News from ILRI

Reducing human exposure to aflatoxins in poor countries: Towards new technologies and practices


ILRI graduate fellow Taishi Kayano, from Rakuno Gakuen University, collects milk samples from a Kenya dairy farmer as part of a scoping survey of aflatoxins in the feed-dairy chain in Kenya (photo credit: ILRI/Taishi Kayano).

A new paper describes and assesses the strength of a theory of change for how adoption of farm-level technologies and practices for aflatoxin mitigation can help reduce aflatoxin exposure among consumers.

‘Aflatoxins, naturally occurring fungal toxins that contaminate maize and groundnuts and other crops, pose both acute and chronic risks to human health. Aflatoxins are odourless and colourless and impossible to detect accurately without appropriate testing technologies. Both humans and animals are affected, and there is an additional risk of aflatoxin transmission through animal-source foods, especially milk, from animals fed contaminated feed.

‘Consumption of very high levels of aflatoxins can result in acute illness and death. Chronic exposure, which causes the greater human health burden, is a problem in low-income populations in the tropics that consume relatively large quantities of staple crops prone to aflatoxin contamination. The best-documented health impact of chronic exposure to aflatoxins is liver cancer; up to 172,000 cases per year are attributable to aflatoxin exposure. Other health effects, such as immune suppression and child stunting, have also been associated with aflatoxin exposure.

‘While the health impacts of aflatoxin in humans have been widely studied, the correlations between dietary consumption, serum aflatoxin levels, and morbidity and mortality outcomes have not been clearly described or documented. More evidence on these relationships is needed in order to assess the disease burden from aflatoxin exposure relative to other public health problems, and to estimate the cost-effectiveness of alternative mitigation options in developing-country contexts.

‘In addition to the health consequences, the presence of aflatoxins can reduce agricultural productivity and limit the growth of commercial markets and trade. In developed countries, strict standards are enforced to minimize aflatoxins on crops consumed by humans or animals. These standards have implications for market access and exports from Africa and other regions where aflatoxin contamination is common and where standards are not currently in place or enforced. Where aflatoxins are widespread and the costs of mitigation and testing are high, meeting standards remains challenging. Quality differentiation based on either market rewards or public standards is still unusual in most developing countries. Innovative approaches that combine technological and institutional change with increased education and consumer awareness are likely to be required to address this challenge in the near term. Within agriculture, research has focused on developing farm-level technologies and practices that mitigate aflatoxins at their source, in farmers’ fields.

‘Pre- and post-harvest technologies have been shown to be effective in terms of inhibiting aflatoxin contamination, in many cases to within international standards. Application of proven and existing “good agricultural practices” in production and post-harvest (for example, drying and storage) can also reduce aflatoxin contamination. However, studies have found that knowledge and awareness about aflatoxins is generally low, as is use of risk-reducing practices, among smallholder farmers and other stakeholders, particularly along the maize, groundnut, and milk value chains.

‘More work is needed on developing, adapting, and promoting risk-mitigating technologies and strategies and on understanding the incentives for and barriers to their widespread adoption. Because of the complex, multifaceted nature of the aflatoxin challenge, it is important to look at specific solutions such as agricultural technologies in the broader context of how they are expected to contribute not just to reducing on-farm aflatoxin contamination but also to achievement of the ultimate goals of food and nutrition security, economic development, and public health. To date, little attention has been paid to how adoption of these technologies would influence health outcomes. A win-win situation is often assumed; however, the link between agricultural technology adoption and public health outcomes is complex, especially where markets are important for producers and consumers, and the risk of unintended negative consequences may be significant.

‘Developing a theory of change that articulates how the adoption of these technologies is expected to contribute to better health outcomes is a useful way to make explicit and examine causal models, build a shared understanding of the potential for impact, and plan and monitor progress. While typically used in the context of specific projects or interventions, a theory of change is also useful in research for development, to synthesize existing information and experience regarding how the pathways work in specific contexts and identify gaps and priority areas for future research or related activities. . . .’

Read the whole theory of change analysis—IFPRI Discussion Paper 01452, July 2015: The potential of farm-level technologies and practices to contribute to reducing consumer exposure to aflatoxins: A theory of change analysis, by Nancy Johnson, of the CGIAR Research Program on Agriculture for Nutrition and Health (A4NH) at the International Food Policy Research Institute (IFPRI); Christine Atherstone, ILRI consultant; and Delia Grace, leader of the agriculture-associated diseases flagship of A4NH and of ILRI’s Food Safety and Zoonosis program.

More CGIAR information on aflatoxins

View an ILRI infographic: Aflatoxin: A fungal toxin affecting the food chain

View an ILRI poster: Levels of aflatoxins in the Kenyan dairy value chain: How can we assess the economic impact?, Oct 2013

Read previous articles about this event:
Aflatoxins in Kenya’s food chain: Overview of what researchers are doing to combat the threat to public health, 6 May 2014
‘Bio-control’=effective control of aflatoxins poisoning Kenya’s staple food crops, 13 Feb 2014
Dairy feed project to reduce aflatoxin contamination in Kenya’s milk, 11 Feb 2014
Australia-funded research fights aflatoxin contamination in East African foods, 6 Feb 2014

Read an ILRI News Blog article introducing a 6-minute film interview of five panelists at the media roundtable on aflatoxins in Kenya: Reducing aflatoxins in Kenya’s food chains: Filmed highlights from an ILRI media briefing, 19 Dec 2013

Read an ILRI News blog article introducing a 6-minute ILRI film interview of John McDermott (IFPRI) and Delia Grace (ILRI), who lead research on aflatoxins for A4NH: Fighting aflatoxins: CGIAR scientists Delia Grace and John McDermott describe the disease threats and options for better control, 8 Nov 2013

Read more about the 19 IFPRI aflatoxin briefs released in Nov 2013:

Read the whole publication: Aflatoxins: Finding solutions for improved food safety, edited by Laurian Unnevehr and Delia Grace

Download Table of Contents and Introduction
1. Tackling Aflatoxins: An Overview of Challenges and Solutions by Laurian Unnevehr and Delia Grace
2. Aflatoxicosis: Evidence from Kenya by Abigael Obura
3. Aflatoxin Exposure and Chronic Human Diseases: Estimates of Burden of Disease by Felicia Wu
4. Child Stunting and Aflatoxins by Jef L Leroy
5. Animals and Aflatoxins by Delia Grace
6. Managing Mycotoxin Risks in the Food Industry: The Global Food Security Link by David Crean
7. Farmer Perceptions of Aflatoxins: Implications for Intervention in Kenya by Sophie Walker and Bryn Davies
8. Market-led Aflatoxin Interventions: Smallholder Groundnut Value Chains in Malawi by Andrew Emmott
9. Aflatoxin Management in the World Food Programme through P4P Local Procurement by Stéphane Méaux, Eleni Pantiora and Sheryl Schneider
10. Reducing Aflatoxins in Africa’s Crops: Experiences from the Aflacontrol Project by Clare Narrod
11. Cost-Effectiveness of Interventions to Reduce Aflatoxin Risk by Felicia Wu
12. Trade Impacts of Aflatoxin Standards by Devesh Roy
13. Codex Standards: A Global Tool for Aflatoxin Management by Renata Clarke and Vittorio Fattori
14. The Role of Risk Assessment in Guiding Aflatoxin Policy by Delia Grace and Laurian Unnevehr
15. Mobilizing Political Support: Partnership for Aflatoxin Control in Africa by Amare Ayalew, Wezi Chunga and Winta Sintayehu
16. Biological Controls for Aflatoxin Reduction by Ranajit Bandyopadhyay and Peter J Cotty
17. Managing Aflatoxin Contamination of Maize: Developing Host Resistance by George Mahuku, Marilyn L Warburton, Dan Makumbi and Felix San Vicente
18. Reducing Aflatoxins in Groundnuts through Integrated Management and Biocontrol by Farid Waliyar, Moses Osiru, Hari Kishan Sudini and Samuel Njoroge
19. Improving Diagnostics for Aflatoxin Detection by Jagger Harvey, Benoit Gnonlonfin, Mary Fletcher, Glen Fox, Stephen Trowell, Amalia Berna, Rebecca Nelson and Ross Darnell

It’s showtime: ILRI’s series of ‘Hard Talk’ science interviews by Brian Perry

 Brian Perry interviews Mario Herrero

Brian Perry (left) interviews Mario Herrero in a ‘hard talk’ series at ILRI’s annual program meeting in 2006 in Nairobi (photo credit: ILRI).

Several years ago, staff of the International Livestock Research Institute (ILRI) innovated ways to enliven their annual program meetings (aka, death by research powerpoint). One of the ways ILRI shook things up was to ring a (cow) bell a couple of times a day to let everyone know to circle round two stools to watch and listen to another of a series of  ‘hard talk’ interviews of an ILRI staff member (and usually a senior one) by ILRI veterinary epidemiologist Brian Perry. The interviewees usually squirmed under Perry’s probing and at time ‘take no prisoners’ queries on topical issues. (A novel trick of the dapper interviewer to distract and/or unsettle his subjects was to sport a flower in his lapel buttonhole and socks of wildly diverse and vibrant hues.)

Here, for your pleasure, are collected all the short filmed Hard Talk interviews conducted by Perry at ILRI’s annual meetings.

ILRI 2006 Annual Program Meeting

Finance and human resources director BRIGITTE LAUDE on human resources at ILRI:

Biosciences director ED REGE and special assistant to the director general GABRIELLE PERSLEY on ILRI’s Bioscience for eastern and central Africa (BecA):

Deputy director general–research JOHN MCDERMOTT on scientific leadership at ILRI:

ILRI out-posted staff IHEANACHO OKIKE (Nigeria), SIBONISO MOYO (Mozambique), EDWIN PEREZ (Latin America) and LUCY LAPAR (Vietnam):

Climate change and sustainable livestock futures specialist MARIO HERRERO on systems analysis:

ILRI 2007 Annual Program Meeting

Landscape ecologist ROBIN REID on Livestock’s Long Shadow, report of a study by the United Nations Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO), exploring the broader implications of the report:, 2007

Veterinary epidemiologists JEFF MARINER and DELIA GRACE on interesting facts and controversies of the world’s livestock plagues:, 2007

Director general CARLOS SERÉ and deputy director general–research JOHN MCDERMOTT on the continuing globalization of ILRI:, 2007

Valedictory lecture by BRIAN PERRY providing anecdotes and comments on some of the personalities at ILRI and its predecessors, the International Laboratory for Research on Animal Diseases (ILRAD) and the International Livestock Centre for Africa (ILCA), over the years.:, 2007

ILRI 2011 ‘Livestock Exchange’ Conference

SEGENET KELEMU, director of the ILRI-Biosciences eastern and central Africa Hub:

Director general JIMMY SMITH, vaccine developer VISH NENE, food safety and zoonoses expert DELIA GRACE, BecA director APPOLINAIRE DJIKENG, livestock disease expert BERNARD BETT on livestock and human health research:

Incoming director general JIMMY SMITH

Departing director general CARLOS SERÉ

ILRI@40 2014 Addis Conference


Director general JIMMY SMITH and former director generals CARLOS SERÉ and HANK FITZHUGH

Training in how to interview scientists

If you like these interviews, you’ll like these filmed recommendations from Perry (some of them self-confessed ‘naughty’) on how to interview scientists:


You’ll find all of Perry’s ILRI hard talk interviews over the years here:

Happy viewing!

