News from ILRI

‘Wonder Women’ of Bhubaneswar


Temple carving in Bhubaneswar (this and all photos on this page by ILRI/Susan MacMillan).

Note: This is the fifth in a series of articles on
‘Curds and goats, lives and livelihoods—
A dozen stories from northern and eastern India’.
PART 5: The ‘Wonder Women’ of Bhubaneswar

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

8 Mar 2016: 5:30 am
My communications colleague at the International Livestock Research Institute (ILRI) Jules Mateo and I are in the lobby of our hotel in New Delhi checking out. I’m groggy, having been up all night catching up on emails and finalizing a blog article to celebrate ‘women in livestock development’ (aka, WILD) on this day, which happens to be International Women’s Day. I’m a few minutes late getting down to the lobby to check out.

A taxi waits to take us to the airport for our early morning flight to Bhubaneswar, capital of India’s eastern state of Odisha (formerly, and still commonly, known as ‘Orissa’). On arriving at the Delhi airport and quickly entering, we find we’re in time for our flight but I’m still relieved when two women from Air Vistara, the newish domestic airline we’re using, approach us to ask us to move a new queue. I assume our check-in is being expedited.

But no, that’s not what’s happening. What’s happening is that we’re both being bumped up to business class. It turns out that Air Vistara (‘vistaar’ means ‘limitless expanse’ in Sanskrit) is making a big effort to celebrate International Women’s Day, and Jules and I have just been selected to receive some special treatment. This felicitous pre-dawn airport incident will turn out to be just the first of many day-long occasions marking this special day in India.


Memento of the upgrade!

On receipt of our new business class tickets and boarding cards (stapled with festive yellow ribbons), we’re each handed a little bouquet of flowers. The airline women ask if we’d mind having our pictures taken with them (of course not!) and then we make our way, giddy with excitement about our unwarranted upgrade, to the gate. The whole airport appears to be conspiring in this celebration: the woman who pats us down at the security check, for instance, wishes us a ‘Happy International Women’s Day’, as do several others.

Boarding our plane, we’re directed to our comfy business class seats and offered a selection of the day’s morning papers and a freshly squeezed juice before take off. The stewardesses give us every possible attention on our (now too short) flight. (I spend most of the 1.5 hours catching up on my sleep and am sad to miss the elaborate Indian breakfast.)

As we land, our ever-attentive stewardesses ask if we’d mind staying behind as everyone else gets off the plane so that another series of pictures can be taken. This time the pilot comes back to join us in the selfies and other mobile snaps—and it turns out the pilot is another Indian woman. In fact, everyone handling this flight appears to be a woman, reminding me of the news splash the previous Nov about an all-female crew on an Ethiopian Air flight from Addis Ababa to Bangkok, with—the media reported breathlessly—‘the daughters of Lucy’ fully operating the journey, from ground to sky, on the eve of that airline’s 70th anniversary.

A delicate fact that I have as yet omitted to mention is that Jules and I are travelling with three of our superiors, our director general Jimmy Smith and his wife Charmaine as well as ILRI’s representative for South Asia, Alok Jha. Our embarrassment about travelling business as they sit back in coach, and about getting so much attention from everyone all morning, becomes a joke as Braja Swain, an ILRI scientist and project leader in this state, packs us all into a vehicle to take us to the Bhubaneswar hotel where Jules and I will be staying that night.

As the joke continues on our way from the airport, we pass billboard signs promoting International Women’s Day (the whole country has been infected!). This reminds Jha that he once spent a few months working for an institute in Bhubaneswar that solely serves women farmers, the only such institute in all of Asia, he says.

8:30 am
Alok Jha gets out his cell phone and puts a call in to a colleague he still knows there, suggesting that as our ILRI delegation is in town for the day, we could pay a visit to the institute that afternoon, at their convenience. Jha’s call is transferred to the head of this institute, who immediately extends us a warm invitation for us to visit her after lunch.


Scenes of our series of morning courtesy calls on government and university VIPs in Bhubaneswar.

10:00 am
Which is what—following a morning spent making courtesy calls on various senior government officials and university professors to discuss livestock research collaborations—we do.


Memento of some of the VIPs the ILRI delegation visited in Bhubaneswar.


Poster advertising celebrations at Bhubaneswar’s Central Institute for Women in Agriculture to mark International Women’s Day.

2:00 pm
The Central Institute for Women in Agriculture belongs to the vast network that makes up the Indian Council for Agricultural Research. As we enter the large building housing the institute, we’re immediately shown to the director’s office. Jatinder Kishtwaria is waiting for us and serves us chai and an assortment of India’s milk-based sweets. We introduce ourselves and enquire about her institute’s programs, which, she explains, she herself is just getting to know as she took up her position just 20 days previously. After 20 minutes or so, we thank her and begin to make polite noises about taking our leave.

As our host walks us out her door, we catch something she says about a ‘program’. We dutifully follow her down a hallway and enter a large conference room filled with people seated, where, it quickly transpires, the senior members of our little delegation have been made honoured guests at an event about to start. The Smiths and Alok Jha are handed bouquets of flowers and shown to their seats on the raised dais at the front, along with the other speakers on what, we now understand, is a whole afternoon’s program marking International Women’s Day.


Jimmy Smith, Alok Jha and Charmaine Smith all made impromptu speeches at an event held on 8 Mar 2016 celebrating International Women’s Day at the Central Institute for Women in Agriculture, in Bhubaneswar, Odisha, India.

The afternoon’s proceedings could not have been more delightful, nor we more delighted to be taking part. Jimmy Smith, Alok Jha and Charmaine Smith each gave a little impromptu speech (Jha noting that ‘Every day should be International Women’s Day!’). One of the women who spoke received an award for her agricultural entrepreneurship. Several staff of the institute recounted the history of women in Indian agriculture, what the institute had achieved in working for them, and how far the world had advanced in helping agricultural women advance. And how much remained to be done.

At the close of the program, we leave the conference room to take chai, consumed with a box of milk sweets, while chatting with the other guests and taking in several special exhibits and poster displays.


(Top) Nehru quote hung above an office door at CIWA; (bottom left) Jatinder Kishtwariathe, director of CIWA, reflects on the day with ILRI’s Charmaine Smith; (top right) two of the many women guests at the event; (centre right), the CIWA staff member who was master of ceremonies at the event; (bottom right) the woman bestowed an award for her agricultural entrepreneurship .

Among the exhibits set up were several tables displaying small replicas of agricultural implements designed to reduce the labour or danger of farm work traditionally done by women in India. While inspiring to see that such improvements are being made, and that the prices of the tools are subsidized by the government to make them more affordable by poor women, it also broke the heart a bit to see how rudimentary are the advances and how heavy remains the menial load and drudgery work of India’s hundreds of millions of farm women.


As Nehru so rightly indicated, it is the women of India who, once on the move, will get the nation moving. Certainly, we met some of these ‘Wonder Women’ of Bhubaneswar on this auspicious day.

With many thanks to Jatinder Kishtwaria and her colleagues at ICAR’s Central Institute for Women in Agriculture for the great work they are doing and for their inspiring afternoon’s event.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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




2016 Science Forum: Rethinking agricultural pathways to inclusive development


This painting, ‘Garden in the Sky’, 1973, is by Helen Frankenthaler (1950–2011), an American abstract expressionist, as are all the other paintings on this page (via Wikiart).

Next week (12–14 Apr 2016), the Independent Science and Partnership Council (ISPC), a standing panel of leading scientific experts working to strengthen the quality, relevance and impact of CGIAR science for development, holds its annual Science Forum in Addis Ababa, Ethiopia.

In the lead up to the 2016 Science Forum, the topic of which is ‘Agricultural research for rural prosperity: Rethinking the pathways’, steering committee members and invited speakers answered a few questions related to the Forum’s focus on agricultural research pathways to inclusive rural development. Below are excerpts of their responses. You’ll find all the responses on the SF2016 blog site.

The objective of the 2016 Science Forum is to rethink the pathways for agricultural research to stimulate inclusive development of rural economies in an era of climate change. The Forum will . . . suggest an updated list of priority research areas and approaches which involve more strategic and inclusive engagement with partners.


‘Orange Downpour’, 1963.

Baba Yusuf Abubakar, executive secretary of the Agricultural Research Council of Nigeria
The ARC is an umbrella organization of 15 research institutes and 11 agricultural colleges comprising some 12,000 staff. Abubakar is a member of the CGIAR Fund Council and a Cornell graduate in animal breeding and genetics.

One of the essential elements for delivery of the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) is prosperity; that is to grow a strong inclusive & transformative economy. We know that achieving this goal is very complex . . . .

In developing countries, we must . . .  renew efforts at improving agricultural systems for inclusive growth through increase in productivity of agriculture, livestock and fisheries, better rural infrastructure, innovative farming practices and more effective natural resource management.

We need, as a game changer, increased investment in R4D. . . . [A] cross-sectoral approach is key through the involvement of farmers and all stakeholders along the value chain of actors.

The challenge is to produce more and better food with fewer resources through technological innovation.


‘A Little Zen’, 1970.

Ruth Meinzen-Dick, senior research fellow at the International Food Policy Research Institute (IFPRI)
Meinzen-Dick has coordinated the CGIAR Program on Collective Action and Property Rights (CAPRi), which works with all CGIAR centres, since 1996.

I was glad to see the emphasis on inclusive development and am concerned that focusing on ‘prosperity’ should not take attention away from the need to pay attention to the poor and marginalized.

Creating prosperity for some is relatively easy; inclusive development is harder, but more meaningful.

An important way to achieve that is to strengthen assets, especially rights to resources for those who depend on those resources, including not only farmers but also pastoralists, fishers, forest communities, and women within those communities in particular. Assets are especially important because they create the basis for sustainable improvements in not only productivity but also welfare.


‘What Red Lines Can Do’, 1970.

Rajul Pandya-Lorch, head of 2020 Vision and chief of staff at the International Food Policy Research Institute
With her colleague David Spielman, Pandya-Lorch led a project on ‘Millions Fed: Proven Successes in Agricultural Development’, which identified and examined major successes in agricultural development and drew out the lessons they offered to substantially reduce hunger.

Greater rural prosperity looks like better fed, well-nourished people with decent, remunerative jobs who are able to withstand and bounce back from shocks.

To achieve greater rural prosperity, we must continue to invest in agriculture but also move beyond this focus to include investments in better nutrition and health, in social protection, in management of natural resources, in other words, in resilience.

Millions Fed examined pathways to success in six different areas: intensifying staple food production; integrating people and the environment; expanding the role of markets; diversifying out of major cereals; reforming economy-wide policies; and improving food quality and human nutrition.


‘Living Edge’, 1973.

S Mahendra Dev, director and vice chancellor of the Indira Gandhi Institute of Development Research
Dev has written or edited 12 books, including the recently published Inclusive Growth in India: Agriculture, Poverty, and Human Development, and is a board member of the International Food Policy Research Institute.

Within agriculture, we should move towards non-cereals like pulses, oilseeds, fruits and vegetables and to allied activities like livestock, poultry and fisheries.

Studies show that countries lose 2 to 3% of GDP due to malnutrition. Similarly one dollar investment in improving child and maternal nutrition can give returns of $20 to $30.

The rural non-farm sector should be developed because agricultural incomes are not sufficient to reduce poverty in rural areas. . . . Sometimes the solution for agriculture may lie in non-agriculture.

The green revolution helped Asian agriculture in the 1960s and 1970s. We should extend the green revolution to African agriculture. But, we should go beyond the green revolution and have climate-resilient agriculture.


‘A Green Thought in a Green Shade’, 1981.

George Bigirwa, head of the regional team for East and Southern Africa at the Alliance for a Green Revolution in Africa
Bigirwa worked for Uganda’s national research system for 23 years, contributing to the development and release of maize and rice varieties now popularly grown in Uganda and neighbouring countries.

[Agriculture] is a major engine for overall economic growth and possibly the single most important pathway out of poverty in the rural space.

In Africa, almost 75% of the population is engaged in agriculture and if one is to uplift their standard of living, the interventions have to be through agriculture.

