climate Change and the Refugee Crisis

31 May–1 Jun 2016
Chatham House, London

The Centre on Global Health Security at Chatham House, London—which examines how global health challenges manifest themselves in foreign policy and international affairs—is looking at links between sustainable livestock systems and livestock disease control on the one hand and climate change, human nutrition and today’s refugee crisis on the other.

Today and tomorrow (31 May–1 Jun 2016), Chatham House, the Livestock Global Alliance (LGA), the One Health Platform and other One Health partners are convening senior policymakers, academics, multilateral development agencies, business leaders and other private-sector stakeholders to discuss these topics. Outcomes of the discussions will feed into a series of policy recommendations for multilateral agencies, opportunities for collaboration between the public and private sectors, and a research agenda for One Health approaches to sustainable livestock systems.

The invited participants—including representative from the World Health Organization (WHO), the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations (FAO), the World Organisation for Animal Health (OIE), the World Bank and the International Livestock Research Institution (ILRI)—are discussing livestock’s role in poverty reduction, sustainable livestock production systems, innovations in livestock vaccines and diagnostics and the value of establishing national and regional One Health centres of excellence to advise on links among agriculture, sustainable livestock systems and human development.

Two of the participants of this meeting are Delia Grace, a veterinary epidemiologist at ILRI, where she leads a program on food safety and zoonoses, and Shirley Tarawali, ILRI assistant director general.

This meeting is being held under the Chatham House Rule, whereby participants are free to use the information received but neither the identity nor the affiliation of speakers or other participants may be revealed. Check back on the ILRI News and AgHealth blog sites at a later date for further reports on ILRI’s two presentations at this colloquium, which you can click through below.

The influence of livestock products (LP) on nutrition during the first 1000 days from ILRI Vaccines and diagnostics—The case for regional One Health centres of excellence from ILRI

 

The following is a program announcement about this colloquium from Chatham House, lightly edited for brevity.

Sustainable livestock systems and livestock disease control
links to climate change, human nutrition and the refugee crisis
Efforts to reduce poverty have been high on the development agenda since the United Nations established the Millennium Development Goals (MDGs) in 2000, with many successes having been achieved over the past 15 years. Although MDG 1, ‘Eradicating extreme hunger and poverty’, is yet to be achieved throughout the world, many countries made considerable advances toward this target before the subsequent Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) were adopted in Sep 2015.

In India, for example, the proportion of people with an income of less than one dollar a day was nearly halved between 2000 and 2012, while in Ethiopia, the percentage of people living below the national poverty line fell by 14% over the same 12-year period. The World Bank reports that much of the poverty reduction in Ethiopia is attributable to growth in agriculture, and the impact of livestock trade in reducing poverty more widely in the Horn of Africa region is well understood. The national economies of some countries in the Horn depend almost entirely on the trade of livestock (including Somalia, where 60% of the population derives a livelihood from the sector), and across other parts of Africa and the Middle East the livestock industry remains critical to food security.

As the global demand for animal food products rises—consumption of meat and dairy is estimated to rise by 76% by 2050—it is necessary to consider how the livestock industry can develop sustainably while balancing demands for animal-source foods in high- and low-consuming countries to meet global health and nutritional goals. There is pressing need for policymakers and other stakeholders to evaluate the ways in which the sector can contribute to future economic growth in line with the ambitions of the SDGs. This will require assessments not only of the contributions livestock have made in reducing poverty in low- and-middle-income countries, but also of the negative impacts of overconsuming livestock products on health and the environment. Livestock production will also need to be considered within the context of heightening resource scarcity and intensifying climate stresses.

Effective strategies will require coordinated engagement on two levels.

  • Multi-stakeholder commitment to identify how the sector can be managed and financed sustainably and how innovation in livestock vaccine development, diagnostics, disease surveillance and therapeutics can improve livestock production yields and animal welfare while reducing the negative health and environmental impacts of livestock production worldwide
  • Multi-stakeholder engagement to bring together governments, producers, retailers, the service industry and civil society to foster a shift to healthier, more sustainable patterns of global animal protein consumption

This two-track approach will underpin attempts to meet two linked SDGS—SDG 2, ‘End hunger, achieve food security and improved nutrition and promote sustainable agriculture’, and SDG 13, ‘Take urgent action to combat climate change and its impacts’.

The role of proteins and micronutrients derived from livestock in meeting the nutritional demands of a rapidly growing worldwide human population is a key aspect of the debate that requires more attention. In many low- and middle-income countries, a range of initiatives has been introduced to improve nutrition—especially during pregnancy and early childhood years—while there have been concurrent calls in developed countries to reduce the consumption of livestock products as a means of mitigating livestock-generated greenhouse gas emissions causing climate change. Consensus is lacking on the role a growing livestock industry might play in meeting future nutritional demands while remaining sensitive to the global challenges around climate change and to other issues such as antimicrobial resistance.

During the current global refugee crisis, increased scrutiny is also being paid to the potential for an increase in the prevalence of zoonotic vector-borne diseases, which are transmitted from animals to people via biting mosquitoes and other insects and ticks, and of other emerging zoonotic diseases in countries that host refugees and migrants. Competent vectors for several such infectious diseases, including malaria, leishmaniasis and schistosomiasis, are present in southern Europe, the Middle East and across parts of the Americas and Asia. The movement of humans and animals within and between these regions raises the potential for such zoonotic diseases to emerge in countries where cases have not been documented before.

Recent examples of this include outbreaks of the West Nile virus across sub-Saharan Africa, Asia, North Africa and North America. The growing number of Zika virus cases in Brazil and detection of the virus in neighbouring countries, as well as the re-emergence of malaria in Greece, are the latest demonstrations that no geographical region can remain immune to novel or re-emerging zoonotic infections. The One Health implications of migration and the movement of people and livestock on disease transmission, although evident, are not well explored; nor are cost-effective strategies for improving disease control among refugee populations, including preventive measures through vector control, vaccination and improved diagnostics and surveillance.

While there no systematic association has been made between migration and the importation of infectious diseases, the factors influencing migration, including poverty, conflict and economic hardship, increase the risk for communicable diseases, including zoonoses. For example, pastoralism—the use of extensive grazing on rangelands for livestock production—which often involves the movement of livestock across borders in tropical and sub-tropical regions, is known to increase the potential for vector-borne diseases to emerge in new territories.