Designing practical ways to help the urban poor make choices that improve their nutrition


Paula Dominguez-Salas, above, is an ILRI post-doctoral student researching gender and nutrition issues in Nairobi slums (photo credit: ILRI).

Written by Paula Dominguez-Salas

To improve interventions in food systems of the urban poor, scientists at the International Livestock Research Institute (ILRI) are investigating urban food and nutritional choices in two slums in Nairobi, Kenya. Their aim is to develop interventions that help people make food choices that improve their nutrition while staying within their low household food budgets and access.

Access to healthy diets is at the heart of good nutrition and the achievement of the UN’s Sustainable Development Goals. Foods of animal origin are the only source of vitamin B12 and have good quality protein, preformed vitamin A, highly bioavailable iron, and zinc, in addition to good profiles in other micronutrients. Animal-source foods are therefore good nutrient-dense products. Consumption of even small amounts of milk, meat and egg is particularly valuable for people who subsist largely on cheap, starchy diets with little diversity.

Most of the world’s population is now urban but critically dependent on food produced in rural areas. We studied animal-source food value chains in two slums of Nairobi, Kenya, where both stunting and anaemia rates are very high—in our study areas 42% and 74% of children, respectively. We found low-income urban households on average spend 38% of their income on meat, milk, fish and eggs, of which 48% is spent on dairy products.

We used linear programming (in Optifood, a specialized software package) to explore how, staying within low food budgets and food access, people’s choices could increase their intake of critical nutrients. On current diets, women’s iron intake was found to be less than one-third of their requirements. With the linear programming, adding vegetables or dairy did not increase it much, but consumption of locally available meat and fish products seemed to double the iron intake.

Combining data on the availability, affordability, accessibility and preferences for animal-source foods contributes to a better understanding of the upscaling potential of each of these foods.

Milk was the most consumed animal-source food: 98.5% of the poor households consume milk an average of 5.5 times a week.

Demand for beef was the least sensitive to changes in its price and its supply chain had limited expansion potential, making beef a less attractive target than other animal-source foods for interventions aiming to serve Nairobi’s low-income communities. Demand for chicken was more responsive to changes in its price while its supply chains could be expanded quickly.

Consumption was often based on ‘taste’ and ‘nutrition’, while reasons not to consume animal-source foods also included ‘tradition’ and ‘hygiene perception’, indicating a potential role for nutrition education.

Such integrated assessments, combining nutrition, food safety and economic information, can help us design practical ways to improve urban diets with available, safe and accessible food.

This project is funded by the CGIAR Research Program on Agriculture for Nutrition and Health, which is led by the International Food Policy Research Institute.

Find out about ILRI’s Food Safety and Zoonoses program and visit its AgHealth blog.

UK chief scientific adviser visits Kenya: Part 4—Development of a field-friendly diagnostic test for MERS

Joerg Jores with Sir Mark Walport

Joerg Jores (right) gives Sir Mark Walport, UK chief scientific adviser, an overview of work to develop a field-friendly diagnostic test for Middle East respiratory syndrome (photo credit: ILRI/Paul Karaimu).

Among short presentations made to Sir Mark Walport, the UK chief scientific adviser, on his 15 Jul 2015 tour of the biosciences laboratories at the International Livestock Research Institute (ILRI), in Nairobi, Kenya, was one by Joerg Jores, a molecular biologist working to better control important livestock diseases of Africa and other developing regions. Jores is a senior scientist in ILRI’s Vaccine Biosciences program whose work supports the CGIAR Research Program on Livestock and Fish.

Northeastern Kenya 10

Camels in northern Kenya (photo credit: IRIN photos).

In 2012, a novel coronavirus called Middle East Respiratory Syndrome (MERS)-CoV emerged in the Arabian Peninsula. Human cases have been reported from 25 countries, with the most recent outbreak in the Republic of Korea.

MERS-CoV has caused at least 1,200 severe cases of respiratory infection and more than 400 deaths.

Several studies have shown that dromedary camels can act as a source of human MERS- CoV infection. However, although the animal reservoir has been identified, the route of infection and types of exposure remain largely unknown.

ILRI and collaborators have shown that camels in eastern Africa have been infected with MERS-CoV since the 1980s.

MERS-CoV is an important zoonotic pathogen that might pose a risk to pastoral communities and other consumers of camel milk and other raw camel products. Furthermore, other potential sources of infection, such as camel faeces and nasal discharge, need to be characterized. However, pathogens like these are likely to be under-reported in many African countries, where sufficient diagnostic lab networks and courier services are rare.

One of ILRI’s current objectives is to develop and validate field-applicable diagnostic tests based on recombinase polymerase amplification for MERS-CoV.

Read more about ILRI research on MERS: New studies on MERS coronavirus and camels in eastern Africa published, 28 Aug 2014.

UK chief scientific adviser visits Kenya: Part 3—The dual rise of the global livestock sector and antimicrobial resistance

Tim Robinson gives an overview of ILRI antimicrobial use in farm animals

Tim Robinson gives Sir Mark Walport, UK chief scientific adviser, an overview of current research on the role of livestock production systems in antimicrobial resistance (photo credit: ILRI/Susan MacMillan).

The second of two scientists to make a short presentation to Sir Mark Walport, the UK chief scientific adviser, on his 15 Jul 2015 visit to the International Livestock Research Institute (ILRI), in Nairobi, Kenya, was Tim Robinson, a livestock and spatial analysis expert. Robinson is a senior scientist in ILRI’s Livestock Systems and Environment program and ILRI’s focal point for the CGIAR Research Program on the Humidtropics.

Antimicrobial-resistant infections currently claim at least 50,000 lives each year across Europe and the USA alone, with many hundreds of thousands more dying in other areas of the world.

One of the major public health challenges this century, Robinson said, is the development in many important pathogenic organisms of resistance to antimicrobials. Beyond the abuse of antibiotics in medicine (i.e., when antibiotics are prescribed and taken indiscriminately), the burgeoning consumption of antimicrobials in intensive agricultural production, where the drugs are used to treat and prevent disease and to promote animal growth, is exacerbating this problem.

In the USA, 80% of antimicrobial sales are in the agricultural sector; China’s livestock industry by itself could soon be consuming almost one-third of the world’s available antibiotics.

A research paper by Robinson and others published earlier this year in the US Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences conservatively estimated that from 2010 to 2030 global consumption of antimicrobials in livestock production will increase by 67% (from 63,151 to 105,596 tons per year) and nearly double in the ‘BRICS’ countries (Brazil, Russia, India, China and South Africa).


Furthermore, the results of a study commissioned by the UK’s Department for International Development (DFID) this year conducted by ILRI veterinary epidemiologist Delia Grace—as well as ILRI’s own observations in Ethiopia, India, Kenya, Uganda and Vietnam—suggest that these figures considerably under-estimate actual consumption in developing countries, which face the dual problem of lack of access to antimicrobials among smallholder farmers, who need the drugs to control their livestock diseases, and over-use in the intensive agricultural sector.

To help address these problems, ILRI is collaborating with scientists at the UK universities of Edinburgh, Liverpool and Oxford and other international organizations to generate harder evidence to inform relevant policymakers and multi-stakeholder platforms. These collaborations are investigating the following:

  • the current and projected antimicrobial use in different agricultural sectors under different growth scenarios
  • the links between antimicrobial use on the farm and antimicrobial resistance in the clinic
  • the biological and economic consequences of interventions to reduce the contribution of antimicrobials in agriculture to the development of antimicrobial resistance in the pathogens that threaten human health

Watch Robinson’s slide presentation below.

Read further about Tim Robinson’s paper: First global map of the rising use of antimicrobial drugs in farm animals published in PNAS, 25 Mar 2015.

Read further about the DFID-commissioned study by Delia Grace: The rise of antimicrobial resistance (lethal) and animal agriculture (critical): Their links in developing countries, ILRI News Blog, 18 Jun 2015.

UK chief scientific adviser visits Kenya: Part 2—’One Health’ surveillance of infectious livestock-to-human diseases


Eric Fevre gives an overview of his UK-Kenya livestock and human health projects

Eric Fèvre gives Sir Mark Walport, UK chief scientific adviser, an overview of his UK-Kenya livestock and human health projects (photo credit: ILRI/Susan MacMillan).

One-Health approaches to battling diseases spread to people by animals
The first scientist of two scientists to make a short presentation to Sir Mark Walport, the UK chief scientific adviser, on his 15 Jul 2015 visit to the International Livestock Research Institute (ILRI), in Nairobi, Kenya, was Eric Fèvre, a veterinary epidemiologist and joint appointee at ILRI and the Institute of Infection and Global Health at the University of Liverpool. Fèvre manages several field-oriented research projects on neglected zoonoses on behalf of the CGIAR Research Program on Agriculture for Nutrition and Health.

Zoonotic diseases, which are transmitted between animals and people, have cost global economies more than USD20 billion in direct costs over the past decade, with a further USD200 billion in indirect costs.

Fèvre explained that human population growth, rising demand for meat and dairy products and climate change are driving a rapid transformation in the nature of livestock production systems. ‘This poses a potential threat to human and animal health because many diseases can be passed from wild or domesticated animals to humans. Interventions to control these zoonoses require concerted action between the veterinary and human health sectors because they affect both people and animals.

The UK Biotechnology and Biological Sciences Research Council (BBSRC), the Department for International Development (DFID), the Defence Science and Technology Laboratory (Dstl), the Economic and Social Sciences Research Council (ESRC), the Medical Research Council (MRC) and the Natural Environment Research Council (NERC) have joined forces to fund a 5-year program of work in this area, including a ZooLinK project in Kenya based ILRI.

Zoonoses in Livestock in Kenya (ZooLINK)
Fèvre went on to introduce his ZooLinK project in Kenya. ‘Continuing changes to livestock production systems in Kenya and elsewhere to satisfy increased demand for livestock products affect the risk of zoonoses and other infectious diseases’, he said.

The most important changes are the commercialization and intensification of what was previously subsistence farming, changes in trading patterns (e.g. the distances that livestock and their products are transported) and changes in favoured breeds. There is pressing need for good surveillance of zoonoses in order to establish their true burden, how that is changing and to support control measures.

 Lab shot

One of the state-of-the-art laboratories at the Biosciences eastern and central Africa-ILRI Hub, which Sir Mark Walport visited (photo credit: ILRI/Susan MacMillan).

‘Researchers from the UK and Kenya are joining forces with Kenya government departments to provide evidence that an enhanced surveillance system can contribute to improving public health in a cost-effective manner. They will achieve this by increasing awareness of zoonoses, improving diagnostic support (including developing new diagnostic assays), enhancing the recording, storage, analysis, interpretation and sharing of data, and by bringing about closer integration between the human and animal health sectors.