Gone are the days when researchers would design interventions on their own and hand them over to end-users to implement or adopt.


‘Southern Exposure’, 2005.

Peter Carberry, deputy director general for research at the International Crops Research Institute for the Semi-Arid Tropics
Before his recent CGIAR appointment, Carberry served as chief research scientist in Australia’s Commonwealth Scientific and Industrial Research Organisation.

Farmers produce, consume and sell commodities; the currency of markets are commodities; the pathways for agricultural development are largely built on commodity value chains and markets. Hence, rural prosperity looks like farmers producing, consuming and, critically, benefiting from selling their cereal, legume, livestock, cash crop and wood commodities into functional and developing value chains and markets.

The impressive performance of Australian dryland agriculture has been achieved through innovation, based on research leading to technology development and adoption. . . . Australia shares the same climate, soils and agro-ecology as much of the developing world where agricultural livelihoods need to improve.

Australian farming is unsubsidized, conducted on fragile soils and in one of the most variable climates in the world.


‘Weather Change’, 1963.

Fentahun Mengistu, director general of the Ethiopian Institute of Agricultural Research
Mengistu previously served as director of Ethiopia’s Agricultural Research Stations and director general of Amhara State Agricultural Research Institute.

[M]odern biosciences can help achieve higher yields with fewer resources and less impact on human and environmental health.

[M]ethodologies of today [will] be insufficient for the future. With the new speed of change and diversified portfolio of small-scale farmers, targeting a single problem will be inadequate.

Future research [will] need to address multiple challenges at a time. Therefore systems research is increasingly needed with the collective action of many disciplines and institutions at various fronts.


‘Wind Directions’, 1970.

Kei Otsuka, professor at Kobe University and Tokyo’s National Graduate Institute for Policy Studies
Otsuka serves on the Global Rice Science Partnership oversight committee and has published books on the Asian and African green revolutions.

I believe that we should support Green Revolution in sub-Saharan Africa, particularly for maize and rice. In addition to ‘seed-fertilizer technology’, ‘improved management practices’ are important. But the latter aspect has been largely neglected in CGIAR research.

For rice, transferability of Asian technology is high, so that what is important is to strengthen extension. For maize, farming system research, which seeks the best combination of manure and chemical fertilizer application, intercropping between maize and legumes, hybrid seeds, the use of improved cows, and production of feed crops, needs to be done.

More collaboration between CIMMYT and ILRI is clearly needed.


‘Harbinger’, 1986.

Tom Tomich, founding director of the Agricultural Sustainability Institute and inaugural holder of the WK Kellogg Endowed Chair in Sustainable Food Systems at the University of California at Davis
Tomich directs the UC statewide Sustainable Agriculture Research and Education Program and serves on a number of committees and boards, including the CGIAR Independent Science and Partnership Council.

No country—putting aside city states—has achieved prosperity without growth in productivity in multiple sectors (agriculture, industry, services) and in fact for many countries this growth process has been mutually reinforcing. So while agricultural productivity does play a central role, agriculture cannot do the job alone. Equally important regarding prosperity, which includes elimination of the interrelated scourges of mass poverty and chronic hunger, history also indicates that equity of distribution of these gains is essential.

Since at least the 1990s—and certainly now with manifestations of impacts of climate change already apparent, it is clear we cannot think of the path to prosperity as assured—the sustainability and resilience of the food system (and our economies and societies more generally) must also be considered. Vulnerability of the food system to climate change is one of several interacting sources of uncertainty that means we also need to consider the wellbeing of people together with health of ecosystems.

To me, the big realization of the transition from the late 20th into the early 21st century has been that human activities are the primary driver of change (for better or worse) in the Earth’s life support systems, including our food systems, and we need to take seriously the strategically important system feedbacks (epitomized by climate change, but also by a nexus like climate x energy x water) as the foundations of sustainable prosperity in the 21st Century.


‘Sunshine after Rain’, 1987.

More information
Read the full interviews of these experts, all of whom will speak at the Science Forum next week, on the Science Forum 2016 blog.

‘One Health for the Real World’ (or, ‘real livestock for real global wellbeing’)


The four members of the organizing committee of the One Health for the Real World Symposium and key players in the Dynamic Drivers of Disease in Africa Consortium: (left to right), James Wood, University of Cambridge; Andrew Cunningham, Zoological Society of London; Ian Scoones, Institute of Development Studies; and Melissa Leach, Institute of Development Studies (this and all photos on this page except the ILRI photo directly below of Annie Cook are via Flickr/ Dynamic Drivers of Disease in Africa Consortium).

This post is written by Annie Cook, post-doctoral scientist, ILRI

Annie Cook

One Health can be defined as the collaborative effort of several disciplines
to attain optimal health for people, animals and our environment. 

The 27 speakers at a recent One Health for the Real World Symposium: Zoonoses, Ecosystems and Wellbeing make up a (very) respectable ‘who’s who’ in the world of One Health, which includes all those working to unite the knowledge, practices and approaches of medical, veterinary and environmental sciences for the healthy wellbeing of all three.

The symposium was held at the Zoological Society of London (ZSL) 17–18 Mar 2016 and organized by ZSL and a three-year project called the Dynamic Drivers of Disease in Africa Consortium (DDDAC). The symposium marked the culmination, and ending, of the consortium.

Twenty organizations, including the Africa-based International Livestock Research Institute (ILRI), made up the Dynamic Drivers consortium, which from 2012 to 2015 coordinated research exploring the relations among African ecosystems and zoonotic diseases—those transmitted between animals and people—that impinge on ecosystem, human and animal wellbeing.

The ‘real world’ in the symposium’s title reflected the ambition of the consortium members to share their three years of research results not only with each other but also with the policymakers and practitioners who could make a real difference in advancing the One Health agenda.

Melissa Leach

Indeed, Melissa Leach, chair of the DDDAC and director of the Institute of Development Studies at the University of Sussex, stressed in her welcome address the importance of linking science and research to policy and practice. ‘Politics is key to moving forward on difficult One Health issues’, she said.

Professor Jeremy Farrar, Director, Wellcome Trust, gives the opening keynote presentation

Leach was followed by Wellcome Trust director Jeremy Farrar, whose keynote presentation raised the bar even higher: ‘If we make the right choices, make the right connections, we can change the course of history’, Farrar argued. He also stressed that tackling today’s growing global health threats called not only for strong leadership but also for exceptional trust in such sensitive areas as disease surveillance and response, governance and data sharing.

One of the ‘right choices’ and ‘right connections’ that Farrar mentioned must be greater public understanding of, investment in, and policy focus on the transmission to humans of diseases originating in wild and domesticated animals. A remarkable 61% of all human pathogens, and 75% of new human pathogens such as those causing bird flu and HIV/AIDS, originate in animals. This ‘zoonotic’ thread (and threat), while often overlooked and under-appreciated in similar fora, happily was apparent in each of the following five major themes raised in the symposium’s subsequent keynotes and discussions.

View Farrar’s slide presentation: The real world: One Health—Zoonoses, ecosystems and wellbeing

1 Anthropogenic drivers of disease, including changes in land-use and human behaviour


Bernard Bett, a veterinary epidemiologist at ILRI, presented a case study of the DDDAC program that investigated the effects of irrigation on levels of the virus causing Rift Valley fever in human blood serum. Rift Valley fever is an acute, fever-causing viral disease of domesticated animals, such as cattle, buffalo, sheep, goats, and camels, with ability to infect and cause illness, sometimes fatal, in humans. Bett’s study found that those living in irrigated areas had higher levels of antibodies to the pathogen than those in pastoralist areas. Preliminary results indicate sheep and goats from irrigated and riverine areas had higher rates of exposure to the Rift Valley fever virus than those from pastoral areas.  But because the results were statistically not significant, further research is required to determine the role of irrigation in acute human and animal infections with Rift Valley fever.

View Bett’s slide presentations: Irrigation and the risk of Rift Valley fever transmission—A case study from Kenya and A mathematical model for Rift Valley fever transmission dynamics

View Bett’s media interview: The hidden dangers of irrigation, SciDevNet, 22 Mar 2016

View Bett’s impact case stories: One Health working brings widespread Rift Valley fever out of the shadows and Protecting livestock and securing livelihoods during threats of epidemic

2 The need for an interdisciplinary approach to One Health research

David Waltner-Toews

Jakob Zinsstag, of the Swiss Tropical and Public Health Institute, emphasized the added value of integrating human and animal health approaches rather than allowing them to work in isolation. The knock-on effects of considering One Health problems in isolation was also stressed by David Waltner-Toews, of Veterinarians without Borders-Canada, who stated that ‘emerging infectious diseases are symptoms of related wicked problems embedded in complex social-ecological feedbacks’. A novel approach to considering One Health was raised by Jan Slingenbergh, a consulting animal health specialist formerly with the United Nations Food and Agriculture Organization, who proposed a ‘global risk analysis framework’ similar to that developed to address global warming.

View Zinsstag’s slide presentation: Understanding zoonotic impacts: the added value from One Health approaches

3 The relationship between One Health and poverty


The keynote address for this theme was given by ILRI veterinary epidemiologist and food safety specialist Delia Grace, who presented an in-depth review of the relationships among ecosystems, poverty and zoonoses. ‘Human sickness is a major cause of falling into and remaining in poverty and much of this is related to agriculture’, she said. This was further emphasized by Jo Sharp, of the University of Glasgow, in her presentation highlighting the catastrophic effects of ill health. Grace reported that misdiagnosis and underreporting were two big challenges in tackling emerging infectious diseases. She warned that ‘hurried responses to zoonoses are often anti-poor, causing more harm’. And she underlined how effective control can be: ‘Every dollar invested in brucellosis control returns six dollars in reduced burden’.

View Grace’s slide presentation: The economics of One Health

4 Should One Health research focus on emerging or endemic diseases?

Dr Peter Daszak, President, EcoHealth Alliance, keynote presentation

Peter Daszak, president of the EcoHealth Alliance, highlighted drivers of emerging disease, such as land conversion, intensification of livestock production and wildlife trade, and the costs of controlling pandemic threats. He noted a false dichotomy between neglected tropical diseases and emerging diseases: ‘Emerging diseases become endemic diseases’, he said. Sarah Cleaveland, of the University of Glasgow, stressed the complementarities and gains ‘from adopting shared approaches to emerging and endemic diseases’. Endemic zoonoses and emerging zoonoses often have similar drivers, she said, but emerging zoonoses get more publicity. ‘Effective health systems for neglected endemic zoonoses will also help control emerging diseases.’

View Daszak’s slide presentation: Pre-empting the emergence of zoonoses by understanding their socio-ecology

5 The need to incorporate different perspectives into One Health research

Professor Bassirou Bonfoh , Director-General, Swiss Centre for Scientific Research, Cote d'Ivôire, keynote presentation

Bassirou Bonfoh, director general of the Centre Suisse de Recherches Scientifiques en Côte d’Ivoire, stressed the need to incorporate ‘different viewpoints, knowledge and expertise’ when designing health systems. Several presentations reiterated the need to incorporate the voices of different people; a commonly repeated phrase at the symposium was ‘whose knowledge counts?’ Hayley Macgregor, of the Institute of Development Studies, highlighted a danger in research: ‘People’s cultural logics or social practices are readily cast in negative terms’.

View Bonfoh’s slide presentation: Motivation, culture and health in a socio-ecological system in Africa

Professor Charlotte Watts, Chief Scientist Adviser, DFID, gives the final keynote presentation

In the final keynote, Charlotte Watts, chief scientific advisor at the UK’s Department for International Development (DFID), argued that One Health approaches can be very effective for decision-makers facing a crisis. As an example, she listed the diverse options available for controlling the ongoing Zika outbreak using ecosystem, medical and veterinary scientific knowledge and technologies.

The final panel discussion, with representatives from the World Health Organisation (WHO) and the United Nations Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO), summarized the themes of the symposium’s discussions and introduced further relevant issues concerning biodiversity, conservation and animal welfare.