While no intervention can stop the movement of disease vectors and pathogens across borders, improved disease surveillance in animal populations can detect outbreaks at an early stage and help prevent their spread. Use of vaccines and rapid diagnostic tools and establishment of regional One Health centres of excellence can significantly mitigate such threats to both human and animal health.

But questions remain. Can regional centres be sufficiently empowered to manage the spectrum of One Health approaches to zoonotic disease control in humans and animals—from human behaviour change and social interventions for prevention to surveillance of infections and antimicrobial resistance to preparedness and response to outbreaks? And can the myriad parallel initiatives operating across Africa and other tropical regions be harmonized to create regional networks that can serve as repositories for expert One Health advice on how livestock systems impinge on development?

The Centre on Global Health Security at Chatham House is addressing these interrelated issues and questions through the following topics in this two-day colloquium:

  1. The roles of livestock in poverty reduction and improving nutrition and their implications for climate change mitigation
  2. Sustainable livestock production—funding mechanisms and the impacts on global development
  3. The One Health implications of mass migration in humans and animals
  4. Knowledge transfer, disease control and innovation in vaccines and diagnostics—the case for regional One Health centres of excellence

Sustainable livestock, sustainable lives: Livestock’s role in global health, equity and environment

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The following joint communiqué was released in Paris today, 26 May 2016, at a side media event at the General Assembly of the World Organisation for Animal Health.

An alliance of leading organizations in global livestock issues launches an advocacy brief today, aiming to bring the often overlooked sector to the forefront of solutions to global development challenges such as food security, health, economic growth and climate change.

The Livestock Global Alliance unites the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations (FAO), the International Fund for Agricultural Development (IFAD), the International Livestock Research Institute (ILRI), the World Organisation for Animal Health (OIE), and World Bank Group (WB).

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Livestock account for over a quarter of the protein and 13% of the calories we consume. More than 1.3 billion people (approx. 18% of the global population) depend on livestock for their livelihood. The sector accounts for an average of 40% of agricultural GDP of developing nations, a percentage that is growing and already reaches 60% in some poor countries. Despite its enormous contribution to food security and economic growth, the sector remains underfunded, receiving less than 3% of official development assistance by OECD country members.

‘Livestock is so much more than meat, milk and eggs’, comments David Nabarro, Special Adviser to the United Nations Secretary-General on the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development and Climate Change.

Livestock generate incomes for small-scale farmers to send their children to school and access health care.

Livestock act as insurance against unexpected production losses and is the basis of resilience.

Livestock’s role in national economies and as a potent force for sustainable development must not be overlooked any longer.

Livestock will play a key role for meeting the Zero Hunger challenge.
—David Nabarro

16LGA_Ad_FortifyDiets

The Alliance highlights the huge potential that exists to improve the efficiency and sustainability of the livestock sector if greater investment and collaboration between actors is prioritized. For example, it is estimated that greenhouse gas emissions from livestock supply chains in many regions could be reduced by 20–30% by implementing better livestock practices.

‘We have barely scratched the surface of what the livestock sector is capable of in terms of improving the livelihoods for small-scale producers and family farmers, and, more broadly, of becoming safer, fairer and more sustainable’, comments François Le Gall, Adviser at the World Bank, and Chair of the Livestock Global Alliance. ‘Improved grazing and feeding practices, for example, as well as using livestock waste for renewable energy and fertilizer, could help us meet sustainable development and climate goals. Working with many others, we’re uniting efforts to turn livestock’s potential into reality.’

There is a huge diversity of livestock production systems, enterprises and consumption patterns all over the world. To harness livestock for the greatest good for people and the planet, it is essential to grasp this diversity in livestock practices, which require tailored interventions to achieve lasting development outcomes. On the other hand, there are some interventions of universal value, from which all countries can benefit.

16LGA_Ad_SustainableFutures

Areas for action in the livestock sector will be highlighted at the Paris event; examples include:

  • For grazing systems: Improve access to markets and related infrastructure, access to services, advice and information and, in pastoral systems, improve herd mobility, foster community engagement in sustainable management of natural resources
  • For mixed crop-and-livestock smallholder systems: Improve access to services, advice and information; increase efficiency and sustainability of natural resources management; strengthen collective actions and gender equity
  • For industrial livestock systems: Provide regulatory and market-based instruments designed to further increase efficiency, reduce negative impacts and to drive innovation for safer and more humane production

In coming months, the Alliance will continue to work closely with other organizations on collaborative initiatives supporting each of its three pillars: health, equity, and environment.

For further information, visit the website of the Livestock Global Alliance, where this communiqué is posted, along with an advocacy brief, a short animated film and other research-based information materials.


Getting the (science) word out: ILRI & ICAR share livestock communications & knowledge management practices

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Note: This is the eighth in a series of articles on
‘Curds and goats, lives and livelihoods—
A dozen stories from northern and eastern India’.

PART 8: Getting the (science) word out:
ILRI and ICAR share best livestock communications and knowledge management practices

By Jules Mateo and Susan MacMillan,
of the International Livestock Research Institute (ILRI)

This is the first of three articles reporting on the ICAR-ILRI communications workshop.

The International Livestock Research Institute (ILRI) and the Indian Council of Agricultural Research (ICAR) held a one-day joint communications and knowledge management workshop on 4 Mar 2016 at the National Agricultural Science Centre Complex, in New Delhi, India.

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The workshop was held at the prestigious and handsome 22-acre National Agricultural Science Centre Complex at PUSA, New Delhi (photo credit: ILRI/Susan MacMillan).

The goals of the workshop were to share experiences and best practices in livestock research communications and knowledge management and to explore opportunities for ICAR and ILRI communications teams to work together more closely. The workshop was jointly organized by ILRI’s Communications and Knowledge Management (CKM) team and ICAR’s Directorate of Knowledge Management in Agriculture (DKMA). Communicators, scientists and senior officials of both institutes participated in the workshop.

Former ICAR director (left) with Jimmy Smith and Alok Jha (right)

ILRI director general Jimmy Smith (centre) with South Asia regional representative Alok Jha (right) and former ICAR director (left) at the communications workshop (ILRI/Susan MacMillan).

Delhi_CommsWorkshop_Directors_Collage

Three of the ICAR keynote speakers (left to right): Rameshwar Singh, director of ICAR Directorate of Knowledge Management in Agriculture; H Rahman, ICAR DDG for Animal Sciences; and RK Singh, director of ICAR Indian Veterinary Research Institute (ILRI/Susan MacMillan).