‘During the five-year project, researchers working in western Kenya will closely monitor, model and optimize the enhanced surveillance system’s performance and under-take a comprehensive economic analysis of the activities. The evidence will contribute to a better understanding and anticipation of changes in zoonotic disease burdens and to recommendations for effective interventions.

The research will also provide a platform for Kenyan public and animal health workers to get hands-on training and to become familiar with a ‘One Health’ approach to disease surveillance, creating a cadre of individuals with first-hand experience of this way of working—leaving a lasting legacy in its own right.

Eric Fevre gives an overview of his UK-Kenya livestock and human health projects

Fèvre’s collaborators from the UK include the universities of Liverpool, Edinburgh and Nottingham and the Royal Veterinary College. The partners in Kenya include the Kenya Medical Research Institute (KEMRI) and the University of Nairobi as well as ILRI.

Watch the slide presentation below.

UK chief scientific adviser visits Kenya: Part 1—Legacy of British-ILRI partnerships in animal health research

Sir Mark Walport, UK chief science advisor

Sir Mark Walport, the UK chief scientific adviser, listens to ILRI researchers make presentations on international projects to improve livestock and human health in developing countries; Sir Mark visited ILRI’s headquarters in Nairobi, Kenya, and toured its state-of-the-art biosciences laboratories on 15 July 2015 (photo credit: ILRI/Paul Karaimu).

Longstanding ILRI-UK collaborations in animal health research
There has been a long-term, consistent and highly productive engagement between research institutions and funding bodies of the United Kingdom and the International Livestock Research Institute (ILRI) and its predecessors, the International Laboratory for Research on Animal Diseases (ILRAD) and the International Livestock Centre for Africa (ILCA).

In the area of animal health, this ILRI-UK engagement stretches back to the Britain’s support of early-phase basic research on African sleeping sickness, a wasting disease of ruminants, and East Coast fever, a commonly fatal disease of cattle that is similar to malaria and cancer. While vaccine-mediated control of sleeping sickness remains a global challenge, an improved live-parasite-based vaccine made by ILRI is being used to control East Coast fever. ILRI is helping the UK-based Global Alliance for Livestock Veterinary Medicines (GALVmed) to commercialize this product, which was initially developed over 40 years ago at the East African Veterinary Research Organization, the predecessor of the Kenya Agricultural Research Institute (now called the Kenya Agriculture and Livestock Research Organization [KALRO]), which also holds the distinction of being the institute that developed a tissue-culture vaccine that led to eradication of rinderpest.

Slide in presentation by Jimmy smith to UK chief scientific adviser

Slide from a presentation ILRI Director General Jimmy Smith made to UK Chief Scientific Adviser Sir Mark Walport on the latter’s visit to ILRI’s headquarters on 15 Jul 2015.

More recently, a multi-institutional research consortium led by ILRI and funded by the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation (BMGF), the Department for International Development (DFID) and the United States Agency for International Development (USAID)/United States Department of Agriculture–Agricultural Research Service (USDA-ARS) has begun working on development of a subunit vaccine to protect Africa’s cattle against East Coast fever. This consortium includes key collaborators from the University of Edinburgh and Oxford and the Royal Veterinary College.

ILRI’s vaccine platform, called ILVAC, also conducts research on other important livestock diseases, such as African swine fever, contagious bovine/caprine pleuropneumonia, peste des petits ruminants and Rift Valley fever. Because these diseases are already endemic in Kenya, ILRI’s animal health research can be carried out in Kenya under bio-containment regulations less stringent than those in the UK. ILRI’s enhanced Biosafety-Level 2 animal facilities have been used to support prototype vaccine trials for peste des petits ruminants and Rift Valley fever in collaboration with scientists at the UK’s Pirbright and Jenner institutes, respectively.

Jimmy Smith gives an overview of ILRI

ILRI director general Jimmy Smith (photo credit: ILRI/Susan MacMillan).

Jimmy Smith, director general of ILRI, welcomed Sir Mark Walport and provided him with an overview of ILRI’s global livestock-research-for-development agenda.

Smith explained that ILRI is one of 15 international agriculture research centres of the CGIAR Consortium and the only centre dedicated entirely to animal agriculture research for the developing world. In addition to its Nairobi headquarters, ILRI has a principal campus in Addis Ababa and regional or country offices offices in 20 other locations in Africa; South, Southeast and East Asia; and Latin America.

‘Drawn from 40 nationalities, ILRI has a work force of about 750 staff globally and operates on an annual budget of almost USD90 million. The institute works through extensive partnership arrangements with research and development institutions in both the developed and developing world.

ILRI’s research-for-development work ranges from laboratory-based biosciences (animal health, genetics and feeds) to field-based integrated sciences in the areas of animal productivity, food safety and zoonotic diseases (transmitted from animals to people), livestock and the environment, gender and livelihoods, and policy and markets. Capacity development is an important part of the institute’s mandate and cuts across all its research and development areas.

‘With the Africa Union/New Partnerships for Africa’s Development (AU/NEPAD), ILRI co-founded the Biosciences eastern and central Africa-ILRI Hub (BecA-ILRI Hub) on its Nairobi campus where world-class facilities for biotechnology research are in use by ILRI, other international as well as national research centres and partners. The platform increases access to world-class laboratories for African and international scientists conducting research on African agricultural challenges.

‘Sharing ILRI’s Nairobi campus are nodes of other CGIAR centres, including the International Potato Center (CIP), the International Institute of Tropical Agriculture (IITA), the International Rice Research Institute (IRRI) and the International Maize and Wheat Improvement Center (CIMMYT).’

CGIAR and ILRI research in Ethiopia showcased to Swiss Development Cooperation visitors

Members of the Swiss delegation and ILRI staff enjoy the local coffee (photo credit ILRI/Apollo Habtamu).

On 16 July 2015, a high-level delegation from Switzerland visited the International Livestock Research Institute’s (ILRI) campus in Ethiopia. The short visit aimed to give the Swiss visitors some insights into research taking place on the campus, by ILRI and other CGIAR centres.

Accompanying Swiss Agency for Development and Cooperation (SDC) Director-General, Ambassador Manuel Sager were Doris Fiala, Swiss parliamentarian and member of the Consultative Commission for International Cooperation to the Federal Council, Manuel Flury, Director of Cooperation, Embassy of Switzerland in Ethiopia, and Senait Regassa, Senior National Program Officer, SDC Addis Ababa.

The presentation was devised around a single storyline. Following a general introduction to the campus, the first project (on chicken genetics) was selected to illustrate how high-end genetics is partnering with the private sector to support improved rural livelihoods, especially of women. Keeping chickens healthy led into the work of the CGIAR Livestock and Fish research program on value chain transformation (of small ruminants in Ethiopia), including a focus on the better health of the livestock and of the people consuming sheep and goat products.

From ‘one health’ and food safety, the focus shifted to nutrition security and diet diversity as well as natural resources management and water. Scarcity of water and droughts led to key messages on livestock insurance for pastoralists and ended with the work of the Technical Consortium for Building Resilience to Drought in the Horn of Africa.

The subsequent question and answer phase zoomed in on issues of sustainability, insurance uptake, culture and psychology, ‘exit’ strategies and livestock’s environmental footprints.

See the presentation:

The Addis Ababa campus is a microcosm of the CGIAR at work – it is host to 11 CGIAR centres, ICIPE, the IFAD country office and the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation country/AU office. This physical co-location has led to substantial and unrivaled collaboration across CGIAR centres and research programs and with national partners. The campus close neighbours include the Ministry of Agriculture, the Ethiopian Institute of Agricultural Research, and the FAO sub-regional office.



UK Chief Scientific Advisor Sir Mark Walport to visit Nairobi and ILRI’s livestock laboratories this Wednesday, 15 July


Sir Mark Walport, chief scientific adviser to the British government.

The visit this week to Nairobi, Kenya, by Sir Mark Walport, Britain’s chief scientific advisor, comes as the Kenyan government commits new investment for science, technology and innovation as a key to economic growth. Kenya occupies a strong position in Africa’s research landscape; it is second only to South Africa in research and productivity and shows consistent rates of growth.

Sir Mark will visit the Global Alliance for Livestock Veterinary Medicines (GALVmed) offices on Tue 14 July. Part-funded by UKaid, GALVmed is a £70 million (approx Ksh11 billion) public-private partnership established to address the critical shortfall in livestock vaccines and medicines for animals. The visit will discuss GALVmed and partners’ market scale up of livestock vaccines and the regional engagement in Africa.

That same evening, 14 Jul, Sir Mark will host a talk and reception at the British High Commissioner’s Residence titled: ‘Evidence-based policy making—Linking government, academia and private sector’. The talk will centre on the role of science and research and higher education as keys to achieving economic growth for Kenya as it becomes a middle-income country. The reception will be the first major event where the British High Commission hosts UK partners in research and higher education. In attendance will be chancellors and vice chancellors of many of Kenya’s universities as well as high-level officials from the Ministry of Education, Science and Technology; the British Council; private-sector organizations with links to academia; and research funding organizations.

The following day, on Wednesday 15 Jul, Sir Mark will visit the Nairobi headquarters of the International Livestock Research Institute (ILRI), tour its state-of-the-art Biosciences eastern and central Africa-ILRI Hub laboratories, and have lunch and discussions with ILRI directors and scientists.

Sir Mark’s visit to ILRI will highlight the long-standing UK-Africa institutional collaborations that are critical in addressing some of the biggest challenges to Africa’s small-scale livestock production, Africa’s food security and Africa’s advanced agricultural research work. The UK, for example, provides ILRI, GALVmed and ILRI’s other partners with essential funding to develop and deploy vaccines against Africa’s most devastating livestock diseases. UKaid and research institutions also underpin ILRI-partner research to increase the productivity, efficiency and resilience of livestock-based farming and pastoral systems that are the mainstay of smallholder food production on this continent.

About Sir Mark Walport and the job of the Government Chief Scientific Adviser
Sir Mark Walport was appointed Government Chief Scientific Adviser (GCSA), and thus co-chair of the Prime Minister’s Council for Science and Technology, and Head of the Government Office for Science in April 2013.

Sir Mark’s previous career highlights include:

  • Director of the Wellcome Trust
  • Professor of medicine and head of the Division of Medicine at Imperial College London
  • Member of the India-UK CEO Forum and UK-India Round Table
  • Member of the advisory board of Infrastructure UK
  • Non-executive member of the Office for Strategic Coordination of Health Research
  • Knighthood in the 2009 New Year Honours List for services to medical research
  • Elected a Fellow of The Royal Society in 2011

The UK government’s chief scientific adviser is responsible for:

  • providing scientific advice to the UK prime minister and members of cabinet
  • advising the government on aspects of policy on science and technology
  • ensuring and improving the quality and use of scientific evidence and advice in government
  • leading the science and engineering profession within the civil service

ILRI will report further on this event on the day of Sir Mark’s visit to ILRI, Wed 15 Jul 2015.