A highlight of the symposium were lively one-minute ‘flash talks’ by poster presenters. The 28 posters presented covered diverse topics, including many with a livestock focus, such as the following.
Kathryn Berger, of the University of Cambridge, presented a ‘Global atlas of animal influenza’ that can be used for surveillance and control programs.
Birungi Doreen, of Makerere University, pointed out that research on possible Ebola virus disease in pigs in Uganda had some negative impacts on the pork value chain in that country and required sensitizing stakeholders to reduce any harm such research could cause.
Natascha Meunier, of the Royal Veterinary College, showed that diseases transmitted from wildlife to cattle most likely occurred via indirect routes, particularly vector-borne disease transmissions.
Robin Wiess, of the University College London, reminded us that zoonosis is a two-ways street: Humans can be a source of infectious disease in animals. ‘Don’t forget the “anthroponoses!”’.

Kevin Bardosh

The symposium also included the launch of a book, One Health—Science, Politics and Zoonotic Disease in Africa, edited by Kevin Bardosh, which offers ‘a much-needed political economy analysis of zoonoses research and policy’.

The closing statement Melissa Leach stressed that One Health is not always comfortable integration. ‘As a social scientist, I see that One Health is about solving puzzles, dispelling bullshit, learning new things and making the future different’. Indeed, a recurring theme throughout the symposium was the need for a new generation of ‘multidisciplinary professionals’.

Ian Scoones

And there was a final plea from Ian Scoones, of the STEPS Centre and the Future Agricultures Consortium: ‘Let’s not make a new One Health discipline—yet another silo!’

The symposium was organized by the Dynamic Drivers of Disease in Africa Consortium (DDDAC) and the Zoological Society of London (ZSL) with support from the Royal Society. The DDDAC is multidisciplinary research consortium funded by the UK’s Ecosystem Services for Poverty Alleviation (ESPA) program, which works to ensure that developing-country ecosystems are sustainably managed to alleviate poverty alleviation as well as to support inclusive and sustainable growth.

Go here to find out more about ILRI research on zoonotic diseases and here for past ILRI news stories on One Health.

About the Dynamic Drivers of Disease in Africa Consortium
The Dynamic Drivers of Disease in Africa Consortium was an international, multidisciplinary research programme. From 2012 to 2016 it explored the relationships between ecosystems, zoonoses, health and wellbeing, focusing on four emerging or re-emerging zoonotic diseases in four diverse African ecosystems: henipavirus infection in Ghana, Rift Valley fever in Kenya, Lassa fever in Sierra Leone, and trypanosomiasis in Zambia and Zimbabwe. Its innovative, holistic approach married the natural and social sciences to build an evidence base which is now informing global and national policy seeking effective, integrated One Health approaches to control and check disease outbreaks.

Building better brands and lives through peri-urban dairying and smart crop-dairy farming

Milk cans and children in the doorway

Milk cans and children stand in the doorway of a dairy cooperative outside Karnal, Haryana, India (photo credit: ILRI/Jules Mateo).

Note: This is the fourth in a series of articles on
‘Curds and goats, lives and livelihoods—
A dozen stories from northern and eastern India’.
PART 4: Building better brands and lives through
peri-urban dairying and smart crop-dairy farming

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

A journey to India by staff of the International Livestock Research Institute (ILRI)
in March 2016 started in the city of Karnal, in the prosperous northern state of Haryana.

On the way

On our way to visit a village on the outskirts of Karnal, in Haryana, India, we passed several sights that told their own story. A kind of pious family food production, it appeared, constituted the very fabric of this place.

Haryana poultry unit

Haryana poultry unit

Poultry units outside Karnal, Haryana, India (ILRI/Susan MacMillan).

First we passed a large poultry unit, not surprising in this state, which is known as the ‘poultry capital of India’.

This unit was raising 2,400 Kuroiler chickens (2000 females and 400 males), a popular hybrid dual-purpose meat and eggs breed developed in India in the 1990s. Compared to India’s native chickens, these multi-coloured birds, which live on a diet of kitchen and agricultural waste, grow bigger (3.5kg vs 1kg for males and 2.5kg vs 0.9kg for females) and lay more eggs (150 versus 40 per year). Kuroiler eggs fetch 20 Indian rupees versus just 5 rupees for eggs of unimproved native breeds.

Indian dairy farming family

Indian milkman

(Top) A dairy farm family transports rice straw to their dairy animals; (bottom) a man transports milk to a collection point (ILRI/Susan MacMillan).

Then we passed a family transporting rice straw and green fodder by bullock cart from their farm plot to their house in the village, one kilometre away, where they keep their dairy animals. This family told us that the three-year-old bullock pulling the cart cost them 5,000 rupees (about 75 US dollars). Coming in the other direction was a man on a motorcycle transporting morning milk he had collected from several farms and was taking to the local village collection point. All of them kindly stopped so that we could take their pictures.

Hindu devotees carry decorated floats on an annual pilgrimmage to a Maha Shivaratri festival to honour Lord Shiva

Hindu devotees carry decorated floats on an annual pilgrimmage to a Maha Shivaratri festival to honour Lord Shiva (ILRI/Susan MacMillan).

Finally, we passed several colourful processions of groups walking along the road carrying elaborately decorated floats on their way to a Lord Shiva festival.

The Mahashivaratri Festival (‘The Night of Shiva’) falls on the moonless 14th night of the Hindu month of Phalgun (Feb or Mar in the English calendar), marking, one legend goes, the wedding day of Lord Shiva and Parvati, when Lord Shiva performed the ‘Tandava’, the dance of primal creation, preservation and destruction.

Devotees observe a strict 24-hour fast, wake early to take a ritual bath in the Ganga or other source of holy water and put on fresh new clothes. Then they walk in groups to the nearest Shiva temple carrying pots of the holy water with which to bathe the Shiva ‘lingam’ every three hours along with the five sacred offerings of a cow, called the ‘panchagavya’—milk, sour milk, urine, butter and dung. The five foods of immortality—milk, ghee, curd, honey and sugar—are placed before the lingam along with flowers and incense. Amidst chanting and ringing of temple bells, large numbers will keep a sleepless vigil throughout the night, telling stories, meditating and singing hymns in praise of Lord Shiva. On the following morning, they will break their fast by partaking of prasad offered to the deity.

Those who fast on this night and offer prayers to Lord Shiva, it’s believed, bring good luck into their lives.

In the village

About a half an hour’s drive from the National Dairy Research Institute, we arrive at the village of Nagla Roran. With its immaculately clean, paved streets, tidy homes, electricity and other infrastructure, including farm machinery strewn casually about the place, it more resembles a farm town than farm village.

Sanjiv, Karnal village dairy entrepreneur

Mishti Farmer Producer Co, Ltd, with Agribusiness Centre

Sanjiv (above) and his signboard in his dairy agribusiness centre office in Nagla Roran (ILRI/Susan MacMillan).

We first visit the office of an enterprising youngish man called Sanjiv, who runs a cooperative providing improved forage seed and cattle feed to 230 village dairy producers. Rice, maize, wheat, barley, gram, mustard, cotton and sugarcane are some of the major crops cultivated here, alongside the raising of dairy and other animals.

Buffalo cow

Two deluxe agricultural models on display in the village (ILRI/Susan MacMillan).

Sanjiv represents the third generation of his family to run a dairy business and provide agribusiness services. Dairy enterprises, he says, are great ‘value-added’ opportunities for small-scale farmers and are helping to close the gap between urban and rural livelihoods.


Sanjiv, his daughter Mishti, and the Mishti products his dairy enterprise is producing (ILRI/Susan MacMillan).

In the home

Sanjiv's mother, who insisted in keeping the family cows in the family business

Sanjiv’s mother, with one of her cows (ILRI/Jules Mateo).

Next Sanjiv takes us to his home in the village, where his mother keeps her dairy animals.

Dairy businesses have raised living standards in the village, Sanjiv says. (All the adults now have cell phones, he points out, and most households have more than one television set.)


Scenes of Sanjiv’s household (ILRI/Susan MacMillan and Jules Mateo).

Three years ago, at the birth of his daughter Mishti, Sanjiv considered starting a non-dairy business but his mother refused to stop keeping her herd of milk cows and buffaloes, and so he undertook training at the Business Planning & Development Unit of the National Dairy Research Institute (NDRI), in nearby Karnal, and began building up businesses that add value to the milk his mother’s cows produce.

Sanjiv and his daughter Mishti, after whom he branded his dairy products

Sanjiv and his three-year-old daughter Mishti, after whom he named his dairy products (ILRI/Susan MacMillan).

Sanjiv has branded his products ‘Mishti’ in honour of his (admittedly adorable) daughter.

On the farm

But that’s not all. Not satisfied with just processing dairy products and serving his community with various dairy agribusinesses, Sanjiv has started a new venture: highly integrated, conservation-friendly livestock-mushroom farming. He proudly shows us how it all works, how every natural resource is used, how absolutely nothing is wasted. He is obviously proud of how all his knowledge, and that of so many ‘best practices’ in mixed farming and agribusiness, are coming together under his direction here.

So, not a small village, or small ambitions, after all. Sanjiv and his family and his village are moving forward and moving fast. I leave them just hoping that our advanced agricultural research can mange to keep up with them.


Sanjiv’s closely integrated livestock-mushroom farming operations (ILRI/Susan MacMillan).

With many thanks to our guide for the morning, Ajay Kumar Yadev, of the National Dairy Research Institute, in Karnal.

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

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

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

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

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

Culture of the cow: Curds in the city—Better living through smallholder dairying in northern India

 Milk cans

Milk cans in Karnal, India (photo credit: ILRI/Susan MacMillan).

Note: This is the third in a series of articles on
‘Curds and goats, lives and livelihoods—
A dozen stories from northern and eastern India’.
PART 3: Culture of the cow: Curds in the city—
Better living through smallholder dairying in northern India

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

A journey to India by staff of the International Livestock Research Institute (ILRI)
in March 2016 started in the city of Karnal, in the prosperous northern state of Haryana.

Dairy shop owner Balinder Kumar with customers
Dairy shop owner Balinder Kumar (right) with customer (ILRI/Jules Mateo).

Meet Balinder Kumar, proprietor of the Surta Dairy Shop, one of hundreds if not thousands of such small shops in the city of Karnal, in India’s northern state of Haryana. Every street in this city of nearly 300,000 people is reported to have at least 3 to 4 dairy shops. Here, in India’s most famous dairy city, where the famed National Dairy Research Institute (NDRI) is based, milk-based foods are the foundation of every meal.

Six months ago, Mr Kumar was a farmer trying to make a living off the milk he sold from his dozen buffalo cows and 15 dairy cows. It was hard to make a profit selling milk, so he opened a dairy shop in the city to sell fresh milk, curd, butter, cheese, milk sweets and other dairy products. His wife and mechanical engineer brother are his partners, his wife tending the animals kept in a nearby village farm and his brother helping him upgrade and maintain his farm and shop equipment.


Curds (ILRI/Susan MacMillan).

With the help of staff at NDRI, Mr Kumar got training in milk product processing and purchased a multi-purpose dairy machine, costing 55,000 Indian rupees (about 950 US dollars), with which he now makes a variety of products in the back of his shop.

He opens his shop daily at 7am and does a brisk business all day selling fresh milk, curds (dahi, made by adding an acidic component such as lime juice or vinegar to curdle the milk and then filtering the solids from the whey), paneer (after draining the curds in muslin or cheesecloth and pressing out the excess water, the resulting paneer is dipped in chilled water for 2–3 hours to improve its texture and appearance), yoghurt (produced by bacterial fermentation of milk), lassi (a sweet or savoury blend of yogurt, water, spices and sometimes, fruit), ice cream, butter (made by churning fresh or fermented cream or milk, to separate the butterfat from the buttermilk), ghee (a form of clarified butter prepared by simmering butter churned from cream and removing the liquid residue), and more.

 Multipurpose processing machine

Mr Kumar’s multi-purpose milk processing machine (ILRI/Susan MacMillan).