The ICAR–ILRI workshop was organized around three focus areas:
(1) translating science-based practices into impact
(2) communicating evidence for wider influence
(3) managing research knowledge for wide accessibility and use

Five-to-six 10-minute case studies each given in each focus area. Following these short case study presentations, workshop participants split into small groups for further discussion. These groups gave participants an opportunity to ask presenters further questions and to recommend ways in which ICAR and ILRI might collaborate on animal science communications in future.

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The communications workshop focused on three areas, with several short case study presentations made on each (ILRI/Susan MacMillan).

Focus area 1: Translating science-based practices into impact
Translating science-based practices into impact by communicating research outputs into potential development outcomes: Getting knowledge into use

For the first workshop focus, six case studies were presented by researchers from ILRI and ICAR, with topics ranging from old and new publishing vehicles (books and magazines, and web and mobile applications) to new publishing technologies (sending agricultural information to mobile phones) to new communication methods/approaches (innovation platforms).

BS Prakash, of ICAR, described ICAR’s traceability system for livestock value chains using radio frequency identification (RFID) tagging and geographic information systems (GIS). This system, which simplifies the process of tracing the source of infections in animals and determining the origins of animals, is available in kiosks and the data is made available to both livestock researchers and stakeholders. Workshop participants suggested that ICAR focus on creating greater awareness among farmers about this traceability system. They also suggested ICAR experiment with improving livestock feed resources through popular software, smartphones and more kiosks.

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Sagarika Gandhi leads a group discussion on delivering livestock information through mobile phones (ILRI/Susan MacMillan).

Sagarika Gandhi, a consultant scientist, described a project she was involved in with ILRI to provide relevant and timely livestock information to farmers at low cost. This project, ‘mKisan: Delivering agriculture and livestock knowledge through mobile phones’, was conducted from 2012 to 2014. It was funded by the United States Agency for International Development (USAID) and the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation (BMGF) and its implementation was led by the GSMA Foundation, an international mobile-for-development organization. The project made high-quality, difficult-to-source livestock information available in several forms, such as interactive voice response (IVRS), SMS, voice messages, on-demand videos and call centres. This project adapted and prioritized the content for mobile phones. At the end of two years, the project had 800,000 users, one-third of whom were repeat users; just 9% of the users were women. The project members discovered a stakeholder preference for high-quality, highly localized information, particularly on livestock vaccinations and feeds and fodder, and found it difficult to measure the project’s impacts on yields and incomes.

ICAR-ILRI Communications Workshop_Theme 1_Chart Writing_Mobile Platforms

The workshop participants suggested the creation of livestock content for Facebook, WhatsApp and other social media platforms in future. They raised the possibility of setting up community radio stations and a joint ICAR–ILRI portal/e-hub for livestock information that would be more accessible to farmers. And they emphasized the need for high-quality, locally relevant, indigenous livestock information.

Himanshu Varshney, who manages ICAR’s website and leads the council’s knowledge management efforts, reported that ICAR is also delivering information to farmers’ mobile phones, in the form of voice messages and apps, and is using web-based information sources to communicate the council’s research findings. He explained that ICAR has diversified its media channels to cater to users from all sectors, with their diverse information requirements. He said that the ICAR website remains a vital source of information for many people. The website disseminates information, incorporates a content management system, reproduces e-publications of journals in the form of a digital library and pre-print versions of publications, provides a learning management system for teachers and students, and has built a knowledge management repository specifically tailored for farmers and agricultural extension workers.

During group work at the ICAR-ILRI communications workshop

Group discussions on websites (left) and popular magazines (right) (ILRI/Jules Mateo).

Making ICAR’s information available online, Varshney explained, raises the visibility of both ICAR and its research, reduces the time needed for readers to get access to print publications, increases ‘institutional memory’ and increases the impacts of ICAR journal papers. But Varshney also said that posting material on web pages was not enough. ICAR staff want to create a more interactive site and an improved content management system. Participants suggested that future ICAR-ILRI communications collaborations could focus on creating weather-based agricultural advisories and communications support for livestock disease surveillance and vaccination campaigns.

ICAR-ILRI Communications Workshop_Theme 1_Chart Writing_Web Platforms

Rameshwar Singh, head of ICAR’s Directorate of Knowledge Management in Agriculture (DKMA), said the main goal of ICAR’s book publishing program is to publish authentic, multi-author, peer-reviewed reference books containing the latest information relevant to India’s agricultural communities. To date, ICAR’s greatest successes have been in publishing textbooks, popular science books, and science monographs and manuals. Challenges remain, he said, in producing extension materials suiting specific regions and in building a global profile and audience. His staff are currently considering creating e-commerce portals.

Breakout group discussion

The group discussion on books was led by ICAR-DKMA director Rameshwar Singh (second from right, second row) (ILRI/Susan MacMillan).

ICAR’s popular magazines unit, said Jagdeep Saxena, a DKMA senior editor, is working to increase its reader/contributor base. At present, ICAR publishes four magazines, which it sells relatively cheaply thanks to a government subsidy. One of the unit’s main challenges, Singh said, is sourcing good livestock content; a possible collaboration with ILRI is seen as a good opportunity.

ICAR-ILRI Communications Workshop_Theme 1_Chart Writing_Book Publishing

V Padmakumar, an ILRI scientist and project leader, made a short presentation on ‘Scaling out research through innovation platforms’. He stressed the importance of inclusive and collaborative research, interactions and engagement, of ‘contextualizing’ the research agenda and of not working in silos. The participation of all actors in a value chain, of all stakeholders from all levels (village, state, national), should be encouraged, he said.

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Hyderabad-based ILRI scientist V Padmakumar delivers a presentation on innovation platforms (ILRI/Jules Mateo).

Padmakumar described how his team and partners helped build innovation platforms for two ILRI projects he worked on—MilkIT in Uttarakhand and imGoats in Rajasthan. The workshop participants discussed the need for making research evidence visible and agreed on the importance of building strong partnerships and co-ownership of research.

ICAR-ILRI Communications Workshop_Theme 1_Chart Writing_Innovation Platforms

ICAR-ILRI Communications Workshop_Theme 1_Chart Writing_Innovation Platforms 2

Learn more about the ICAR–ILRI work plan for 2015–18.

Check back here for a report on the next theme of this workshop.

View pictures of the workshop.