See other news of Sir Mark’s visit:

Bloomberg: UK Government Chief Scientific Adviser to visit Nairobi, 13 Jul 2015.

Afrik News: UK Government Chief Scientific Adviser to visit Nairobi, 13 Jul 2015.



Kenya’s native goats and sheep, expertly crossbred, are key to helping farmers cope with climate change

Sustainable ruminant breeding programs for climate-smart villages

Sustainable small ruminant breeding is helping Kenyan farmers cope with climate change (photo credit: Solomon Kilungu/CCAFS).

By Julie Ojango (ILRI) and Vivian Atakos (CCAFS)

Smallholder farmers and pastoral herders in East Africa are the target of an ongoing joint project of the International Livestock Research Institute (ILRI), the Jomo Kenyatta University of Agriculture and Technology (JKUAT) and the CGIAR Research Program on Climate Change, Agriculture and Food Security (CCAFS). This project is working to improve the productivity of goats and sheep under changing climatic conditions.

‘Small ruminants are a route to better livelihoods in East Africa’, says Julie Ojango, an animal breeding scientist at ILRI. ‘Apart from poultry, goats and sheep are the only “livestock assets” over which women and youth tend to have control.’

Using participatory community approaches, the project aims to help farmers increase their small ruminant meat and milk production substantively and sustainably, thereby increasing their household incomes.

Okeyo Mwai, principal scientist in ILRI’s animal genetics and breeding group, says, ‘We’re providing East Africa’s poor farmers with native goats and sheep we’ve improved through crossbreeding rather than with exotic breeds, which are typical of many breed improvement programs.’

Nyando climate-smart villages

The small ruminants’ project for smallholder farming systems has been piloted in the Nyando climate-smart villages (CSVs) of western Kenya since 2014. Here, collective action in seven villages is helping smallholders integrate science approaches to address the effects of climate change and improve their food security.

The science approach focuses on improving local knowledge of climate risks, of variability in seasonal rainfall and of diseases and pests. With participatory testing of resilience-focused crop and livestock technologies generated by CGIAR scientists, and with training to refine local practices and improve planning for changing environmental conditions, farmers can better respond to a more variable climate while also increasing their food and economic security.

As part of this process, the project is hoping to develop and up-scale improved livestock breeding programs and strategies for use by farmers.

‘A lot of in-breeding between East African goats and sheep in the Nyando area has resulted in small animals that take long to mature and that fetch poor market prices’, said George Nandi, a livestock extension officer from Kenya’s Ministry of Agriculture, Livestock and Fisheries who works with the farmers in Nyando and the ILRI team.

The project researchers are now introducing Galla goats and red Maasai sheep crossed with higher producing exotic breeds. The researchers are also training farmers in improved animal husbandry practices and the importance of keeping good livestock breeding and related records.

Compared to either pure local or exotic breeds, the sheep and goats crosses being introduced here are better able to withstand heat stress and to recover from drought, better able to utilize poor forage and cope with diseases, and are able to attain mature market weights within shorter periods of time.

‘The red Maasai sheep have longer tails, which we like, and they also resist diseases and parasites’, said Stephen Matinde, a Nyando farmer. Currently, 35 red Maasai rams are being used for breeding across the Nyando site.

In 2011, ILRI successfully introduced improved red Maasai sheep, bred at ILRI’s Kapiti Ranch, in eastern Kenya, among pastoralists in Kajiado District, which experiences droughts and extreme weather events similar to Nyando. This introduction resulted in increased sheep raising among households in Isinya, Kajiado, and a new market for sheep milk in the district.

‘We’re already seeing improved growth from crosses of the introduced breeds and local animals’, says Ojango. The project is also focusing on improving ecosystem management and markets access for farmers in Nyando.

Experiences from the Nyando climate-smart villages featured, last week, in a documentary series by the France 24 news channel. You can watch the documentary here (from 12:25 minutes).

Also last week, some 3,000 scientists met in Paris ahead of the 21st Conference of Parties (COP21) of the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC.) The Our Common Future under Climate Change Conference offered opportunities to discuss livestock breeding and other options for enabling smallholder farmers both to adapt to climate change and to mitigate its harmful effects.

See related stories on the Nyando climate-smart villages project.

Climate-adaptation effort cuts hunger in African villages (Nature News Commentary)

Heat tolerant, tough teeth, lots of milk — They’re supergoats (NPR Blog)

Photo story: Responding to climate related risks to address food insecurity in Nyando, Kenya.

Smart Farming yields fruit in Nyando (Insights from Rachel Kyte, vice-president for sustainable development, World Bank)

Kenya cabinet secretary joins champion farmers in spreading knowledge on resilient livestock breeds

Moulding climate champions; creating food secure communities

Additional resources:

Info Note: Climate-smart villages and the hope of food secure households (400 downloads since Apr 2015)

CGIAR knowledge driving changing practices among rural farmers in East Africa (CGIAR website).

Audho JO, Ojango NE, Oyieng, E, Okeyo AM and Ojango JMK. 2015. Milk from indigenous sheep breeds: An     adaptation approach to climate change by women in Isinya, Kajiado County in Kenya. In: Animal Genetics Training Resource. Ojango JM, Malmfors B and Okeyo AM (eds). International Livestock Research Institute, Nairobi, Kenya, and Swedish University of Agricultural Sciences, Uppsala, Sweden.

Ojango JMK, Oyieng EP, Audho J and Okeyo AM. 2014. Indigenous sheep to help improve market access and livelihood security among pastoralists in Kenya: Results of a baseline survey. Nairobi, Kenya: International Livestock Research Institute.

Sustainable small ruminant breeding programs for ‘Climate Smart Villages’ in Kenya: Baseline Household Survey Report. (Working paper will be available soon,

From food waste to animal feed, cassava peels potentially big business for Nigerian women


Existing technologies of drying and grading cassava peels could hold the key to providing a readily available and sustainable source of animal feeds, increasing incomes for women and boosting food security in West Africa.

Researchers and partners working with the CGIAR Research Programs on Livestock and Fish, Integrated Systems for the Humid Tropics and Roots, Tubers and Bananas, have successfully tested a new and faster method of drying and preparing cassava peels as livestock feed.

A new 10-minute film by International Livestock Research Institute (ILRI) partner, the International Institute of Tropical Agriculture (IITA), explains how ‘if exploited to the fullest, the innovation would yield at least four million tonnes of high-quality animal feed ingredients valued at around USD 600 million per year.’

The research is led by Iheanacho Okike, a scientist with ILRI in Ibadan, Nigeria, who says the new process ‘could also release about two million tonnes of maize for human consumption that would otherwise have been used for animal feed, contributing significantly to food security efforts in the country.’

In Nigeria, nearly three million households (mostly women) produce fifty million tonnes of cassava annually. Most of the crop is used for human consumption, but about 14 million tonnes of its by-products, including peels and under-sized tubers are thrown away as waste.

The new innovation quickens the drying process by removing excess water from freshly processed peels; five hundred litres of water can be removed from a tonne of fresh peels in just 30 minutes,’ says Okike.

Through the technology, scientists have successfully reduced the drying of cassava peels from three days to one, and to just six hours in some cases. The resulting dry cake is then loosened, sun dried and divided into various grades for different animals, including large and small ruminants and poultry.

The researchers are working with commercial feed manufacturers who will constitute the major users of the technology and with small-scale food processors who are already using similar machines in their factories. They hope to scale up the innovation to the rest of Nigeria and to other cassava-producing countries in Africa if funding is available.

‘We hope the processors will add value to the waste peels and turn this into a sustainable business,’ says Graham Thiele, director of the Roots, Tubers and Bananas research program. The project is also working with some leading commercial poultry-feed producers in Nigeria to test the use of the high quality cassava peel mash in chicken feeds.

A commercial poultry feed manufacturer involved in a feeding trial in the project described the use of cassava peel mash (CPM) in broiler feedstuff as safe, adding that a 50-75kg inclusion of CPM in a tonne of poultry feeds does not affect their performance.

This research is a collaboration of ILRI, IITA, the International Potato Center (CIP) and the Global Cassava Partnership for the 21 Century (GCP21).

Check this blog soon for more outputs from the project.

Livestock at Expo Milano 2015: Three initiatives for a more sustainable and equitable sector put their heads together

Shirley Tarawali, assistant director general of ILRI, facilitates a livestock discussion at Expo Milano 2015

This article is written by Shirley Tarawali (standing, above), ILRI assistant director general and director for partnerships and communications.

Three livestock initiatives in tripartite discussion

Sustainable Livestock and Climate Smart Agriculture:
Joint Actions for Common Challenges?
An international workshop co-organized by
the Swiss Federal Office for Agriculture, FAO and ILRI
25 June 2015, 2:30–5:45pm
Swiss Pavilion, Expo Milano 2015

What follows are the key findings and conclusions of the workshop above, which was co-organized by the Swiss Federal Office for Agriculture, (FOAG), the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations (FAO) and the International Livestock Research Institute (ILRI).

Shirley Tarawali, assistant director general of ILRI, facilitates a livestock discussion at Expo Milano 2015

ILRI Assistant Director General Shirley Tarawali.

The meeting began with an overview of livestock-sector issues given by Adrian Aebi, assistant director general of the Swiss Federal Office for Agriculture. Aebi highlighted the importance of the livestock sector for both sustainability and development.

This workshop was a first conversation among three separate initiatives operating at the interface of livestock-environment-climate change-sustainability issues. The participants explored opportunities for capturing synergies and building on each other’s strengths.


Slide presented by Neil Fraser of the Global Agenda for Sustainable Livestock (GASL).

Aims and functions of the three initiatives

The Global Agenda for Sustainable Livestock (GASL)
Neil Fraser, chair of the guiding group for GASL, introduced this initiative. He said the Global Agenda is a multi-stakeholder platform with many volunteer members representing highly diverse groups with a stake in the livestock sector. The Global Agenda includes all aspects of livestock sustainability, from global food security and health to resources and climate change to growth and equity issues.

The Global Alliance for Climate-Smart Agriculture (GACSA)
Andrew Achuo Enow, coordinator of GACSA Facilitation Unit, described the alliance as a multi-stakeholder initiative similar to GASL but with a broader mandate because it covers the whole of the agricultural sector while focusing specifically on climate-related issues. He said GACSA emphasizes the political, enabling environment and investment dimensions in these areas.

The Global Research Alliance on Agricultural Greenhouse Gases (GRA), specifically its Livestock Research Group
Martin Scholten, co chair of GRA’s Livestock Research Group, explained that GRA is a voluntary network of scientists, policymakers, farmer organization leaders and others working together to gain a better understanding of how greenhouse gas emission intensity can be reduced while food security is increased. He said that the GRA focuses on research and practical, science-based solutions.