Like most dairy products in India today, Mr Kumar’s products are unbranded. Reputations here are still made (and unmade) by word of mouth. And until recent years, most of these products were still made in the home, and mostly by women. But as India modernizes, and more and more people move to the cities and find employment, there is more and more demand for lightly processed milk-based foods supplied by neighbourhood shops like Mr Kumar’s.

More and more people are too busy to make curds and other dairy products themselves, so they come to my shop and others like it every day to buy their milk foods.
—Balinder Kumar

As milk is the basis of the diets of most people here, that means good business for Mr Kumar. And as the country’s population and appetite for dairy grows, so will his business.


Surta Dairy Shop in Karnal, Haryana, India (ILRI/Jules Mateo).

It’s obvious on our visit to his shop, called Surta Dairy (named after Mr Kumar’s father, Surta Singh), that Mr Kumar’s reputation is as solid as his new business. Asked if he is happy that he made the large investment in his multi-purpose dairy machine, Mr Kumar nods emphatically. While he was making little profit selling his surplus milk to middle men along the dairy value chain in his peri-urban village, he said, the added-value products he’s now selling in his urban dairy shop are generating a relatively large, and growing, profit for him and his extended family.


Surta Dairy Shop collage (ILRI/Jules Mateo and Susan MacMillan).

With many thanks to our guide for the morning, Ajay Singh, a graduate student in the Dairy Technology Department of the National Dairy Research Institute, in Karnal.

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

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

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

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

Serious rain: East Africa’s annual Easter resurrection

Story by Susan MacMillan.


Boys with their goats in the rain in Kenya (ILRI/Stevie Mann).

3 April 2016: Loresho, Nairobi suburb
Exactly four days following Easter Sunday this year, the ‘long rains’ arrived in Nairobi, watering the earth, flooding the streets, pounding the rooftops. All night that night, and all night the following nights, the kusi monsoon, blowing inland from across the Indian Ocean, has delivered the beating rain. People dutifully acknowledge this annual East African event, one that seven of every ten East Africans relies on to feed themselves and their families. One that, memorably, on occasion fails to transpire.


A livestock carcass in Kenya, following prolonged drought (Neil Palmer/CIAT).

One year the long rains failed. That is a terrible tremendous experience, and the farmer who has lived through it will never forget it. Years afterwards, away from Africa, in the wet climate of a Northern country, he will start up at night, at the sound of a sudden shower of rain, and cry, ‘At last, at last!’
— Isak Dineson, Out of Africa

15 March 1997: Kinangop, Kenya

Three million people living in areas of the northern, coastal and other low lands of Kenya have been affected by a failure of the annual short rains last October/November, which follow­ed two consecu­tive failures of the annual long (March–May) rains—FAO, 1997

The air is thick, polluted with a haze of smoke from fires burning out of con­trol for the last several weeks in the Aberdares and on Mount Kenya. Zebra stand motionless under thorn trees. Unusual. We are in a dry season in Kenya. Some are calling it a drought. For some it’s been a famine. In the back-country of Machakos District and the remote north­ern frontier, people have died for lack of food. Two boys in Ukambani were reported to have dug up a bur­­ied dog, eaten it and then died themselves. Old people and children are, as always, most vulner­able to calamity. And animals. Across the country, tens of thousands of them have lain down on the hard­pan to die for lack of water and grass.

In the vast drylands of Kenya, the food disappeared soon after the grass. Nairobi shops begin to run out of milk and butter in January. In March, a sand dune is born on either side of the main road west of the capital. Cars on dirt roads plough through dust a foot thick. An abandoned truck lies buried to its axles in a dust drift. People walking along the road are entirely obscured by fine dust our vehicle spins into the air as we make our way to Lake Nai­vasha for the weekend. A Thompson’s gazelle running across the powdered surface of the earth kicks up a cloud of haze that hangs for minutes in the air.

In the meantime, clouds in the sky are moving eastwards from the great lakes of Central Africa and massing over the Rift Valley. The clouds turn dark early mornings and late after­noons. Big winds rise suddenly. To people like me, this spells an end to the dry season. To the farmers in this part of the world, the changed skyscape tells little. Clouds don’t mean rain above the grasslands of the Rift. Rain here doesn’t necessarily mean rain, either. A driz­zle, a few showers, some rainy days — these go unmentioned. As though they never happened.

On a cattle ranch at the foot of the Kinangop Escarp­ment, above Naivasha, a few drops of rain fall. I look up, close my eyes, spread my arms and call out to the others. RAIN! An old-timer looks down at her feet and turns away.

What these farmers are waiting for — what their ways of life depend on — is serious rain. Tropical rain that rains through the night, that hammers the iron-corrugated roofs of home­steads, that splashes into tin gutters and pours out onto the cracked earth. Sheets of rain that turn dirt streets into mud, that bring cattle into still huddles, heads down. Noisy rain that drowns out the world for hours at a time. Such liberation doesn’t come from displays like mine at the fall of a few rain drops.

Serious rain here is called the rains. Every tribe and culture that inhabits the East Afri­ca savannas treats the arrival of the rains as a blessing. Children born in the rains and young couples married in the rains are doubly blessed. With the arrival of the rains, the voices of people on country roads rise. The forms of everything in nature — people, cows, birds, dik-dik, thorn scrub — stiffen a little. Alert, expectant. Listen when the rain stops, when the birds begin to chirp and the sun reappears, and you’ll hear the sound of dormant seeds germin­ating, of grasses sprouting and sap rising — of a vast store of energy being released. A great moment is in the making: the food cycle is about to begin again.


Kenya schoolboy enjoying the rain (Flickr/Viktor Dobai).

29–30 March 1997: Karen, Nairobi suburb
9:30 PM: A window is open. We’re watching a video. We smell wet on pavement before we hear it fall. The splats of fat drops hitting leaves and tree trunks and the sides of the house. Then the unspeakably sweet sound of steady rain. A wetting rain. A rain that will penetrate the ground, soften the earth, prepare it for the heavier rains to follow.

10:30 PM: We open sliding doors in the living room, step onto the veranda and breath in. The rain has stopped. Lightening flashes. Between claps of thunder, a chorus of amphibian and insect life, outrageously loud, rises and falls in rhythmic succession. ‘A bit of rain sure stirs things up,’ my husband says.

11:30 PM: Later, in bed, a steady rain starts up again. The frogs and insects must have known this (how do they know this?) — that that first fall of rain was the beginning of serious rain. That it will rain tonight all night long. We fall asleep in a cool room, as fresh as the breeze on our faces.

6:30 AM: We awake as the rain finally stops, just before light. Somewhere in the night the frogs and cicada ended their revelry. Excited birds now make their own racket in the garden. Well under way by dawn on this Easter Sunday morning is the resurrection that occurs every year in this country with the arrival of the long rains.

But when the earth answered like a sounding-board in a deep fertile roar, and the world sang round you in all dimensions — all above and below — that was the rain. It was like coming back to the sea, when you have been a long time away from it, like a lover’s embrace.
— Isak Dineson, Out of Africa


Head of sandstone buddha in the bodhi tree roots at Mahathat temple, Ayutthaya, Thailand (Kat Nienartowicz).

20 April 1997: Karen, Nairobi suburb
I work in an upstairs study, at a desk facing a window that looks onto a fig tree. In this last month of rains, the tree has sprout­ed shiny leathery leaves the colour of lime-green. At the bases of the leaves, figs the size and shape of big peas grow in tight clusters.

A dozen yellow-vented bulbuls, a streaky mix of black and yellow green, are sitting in the tree this morning, at my eye level. I watch as the birds peck at the ripe figs, breaking a hole through the outer skin, then working the hole until it becomes a slit that unhinges to reveal a brownish nutty-looking pulp within. From somewhere in the tree a black-headed (bright yellow) oriole produces a melodi­ous liquid whistle. A pair of paradise fly-catchers, long-tailed and chestnut-coloured, swoop through the branches to catch insects gorging on the newly exposed pulp. Dropped and disembowelled fruits lie scattered across the driveway. Bats will feed on these wild figs tonight. So will vervet monkeys, baboons, hyrax and other small animals I never see.

The fig tree is still common in Nairobi gardens. The ‘strangler fig’, which begins its life in the fork of a host tree, which it embraces and ultimately kills with its aerial roots in their downward stretch for earth, provides shade even in the middle of the dry season. Known as Mugumu in Kikuyu, this fig tree is a gathering point for communities and is widely regarded in East Africa as the sacred home of ancestral spirits. Five centuries before the birth of Jesus, Gautama Buddha is reported to have been sitting under a fig tree — I imagine an enormous Indian Banyan of the strang­ler type — when he attained enlightenment, entering that state of perfect illumination that reportedly exists beyond passion, suffering and existence itself.

This story was originally published originally on Medium, 3 Apr 2016:
View story at

Reverse vaccinology identifies candidates for an improved vaccine against cattle pneumonia in Africa


Untitled artwork by Cuban artist Alfredo Sosabravo.

‘Mycoplasma mycoides subsp. mycoides (Mmm) is the causative agent of contagious bovine pleuropneumonia (CBPP), a devastating respiratory disease mainly affecting cattle in sub-Saharan Africa. The current vaccines are based on live-attenuated Mmm strains and present problems with temperature stability, duration of immunity and adverse reactions, thus new vaccines are needed to overcome these issues.

‘We used a reverse vaccinology approach to identify 66 Mmm potential vaccine candidates. The selection and grouping of the antigens was based on the presence of specific antibodies in sera from CBPP-positive animals. The antigens were used to immunize male Boran cattle (Bos indicus) followed by a challenge with the Mmm strain Afadé.

‘Two of the groups immunized with five proteins each showed protection after the Mmm challenge (Groups A and C; P < 0.05) and in one group (Group C) Mmm could not be cultured from lung specimens. A third group (Group N) showed a reduced number of animals with lesions and the cultures for Mmm were also negative. While immunization with some of the antigens conferred protection, others may have increased immune-related pathology.’

This is the first report that Mmm recombinant proteins have been successfully used to formulate a prototype vaccine and these results pave the way for the development of a novel commercial vaccine.

ILRI co-author of this paper Joerg Jores makes the following remarks about this success.

‘The International Development Research Centre (IDRC) granted the Vaccine Infectious Disease Organization (VIDO) and the Kenya Agricultural and Livestock Research Organisation (KALRO) a research project to develop a subunit vaccine for CBPP. This project developed successfully and resulted in identification of proteins for a candidate vaccine (Perez Casal et al, 2015, Veterinary Immunology and Immunopathology).

‘At the moment it is not known whether the duration of protection and the efficacy elicited by the recombinant proteins identified are superior to that of the T1/44 live vaccine. A second phase funding from IDRC for VIDO and KALRO will devote efforts to improve and refine the current cocktail subunit vaccine. A subunit vaccine will overcome the need for a cold chain.

‘My ILRI colleague Anne Liljander and I employed ‘reverse vaccinology’—which uses bioinformatics to screen the entire genome of a pathogen to find genes likely to induce protective immune responses in the host animal—to identify 38 Mycoplasma antigens of potential interest (Perez Casal et al, 2015, Veterinary Immunology and Immunopathology). The antigen-encoding genes have been codon optimized, cloned in an expression vector and transferred to VIDO-KALRO.  Two groups of cattle each receiving 5 recombinant antigens showed significant levels of protection compared to the control group. Eight of the 10 of the antigens in the two pools found to be protective were identified by us using the reverse vaccinology approach.’


Graphic from Journal of Clinical Bioinformatics.

Genomics-based antigen selection using reverse vaccinology
‘The reverse approach to vaccine development takes advantage of the recent breakthrough in complete genome sequencing of many bacteria, parasites and viruses. The genome sequence provides a catalogue of all protein antigens that the pathogen can express at any time. Reverse vaccinology is based on in silico prediction of vaccine antigen candidates using the genetic sequence rather than the pathogen itself. This approach allows not only the identification of all antigens seen by conventional methods, but also the discovery of novel antigens that might be less abundant, not expressed in vitro, or less immunogenic during infection that are likely to be missed by conventional approaches (Table 3.1.1). In theory, all genes of a pathogen can be tested without any bias in a high-throughput system to screen for protective immunity.’—Sylvie Bertholet, Steven G Reed and Rino Rappuoli, from Ch 3.1: ‘Reverse vaccinology’, in The Art & Science of Tuberculosis Vaccine Development, 2nd edition.