Read previous parts in this blog series
‘Curds and goats, lives and livelihoods—A dozen stories from northern and eastern India’

Part 1, Colourful convocation: Jimmy Smith addresses graduates of India’s prestigious National Dairy Research Institute, 30 Mar 2016.

Part 2: Elite buffaloes and other exemplars of advanced Indian dairy science at the National Dairy Research Institute, 31 Mar 2016.

Part 3: Culture of the cow: Curds in the city—Better living through smallholder dairying in northern India, 5 Apr 2016.

Part 4: Building better brands and lives through peri-urban dairying and smart crop-dairy farming, 6 Apr 2016

Part 5: Wonder women of Bhubaneswar, 12 Apr 2016.

Part 6: Odisha Odyssey: The Arcadian landscapes and tribal goat keepers of Mayurbhanj, 9 May 2016.

Part 7: Odisha Odyssey: A look at the emerging commercial dairy value chains in eastern India, 12 May 2016

 


‘Zoonotic’ diseases take the spotlight of UN environmental talks this week and next in Nairobi, Kenya

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ILRI veterinary epidemiologists Delia Grace and Eric Fèvre were two of the panelists at a high-level Science Policy Forum this morning discussing zoonotic (animal-to-human) diseases at the United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP), in Nairobi, Kenya. The forum precedes the second session of the United Nations Environment Assembly, which takes place at UNEP all next week (23–27 May 2016). UNEP’s 2016 Frontiers Report was launched at this morning’s event (photo credit: ILRI/Susan MacMillan).

Diseases transmitted between animals and people—which cause 60% of all human infectious diseases—are a ‘frontier issue’ at the second session of the United Nations Environment Assembly (UNEA2), being held this week and next at the United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP), in Nairobi, Kenya.

Click the arrow below to view this story in slide format or go to Storify to view this story on one page.

https://t.co/9FYfmFnsnj

— Susan MacMillan (@SusanMacMillan) May 20, 2016


Odisha Odyssey: A look at the emerging commercial dairy value chains in eastern India

 

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Bhadrak, Odisha, was one of several ILRI-CSISA project sites in India (photo credit: ILRI/Susan MacMillan).

Note: This is the seventh in a series of articles on
‘Curds and goats, lives and livelihoods—
A dozen stories from northern and eastern India’.
PART 7:
Odisha Odyssey:
A look at the emerging commercial dairy value chains in eastern India

Written by Jules Mateo, Pradeep Sahoo, Braja Swain and Susan MacMillan

In recent years, scientists of the International Livestock Research Institute (ILRI) have been working with institutional partners and local farmer organizations in Odisha, a large eastern state of India on the Bay of Bengal, on research to improve the feed and fodder resources readily available to smallholder livestock keepers. ILRI conducted this collaborative research through a CGIAR Cereal Systems Initiative for South Asia (CSISA) aiming to increase and sustain small-farm productivity in selected regions of Bangladesh, India and Nepal.

Dairy producers and processors in Bhadrack, Odisha State, India

Dairy businesses around the city of Bhadrak, in northern Odisha State, are growing (ILRI/Susan MacMillan).

As part of an ILRI photojournalism trip to India undertaken in early Mar 2016, the authors visited a town on the outskirts of Bhadrak, a city in northern Odisha, to capture a bit of what the ILRI-led CSISA work has accomplished for small-scale dairy farmers in the area.

Dairying in Odisha

Dairy cows are kept in sheds and well cared for and fed (ILRI/Jules Mateo).

The team met with dairy producers, home-based cheesemakers, milk collectors and inspectors and other key players in Odisha’s emerging commercial dairy value chain.

A milk collection centre in Odisha

A milk collection centre in Bhadrak run by an ILRI-trained paravet woman (ILRI/Jules Mateo).

First stop was a milk collection centre located in a village on the outskirts of Bhadrak, where customers carrying milk were queuing. This centre is run by a paravet woman who received dairy training from ILRI and local partners in the CSISA project. In addition to collecting milk, the centre provides the dairy farming community with concentrate feeds and good-quality cow and buffalo semen.

Dairy producers and processors in Bhadrack, Odisha State, India

Concentrate feeds and cow and buffalo semen are also available at the centre (ILRI/Susan MacMillan).

A block away was the team’s second stop, a large fodder farm growing various types of improved fodder plants and grasses, which are sold, cut and carried to local dairy cows and buffaloes.

Fodder for dairy cattle

A tract of land for growing fodder for dairy cattle (ILRI/Jules Mateo).

Next on the tour was a nearby integrated crop-livestock farm. And ‘integrated’ it truly was—with just the animal husbandry operations including several milk cows, daily cheese-making in the household kitchen, chickens pecking the earth at the front of the compound, and six large fish ponds at the back of the house, behind the cow stalls.

Dairy producers and processors in Bhadrack, Odisha State, India Dairy producers and processors in Bhadrack, Odisha State, India

Dairy producers and processors in Bhadrack, Odisha State, India Dairy producers and processors in Bhadrack, Odisha State, India

An integrated farm with dairy cows, cheesemaking, chickens and fish ponds (ILRI/Susan MacMillan).

Like most smallholder producers, this integrated farm is a family-run business: everyone, every day, helps to raise the animals, feed the fish and make the cheese. The matriarch heading this household runs a tight ship and appears to have good, if ambitious, business sense. When complimented on her efficient, profitable and environmentally friendly integrated farm, she responded, ‘It’s hard work. I don’t sleep well at night’.

Dairy producers and processors in Bhadrack, Odisha State, India

The matriarch of the family who manages an integrated farming business (ILRI/Susan MacMillan).

The next stop, again only a few blocks away, was another farm, this one with dairy cows chewing their cud and grains drying in the sun at the front of the compound. The man who headed this household and led its dairy business work showed us an enclosed pen where he kept several prized milking cows. In a room next to the pen he stored a chopping machine, manufactured under ILRI’s direction, that he uses to cut fodder into small pieces for easier consumption and digestion by his milk cows.

Dairy producers and processors in Bhadrack, Odisha State, India

Grains and milk in a farmer’s yard (ILRI/Susan MacMillan).

Dairy producers and processors in Bhadrack, Odisha State, India

An ILRI-developed chopper is used for cutting fodder for dairy cows (ILRI/Susan MacMillan).

A milk chilling centre closer to the city proper was the team’s fifth and final stop for the morning. Inside a small single room, the centre’s modern freezer, vats and other milk storage equipment loomed large. The evening and morning milk delivered here by local farmers are chilled and trucked daily to Odisha’s capital, Bhubaneswar.