Following these three presentations, the participants raised three cross-cutting topics they viewed as insufficiently emphasized in the presentations:
—Gender: The important roles women often play in raising and managing livestock and in maintaining smallholder livelihoods
—Anti-microbial resistance: A hot topic at the moment due to the perceived abuse of microbial drugs by developed-country industrial livestock producers and the fast-increasing use of microbial drugs in developing countries
—Diversity: The vastly different kinds of livestock production practised worldwide—from pastoral herding systems in drylands to mixed family smallholder farms in developing countries to industrial-scale production in rich and emerging economies—precludes use of any ‘one-size-fits-all’ approach to building safe, sustainable, profitable and equitable livestock systems.

E pluribus unum or strength in diversity?
The participants debated the usefulness of keeping these three livestock initiatives separate or joining forces as one entity. With the exception of representatives of farmer organizations, who were more in favour of having a single entity (a ‘one-stop-shop’ would make it simpler for them to engage), most participants favoured maintaining separation so as to retain the comparative advantages of each initiative but also recommended strengthening interactions among the groups and ending any redundancies.

The three presenters and participants then moved to identify potential areas of synergy and next steps in capturing those synergies. Areas of overlap were illustrated and ‘unpacked’ and measures recommended to ensure there is no duplication of effort.

There was consensus that the contributions the livestock sector can make to achieving the UN’s evolving Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) should be emphasized and further efforts should be made by the initiatives to develop common messages. Informing and enabling positive changes in livestock practices and policies were viewed as central to all three initiatives.

Representatives from donor organizations at the workshop challenged the three initiatives, viewed by some as ‘evolving experiments’, to articulate the tangible outputs they are delivering, a conversation that underscored the inevitable tension between short-term delivery goals and the longer term requirements of complex multi-stakeholder engagements. Specific GASL examples showed that some partners had taken time to buy in to the agenda and become part of its processes. Important for all participants, particularly for donors focusing on ‘value for money’, was that there should be no duplication of effort among the initiatives.

Next steps
—Identify and employ appropriate communications and knowledge sharing so that the members of each initiative know about the other initiatives, what the other initiatives have to offer and how the three initiatives complement one another.
—Organize broader online consultation among the wider membership—possibly on a regional basis—to facilitate greater awareness and engagement among members of the three initiatives and their constituencies.
—Organize bilateral discussions by lead persons so they can develop better ways of working together.
—Arrange a follow-up tripartite discussion (this task was given to GACSA).
—Share these results and their evolution.
—Reconvene later to institute more specific and potentially deeper coordination mechanisms.

Ren Wang, assistant director general for agriculture and consumer protection at FAO, delivered some concluding remarks emphasizing the shared view the participants held on the critical role of livestock in food security. Wang noted the need to be sensitive to the complexity and diversity of the world’s many livestock systems, which necessarily require diverse solutions for ensuring their sustainability and equitability. And he stressed the primary role of farmers, most of them operating at small scales, in food production.

The bottom line
This moment in the fast-evolution of livestock systems worldwide is too important an opportunity to miss. Achievement of the SDGs will be impossible if the livestock sector is excluded from sector and development planning, funding and work. The livestock sector presents tremendous opportunities to address several of the world’s biggest challenges—from poverty, hunger, malnutrition and ill health to climate change, natural resource degradation and ecosystem collapse—through concerted and coordinated research and action.

It is incumbent on all of us, the participants agreed, regardless of the particular livestock initiative we are involved in, to seize this window of opportunity to create a better, more sustainable, world.

The next day, 26 Jun 2015, ILRI Assistant Director General Shirley Tarawali presented these conclusions of the Swiss Government-FAO-ILRI workshop on ‘Livestock and Climate-Smart Agriculture’ to 70 invited participants of a half-day event organized by the French Government and FAO on ‘The Contribution of Livestock and Livestock Products to Food Security and Nutrition’.

The topics covered by the presentations and roundtable discussions at this French-FAO meeting included the following in both low- and high-income countries:

  • the role of livestock and animal food sources for food and nutritional security
  • the nutritional value of animal food sources and impact on cognitive performance of children and pregnant women
  • the value of livestock as a factor for economic and social growth
  • the cultural value of livestock and animal food sources.

Further information

Neil Fraser is chair of the guiding group for GASL, having been involved in its development since its founding event at FAO in 2010. At the time of his retirement from the New Zealand Ministry for Primary Industries in 2014 he was principal adviser (International Policy). Neil holds a degree in agricultural science and a post-graduate qualification in agricultural economics. He began his career as an adviser to livestock farmers in the hill country of New Zealand and later took up a role as lecturer in animal production at the universities of Botswana, Lesotho and Swaziland. In his subsequent career in government service in New Zealand, he has been engaged in work related to domestic agricultural policies and international policy, including participation as a delegate and in governance roles in FAO, the Organisation for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD) and the Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation (APEC).

Andrew Achuo Enow, coordinator of GSCSA, is an agronomist by profession who has worked for many years as an agricultural researcher and research manager. He recently served as executive director / chief of staff in the Office of the Vice Chancellor at the Botswana International University of Science and Technology and before that served as director of Knowledge Fields Development at the National Research Foundation (NRF) in South Africa. His international career started with his employment at the International Council for Science – Regional Office for Africa (ICSU ROA) as program specialist for biological sciences. His research career started with his employment as a research assistant at the Institute of Agricultural Research for Development (IRAD) in Cameroon, where his areas of interest were soil fertility and land evaluation, soil microbial ecology and biological control of soil-borne plant pests and pathogens, plant pathology and plant-microbe interactions.

Martin Scholten, co-chair of the GRA, has served as general director of the Wageningen UR (University and Research Centre) Animal Sciences Group (including Livestock Research and Central Veterinary Institute) since 2008 and as director of the Marine Institute Wageningen IMARES since 2006. As an ecologist now active in the field of livestock production, he has introduced principles for ‘feeding the world within the capacity of planet Earth by increasing animal protein production with a smaller ecological footprint’ and ‘Livestock Farming with Care’. @mcthscholten

A look at multi-stakeholder (aka innovation) platforms: From Africa RISING to MilkIT to imGoats to Humidtropics

Image from a series of ‘practice briefs’ to help guide agricultural research practitioners to support and implement innovation platforms (image credit: ILRI/Beniyam Seyoum and Tewodros Girma).

This post was contributed by ILRI staff Deborah Wyburn, Iddo Dror, Jo Cadilhon and Peter Ballantyne

Multi-stakeholder or innovation platforms are increasingly seen as a promising vehicle for agricultural innovation and development. In the field of agricultural research for development (AR4D), such platforms are an important element of a commitment to more intentional, structured and long-term engagement among stakeholders in the agricultural sector.

The International Livestock Research Institute (ILRI) has been increasingly involved in innovation platforms in recent years, directly through several projects (such as Africa RISING) and through its role as a core program partner of the CGIAR Research Program on Integrated Systems for the Humidtropics. Building on work of the Nile Basin Development Challenge in Ethiopia, the Africa RISING program (Africa Research in Sustainable Intensification for the Next Generation) in Ethiopia has set up strategic innovation platforms at the district (woreda) level, operational innovation platforms at the neighbourhood (kebele) level and farmer-based innovation clusters throughout Ethiopia. R4D platforms are also being established in Tanzania and Mali together with the International Institute of Tropical Agriculture (IITA) and other partners.

In India and Tanzania, ILRI helped coordinate platforms as part of a MilkIT project, which has increased milk production and provided employment for women in remote parts of the country. Innovation platforms were also central to a smallholder goat project (imGoats) in India and Mozambique.

In addition to trialing innovation platforms in field projects, and sharing lessons learned from these trials to operationalize the concept of innovation platforms, ILRI’s Policy, Trade and Value Chains research program has partnered with ILRI’s Capacity Development Unit to host six graduate fellows who have worked sequentially to develop, field-test, adapt and validate a model to monitor and evaluate innovation platforms using mixed quantitative and qualitative research methods. Developed in 2013 and first tested on the Volta2 project innovation platforms in Ghana and Burkina Faso, the model was further tested in 2014 on MilkIT platforms in India and Tanzania and trialed again in the Tanzania Dairy Development Forum and the Nicaragua Learning Alliance.

In 2013, as part of its work for the CGIAR Humidtropics and Challenge Program on Water and Food programs, ILRI published twelve Innovation Platform Practice Briefs to help guide agricultural research practitioners who seek to support and implement innovation platforms. The topics of these dozen briefs range from the fundamentals of ‘Developing Innovation Capacity through Innovation Platforms’ through ‘Power Dynamics and Representation in Innovation Platforms’ to ‘Monitoring Innovation Platforms’. Providing a rich array of case study examples, the practice briefs have subsequently been translated into Hindi, Mandarin, Vietnamese and Thai to facilitate their use by local practitioners in India, China, Vietnam and Thailand.

In the same year, Wageningen University and Research Centre (WUR) and ILRI published a Humidtropics paper reviewing critical issues for reflection when designing and implementing research for development in innovation platforms.

In May 2014, ILRI, WUR and IITA held a Humidtropics Workshop on Understanding, Facilitating and Monitoring Agricultural Innovation Processes. The 4-day workshop helped participants gain an understanding of complex agricultural problems and how innovative solutions to these problems can be found through establishment of stakeholder partnerships. Practical issues relevant to innovation platforms were considered and opportunities were provided to share and learn from the experiences of others. Participants were able to walk through the Rapid Appraisal of Agricultural Innovation Systems (RAAIS) analysis and planning process and to consider a range of approaches for learning through reflexive monitoring of platforms.

The Humidtropics Innovation Platform Case Study Competition continued the quest to decipher the DNA of innovation platforms, bringing together many stakeholders and actors in the agriculture sector of developing countries to produce case studies featuring the most innovative ideas, best practices, actionable knowledge and successful strategies emerging from mature innovation platforms in the developing world’s agricultural systems research landscape.

The themes investigated in the case study competition included: how innovation platforms have (1) facilitated agricultural systems trade-offs to help farmers maximize production and yield, (2) optimized simultaneous work on multiple commodities, (3) scaled up beneficial agricultural interventions and (4) identified challenges and dynamics leading to platform failures.

The competition culminated in a 4-day writeshop at ILRI’s Nairobi headquarters in February 2015. Case studies produced during the writeshop, now being edited, will be included in an illustrated volume published by Routledge (Taylor & Francis Group) towards the end of 2015.

The Humidtropics Tools for System Analysis (TOSA) portal features tools contributed by ILRI and its partners and used by facilitators of innovation platforms. Such tools include FEAST (Feed Assessment Tool) developed by ILRI and CIAT, Site Selection Guidance for Humidtropics from ILRI, and EXTRAPOLATE (EX-ante Tool for RAnking POLicy AlTErnatives) from ILRI and the United Nations Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO).

Some of the TOSA tools and the case studies developed as part of the Innovation Platform Case Study Competition will be used in a blended learning program on innovation platforms being developed by ILRI’s Capacity Development Unit and scheduled for trial in the Mekong Delta in the third quarter of 2015. This course will offer lessons in how innovation platforms can generate innovative, cost-effective and sustainable agricultural transformations in resource-constrained developing-country settings. This cost-effective, time-efficient training program is designed for use by organizations interested in using innovation platforms to address complex agricultural problems.