Read the whole science paper (behind a paywall), Recombinant Mycoplasma mycoides proteins elicit protective immune responses against contagious bovine pleuropneumonia, by Isabel Nkandoa (Kenya Agricultural and Livestock Research Organisation [KALRO]), Jose Perez-Casal (Vaccine Infectious Disease Organization—International Vaccine Centre [VIDO-InterVac]), Martin Mwirigi (KALRO), Tracy Prysliak (VIDO-InterVac), Hugh Townsend (VIDO-InterVac), Emil Berberov (VIDO-InterVac), Joseph Kuria (University of Nairobi), John Mugambi (KALRO), Reuben Soi (KALRO), Anne Liljander (ILRI), Joerg Jores (ILRI), Volker Gerdts, Andrew Potter (VIDO-InterVac), Jan Naessens (ILRI), Hezron Wesonga (KALRO), published in Veterinary Immunology and Immunopathology, Vol 171, Mar 2016.

Elite buffaloes and other exemplars of advanced Indian dairy science at the National Dairy Research Institute



Shrestha, the world’s first cloned buffalo bull, in his holding pen at India’s National Dairy Research Institute (NDRI) (photo credit: ILRI/Susan MacMillan).

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

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

A journey to India by staff of the International Livestock Research Institute (ILRI)
earlier this month started in the prosperous northern state of Haryana,
at the National Dairy Research Institute (NDRI),
located in the city of Karnal.

Shrestha, a spirited buffalo bull, greeted Jimmy Smith, director general of the International Livestock Research Institute (ILRI), with a low grunt during a visit Smith and his delegation recently made at the National Dairy Research Institute (NDRI), India’s pre-eminent dairy research centre, located in the northern city of Karnal and the prosperous state of Haryana.

Curious about his visitors and eager to play (or perhaps to attack, it was hard to tell), the six-year-old Shrestha did not stand still for a second in his holding pen. Jet black and weighing something like 550 kilos, Shrestha, which means ‘most excellent’ or ‘noble’ in Sanskrit, is no ordinary domesticated water buffalo. He is the world’s first cloned Murrah buffalo bull.

Cloning research

Buffalo bull Shrestha is a Murrah, a high milk-yielding breed (photo credit: ILRI/Jules Mateo).

The largest member of the Bovini tribe, which includes yak, bison, wild African buffalo and various species of wild cattle, the water (or Asian) buffalo is a formidable animal. These animals carry enormous backward-curving, crescent-shaped and deeply ridged horns stretching close to 5 feet (1.5 meters) long in males.

Domesticated for more than 5,000 years, water buffalo have buttressed humanity’s survival with their meat, horns, hides, milk, butterfat, and power, plowing and transporting people and crops.—National Geographic

The Murrah is a breed of domestic water buffalo kept for dairy production. It originated from Punjab and Haryana states of India and has been used to improve the milk production of dairy buffalo in India and many other countries. Of the 13 buffalo breeds in India, the Murrah is the most sought after. Acknowledged as the best ‘breed-improver’, its gene pool now extends across the globe in South Asia, South America, Mexico and West Asia.

Researchers at NDRI, a major partner of ILRI’s, produced the world’s first cloned buffalo in 2009 using an ‘advanced hand-guided cloning technique’ and a donor cell from a foetus. In total, NDRI has produced more than a dozen cloned milch animals, including Swarupa, a female calf cloned from Karan-Kirti, the highest milk-producing Murrah buffalo at NDRI farm, and Apurva, a female calf cloned using somatic cells isolated from urine. Both female calves were born in 2015.


At NDRI’s experimental dairy production farm (photo credit: ILRI/Jules Mateo).

As previously reported in the Times of India, ‘NDRI director AK Srivastava hoped that the technology could go a long way in multiplying the number of best milch buffaloes in the country. “India has world’s largest population of buffaloes, which contribute about 55% of the total milk production in the country but even then there is an urgent need to enhance the population of elite buffaloes as their number is very small,” he said.’


The ILRI delegation tours the impressive animal facilities at NDRI (photo credit: ILRI/Susan MacMillan).

According to AK Srivastava and MS Chauhan, a principal scientist at NDRI’s Animal Biotechnology Centre, the NDRI experimental and dairy processing units also take pride in related advanced research achievements, such as the expression of the human insulin gene in buffalo mammary epithelial cells for production of insulin to treat diabetes and the expression of the human lactoferrin gene in goats for production of human lactoferrin to treat diarrhea, intestinal ulcers and other digestive problems.

Animal science laboratory

An animal science laboratory at NDRI (photo credit: ILRI/Susan MacMillan).

The dairy institute has many other practical achievements to boast of. It has, for example, developed a model that identifies heat stress in Murrah buffaloes and assesses how that stress affects the animal’s reproduction and it has been granted patents for an improved process for preparing milk cake and for a kit that detects detergent in milk. Here is a more complete list of the major achievements of NDRI’s Animal Biotechnology Centre alone.)


The ILRI delegation tours NDRI’s advanced research into milk/dairy processing (photo credit: ILRI/Susan MacMillan).

NDRI operates under the aegis of the Indian Council of Agricultural Research (ICAR), which is based in New Delhi. With more than 10,000 scientific and technical staff working at 101 ICAR institutes and 71 agricultural universities across the country, ICAR is one of the largest national agricultural systems in the world.


NDRI’s museum-cum-farm for livestock feed and fodder varieties (photo credit: ILRI/Jules Mateo).

NDRI’s research programs focus on dairy production, processing and management as well as dairy research, training and extension. Specifically, the research institute concentrates on improving dairy animal genetics, dairy production systems and dairy cow productivity (via improved feeds and animal nutrition), as well as producing nutraceuticals (probiotics, prebiotics, micronutrients) in milk, adding value to traditional milk products (via new processes, biotechnologies, etc.) and ensuring quality control in dairy enterprises.


An NDRI dedicated facility for cow and buffalo semen (photo credit: ILRI/Jules Mateo).

NDRI and ILRI are currently identifying areas for collaboration in dairy research and animal biosciences as part of a three-year (2015–18) ICAR-ILRI work plan. The research areas identified include animal breeding and health, food safety, zoonotic disease control, feed and fodder improvements and enhanced livestock value chains, as well as work to further develop and expand India’s already large capacity in livestock research for development.

With animal breeding already selected as one of the joint focus areas, the collaborative cloning of another ‘noble’ animal might one day be in the cards.


Portrait of one of NDRI’s many well-kept animals (photo credit: ILRI/Susan MacMillan).

Read Part 1, Colourful convocation: Jimmy Smith addresses graduates of India’s prestigious National Dairy Research Institute, 30 Mar 2016, in this blog series: ‘Curds and goats, lives and livelihoods—A dozen stories from northern and eastern India’.

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

Carnation convocation: Jimmy Smith addresses graduates of India’s prestigious National Dairy Research Institute

Jimmy Smith receives his honorary degree from NDRI

Jimmy Smith receives an honorary degree from Kaptan Singh Solanki Ji, the governor of Haryana State, at the 14th Convocation ceremony of the National Dairy Research Institute, in Karnal, Haryana, India, on 5 Mar 2016 (credit for all photos on this page: ILRI/Susan MacMillan).

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

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

A journey to India by staff of the International Livestock Research Institute (ILRI) this month started in the prosperous northern state of Haryana, at the National Dairy Research Institute (NDRI), located in the city of Karnal.

Haryana’s National Dairy Research Institute
On Saturday 5 Mar 2016, an ILRI delegation  gathered in Karnal, a 2–3 hour’s drive north of Delhi known as ‘the rice bowl of India’. Agriculture and related industries, such as the manufacture of agricultural implements and spares, are the backbone of the local economy here. Haryana’s agricultural and manufacturing industries have experienced sustained growth since the 1970s. The whole state of Haryana, like its Punjab neighbour to the north, from which it was carved out in 1966, is one of the most economically developed regions in South Asia.

Jimmy Smith and Alok Jha

ILRI Director General Jimmy Smith and ILRI Representative for South Asia Alok Jha at the NDRI Convocation ceremony.

The ILRI delegation consisted of ILRI’s director general, Jimmy Smith and his wife, Charmaine Smith, who are based in Nairobi, Kenya; ILRI’s representative in South Asia, Alok Jha, and his administrative assistant, Roma Oli, both based in New Delhi; ILRI’s head of communications and knowledge management, Peter Ballantyne, based in Nairobi; and two other communications staff, Susan MacMillan, based in Nairobi, and Jules Mateo, based in Manila.

NDRI Convocation event

A graduate fixes his graduation robes, official welcome to the NDRI 14th Convocation, a few of the graduates awaiting the awarding of their degrees, and carnations decorate the stage.

A new graduate receives his degree from Jimmy Smith

Jimmy Smith awards a new NDRI graduate his degree.

We were here to attend the 14th graduation ceremony at the National Dairy Research Institute (NDRI), Deemed University, India’s pre-eminent dairy institution.

The National Dairy Research Institute as the premier Dairy Research Institution undertakes research, teaching and extension activities towards dairy development in the country. Being the National Institute, it conducts basic and applied research with the objective to enhance animal productivity and also to develop cost effective technologies for the benefit of the teeming millions. Further, the Institute provides high quality manpower to meet the human resource requirements for the overall dairy development in the country. The Institute also undertakes extension programmes for transferring the know-how from the laboratory to the farmers’ fields.’—Wikipedia

Jimmy Smith at the 14th Convocation of NDRI

ILRI Director General Jimmy Smith poses before a billboard announcing his address at the 14th Convocation of NDRI, In Karnal, India, on 5 Mar 2016, with (left to right): MS Chauhan, of NDRI’s Animal Biotechnology Centre; Charmaine Smith; and a graduating student, who is taking a ‘selfie’.

ILRI Director General Jimmy Smith was here to give the convocation address (aka ‘the commencement speech’ in North America) at NDRI’s 14th graduation ceremony. Smith was also being awarded an honorary degree (honoris causa) for his contributions to livestock research for development.

Jimmy Smith

Jimmy Smith giving the NDRI convocation address.

Here’s Smith’s address in full, and the slides that accompanied it.

The importance of global animal agriculture
All of us are familiar with the Green Revolution, ending in the late 1960s, and for many years now we have been speaking about a subsequent Livestock Revolution, which started in the 1970s. But research-based predictions that began to appear in 1999 about an expected doubling in demand for livestock commodities were largely ignored. In many developing and emerging economies today, the growth in consumer demand for milk, meat and eggs has been as surprising as it is unprecedented. And that growth will only continue.

Jimmy Smith's NDRI Convocation address

Globally by 2050, the world will need one billion more tonnes of dairy products and half a billion more tonnes of meat than it required in 2000.

This rapidly rising demand is being driven by increasing populations, urbanization and incomes. The UN estimates that the planet’s population will grow from 7.4 billion today to 10 or more billion by mid-century. As people everywhere move to cities and earn a little more income—starting at the equivalent of just over US$2 per person per day—they begin to supplement their heavily starchy diets with more energy-dense animal-source foods.

Within the next decade, and for the first time ever, most people will be classified as ‘middle class’ and by 2050 over two-thirds of the earth’s inhabitants will live in cities. India itself will have some 1.3 billion middle-class citizens by 2030, which will represent almost one-quarter of the entire world’s middle class population.

As consumer demand for meat, milk and eggs rises, so does consumer demand for better quality and safer foods and eventually for greater welfare of the farm animals themselves.

Jimmy Smith's NDRI Convocation address

What’s unprecedented and largely under-appreciated in the ongoing Livestock Revolution is that virtually all of the increasing demand for animal-source foods is taking place outside of industrialized nations. But although the huge increases in demand for dairy, eggs and meat are generated by many millions of people in poor countries newly being able to afford just a little more of these foods, per capita levels of consumption of animal-source foods in emerging economies are likely to remain at less than half those current in the developed world.