Dairy producers and processors in Bhadrack, Odisha State, India

Dairy producers and processors in Bhadrack, Odisha State, India

A milk chilling centre on the outskirts of Bhadrak (ILRI/Susan MacMillan).

Read previous parts in this blog series: Curds and goats, lives and livelihoods—A dozen stories from northern and eastern India
Part 1: Colourful convocation: Jimmy Smith addresses graduates of India’s prestigious National Dairy Research Institute, 30 Mar 2016.
Part 2: Elite buffaloes and other exemplars of advanced Indian dairy science at the National Dairy Research Institute, 31 Mar 2016.
Part 3: Culture of the cow: Curds in the city—Better living through smallholder dairying in northern India, 5 Apr 2016.
Part 4: Building better brands and lives through peri-urban dairying and smart crop-dairy farming, 6 Apr 2015
Part 5: Wonder women of Bhubaneswar, 12 Apr 2016.
Part 6: Odisha Odyssey: The Arcadian landscapes and tribal goat keepers of Mayurbhanj, 9 May 2016.

Read more about ILRI’s work in Odisha:
Goat business is big business in India’s Odisha State—Bishnupada Sethi, 23 Feb 2016.
Indian farmers in Odisha, on the Bay of Bengal, face fodder crisis: Using crop ‘wastes’ as feed is one solution, 28 Aug 2015

Note:
On 8 Mar 2016, ILRI Director General Jimmy Smith, his wife Charmaine Smith, ILRI Representative in South Asia Alok Jha, and ILRI research project leader Braja Swain paid courtesy calls on senior government and university officials in Bhubaneswar, the capital of India’s eastern state of Odisha. The ILRI delegation met with the Chief Secretary, AP Padhi, and the Secretary for Odisha’s Fisheries and Animal Resources Development (F&ARD) Department, Bishnupada Sethi, to discuss the state of the livestock sector in Odisha and contributions ILRI could make in improving the lives of farmers dependent on livestock.

ILRI has recently submitted a proposal on ‘Feed and Fodder Production in Different Agro-climatic Zones and Utilization for Livestock of Odisha’ to F&ARD’s Directorate of Animal Husbandry and Veterinary Services (DAH&VS).

ILRI has been working in Odisha since 2013 in collaboration with Odisha University of Agriculture and Technology (OUAT), the Orissa State Cooperative Milk Producers’ Federation (OMFED) and the state government’s DAH&VS and F&ARD to improve the state’s livestock productivity through better use of crop residues and locally sourced feed supplements within the framework of the CGIAR Cereal Systems Initiatives for South Asia (CSISA).

An international workshop on Improving Livestock Feeding Practice and Enhancement of Feed and Fodder Availability in Odisha was organized jointly by the Society for Management of Information, Learning and Extension (SMILE) and ILRI in 2015.

Based on the workshop’s recommendations, Odisha’s F&ARD Department is recommending the preparation of a comprehensive fodder development plan for Odisha.

Read more about ILRI work in India and work in India conducted by the ILRI-led multi-institutional CGIAR Research Program on Livestock and Fish, which works to improve the livelihoods of India’s smallholder dairy farmers by increasing participation of poor producers, processors and sellers in the country’s dairy value chains, improving access to markets by poor dairy producers and training small-scale dairy producers in more efficient production methods.

View all the photographs taken in Odisha in this ILRI Flickr album.

Learn more about the ILRI–CSISA project.

Read more about ILRI work in India and work in India conducted by the ILRI-led multi-institutional CGIAR Research Program on Livestock and Fish, which works to improve the livelihoods of India’s smallholder dairy farmers by increasing participation of poor producers, processors and sellers in the country’s dairy value chains, improving access to markets by poor dairy producers and training small-scale dairy producers in more efficient production methods.

ILRI scientist Braja Swain led the ILRI livestock work for the CSISA project in Odisha. Pradeep Sahoo, an agricultural economist and university lecturer from Odisha, spent two years working on the ILRI–CSISA project in this state. Jules Mateo (based in Manila) and Susan MacMillan (Nairobi) are part of ILRI’s Communications and Knowledge Management team.


Odisha Odyssey: The Arcadian landscapes and tribal goat keepers of Mayurbhanj

OdishaChildHoldingGoat_Cropped

In Mayurbhanj, Odisha, India, a youth proudly shows off a Harry Potter t-shirt and two of the family’s kid goats (photo credit: ILRI/Jules Mateo). 

Note: This is the sixth in a series of articles on
‘Curds and goats, lives and livelihoods—
A dozen stories from northern and eastern India’.
PART 6: Odisha Odyssey:
The Arcadian landscapes and tribal goat keepers of Mayurbhanj

By Susan MacMillan, Jules Mateo, Pradeep Sahoo and Braja Swain,
of the International Livestock Research Institute (ILRI)

The International Livestock Research Institute (ILRI) is partnering the eastern Indian state of Odisha (formerly and still commonly called ‘Orissa’), located on the Bay of Bengal, to improve the production and sale of sheep and goats and their products as well as dairy products from cows. The overarching aim of this work is to reduce poverty and malnutrition by enhancing household incomes and livelihoods.

8 Mar 2016

The Indian state of Odisha has about one million sheep and goats and the added distinction of being the home of two famous goat breeds—the black Bengal goat and the Ganjam goat, the latter named after a district in Odisha border Andhra Pradesh. The markets for both goat breeds are good, fetching Indian rupees 400 (about USD7) for 1 kilo of dressed goat meat.
—Dean of the College of Veterinary Science and Animal Husbandry of Orissa University of Agriculture and Technology

The livestock sector is not well promoted in Odisha State; veterinary services and fisheries are neglected areas of development here, so this is a good investment.
—Shri Aditya Prasad Padhi, Chief Secretary and Development Commissioner of Odisha

Small ruminant animals—goats and sheep—are the ATM ‘instant cash’ for farmers throughout South Asia and sub-Saharan Africa.
—Jimmy Smith, ILRI Director General

ILRI is interested to conduct a livestock fodder project in Odisha that can enhance the state’s small ruminant and dairy value chains.
—Alok Jha, ILRI Representative for South Asia

On 9 Mar 2016, Jules Mateo, my Philippines-based ILRI communications colleague, and I traveled with ILRI agricultural economist and project leader Braja Swain, who was born in India’s Odisha State and stills calls it home, several hours north from the state capital, Bhubaneswar, to the city of Bhadrak, where we spend the night in a small guesthouse. The following morning, with expert guide and ILRI agricultural consultant Pradeep Sahoo, another scientist also born and raised in this state, we drove another four hours north to reach the hilly and generally forested Mayurbhanj district, which is bounded to the north by the Indian states of West Bengal and Jharkhand.