Download reports on innovation platforms produced by ILRI.

New Ethiopian ‘livestock master plan’ aims to take 14 million out of poverty



Gone are the days when the development debate focused exclusively on humanitarian assistance. Some rapidly growing developing economies are trying to ensure the poorest households benefit from growth. And in Ethiopia, where approximately 70% of the rural households possess cattle, sheep and goats, livestock is officially at the centre of that debate.

Over the last 20 years, the Ethiopian government has prioritized the transformation of the agricultural sector, yet the absence of a livestock roadmap has hindered implementation. However, detailed inter-disciplinary research, presented today by Barry Shapiro, a scientist at the International Livestock Research Institute (ILRI) at the Ministry of Agriculture (MoA) in Addis Ababa, reveals the potential benefits of a comprehensive livestock master plan (LMP) in Ethiopia.

With a relatively modest sum, less than USD 400 million over five years, the joint MoA/ILRI plan aims to reduce poverty among livestock-keeping households by 25%, helping family farms move to market-oriented commercial operations. Beyond the direct impact on rural families, the LMP sees benefits to urban dwellers through lower food prices and the achievement of food and nutrition security at household, sectorial and national levels.

Today’s meeting of Rural Economic Development and Food Security Sector Working Group of the Ethiopian government –attended by UN agencies, NGOs and donors, among others – was called to discuss the establishment of a flagship program for livestock. And the argument in favour of a more focused approach to livestock are strong, as the LMP is projected to meet most of the government’s key Growth and Transformation Plan (GTP) objectives.

Contributions from the three pillars of livestock development – breeds, feeds and health – are assessed on key livestock value chains (poultry, crossbred dairy cow, and red meat/milk) for the long-run development of the sector. The plan suggests that investment in crossbred dairy cow development would produce a surplus of milk production over domestic demand by 47%, offering opportunities to enhance nutritional security, industrial output (e.g. in the baking industry) and export earnings. Similarly large gains are expected for red meat/milk production on family farms and among pastoralists and agro-pastoralists.

While these gains may not meet rising red meat/milk demand in Ethiopia, the annual growth rate in the cattle population could be substantially reduced if the projected productivity increases were realized. The transformation of the poultry sector is key, enabling Ethiopia to close the projected total national meat production-consumption gap. If chicken is substituted for red meat coming from larger higher-emitting ruminants, this would also help meet the climate resilience target of increasing the share of chicken meat to total meat consumption from 5% to 27% by 2030.

However, Shapiro adds some caveats. The benefits from the LMP will require investment in changing tastes away from red meat to crossbred chickens. Important investments will be needed in other areas: genetic selection, artificial insemination, the rehabilitation of range and pasture lands and veterinary service provision, as well as a range of health and quality regulation and measures promoting private investment.

Equally significant to the ILRI mission is the process for scaling up what has been learned. The development of the plan has bought together experts within the field to discuss how best to tackle an ambitious objective: promote sustainable development and enhance climate resilience and food and nutritional security, while also contributing to ILRI’s strategic objectives of influencing others and promoting capacity development. If implemented, the LMP would go a long way towards meeting these goals.

The LMP project development process was funded by the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation and overseen by a high-level technical advisory committee comprising directors of key MoA Livestock State Ministry departments and institutes, as well as representatives from the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations (FAO), the Intergovernmental Authority on Development (IGAD), the Ethiopian Agricultural Transformation Agency (ATA) and the presidents of the relevant professional associations of livestock experts (the Ethiopian Society of Animal Production and the Ethiopian Veterinary Association).

The key findings of the LMP policy brief can be found here. The full document will be available shortly.

Tackling climate change could be the greatest global health opportunity of the 21st century–The Lancet


Marble figurine of a woman, from the Cyclades, Aegean Sea, early Bronze Age, about 2600-2400 BC (via the British Museum).

The 2015 Lancet Commission on Health and Climate Change was formed to map out the impacts of climate change and the necessary policy responses. The central finding from the Commission’s work is that tackling climate change could be the greatest global health opportunity of the 21st century. See a summary of the key messages of the paper, published this week in The Lancet (22 Jun 2015)—Health and climate change: Policy responses to protect public health.

One of the authors of the paper is ILRI veterinary epidemiologist and food safety expert Delia Grace, of the International Livestock Research Institute (ILRI) and the CGIAR Research Program on Agriculture for Nutrition and Health (A4NH). Another is her colleague Victor Galaz, professor of politics at the Stockholm Resilience Centre and, like Grace, a fellow partner in the Dynamic Drivers of Disease in Africa Consortium led by the STEPS Centre.

6 years ago, the first Lancet Commission called climate change ‘the biggest global health threat of the 21st century’. Since then, climate threats continue to become a reality, GHG emissions have risen beyond worst-case projections, and no international agreement on effective action has been reached. The uncertainty around thresholds, interactions and tipping points in climate change and its health impacts are serious enough to mandate an immediate, sustained, and globally meaningful response.

Key messages of the Lancet Commission

The effects of climate change represent an unacceptably high and potentially catastrophic risk to human health
The direct effects of climate change include increased heat stress, floods, drought, and increased frequency of intense storms, with the indirect threatening population health through adverse changes in air pollution, the spread of disease vectors, food insecurity and under-nutrition, displacement, and mental ill health.

High-end emissions projection scenarios show global average warming of 2·6–4·8°C by the end of the century, with all their regional amplification and attendant impacts.

Tackling climate change could be the greatest global health opportunity of the 21st century
Many mitigation and adaptation responses to climate change are “no-regret” options, which lead to direct reductions in the burden of ill-health, enhance community resilience, alleviate poverty, and address global inequity.

The Commission recommends that over the next 5 years governments:

01 Invest in climate change and public health research, monitoring, and surveillance. 02 Scale-up financing for climate resilient health systems world-wide. 03 Protect cardiovascular and respiratory health by ensuring a rapid phase out of coal from the global energy mix. 04 Encourage a transition to cities that support and promote lifestyles that are healthy for the individual and for the planet.

Achieving a decarbonized global economy and securing the public health benefits it offers is now in political hands
Bold political commitment can ensure that the technical expertise, technology, and finance to prevent further significant climate change is readily available, and is not a barrier to action.


05 Establish the framework for a strong, predictable and international carbon pricing mechanism. 06 Rapidly expand access to renewable energy in low-income and middle-income countries. 07 Support accurate quantification of the avoided burden of disease, reduced health-care costs and enhanced economic productivity associated with climate change mitigation.

The health community has a vital part to play
Health professionals must be leaders in responding to the health threat of climate change and reducing inequities within and between countries.


08 Adopt mechanisms to facilitate collaboration between ministries of health and other government departments (a siloed approach to protecting human health from climate change will not work). 09 Agree and implement an international agreement that supports countries in transitioning to a low-carbon economy.

To help drive this transition, the 2015 Lancet Commission on Health and Climate Change will:

10 Develop a new, independent Countdown to 2030: Global Health and Climate Action to provide expertise in implementing policies that mitigate climate change and promote public health, and to monitor progress over the next 15 years. The Collaboration will be led by this Commission, reporting in The Lancet every 2 years, tracking, supporting, and communicating progress and success along a range of indicators in global health and climate change.

Read the whole paper: Health and climate change: policy responses to protect public health, The Lancet, 22 Jun 2015.

Read a STEPS Centre blog article about The Lancet paper: Reports on climate change and health forecast gloomy future but ‘no-regret’ options may save the day, 23 Jun 2015.

Read a related recent publication also co-authored by Delia Grace along with her colleagues at ILRI and the CGIAR Research Program on Climate Change, Agriculture, and Food Security (CCAFS)—Info Note, Impact of climate change on African agriculture: Focus on pests and diseases. Findings from CCAFS submissions to the UNFCCC SBSTA, CCAFS, May 2015.

The rise of antimicrobial resistance (lethal) and animal agriculture (critical): Their links in developing countries

E. coli with flagella

E. coli with flagella (via Flickr / AJ Cann).

This Jun 2015, Evidence on Demand, an international development information hub supported by the UK Department for International Development (DFID), published a 44-page paper identifying key evidence gaps in our knowledge of livestock- and fisheries-linked antimicrobial resistance in the developing world and documenting on-going and planned research on this topic by key stakeholders.

The paper, written by veterinary epidemiologist and food safety expert Delia Grace, of the International Livestock Research Institute (ILRI), is titled: Review of evidence on antimicrobial resistance and animal agriculture in developing countries.

In a nutshell, Grace argues that we should be careful not to throw the baby (food, nutritional and economic security) out with the bathwater (antimicrobial use in small-scale animal agriculture). And . . . we should be worried about the increasing use of antimicrobials in developing countries. And . . . we need to collect reliable data on such use in developing countries. And . . . medical and veterinary use of antimicrobials should be looked at together and holistically.

As the rise of antimicrobial resistance puts all of us at increasing risk of no-longer-treatable diseases, it’s in the interest of all of us to inform ourselves about what are, and are not, the causes of what threatens to be a ‘post-antibiotic era’, so we can take rational actions to prevent it.


Part of an infographic on record-high antibiotic sales for meat and poultry production in the United States in 2011 (via the Pew Charitable Trusts).


At the start, Grace gets some definitions out of the way. ‘Technically, an antibiotic is a substance produced by a microorganism that at a low concentration inhibits or kills other microorganisms and an antimicrobial is any substance of natural, semisynthetic or synthetic origin that kills or inhibits the growth of microorganisms (bacteria, virus or other) but causes little or no damage to the host.

All antibiotics are antimicrobials, but not all antimicrobials are antibiotics. . . . In this document, antimicrobial is used but generally refers to antibiotics. Summary

‘This short paper aims to identify key evidence gaps in our knowledge of livestock- and fisheries-linked antimicrobial resistance in the developing world, and to document on-going or planned research initiatives on this topic by key stakeholders.

‘The antimicrobial resistant (AMR) infections in animals that are of most potential risk to human health are likely to be zoonotic pathogens transmitted through food, especially Salmonella and Campylobacter. In addition, livestock associated methicillin resistant Staphylococcus aureus (LA MRSA) and extended spectrum beta lactamase E. coli (ESBL E. coli) are emerging problems throughout the world.

In developing countries, AMR pathogens are commonly found in animals, animal food products and agro-food environments, but the lack of surveillance systems means there are no reliable national data on the level of AMR in animals and their products.

‘While AMR pathogens in animals and their products undoubtedly contribute to AMR infections in people, the literature from developing countries is insufficient to draw firm conclusions on the extent of this contribution.

‘The key driver of agriculture-related AMR is the quantity and quality of use of antimicrobials in livestock production and aquaculture. We don’t have accurate information on antibiotic use in developing countries but

  • agricultural use probably exceeds medical us
  • most use is probably in intensive production systems
  • use is probably increasing rapidly

‘The underlying driver for antimicrobial use and development of AMR is the livestock and aquaculture revolutions, by which is meant the rapid growth in intensive production systems in response to increased demand for livestock and fish products. This demand in turn is driven by population increases, urbanisation, improving economic conditions and globalisation in developing countries and is predicted to continue to increase.