Jimmy Smith's NDRI Convocation address

Meeting the increasing global demand for livestock products is of course a challenge. It’s also big business, presenting major economic opportunities for individuals; for small, medium and large businesses; and for multilateral companies. Five of the highest value commodities globally are animal-source products (including fish), which had a total value in 2013 of more than $700 billion.

Jimmy Smith's NDRI Convocation address

More than a billion people one way or another earn their living from the livestock sector. Whether or not developing nations can meet the skyrocketing demand for livestock commodities—and how they do so and who gets to participate—will impact most if not all of their major development challenges, from food and nutritional security to economic growth and foreign exchange to public health and environmental sustainability.

Many alternatives, options and solutions can and will be used to meet the growing demand for milk, eggs and meat. Policies, regulations and incentive structures will strongly influence socio-economic, health and environmental choices and opportunities. Now is the time to consider these to ensure we don’t miss windows of ‘win-win-win opportunities’ that are now opening.

If, for example, developing countries choose to meet the growing demand for animal-source foods by importing significant amounts of these foods, they will have to manage a skewed foreign exchange and greater unemployment, especially among the young, while the countries producing the foods will likely have to expand their resource-intensive and environmentally unfriendly production systems. And both exporting and importing countries will be responsible for increasing environmental damage and climate change by transporting these (highly perishable) foods over long distances.

To generate economies of scale, livestock producers in many developing and emerging economies are already rapidly expanding their industrial-scale poultry and swine operations, thereby increasing potential threats of environmental pollution, zoonotic disease and consumption of contaminated foods. Such industrial-scale establishments rarely provide significant and equitable employment opportunities or new opportunities for millions of men and women raising and selling animals for their livelihoods.

If industrial operations rapidly become major sources of livestock commodities in developing and emerging economies, another downside will affect today’s 700 million ‘mixed’ smallholder farmers, who raise animals as well as grow crops. These integrated farmers produce over 50% of the milk and meat in developing countries and some 50% of the cereals. We must help a significant proportion of these ubiquitous mixed smallholders to transition their enterprises into efficient systems, connected to markets and providing safe products.

Livestock trajectories providing widespread benefits will not happen by chance. I hope those of you graduating today will apply the knowledge and skills you have acquired to help Indian farmers make this transition over the coming decades. A fundamental basis for a more productive and sustainable sector lies in the underlying productivity of the animals themselves, an area where many of you and this institute have an immense amount to offer. Your skills—not only in efficient production of milk, eggs and meat but also in socioeconomics, gender issues, policymaking, extension education and institutional change—can ensure that appropriate markets, policies and institutions together manage to bring about transformation of India’s livestock value chains.

Jimmy Smith's NDRI Convocation address

Your country gives you an immediate, and large, advantage. India is one of the few countries in the world already finding and implementing profitable, efficient, equitable and sustainable ways to meet the increasing demand for animal-source foods.

Jimmy Smith's NDRI Convocation address

Jimmy Smith's NDRI Convocation address

India is one of the few nations that heeded and took early advantage of predictions about the ‘livestock revolution’. Consider a few well-known facts.

Milk production: India is currently the world’s largest producer of milk, accounting for 19% of global production. The country’s milk production is expected to grow 4.5% annually—more than twice the rate of the rest of South Asia. In 2012–13, India produced 132 million MT of milk.

Meat production: In 2015, India was the world’s largest beef exporter, exporting some 2 million MT; it was one of only four countries in the world to exceed beef exports of 1 million MT ( The annual value of these beef exports is estimated to be almost $5 billion. (Production figures: Department of Animal Husbandry, Dairying & Fisheries, Ministry of Agriculture, GoI.)

Jimmy Smith's NDRI Convocation address

GDP: In 2011, Indian livestock contributed about 26% of agricultural GDP and 4% of total GDP valued at INR4,59,051 crore (US$74 billion today).

Dairy: Of the 121 million dairy farms in the world in 2014, 76 million were in India (IFCN database).

Smallholders: More than 70% of the production of milk and meat in India is in the hands of some 130 million smallholders who raise more than 80% of the country’s animals.

Jimmy Smith's NDRI Convocation address

Sector growth: India’s livestock sub-sector is expected to grow annually at about 5.5% versus the total agricultural sector, which is expected to grow at 3.7% each year.

Jimmy Smith's NDRI Convocation address

Milk: In the next decade, global production of milk will increase by more than 125 million tonnes, with more than 65% of this increase in the Asia Pacific region, with India alone accounting for 45% of this growth.

Jimmy Smith's NDRI Convocation address

So what did India do that others didn’t?
With milk important culturally as well as economically and nutritionally to India, there has been good political will to support this commodity in particular. In other regions of the world, animal agriculture does not get such strong political and policy attention. Clearly, to meet the increasing demands for animal-source foods, we cannot ignore such political dimensions; the profile (or lack of profile) of animal agriculture on the political stage is critically important.

Jimmy Smith's NDRI Convocation address

Despite India’s impressive progress in advancing animal agriculture, there remain some challenges, both to the sector and to its profile, that I hope those of you graduating today will help meet.

Jimmy Smith's NDRI Convocation address

Tackling challenges to India’s livestock sector
Despite impressive successes, in general yields per animal in India remain low. Part of the increase in production to date may have come from growth in the number of animals. Assessments show considerable variation in the magnitude of the yield gaps for India’s livestock production, which indicates that there are real opportunities for improving competitiveness in the country’s livestock sector.

Jimmy Smith's NDRI Convocation address

Addressing underperformance should be a high priority for research and development, including by improving technologies that enhance animal productivity, improving animal nutrition through better feeds and forages, and improving animal breeding and health. Also needed are viable input and output markets designed to serve small-scale livestock producers. And innovative approaches are needed to leverage inputs from the private sector to better serve small- and medium-scale actors, especially women and youth.

Jimmy Smith's NDRI Convocation address

Jimmy Smith's NDRI Convocation address

Jimmy Smith's NDRI Convocation address

Given that most milk, eggs and meat are purchased in informal markets in developing countries, there are also major opportunities for upgrading informal markets by working directly with informal market actors to raise their hygiene and food safety standards through, for example, training and certification schemes; these have been successfully implemented in Assam.

And we ignore at our peril the livestock sector’s negative impacts on the environment and health. Transformation of smallholder production systems offers opportunities to mitigate such harms.

Jimmy Smith's NDRI Convocation address

Globally, dairy farms contribute some 1.4 gigatonnes of carbon dioxide equivalent (CO2 eq) from producing, processing and transporting milk. South Asian dairy is estimated to contribute 120 million tonnes CO2 eq per year. As noted, improving animal performance, and thus productivity, presents good opportunities for reducing the amount of greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions per unit of milk or meat and is thus an important win-win opportunity (less GHG and more milk or meat) for reduced GHG emissions. GHG emissions can also be mitigated by better use of local feed resources, balancing dairy cow rations for improved digestibility, and better managing manure, such as through anaerobic manure digester technology. FAO estimates that a 38% reduction in the GHG emissions from South Asia dairy is feasible by implementing such interventions in integrated ways.

Jimmy Smith's NDRI Convocation address

Tackling challenges
As you graduates move from academic theory to development practice, here are just a few of the critically important change you can accomplish:
• Raise the profile of animal agriculture, nationally, regionally and internationally
• Raise political will and policy support for smallholder animal agriculture
• Source and use livestock facts and figures that resonate across society, including the livestock sector’s contributions to food and nutritional security and employment and economic growth
• Build the case that India’s livestock sector will be advanced by combining options ranging from technical to economic to political to institutional

I hope I have provided you with some information and inspiration in that regard.

I congratulate you all. It has been a privilege to speak to you.

Finally, I thank the National Dairy Research Institute for bestowing on me today the degree honoris causa. I am honoured by this award and will do my best to live up to this distinguished degree from this esteemed institute.

Jimmy Smith's NDRI Convocation address

CGIAR Rwanda Climate Services for Agriculture project launches today, #WorldMetDay

CezarieMukabanda, Dairy farmer, Bishweshwe village, Rwamagana district in the Eastern Province, Rwanda

Cezarie Mukabanda, a dairy farmer in Rwanda’s Eastern Province, is participating in a project on ‘Climate-smart Brachiaria grasses for improved livestock production in East Africa’  led by the Biosciences eastern and central Africa-ILRI Hub (photo credit: BecA-ILRI Hub/Ethel Makila).

A new project will make use of reconstructed meteorological data from Rwanda in cutting-edge climate science. The project will develop climate information products and services based on the expressed needs of the country’s farmers and other end users. The data will be translated into forecasts relevant to farmers and government capacity will be built to deliver this service.

‘The work is carried out by the Rwanda Agriculture Board (RAB) and Meteo Rwanda, in collaboration with the CGIAR Research Program on Climate, Agriculture and Food Security (CCAFS), the International Research Institute for Climate and Society (IRI) at Columbia University, the International Center for Tropical Agriculture (CIAT), the World Agroforestry Centre (ICRAF), and the International Livestock Research Institute (ILRI), with funding from the United States Agency for International Development (USAID).

‘The missing data traces its origins in tragedy. The 1994 civil war and genocide in Rwanda led to a catastrophic disruption of Rwanda’s meteorological observation network. Most of the country’s weather stations had been wrecked, looted or rendered inoperable by the violence. A decade later, only few stations had been brought back online. It was not until 2010 that Rwanda’s National Meteorological Agency restored its pre-1994 number of stations. . . .

‘[Tufa] Dinku lists a number of questions that are difficult to answer without solid historical data: How is climate change unfolding in the country? Are there certain areas seeing more impacts than others? What is the year-to-year variability in rainfall and how has that changed? What has been the trend between climate and agricultural productivity? Even the impacts of El Niño would be poorly known.

Agriculture contributes to one-third of Rwanda’s gross domestic production and remains the main source of subsistence for the majority of the country’s population. Farming employs eight out of ten Rwandans. Despite its importance, the sector remains highly vulnerable to current and projected climate and weather variability. Severe flooding in 2007, for example, caused an estimated USD 22 million in two districts alone. Recurrent hail and wind storms, heavy rains and prolonged droughts take frequent tolls on agricultural productivity. Such weather events are expected to become more frequent and intensive with climate change, posing a threat to food security.

‘With ENACTS, Meteo-Rwanda has filled in the missing data by blending whatever on-the-ground measurements existed with global satellite and climate model products. As a result, Rwanda now has more than 30 years of rainfall and temperature data every 5 km across the whole country. . . .

‘“Rebuilding the data sets the foundation for developing the kinds of information products we know are useful to farmers and other decision makers,” explained James Hansen, Program Leader for the CCAFS flagship on managing climate risk. “These include forecasts by SMS and radio, which now reach millions of rural people in countries such as Senegal,” he said.

‘The new Rwanda Climate Services for Agriculture project will build on the ENACTS innovations to improve agricultural planning and food security management in the country at all levels. . . .

“Rwanda is showcasing what can be done with climate services, even when you have an enormous gap in observational records,” said Hansen. “It’s the only country in Africa as far as we know with an official ‘open data’ policy and it’s poised to lead the continent in making not just forecasts but data a public good and a resource for development.”

Further information
Project factsheet: Rwanda Climate Services for Agriculture
Website: Enhancing National Climate Services (ENACTS) webpage
Video: ENACTS Explained by lead researcher Tufa Dinku
Video: Cimate Data Matters for Development

Read more about today’s launch—Building climate services capacity in Rwanda—on the website of the CGIAR Research Program for Climate Change, Agriculture and Food Security (CCAFS), 23 Mar 2016, and on the site of the International Research Institute for Climate and Society (IRI): New climate services program in Rwanda aims to reach one million farmers, 23 Mar 2016

Livestock can significantly reduce greenhouse gases AND deliver benefits to the poor–Nature Climate Change


Mario Herrero, chief research scientist for Food Systems and the Environment at the Commonwealth Scientific and Industrial Research Organisation (CSIRO), in Australia, and colleagues at the International Livestock Research Institute (ILRI) and elsewhere published a paper yesterday (21 Mar 2016) in Nature Climate Change on Greenhouse gas mitigation potentials in the livestock sector.