The people here, as elsewhere in India, Sahoo explained, are categorized by the government into four social groupings:
(1) ‘general’, consisting of Brahmin (traditional Hindu priests and teachers), Karana (accountants and tax accountants) and Kshatriya (warriors)
(2) other (socially and educationally) backward classes (OBC)
(3) scheduled castes (SC) (formerly known as ‘untouchables’)
(4) scheduled tribes (ST), whose livelihoods depend on forests and other natural resources

Although these terms and definitions make me uncomfortable (politically correct they are not!), they have a long history as part of a so-called ‘reservation system’ of the Indian Government, which employs quota-based affirmative action to reserve government seats for specific groups, to increase opportunities for underprivileged communities, and to protect those communities from social injustice and exploitation. Mayurbhanj has the state’s largest physical area and as well as its largest population of tribal peoples, Sahoo reported. The 20–30 tribes in Odisha constitute 16–17% of the state’s total population. Nationwide, the Indian Government has been subsidizing food for people belonging to three of India’s four groups: other backward classes, scheduled castes and scheduled tribes.

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Mayurbhanj goat keeper Bipti Mahanta (photo credit: ILRI/Jules Mateo).

With expert guidance and translations from Pradeep Sahoo and a young local man he enlisted for our tour named Anup Mahanta, Jules Mateo and I sat down to visit with Bipti Mahanta, a goat herder tending her animals on the straw residues of a rice field after its grain has been harvested. The rice is grown here in paddy fields once a year, and the residue rice straw is free for villagers to use for grazing their goats and cows for 5–6 months of the year. Herders such as Bipti Mahanta are needed to prevent their valuable stock from getting bitten by dogs or stolen by thieves.

Mahanta takes the goats she and her village neighbours own out to graze each day at about 9 or 10am, returning to the village, carrying goat fodder collected from a nearby forest, about 1pm, when she and the other goat herders will bathe, lunch on ‘water rice’, and then take a siesta.

Mahanta says that her village prefers goats to cows: ‘In an emergency of for a festival, we can sell a goat to get the cash we need’. A 2–3-year-old male goat weighing 30–35 kilos will fetch India rupees 8,000 (about USD120).

OdishaFodderFromTheForest

A woman collects animal fodder from the forest to carry to her homestead (photo credit: ILRI/Susan MacMillan).

Works and days
Two things are hard to portray here, in this bare reporting. The first can perhaps be glimpsed in the photograph above of Bipti Mahanta.

But first, some context. We’re off the grid’ here, in the forests and fields of Mayurbhanj. The modern information age (and economy and highway) have largely passed this part of the state by. (We’re as far from India’s tech tycoons and towns as it is possible to get, with few cell phones or other ‘disruptive innovations’ having yet transformed daily life and habits.) But it is clear that the remoteness of this district, with its tribal peoples and Arcadian landscapes, its demanding quotidian and seasonal agricultural rhythms, which may have helped slow development, have also conserved much to be admired.

I experience an almost vertiginous sense, for example, of being in the presence of a whole society that appears to be living within its means—a self-sufficient community of shared values and real, if basic, social security. The sheer lack of visible ‘stuff’’, and the local capacity for delayed gratification, enlivened me.

In stark opposition to the workaday minimalism here is the abundance of ‘natural capital’ viewed at every turn—the animals, of course—including cows, heifers, bullocks, bull calves and chickens and chicks in addition to goats and kids—but also the forests and waterways, the grasses and fields of paddy rice and rice straw. Communities here are managing a sustained, and sustainable, extraction of the natural resources they have at hand. (How many other societies can say the same?) And then there is the attraction of the great complexity underlying the ‘simple’ mixed crop-and-animal farming systems these communities are practicing.

As Bipti Mahanta tells us of her daily schedule, it’s clear that life’s pleasures come in the form of a morning spent out in the open, watching over her animals (free to move and converse with whomever she wants, says Mahanta proudly); a cool bath and nap back in the homestead after the morning’s fieldwork; the daily ceremony of a family midday meal of ‘rice water’; the arrival of a new-born (animal or human); and major events marking generational passage of one kind or another, always celebrated communally.

This is a community—a kind of ‘homeschooled’ culture—that works on many levels. The measured perspectives as well as ambitions within Mayurbhanj’s goat-producing communities and foodsheds tend to be dealt with sensitively as well as rationally. Maybe some reverse engineering would be in order for the rest of us, I think, to find our way back to ways of communal life that work.

Things of course are not at a standstill in Mayurbhanj: The ‘self-improvement’ gene of humanity is expressed here, as everywhere. But with living standards low (by most standards), few get-rich-quick schemes or great expectations are likely to survive. But—again ‘but’—while the district’s unremarkable economic prospects are likely to thwart the hopes and dreams of some young people for ‘the finer things of life’, I can’t help but think that many aspects of ‘the good life’ are already in their possession.

Such imagined realities, or pastoral illusions, of mine are as dangerous as they are presumptive, of course. The material privations here are real enough, and poverty, as well as the more restrictive mores of traditional life, here as everywhere can inflict pernicious, corrupting and enduring damage on individuals and societies alike. But I find it impossible to forgo the temptation to consider the benefits that would accrue from engaging Mayurbhanj’s political and economic as well as natural, social and human capital for ‘greater good’.

For example, while living frugally, with basic amenities and certainly within no feminist utopia, the tribal cultures of this eastern state seem to have achieved something exceptional. In Mahanta’s voice and stories, in her eyes, stance and walk, I saw qualities rare in women of any culture or country—a confident sense of her own purpose and usefulness, for example, a pride in her independence, and a freedom to operate—to exercise agency.

Perhaps this is one of those things that the scheduled tribes can teach the Brahmin, Karan and Kshatriya members of India’s ‘general group’, the country’s disadvantaged ‘other backward classes’ and ‘scheduled castes’—and all the rest of us.