Based on livestock intensification patterns, China, Brazil and India are current hotspots, and future hotspots are Myanmar, Indonesia, Nigeria, Peru and Vietnam. Based on aquaculture trends,China is a hotspot and Indonesia, Thailand, Vietnam, Bangladesh, India and Chile are other countries where antimicrobial use in fish production may be problematic.

‘Many interventions using educational, managerial, regulatory and economic approaches to improve drug use have been studied. Training by itself is relatively ineffective but if combined with strategies to change market conditions (by changing incentives and accountability environment) better success has been achieved.

There are many animal husbandry options that can allow production without non-therapeutic antimicrobials, but these options have not been widely used in, or adapted to, developing countries.

‘In developing countries, there is a dearth of evidence on most aspects of agricultural related AMR. . . . At the same time, AMR is intrinsically a global problem that can only be managed at supra-national scale and the current strong momentum to take action on AMR provides an opportunity to address the problem globally and comprehensively, addressing both medical and veterinary use. This should be done in an evidence-based way which includes filling knowledge gaps, careful piloting of interventions, and rigorous evaluation of successes and failures.Antibiotics

Discovery of antibiotics (via Flickr / AJ Cann).

‘Human infections caused by pathogens that have become resistant to the medical drugs impose a large burden of illness and death and entail enormous costs.

Recent reports predict drug resistance will increase substantially, causing millions of extra deaths and costing trillions of dollars by mid 21st century . . . .

‘While many disease-causing organisms show resistance to drugs this report focuses on infections caused by bacteria that are potentially linked to agricultural use of antibiotics in developing countries.

‘Bacterial infections in people and animals have been successfully treated with antimicrobials since the discovery of these drugs in the first half of the 20th century. However, the use of antimicrobials in animal agriculture (both livestock and fish production) has been debated for decades because of its potential impacts on human health.

In recent years there is increasing consensus that there are links between veterinary drug use and drug resistance in human pathogens, and that it is desirable to reduce antimicrobial use in agriculture.

‘Agriculture is of crucial importance for food security and development.

Worldwide, one in three people work in agriculture and farming produces 4 billion tonnes of food to feed over 7 billion people a year.

‘Rising populations in developing countries, alongside increasing wealth, urbanisation and changing dietary preferences are driving a dietary revolution, in which consumption of eggs, milk, meat and farmed fish is increasing much more rapidly than the consumption of staples or pulses. This in turn is driving changes in how animals are farmed. Poultry, pig and fish production is increasing fastest, and ever more animals are kept in high input-high output intensive systems.

‘These increases in animal numbers and changes in farming systems, against a background of high levels of endemic and epidemic disease would be expected to increase use of antibiotics in developing country agriculture.

Because the quantity of antibiotics used is the main driver of development of resistance to these antibiotics, animal agriculture in developing countries could have an increasing role in the development of antimicrobial resistant (AMR) pathogens.

‘While discovery of novel antimicrobials would support management of infectious bacterial disease into the future, over the last decades there has been a dramatic slow-down in the development of new antimicrobials, which increases the need to safeguard existing antimicrobials.

‘The report aims to identify key evidence gaps in our knowledge of livestock- and fisheries-linked antimicrobial resistance in the developing world and to document ongoing or planned research initiatives on this topic by key stakeholders.’

A Man With Many Phone Numbers

Outdoor slaughterhouse, Abeokouta, Nigeria, 2010 (via Flickr / Christopher Walker).

Other salient facts and developing-country issues

We do not have good data on the prevalence of AMR pathogens in livestock and fish and their products in developing countries. This is because systematic, national, iterative (repeated) surveillance programs are needed to generate good information on AMR in livestock, fish and food, and these types of programmes exist only in some EU and north American countries (WHO, 2014).

The large number and consistency of results make it very likely that AMR pathogens are common in animals, animal food products and agro-food environments in developing countries, but the literature is insufficient to draw firm conclusions on drivers or management of AMR or the contribution of AMR in agricultural systems to AMR illness in humans or animals.

There is some evidence that suggests agricultural use of antibiotics may not have very important human health impacts in developing countries:

  • Most experts agree that use of antibiotics in human medicine is by far the major cause of antibiotic resistance in people (Aarestrop, 2005; Olivier et al., 2010; CDC, 2014). . . .
  • In a recent survey, chief veterinary officers reported African countries used an average 418 tonnes of antibiotics in agriculture each year (Grace et al., in press). This is less than half the amount used by the average OECD country (864 tonnes per year) (van Boeckel et al., 2015) suggesting antimicrobial use in some African countries is not excessive compared to use in OECD agriculture.
  • The main human health threats from drug resistance are: malaria; tuberculosis; streptococcus pneumonia; gram negative infections (ESBL Klebsiella pneumonia and E. coli infections) and MRSA (Vernet et al., 2014). Veterinary drug use is only likely to contribute directly to ESBL gram negative bacterial infections and MSRA, and the extent of its contribution to AMR in these pathogens is not known. . . .
Antimicrobial-resistant infections currently claim at least 50,000 lives each year in Europe and the US . . . and some estimate that drug-resistant infections will cause 10 million extra deaths a year and cost the global economy up to $100 trillion by 2050 . . . , with most impacts due to E. coli, malaria and tuberculosis (of these, only E. coli resistance could be linked to agricultural use). Reliable estimates of the true burden of AMR infections in developing countries do not exist. . . .

In developing countries there is a dual problem of overuse and lack of access to veterinary antibiotics. Many more animals die from lack of access to antibiotics than from resistant infections. Meta-reviews of studies from Africa suggest 10% of adult ruminants and 25% of young ruminants die prematurely each year, most from disease. . . . Others estimate livestock disease in Africa costs from $9 to $35 billion annually (Grace et al., in press). . . .

In developing countries there are related challenges of low livestock productivity and lack of animal source foods contributing to 2 billion cases of ‘hidden hunger’ due to micronutrient deficiencies. Antibiotics reduce feed requirements and increase weight gain by 2–15% . . . .

[S]topping antibiotics without putting alternatives in place could seriously affect the ability of intensive systems to provide cheap, abundant animal source foods. . . .

[M]ost (in some cases nearly all) antimicrobials in developing countries are applied without veterinary oversight . . . . [A] prescription-only system with direct veterinary oversight not feasible in the foreseeable future. . . .

In many developing countries, human antibiotic use is relatively uncontrolled, and most community care is provided by the informal sector . . . . Most low and middle income countries report poor enforcement of antibiotic use policy and when human drugs cannot be well controlled, it is unlikely that veterinary drugs will be.

New approaches are needed to improve the performance of human and animal health markets, particularly in meeting the needs of the poor. This cannot be achieved by simply importing regulatory frameworks and approaches from the advanced market economies . . . .

Extensive and smallholder production appear to use relatively small amounts of antibiotics, and most is used for treating sick animals rather than disease prevention or growth promotion. . . .

Despite heightened awareness in high-income countries and recognition that antibiotic resistance is a global problem, the issue is still not on the agenda for most low-income countries and some middle-income countries. . . .

There is consensus that antimicrobial use requires oversight, and that medical and veterinary use needs to be considered holistically. . . .

In poor countries, many more animals die from lack of access to antibiotics than from resistant infections. . . . [T]he OIE estimates that 25% of livestock production is lost due to disease globally . . . . In this context, measures to restrict the use of antibiotics in agriculture could have unintended consequences on income derived from livestock, livelihoods and nutrition.


Bacteria (via Flickr / AJ Cann).

Read the whole paper by Delia Grace:Review of evidence on antimicrobial resistance and animal agriculture in developing countries. Evidence on Demand, UK. 2015. iii + 39 pp. DOI:

Read about another paper on this topic co-authored by ILRI’s Tim RobinsonFirst global map of the rising use of antimicrobial drugs in farm animals published in PNAS, 25 Mar 2015.

Scientists from France and Kenya meet in Nairobi to sketch out plans for joint livestock research projects in Africa


French Agricultural Research Centre for International Development (CIRAD) and ILRI scientists met in Nairobi, 9-10 Jun 2015 (photo credit: ILRI/Paul Karaimu).

On 9–10 Jun 2015, a delegation from CIRAD, the French agricultural research and international cooperation organization, visited the International Livestock Research Institute (ILRI) in Nairobi.

Led by Jacques Lançon, the CIRAD regional representative for East and Southern Africa, a team of eight scientists from CIRAD research units linked to livestock research in France, Kenya and Mozambique worked with a team of ILRI scientists to develop concrete ideas for collaboration between the two organizations.

CIRAD research units in animal and integrated risk management, emerging and exotic animal disease control, InterTryp (host-vector-parasite-environment interactions in neglected tropical diseases due to trypanosomatids) and Mediterranean and tropical livestock systems were represented at the meeting by Alexandre Caron, Thierry Lefrançois, François Thiaucourt, Sophie Thévenon, Alexandre Ickowicz, Denis Bastianelli and Philippe Vernier.

The two-day meeting followed a visit by Jimmy Smith, the director general of ILRI, to CIRAD offices in Montpellier, France, earlier in the year.

The meeting concluded with an open seminar by CIRAD’s Alexandre Caron, who gave a presentation on ‘Disease ecology in multi-host systems at the wildlife and domestic interface: Concepts and application’.

Caron, who is based at the veterinary faculty of the Eduardo Mondlane University, in Mozambique, presented findings from his research in wildlife and livestock interactions in southern Africa and their ‘implications for disease ecology in arid and semi-arid socio-ecosystems where wildlife, livestock and humans are competing for resources.’

The research evaluated interactions between wildlife and livestock in national parks, conservancies and communal farmlands in the transfrontier conservation areas of Botswana, Mozambique, South Africa, Zambia and Zimbabwe.

In one study, GPS collars were used to track the frequency and intensity of interactions between cattle and buffalo in communal areas and national parks and how these interactions influence the spread of foot-and-mouth disease and bovine tuberculosis. The researchers found a ‘clear relationship between incidences of foot-and-mouth disease in cattle and contact between buffalo and cattle’ in southern Africa.

A different study has assessed the spread of avian influenza between wild birds and domestic poultry, with findings showing need to control contact between poultry and ‘bridge birds’, such as quelea, barn swallows and cattle egrets, through better management of food, water and roosting sites.

Caron argued that a combination of ecological and epidemiological research is needed to study wildlife-livestock interactions so as to help researchers better understand and control the emergence and spread of animal diseases.

Two approaches used to reduce disease spillovers in Southern Africa, he said, are providing separate water sources for domestic and wild animals to prevent their mixing in the dry season and strategic vaccination campaigns.

Download the presentation by Alexandre Caron.