A global leader on livestock systems research in the developing world, Herrero previously led a Sustainable Livestock Futures Group at ILRI.

Four of the other authors of this paper work for ILRI.

The following is from the CSIRO press release on this paper.


 All cow images by Andy Warhol, 1966 (via Wikiart). Scientists have found that the global livestock sector can maintain the economic and social benefits it delivers while significantly reducing emissions, and in doing so help meet the global mitigation challenge. ‘The global livestock sector supports about 1.3 billion producers and retailers around the world, and is a significant global economic contributor. New analysis, published today in Nature Climate Change, estimates that livestock could account for up to half of the mitigation potential of the global agricultural, forestry and land-use sectors, which are the second largest source of emissions globally, after the energy sector. The lead author of this study, CSIRO’s Dr Mario Herrero, said this new account of the mitigation potential for the global livestock sector is the most comprehensive analysis to date as it considers both the supply and demand sides of the industry.

. . . ‘The research was published today in Nature Climate Change and carried out in partnership between CSIRO, the International Institute for Applied Systems Analysis, the CGIAR Research Program on Climate Change, Agriculture and Food Security (CCAFS), Colorado State University, the University of Aberdeen, Chalmers University of Technology, Pennsylvania State University, FAO, Wageningen University, Karlsruhe Institute of Technology, the International Livestock Research Institute, University of Oxford, the PBL Netherlands Environmental Assessment Agency.’

Read the whole press release from CSIRO: Greenhouse gas mitigation from livestock sector revealed, 22 Mar 2016.


Author Mario Herrero gives the following report in The Conversation on this new livestock review paper.

‘Farming livestock—cattle, sheep, goats, pigs and chickens—contributes around 6 billion tonnes of greenhouse gases (carbon dioxide, methane and nitrous oxide) to the atmosphere each year. While estimates vary, this could represent up to 18% of global emissions.

‘But the livestock sector also offers great benefits. It includes 20 billion animals, supports 1.3 billion farmers and retailers, and contributes up to half of the economic product from agriculture. The consumption of meat, milk and eggs is projected to grow 70% by 2050, mostly in the developing world.

Our study, published in Nature Climate Change, reveals that the global livestock sector can maintain the economic and social benefits it delivers while significantly reducing emissions. In doing so it will help meet the global mitigation challenge.

‘Around 1.6–2.7 billion tonnes of greenhouse gases each year, mostly methane, are produced from livestock digestion. Another 1.3–2.0 billion tonnes of nitrous oxide come from producing feed for livestock. And the final 1.6 billion tonnes comes from land use changes, such as clearing for animal pastures.

‘Emissions from livestock production vary across the globe. The developing world accounts for 70% of emissions, mainly because of the large numbers of animals used for a variety of purposes beyond production of meat, milk and eggs.

Greenhouse gas emissions from global livestock 1995-2005. Red areas represent more greenhouse gases. Herrero et al., 2016, Nature Climate Change.


‘The emissions intensity of producing livestock products (the amount of greenhouse gas that goes into producing a kilogram of protein) also differs significantly between regions. The developed world has lower emission intensities than the developing world due to the use of better feeds and management practices.

‘There are also large differences between livestock products. Poultry and pork products produce fewer emissions per unit of product than milk, and all these produce less than red meats.


It seems likely that emissions from livestock could be reduced by around 2.4 billion tonnes of greenhouse gases each year through technology and management.

‘Achieving these savings will be dependent on improvements in feeding practices (better pastures, new types of food, more grains and others), improved ways of handling manure, and improved genetics and animal management.

Many of these strategies are based on sustainable intensification: producing more livestock protein with fewer resources and storing carbon in the land. . . . Policy changes will also be important. Adoption of many practices that reduce gross greenhouse gas emissions has been low (10–30% of producers) due to poor incentives. . . . . . . Mitigation efforts in the land use sector need to be coordinated for them to be effective. It will be a game of carrots and sticks to ensure we get this right, and this is an urgent area of continuous research.

‘The elephant in the room is whether we should be looking to transition away from eating meat. We found that, in theory, this practice could mitigate up 5–6 billion tonnes of greenhouse gas emissions in the most extreme scenarios.

‘But as with many interconnected systems there is rarely an easy answer. In the developing world for instance, where lack of some nutrients and too many of others can occur at the same time, the problem is more complex.

The question becomes about who keeps on eating and who should reduce consumption, and which products and where. These issues are highly localised and therefore require local policy responses and action. With such an interconnected sector contributing 40–50% of agricultural GDP and to significant employment, poorly planned transitions in the global food system could have serious negative consequences in terms of the Sustainable Development Goals. . . . Sustainable intensification of livestock can reduce greenhouse gas emissions, but it will require better management, economic incentives and well-designed policies.


Read the whole article by Mario Herrero in The Conversation–Australia Edition: To reduce greenhouse gases from cows and sheep, we need to look at the big picture, 22 Mar 2016.

Read the whole science paper in Nature Climate Change: Greenhouse gas emission potentials in the livestock sector, 21 Mar 2016, by:
Mario Herrero: CSIRO (formerly ILRI)
Benjamin Henderson: CSIRO
Petr Havlík: ILRI and the International Institute for Applied Systems Analysis (IIASA)
Philip Thornton: ILRI and the CGIAR Research Program on Climate Change, Agriculture and Food Security (CCAFS)
Richard Conant: ILRI research partner at Colorado State University
Pete Smith: University of Aberdeen
Stefan Wirsenius: CSIRO and Chalmers University of Technology
Alexander Hristov: Pennsylvania State University
Pierre Gerber: Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations and Wageningen University
Margaret Gill: University of Aberdeen
Klaus Butterbach-Bahl: ILRI and the Karlsruhe Institute of Technology (KIT)
Hugo Valin: IIASA
Tara Garnett: University of Oxford
Elke Stehfest: PBL Netherlands Environmental Assessment Agency

Harnessing livestock for the Sustainable Development Goals

Women herding goats in Rajasthan, India

Livestock in India (photo credit: ILRI/Stevie Mann).

One of the fastest growing subsectors in agriculture–livestock–can significantly contribute to the United Nations’ Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) if the opportunities it offers, especially for people in developing countries, are harnessed for economic growth, improved livelihoods and food and nutritional security.

Shirley Tarawali, assistant director general of the International Livestock Research Institute (ILRI), says that over the next few decades, smallholder food producers of developing countries, who today produce most of the livestock products bought and consumed in developing countries, can not only help meet the SDGs but can also help meet their countries’ rising demand for milk, meat and eggs.

Five of world’s top six commodities in terms of commercial value are animal-source foods, which are worth over USD700 billion annually and there is increasing demand for them in developing countries.

Speaking at a seminar co-hosted by the Texas A&M College of Veterinary Medicine & Biomedical Sciences (CVM), Borlaug Institute for International Agriculture, and Texas A&M One Health Initiative on 1 Mar 2016, Tarawali presented a developing-country perspective of the key role that small-scale livestock producers, processors and sellers can play in achieving the SDGs. She also gave overviews of the institute’s current research and its anticipated outcomes.

Tarawali grouped the 17 SDGs into four ‘clusters’ to aid quick identification of the roles played by the livestock sector in the SDGs. Her clustering, listed below, is similar to that of the Global Agenda for Sustainable Livestock (GASL) and the Livestock Global Alliance (LGA).

  • Livestock and inclusive, sustainable economic growth
  • Livestock and equitable livelihoods
  • Animal-source foods for nutrition and health
  • Livestock and sustainable ecosystems

Countries such as Ethiopia and Tanzania, Tarawali said, are working with ILRI to identify high priorities for transforming the livestock subsector through improved delivery systems, markets and institutions so that it drives greater and broader-based economic growth.

ILRI is also focusing on specifically improving the livelihoods of women livestock producers, marketers and other value chain actors. And initiatives such as ILRI’s index-based livestock insurance are protecting pastoralists in the Horn of Africa against drought-related livestock losses and dependence on food aid.

Animal-source foods are key to food and nutritional security in developing countries, Tarawali said. ‘But we need healthy food from healthy animals that are not spreading disease’. ILRI and partners are addressing emerging diseases coming from animals and their products. In India, Kenya and Vietnam, for example, ILRI is training milk and meat producers and sellers on hygienic handling to improve access to safer livestock products.

‘We’re also developing new livestock feeding and genetics options to enable developing-country farmers and herders to produce more food with fewer animals. These interventions will help small-scale food producers to meet the rising demand for livestock products while at the same time enabling them to reduce the amount of greenhouse gases emitted per unit of animal-source food produced.’

Tarawali described several global initiatives that are advocating the role of livestock in meeting the SDGs. She said these groups are building on existing livestock sector programs and structures and are working to better coordinate their work and messaging so as to advance understanding of, and investment in, the large role livestock can play in achieving many of the SDGs.

‘We need to understand what new livestock evidence is required by our donor agencies and partners; to better articulate the evidence we have at hand now; to combine relevant national, regional and global livestock datasets in useful syntheses; and to build on the collective strengths of other development players.’

Listen to a recording of ‘The role of livestock in achieving the SDGs’.

Florida and ILRI start consultations on new ‘Feed the Future Innovation Lab for Livestock Systems’

The United States Agency for International Development (USAID) granted the University of Florida USD49 million to develop a Feed the Future Innovation Lab for Livestock Systems, one of 24 such initiatives federated under Feed the Future, the US government’s global hunger and food security initiative.

 Feed the Future)

Feed the Future innovation labs and US university hosts (image credit: Feed the Future).

To increase productivity and incomes and to improve nutrition and food safety, the Feed the Future Innovation Lab for Livestock Systems aims to sustainably intensify smallholder livestock systems through research, technology applications, capacity building and co-production of knowledge.

Research at the Feed the Future Innovation Lab for Livestock Systems is organized by areas of inquiry and cross-cutting themes.

Areas of inquiry:

  • future livestock systems
  • animal-source foods production and marketing
  • livestock disease management and food safety
  • enabling policies for livestock

Cross-cutting themes:

  • role of gender in livestock systems research
  • human and institutional capacity development
  • human health and nutrition

The International Livestock Research Institute (ILRI) is partnering the University of Florida in (1) leading and managing the ‘future livestock systems’ area of inquiry, (2) hiring regional coordinators who work partly for the Innovation Lab on Livestock Systems, (3) serving on the external advisory board and (4) collaborating on non-competitive research funds for research and capacity building efforts in the four areas of inquiry.

The Innovation Lab for Livestock Systems will focus on six countries: Burkina Faso and Mali in West Africa, Ethiopia and Rwanda in East Africa, Cambodia in Southeast Asia and Nepal in South Asia.

A series of stakeholder consultations have started taking place. The Ethiopia consultation took place on 7–8 Feb 2016 on the ILRI Ethiopia campus. This consultation was co-organized and facilitated by ILRI staff in support of the University of Florida. It was led by Adgebola Adesogan, a professor of ruminant nutrition at the University of Florida who is serving as director of the Feed the Future Innovation Lab for Livestock Systems.

The consultation meetings aim at engaging stakeholders working in the livestock development sector to highlight high-priority investment areas for the Innovation Lab for Livestock Systems and to provide ongoing recommendations for its future directions. The results will directly feed into a call for expressions of interest.

Similar consultations will follow soon for Rwanda and Nepal and later in the year for Burkina Faso, Mali and Cambodia.

To develop a full-fledged program for this livestock innovation lab, ILRI will continue working closely with the University of Florida in Ethiopia and other countries under the leadership of Steve Staal, an agricultural economist who heads ILRI’s Productivity Trade and Value Chains program.

Ethiopia, Addis Ababa










13-year old Damte Yeshitella tends cattle on the outskirts of Addis Ababa (photo credit: ILRI/Stevie Mann).

Read the press release about the University of Florida receiving the grant for the Innovation Lab for Livestock Systems, 29 Sep 2015.