Animal husbandry
The second thing hard to portray in this report is the unusual level of animal husbandry practiced by Mayurbhanj’s tribal people. The human care on display everywhere for goats and other animal stock is exceptional, actually tender as well as responsible. (Should I ever come back to life, I decided, I could do no better than to do so as a Mayurbhanj goat.) After a morning spent freely grazing rice and natural fields, the goats are brought back to the homestead, where the adult animals are lightly tethered and rest comfortably in the shade of the household’s inner courtyard, with their kids running about, free to frolic or to nibble on the green shoots of fresh fodder brought back from the forest that morning.

Odisha_GoatWithChicks_Cropped

Two young chicks position themselves on the back of one of the household’s placid black Bengal goats for a grooming session (photo credit: ILRI/Susan MacMillan).

The goats are raised alongside cattle and chickens, with chicks climbing on the backs and heads of the goats, calves taking comfort from lying next to she-goats, and the (human) family members going about their daily chores and business, which include the business of tending to the needs of all these animals with which they share their homes (this being more ‘courtyard’ than ‘barnyard biodiversity’.)

Living so intimately with their living food animals, these tribal families are exemplars of modestly enterprising and enabling pastoral traditions. While the economic prospects here do not (yet) loom large, one senses something else, some ecosystem/human system integrity, some agricultural algorithms of enduring value, at work.

Perhaps, I think, the care these communities invest in their farm animals has a corollary in the dignity shown by their women folk.

Odisha_65-Year-OldFarmer

Mayurbhanj goat keeper Dinabandhu Maharta (photo credit: ILRI/Susan MacMillan).

Later, in the afternoon, we visit Ankura village and the farmhouse of Dinabandhu Maharta, a 65-year-old farmer and the other six family members of his household. They farm 2.5 acres of land, which support 29 goats, 38 chickens, 3 cows, 5 bullocks and 1 calf. Maharta takes his goats out for grazing for 6 hours each day and collects wood and animal fodder to carry home from the forest twice each day. Everyone in his household helps look after the goats and other livestock. He has sold no goats in the last 4 years because he needed to slaughter 28 of them over the 4-year period to feed guests at weddings of his son and daughter. He said that the selling price of these goats in total would be about Indian rupees 200,000–250,000 (USD3,000–3,758).

Maharta’s cows each produce about 1 kilo of milk a day. In recent years, he says he has seen improvements in veterinary medicines (including worm treatments) and vaccinations available in his area. And he says that his economic standing has improved with the greater number of animals he and his family are raising, some modernization of his farming practices, and the incomes generated by his two sons, one of whom works as a salaried auto mechanic. In addition, an increased availability of improved seed, fertilizer and pesticide has helped him to increase his paddy yields by 3–4 times, from 3 to 10 quintals (a quintal equals 100 kilograms).

Odisha_ManWithGoat_Cropped

Mayurbhanj goat keeper Judhistear Maharta (photo credit: ILRI/Susan MacMillan).

Still later in the afternoon, we stopped at another farm household, headed by 48-year-old Judhistear Maharta with his wife and their three children. This household keeps 39 goats, 1 cow and 4 bullocks on 6 acres of farmland. Maharta’s family has reared goats for the last 15 years. He sold one goat last year for Indian rupees 12,000 (USD180) and slaughtered another four for his son’s wedding celebrations. In years previously, he sold 3 goats for a total of Indian rupees 30,000 (USD451). He said his fields produced 18 quintals (1,800 kilograms) of rice the previous year and his family also grows onion, garlic and other vegetables.

Note on Odiya foodie culture

Odisha_GoatDisguisedAsMutton

Odisha lunch (photo credit: ILRI/Susan MacMillan).

The ‘foodie culture’ of the Odiya people of India’s Odisha State is on display at a small popular restaurant in Odisha’s capital, Bhubaneswar, which serves, according the the menu, ‘Goat with masala gravy’ (‘Mansa kassa/Tarkari’), listed as costing Indian rupees 170 per serving and consisting of ‘tender mutton chunks cooked in thick Oriya gravy’. Except that, as most people here understand and my colleague Braja Swain explained, the meat in this dish is not from a sheep but from the black Bengal goat. I never got to the bottom of this discrepancy, except to understand (loosely) that mutton is somehow more acceptable than goat meat, even when served in a modest fast-paced restaurant frequented by locals. On the recommendation (read ‘strong recommendation’) from Swain, I ordered this ‘goat disguised as lamb’ dish—and, yes, I found it to be just as delicious as he advertised.

Read previous parts in this blog series
‘Curds and goats, lives and livelihoods—A dozen stories from northern and eastern India’

Part 1, Colourful convocation: Jimmy Smith addresses graduates of India’s prestigious National Dairy Research Institute, 30 Mar 2016.

Part 2: Elite buffaloes and other exemplars of advanced Indian dairy science at the National Dairy Research Institute, 31 Mar 2016.

Part 3: Culture of the cow: Curds in the city—Better living through smallholder dairying in northern India, 5 Apr 2016.

Part 4: Building better brands and lives through peri-urban dairying and smart crop-dairy farming, 6 Apr 2016

Part 5: Wonder women of Bhubaneswar, 12 Apr 2016.

View all photos of the ILRI delegation in Bhubaneswar: ILRI Flickr album.

Read more about ILRI’s work in Odisha:
Goat business is big business in India’s Odisha State—Bishnupada Sethi, 23 Feb 2016.
Indian farmers in Odisha, on the Bay of Bengal, face fodder crisis: Using crop ‘wastes’ as feed is one solution, 28 Aug 2015

Note:
On 8 Mar 2016, ILRI Director General Jimmy Smith, his wife Charmaine Smith, ILRI Representative in South Asia Alok Jha, and ILRI research project leader Braja Swain paid courtesy calls on senior government and university officials in Bhubaneswar, the capital of India’s eastern state of Odisha. The ILRI delegation met with the Chief Secretary, AP Padhi, and the Secretary for Odisha’s Fisheries and Animal Resources Development (F&ARD) Department, Bishnupada Sethi, to discuss the state of the livestock sector in Odisha and contributions ILRI could make in improving the lives of farmers dependent on livestock.

ILRI has recently submitted a proposal on ‘Feed and Fodder Production in Different Agro-climatic Zones and Utilization for Livestock of Odisha’ to F&ARD’s Directorate of Animal Husbandry and Veterinary Services (DAH&VS).

ILRI has been working in Odisha since 2013 in collaboration with Odisha University of Agriculture and Technology (OUAT), the Orissa State Cooperative Milk Producers’ Federation (OMFED) and the state government’s DAH&VS and F&ARD to improve the state’s livestock productivity through better use of crop residues and locally sourced feed supplements within the framework of the CGIAR Cereal Systems Initiatives for South Asia (CSISA).