Small producers are big opportunities for a healthy, safe and sustainable global livestock sector

Slide 01

Jimmy Smith, director general of the International Livestock Research Institute (ILRI), gave a keynote presentation at the International Federation for Animal Health–Europe conference Healthy Animals, Healthy Food, a Healthy Future, held in Brussels on 11 Jun 2015.

Smith had four key messages:

  • Demand for animal source foods is increasing rapidly—almost all the increase is in developing countries
  • Despite this, food and nutritional challenges remain
  • Small producers dominate the food economy in the developing world and can respond to the demand pull and do so in environmentally sustainable and healthy ways
  • New markets for European agriculture and agri-food industry are emerging

The challenge, Smith said, is feeding the world sustainably by the time the global human population stabilizes about 2050, by which time 60% more food than is produced now will be needed, 75% of which must come from the same amount of land. In addition, the higher production should be achieved while reducing poverty and addressing environmental, social and health concerns. And all this greater food will have to be produced with temperatures likely to be 2−4 degrees warmer than today’s.

All of which are tall orders.

Global demand for animal-source foods—meat, milk and eggs—is rising fastest, particularly in the world’s emerging economies.

Slide 04

This rising demand for meat, milk and eggs is due largely to rising populations as well as incomes and urbanization in developing countries. Take a look.

Slide 05

Slide 06

Slide 07

Gains in meat consumption in developing countries are outpacing those of developed.

Slide 08

Slide 09

The nutritional divides among the world’s seven billion people today are dramatic.

Slide 10

And while we have done much in recent years to reduce food insecurity, much still remains to be done.

Slide 11

While much of the above is common knowledge among development experts, what is less commonly understood is the central importance of the world’s small-scale food producers in developing countries, who are feeding most of the developing world’s people.

Slide 12

Jimmy Smith argued that the rising demand for livestock commodities in developing economies will be met—the only question is how. He presented three plausible scenarios.

Slide 13

Developing sustainable animal food systems—Scenario #3—is a must for several reasons, he said.

Slide 14

Just one of those reasons is the rise of antimicrobial resistance.

Slide 22

Slide 23

As to why the European animal health sector should pay attention to developing-world livestock production, Smith presented some eyebrow-raising stats.

Slide 24

Whether you are in the business of processing animal-source foods, or veterinary pharmaceuticals, or animal genetics or feeds, the developing world is ‘where it’s at’.

View a short (2:34-minute) filmed interview of Jimmy Smith at the IFAH conference:
Livestock sector development—Jimmy Smith interview at IFAH-Europe 2015 conference, produced by Nik Wood.

View Smith’s full slide presentation: Food security and animal production: What does the future hold?,
with Dieter Schillinger, Delia Grace, Tim Robinson and Shirley Tarawali at the IFAH Europe Sustainability Conference, Brussels, 11 June 2015.

View a Pinterest board of all of Jimmy Smith’s recent slide presentations:
Livestock Slide Presentations by ILRI director general Jimmy Smith, 2011–present.

Climate change impacts on livestock: ‘This information does not exist’


Rock engravings depicting long-horned cattle with their heads bowed, from the Early Hunter Period and found at the base of an inselberg at Tegharghart, south of Djanet,Tassili n’Ajjer, Algeria, a site known as ‘Crying Cows’ because of the way teardrops appear to roll down the faces of the animals (via David Coulson/©Trust for African Rock Art [TARA]).

A new working paper from the CGIAR Research Program on Climate Change, Agriculture and Food Security (CCAFS) has been published on the impacts of climate change on livestock across Africa. Lead author of the new paper, Philip Thornton, is a scientist with the International Livestock Research Institute (ILRI) and CCAFS.

The good news is that there are interventions that can help livestock keepers and their stock adapt to climate change. The bad news is that every widely applicable option available has its downsides when it comes to small-scale farmers adopting it.

While we have evidence of how climate change is impacting crop agriculture, and thus can prepare ourselves for how to adapt, there is as yet little evidence for how climate change is affecting the world’s cattle, sheep, goats, pigs, poultry and other livestock. With demand for livestock products exploding in developing countries—it’s expected to double in sub-Saharan Africa and South Asia by mid-century (and with livestock’s share of agricultural GDP on average 33% and rising)—this dearth of basic livestock information is a big deal.

Future predictions are scary—climate change is likely to reduce the growth of grass and other forages that feed livestock in these regions, as well as reduce the quality of the forage—substantially in some regions—which will directly reduce the incomes of poor and malnourished livestock-dependent households in these regions and the amount and quality of food their human members consume.

Take maize, for example, whose grain is a staple food in Africa and whose stalks and leaves feed ruminant animals in the dry seasons, when green biomass is finished, on smallholder farms across the continent. A big reduction in maize yields, which is just one expected result of climate change, will starve animals as well as people. In addition, the greater heat in a warmer world will reduce just how much feed farm animals can consume, how much they reproduce and how productive they are. Most livestock species, for example, perform best at temperatures between 10 and 30°C; at temperatures above 30ºC, cattle, sheep, goats, pigs and chickens all reduce their feed intake 3-5% for each 1°C increase. Less feed, less milk, meat and eggs.

As Thornton and his ILRI colleague Tim Robinson say:

Livestock are a critically important risk management resource; for about 170 million poor people in sub-Saharan Africa, livestock may be one of their very few assets.

The implications are clear:

The 2014 IPCC assessment contains only limited information on the projected impacts of climate change on livestock and livestock systems; more robust and detailed information is urgently needed.

Among the limited information in the Fifth Assessment Report of the Intergovernmental Panel of Climate Change (IPCC) on the projected impacts of climate change on livestock in Africa is this.

  • In Botswana, the cost of supplying water from boreholes could increase by 23% due to more hours pumping under drier and warmer conditions.
  • In Africa’s lowlands, fewer households will attempt to keep dairy cows and many will shift to sheep and goats.
  • In East Africa, the amount of maize stover per head of cattle will drop (on the other hand, the higher temperatures could benefit livestock keeping in the cool highlands).
  • In South Africa, dairy yields decrease by 10–25%.

Add to that the impacts of climate change on African rangeland ‘above-ground net primary productivity’ (aka grass, herbs, shrubs, trees)—obtained using a ‘G-Range’ model developed at the University of Colorado at Fort Collins—which indicate substantial, largely detrimental, changes in livestock feed resources.

‘Finally’, the paper notes, ‘no options stand out that have high potential for enhancing food security and addressing resilience, diversification or risk management that do not also have constraints to their adoption: their feasibility will depend on  local conditions and their implementation will incur costs.

‘Further, no options stand out that have strong impacts on increasing resilience of households, suggesting that there are limits to what can be achieved in increasing resilience through livestock management.

The importance of the policy and enabling environment with respect to adaptation is clear, but identifying the bounds of what endogenous adaptation can achieve in relation to incomes and food security in livestock systems is critical for informing national policy debates. This information does not yet exist.

Read the working paper by Philip Thornton, Randall Boone and Julian Ramirez-Villegas, Climate change impacts on livestock: CCAFS Working Paper no. 120. 2015. CGIAR Research Program on Climate Change, Agriculture and Food Security (CCAFS).

Read an article on the CCAFS site by Cecilia Schubert about this new working paper of theirs: Climate change impacts on livestock: What do we know?, 10 June 2015.










CGIAR Innovation Platform Case Study Competition: And the winner is . . .


Innovation platforms mind map (graphic by former ILRI scientist Birgit Boogaard, Wageningen UR).

The CGIAR Research Program on Integrated Systems for the Humid Tropics (CRP Humidtropics), led by the International Institute for Tropical Agriculture (IITA), uses structured multi-stakeholder platforms to drive its research for development program, as well as agricultural innovation systems to ensure active participation of key stakeholders in program delivery. Humidtropics’ R4D and innovation platforms ensure stakeholder equity, accountability, transparency and inclusive decision-making. The program also facilitates development of partnerships and networks among the various stakeholders that encourage innovations that are sustainable and can be scaled up broadly.

In Nov 2014, to better assess the efficiency of these innovation platforms and to document their successes and challenges in different developing countries, Humidtropics launched an Innovation Platforms Case Study Competition. In Feb 2015, twelve candidates were selected to participate in a writeshop focused on writing­ strong, reflective and cohesive case studies.

Earlier this month (Jun 2015), jury members in an editors’ meeting reviewed all the final submissions and chose eight cases to be featured in a Humidtropics Anthology to be published by an academic publisher before the end of 2015; the jury also recommended that two cases be published separately.

When judging the cases, the editors assessed the ‘maturity’ of the platforms in terms of four themes—systems trade-offs, multiple commodities, scaling up agricultural interventions, and learning from failure. Other criteria used in judging the case studies were the following.

Content: The problems/challenges being addressed by the platform are clearly defined and a detailed and descriptive narrative shows how various stakeholders used the innovation platform to create solutions and encourage further thinking and debate.

Writing: The logic of the case is strong, the presentation memorable, the level of exposition high.

Utility: The case study features interventions/programs that meet the assessment criteria and demonstrate long-standing impacts and the solutions featured are replicable, scalable, sustainable, reliable and relevant for the broader agricultural community.

Rebecca Kalibwani

The winning case study was written by lead author Rebecca Kalibwani, of Bishop Stuart University, Mbarara, Uganda, and entitled ‘Can an innovation platform succeed as a cooperative society?: The story of Bubaare Innovation Platform Multipurpose Cooperative Society Ltd.’ The editors found this case to present an interesting legal precedent for transforming an innovation platform in Uganda into a cooperative, something other platforms might consider. The case also does a good job of illustrating how a truly ‘multi-purpose platform’ can scale up a mix of technological, market and policy innovations to benefit all its members. And it tells a compelling story about what makes a platform sustainable as well as impactful.

The following were the two runners-up in this Humidtropics competition.

Thanammal Ravichandran

Thanammal Ravichandran, of the International Livestock Research Institute (ILRI), lead author of a case entitled ‘MilkIT innovation platform: Changing women’s lives—one cow and one litre of milk at a time—deep in the foothills of India’s Himalayan mountains’. This MilkIT case demonstrates a clear pathway for addressing constraints faced by India’s small-scale dairy farmers, with impacts on policy as well as development and with powerful lessons to offer others.

Perez Muchunguzi

Perez Muchunguzi, of IITA, lead author of a case entitled ‘Overcoming challenges for crops, people and policies in Central Africa–The story of CIALCA stakeholder engagement’. The CIALCA case provides an interesting example of how the Consortium for Improving Agriculture-based Livelihoods in Central Africa (CIALCA) emerged, and identified many of its successful elements, which can benefit other innovation platforms.

The competition organizers—Iddo Dror (head of capacity development) and Jo Cadilhon (senior agricultural economist), both of the International Livestock Research Institute (ILRI); Marc Schut, of the International Institute of Tropical Agriculture (IITA) and Wageningen UR; Michael Misiko, of the International Maize and Wheat Improvement Center (CIMMYT); and communications consultant Shreya Maheshwari, from India—congratulate the winner, the two runners-up and the other nine participants in this competition.

Find a slightly modified version of this story posted on the Humidtropics website.