An international workshop on Improving Livestock Feeding Practice and Enhancement of Feed and Fodder Availability in Odisha was organized jointly by the Society for Management of Information, Learning and Extension (SMILE) and ILRI in 2015.

Based on the workshop’s recommendations, Odisha’s F&ARD Department is recommending the preparation of a comprehensive fodder development plan for Odisha.

Read more about ILRI work in India and work in India conducted by the ILRI-led multi-institutional CGIAR Research Program on Livestock and Fish, which works to improve the livelihoods of India’s smallholder dairy farmers by increasing participation of poor producers, processors and sellers in the country’s dairy value chains, improving access to markets by poor dairy producers and training small-scale dairy producers in more efficient production methods.


Agricultural research, rural poverty and climate change—(Some of) the weakest links

DerconAndHowden_Collage

Stefan Dercon (left) and Mark Howden (right) presenting at the ISPC Science Forum 2016 (picture credit: ILRI/Susan MacMillan). 

We’ve been a bit quiet recently on the ILRI blog front as we focused on covering the Science Forum 2016 organized by the Independent Science and Partnership Council (ISPC) of CGIAR, held in Addis Ababa, Ethiopia, 12–14 Mar 2016.

Below are links to a couple of the more challenging presentations.

BLOG REPORT
Knowledge workers at work: Agricultural scientists get down to brass tacks (and new pathways) for rural prosperity, 
3 May 2016.
Reporting on the responses by Stefan Dercon (links between agricultural research and rural poverty reduction) and Mark Howden (agricultural research and climate change) in a Q&A session that followed their presentations in the day 1 opening plenary session, on 12 Mar. Dercon is a development economist at Oxford University working for the UK’s Department for International Development (DFID). Howden is a climate change scientist at the Australian National University serving on the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC).

Excerpts:
‘In their uncompromising, tough-love scientific stump speeches, both Dercon and Howden argued for a kind of ‘intelligent design’, if you will, a back-to-basics path that blurs boundaries and dispenses with knee-jerk disciplinary biases and hit-and-run science projects to address the seemingly impossible agricultural deliverables promised by this group as well as, of course, the crushing complexities and power asymmetries facing the two billion people the group works to benefit.

‘While both speakers are obviously data-literate and data-driven, they both appeared to view research ‘business as usual’ as a ‘clear and present danger’. Dercon’s cheerful indignation at the lack of coherent syntheses for real-world policymaking, and Howden’s sympathetic understanding of farmer resistance to climate change rhetoric, were tonic. Dercon’s deconstruction of the evidence linking agricultural research and rural prosperity may have caused some concern within this elite conference group, but such discomfort is rather the norm in mission-oriented scientific circles, where the disputatious, and the original, have honoured places.

‘Both speakers focused on the importance of raising the capacity of agricultural research to enhance decision-making—by policymakers in the case of Dercon and by farming communities in the case of Howden. Interestingly, neither speaker focused on increasing agricultural research impacts per se, but rather on how agricultural research can support other communities (aid workers, food producers) in making the most appropriate decisions. . . .’

If you like the full article above, read the whole article and the other articles below.

BLOG REPORT
Rethinking pathways for rural prosperity: The agricultural challenge 
by Stefan Dercon13 Apr 2016.
Reporting on Dercon’s day 1 plenary talk on agricultural research and poverty reduction.

+ SLIDE PRESENTATION for Dercon’s talk: Does agricultural research reduce poverty?
VIDEO OF PLENARY TALK (23 minutes) by Dercon is here in full (watch from 35:42 till 58:20 minutes).

BLOG REPORT
The changing, real-world, climate change challenge for agricultural researchers
by Mark Howden27 Apr 2016.
Reporting on Howden’s day 1 plenary talk on agricultural research and climate change.

+ SLIDE PRESENTATION for Howden’s talk: Challenges ahead as a result of climate change
VIDEO OF PLENARY TALK (17 minutes) by Howden is here in full (watch from 4:30 till 21:55 minutes).

More
Be sure also to check out all 15 good short video interviews as well as blog articles (see full list below) from the Science Forum:

03 May
Knowledge workers at work: Agricultural scientists get down to brass tacks (and new pathways) for rural prosperity (Stefan Dercon and Mark Howden day 1 Q&A)

28 Apr
Holistic research embedded in development processes and strong partnerships key to sustainable agriculture in Africa (day 2 breakout session)

27 Apr
The changing, real-world, climate change challenge for agricultural researchers (Mark Howden day 1 plenary talk)

26 Apr
Increase research investment: Karen Brooks on priorities for rural prosperity (video interview)

25 Apr
Closing gender gaps in control over assets for lasting development outcomes (Ruth Meinzen-Dick day 1 plenary talk)

22 Apr
Interdisciplinary teams and delivery linkages: Gebisa Ejeta on research pathways to rural prosperity (video interview)

21 Apr
Not by agriculture alone: Segenet Kelemu on research priorities for rural prosperity (video interview)

20 Apr
Work along value chains: Victor Manyong on research pathways and priorities (video interview)

18 Apr
Pathways to rural prosperity: Priorities for agricultural research (day 3 plenary panel discussion chaired by Doug Gollin, of the University of Oxford and the CGIAR Standing Panel on Impact Assessment; ILRI’s director general, Jimmy Smith, was a panel member)

14 Apr
Human and institutional capacity development for rural prosperity, a question of survival (day 2 panel discussion)

13 Apr
Improving the impact of international staple crop research on poverty reduction (day 1 breakout session)

13 Apr
Rethinking pathways for rural prosperity: The agricultural challenge (Stefan Dercon day 1 plenary talk)

12 Apr
No single magic bullet for rural prosperity: Interactions between agricultural research and the economy (day 1 breakout session)

12 Apr
Science Forum day 1—Presentations set the scene on poverty, gender and climate change (links to Stefan Dercon, Ruth Meinzen-Dick and Mark Howden day 1 plenary slide presentations)

11 Apr
Agricultural research pathways, partnerships and priorities for rural prosperity: Maggie Gill interview (video)

For more information and materials, check out the main portal for the ISPC Science Forum 2016.

With thanks to the 20 communications staff, scientists and students from CGIAR centres and partner institutions who provided facilitation, blogging, tweeting, photography and video support to the Science Forum 2016.


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