Tanzania ‘Livestock Master Plan’ project launched

Iain Wright

Iain Wright, ILRI deputy director general, at the Tanzania LMP project launch (photo credit: ILRI/Mercy Becon).

Tanzania’s livestock sector will benefit from a recently started project to transform it by guiding investments in the four main value chains comprising red meat, milk and products; poultry, eggs and pig meat.

The project will contribute to reducing poverty, raising the country’s GDP, increasing food and nutrition security and creating additional employment. Hon William Ole Nasha, the deputy minister in the Ministry of Agriculture, Livestock and Fisheries (MALF) launched the Tanzania Livestock Master Plan project (LMP), which is being formulated by the ministry with technical support from the International Livestock Research Institute (ILRI) and funding from the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation (BMGF).

A livestock master plan is a vision-driven well-constructed road map with action plans that seeks to improve animal productivity and production, as well as the value addition of key livestock value chains. The Tanzania LMP will be developed with consultations of livestock experts and stakeholders to come up with relevant and realistic interventions to address challenges they are facing and take advantage of available opportunities. In Tanzania, the master plan will converge with and complement the Agricultural Sector Development Programme II (ASDP II), the Tanzania Livestock Modernization Initiative and influence formulation of future indicators in the livestock sector. Other countries interested in developing a Livestock Mater Plan include Uganda, Kenya, Rwanda, and India. Ethiopia has already done one for the period 2015–2020.

The kick-start meeting for the project was held in Dar es Salaam on 23 Feb 2016 and was attended by about 100 delegates including researchers, scholars, development partners, livestock experts, livestock keepers and representatives of government agencies, academia, civil society and the media.

Livestock stakeholders have welcomed the project, saying it is timely and they appreciate being involved in the LMPs development.

During the kick-start, Hon Ole Nasha lauded the project saying ‘the master plan was being prepared by Tanzanian experts and it envisages a modernized, highly productive livestock sector that will attract investment’. He assured the government’s full support to the preparation of the Master Plan and its implementation once it is ready and thanked ILRI and the BMGF for their support and cooperation.

Permanent secretaries for Livestock and Fisheries (Maria Mashingo and Yohana Budeba respectively) and the director of policy and planning Catherine Dangat also attended and facilitated the kick-start.

When welcoming the deputy minister, Iain Wright represented ILRI’s director general to thank the ministry and BMGF for giving ILRI the opportunity ‘to provide livestock planning, training, technical backstopping and mentoring to senior MALF staff to build institutional capacity for evidence-based investment planning. Wright also noted that besides contributing to national development goals, the LMP would also support the protection of the environment by helping farmers to adapt to climate change. Barry Shapiro, the ILRI project adviser shared the experience in developing a similar master plan in Ethiopia and Stephen Michael, a staff and member of the LMP team from MALF presented the roles of various stakeholders in the process of preparing the Tanzania LMP.

Read a related ILRI News article: Tanzania’s ‘Livestock Master Plan’ kicks off with a one-year training program for government officials

More information on livestock master plan development in Tanzania and Ethiopia

This post by Mercy Becon, communications officer with ILRI in Tanzania


Some of our favourite WILD* women heroes and partners


(Above) WILD (Women in Livestock Development):
Some of our favourite women heroes and partners–Screenshot #1:
Helen Gayle • Temple Grandin • Florence Thompson
 • Karen Nelson • Agnes Kalibata • Christiana Figueres • Judi Wakhungu • Jamila Abass • Anna Tibaijuka • Tu Youyou


We’re celebrating some of our favourite
women heroes and partners at the
International Livestock Research Institute (ILRI)
in honour of
International Women’s Day
8 Mar 2016


16Screenshot_WILD_02 (Above) WILD (Women in Livestock Development):
Some of our favourite women heroes and partners–Screenshot #2:
Dorothea Lange • Lynn Margulis • Leymah Gbowee • Marie Curie •
Gretchen Daily • Rita Colwell • Mercedes Pascual •
Nina Federoff • Gladys Kalema-Zikusoka •
Ellen Johnson Sirleaf 
Rosalind Franklin 
Gerda Verbug • Jackie Ying • Louise Fresco Click on this link to view
the whole Pinterest board:
WILD: Some of our favourite
women heroes and partners


(Above) WILD (Women in Livestock Development):
Some of our favourite women heroes and partners–Screenshot #3:
Nafiisa Sobratee • Florence Lubwama Kivimba  • Mary-Claire King • Pardis Sabeti •
Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie • Chetna Sinha • Joanne Liu 
• Krista Donaldson •
Ameenab Gurib-Fakim 
• Jennifer Doudna • Krithi Karanth Wishing you a Happy
International Women’s Day
8 March 2016

* WILD: Women in Livestock Development

See also
Celebrating International Women’s Day at ILRI: A Storify Collection of highlights, 6 Mar 2015
WILD ‘Women in Livestock Development’ on top, 6 Mar 2015
WILD: Take a look at some of the ‘Women in Livestock Development’, 3 Mar 2015
WILD: Take a look at some of the ‘Women in Livestock Development’, 8 Mar 2014
Women and livestock: Why gender matters are BIG matters, 7 Mar 2014

See this slide presentation:
Women and livestock: Why gender matters are big matters from ILRI

See ILRI’s WILD Pinterest Board

See ILRI image galleries
Livelihoods, Gender and Impact program

See more information
ILRI Livelihoods, Gender and Impact blog
ILRI Livelihoods, Gender and Impact program brief
LRI Livelihoods, Gender and Impact gateway
LRI gender gateway
ILRI women gateway
Closing the gender gap in agriculture: A trainer’s manual, ILRI Manual 9, by Kathleen Colverson, ILRI, Nairobi, Kenya, 2013

MERS-CoV antibodies found in two people in eastern Kenya


Transmission electron micrograph of Middle East Respiratory Syndrome coronavirus, MERS-CoV (image credit: NIAID). MERS-CoV belongs to the coronavirus family. Human coronaviruses were first identified in the mid-1960s; MERS-CoV was first reported in 2012 in Saudi Arabia. Coronaviruses can also infect animals. Named for the crown-like spikes on their surface, coronaviruses are common in people, usually causing mild to moderate upper-respiratory tract illnesses. Two exceptions are the MERS-CoV and the SARS (Severe Acute Respiratory Syndrome)-CoV.

A new study published in the science journal Emerging Infectious Diseases reports that two individuals in Kenya have tested positive for the presence of antibodies to Middle East Respiratory Syndrome coronavirus (MERS-CoV). Neither person is ill or recalls having any symptoms associated with MERS.

There is no evidence of a public health threat and scientists concluded that the infections caused little or no clinical signs of illness. But they plan follow-up studies, as this is the first indication of a MERS-CoV infection that is not connected to primary infections in the Middle East.

The antibodies were discovered in serum samples taken as part of a broader household disease surveillance survey conducted in 2013 and 2014 in eastern Kenya in Garissa and Tana River counties. The two samples that tested positive for MERS-CoV antibodies were taken from a 26-year old woman and a 58-year old man in Tana River County.

The authors of the study include scientists from the Nairobi-based International Livestock Research Institute (ILRI), the Kenya Ministry of Health, the University of Bonn Medical Center.

About MERS
MERS-CoV is a virus that, for some individuals, causes severe acute respiratory illness that can be fatal. Most of the known infections and deaths from the disease have occurred in Saudi Arabia and all previous infections and deaths from the disease have been linked to the Middle East.

While most of the human cases have involved human-to-human transmission in hospital settings, dromedary camels—the single-humped camel that is common in the Middle East and the Horn of Africa—are considered a major reservoir for the disease.

According to the World Health Organization, about 36% of reported patients with MERS-CoV have died, with the most severe cases occurring in older people, people with weakened immune systems and patients already suffering from cancer, chronic lung disease or diabetes.

While most of the discussion of MERS-CoV has rightfully focused on infections that caused severe illness or death, scientists have confirmed that people can become infected with MERS-CoV and suffer either mild symptoms or no symptoms at all.

‘The absence of autochthonous human MERS-CoV infections in Africa has triggered hypotheses regarding differences in disease transmission between Africa and the Arabian Peninsula and has raised doubts regarding the role of camels as a source of infection. Our study provides evidence for unrecorded human MERS-CoV infections in Kenya. The proportion of seropositive specimens that we found is comparable to previously reported proportions of unrecorded infections in the general population in Saudi Arabia. . . . Because of an apparently low infection rate and a bias toward reporting severe cases, the discovery of unreported MERS cases requires testing of large sample sizes with well-validated serologic methods. . . .

‘The lack of a well-developed public health system in parts of Africa could lead to underdiagnosis of clinical cases and would therefore prevent case notification. Moreover, less accessible hospital care might preclude large nosocomial outbreaks as have been observed in countries on the Arabian Peninsula and in South Korea. Other possible explanations for the absence of confirmed and reported clinical cases of MERS-CoV infection in Africa include lesser virulence of strains from Africa and cultural differences that might cause persons of different age ranges to be exposed to the virus. . . .’

Results are a scientific first
This study is a scientific first and opens the door for additional and important research into MERS—a disease we don’t know very much about.

This is the first time MERS-CoV antibodies have been detected in humans in Africa who had no known connection to the Middle East. The presence of these antibodies could mean one or more of the following, but we need to do more research to determine the circumstances.

The authors of the study believe the two individuals from Tana River who harbour antibodies to the disease were probably infected with MERS-CoV ‘a considerable time’ before the blood samples were collected and the infections likely were ‘mild or subclinical’, meaning there was no obvious evidence of illness.

Primary MERS-CoV infections are possible in Africa, but they could involve a less virulent form of the virus that does not cause the severe illness seen in patients in the Middle East.

No public health concern in Kenya
All the scientific evidence tells us that the findings do not represent a public health concern for Kenya or the Horn of Africa.

While the presence of antibodies indicates that the two individual were exposed to some form of the MERS-CoV, neither individual is currently contagious and there is no evidence that they ever infected anyone else with MERS-CoV. Also, the tests returned evidence of antibodies to MERS-CoV, not evidence individuals were currently harbouring the virus itself.

There is no evidence of a MERS-CoV outbreak in Kenya or elsewhere in the region, nor does the study indicate an immediate risk of MERS-CoV in Kenya or anywhere else in sub-Saharan Africa.

ILRI experts say there does not appear to be an immediate threat to humans in the region given that there is no evidence of widespread infection or serious illness from the MERS-CoV occurring in East African camel country.

One-Health approach employed
The findings pave the way for better surveillance of the disease in Africa that may be passed from animals to humans. MERS-CoV infections in the Middle East may have originally come from camels. The tests that uncovered the Kenya infections are part of a broader effort by ILRI and Kenyan health officials to identify ‘zoonotic’ threats—diseases that pass from animals to humans—before they become a serious problem for humans.

Scientists note that their ‘One Health’ approach—which looks at how human health is affected by interactions with animals and the environment—draws from lessons learned in the fight against Ebola and HIV/AIDS, two zoonotic diseases whose impact on human health would have been greatly reduced if they had been identified early in their transition from animals.

The samples collected in Tana River and Garissa counties were tested for MERS-CoV as part of a broader effort led by ILRI to look for any signs of zoonotic diseases, which are diseases being passed between animals and humans, before they become a more widespread problem.

MERS-CoV antibodies in Kenyan individuals: Links to camels uncertain
MERS-CoV antibodies have been found in camels in the Horn of Africa and elsewhere, but it’s unclear whether the MERS-CoV antibodies isolated in the two Kenyan individuals are linked to camels.

Some 75% of the world’s dromedary camels live in Africa, with large concentrations of the animals found in Kenya and Somalia. Previous studies have isolated MERS-CoV antibodies in dromedaries in Africa. Some of the samples testing positive were collected 30 years ago but were only recently tested for MERS-CoV.

There are considerable populations of camels in the Tana River, but the man and woman who had antibodies indicating a previous MERS-CoV infection did not own camels of any kind and could not recall specific contact with the animals.

Camels roam widely in the regions and there are many opportunities for people to have contact with the animals, and many people in the region consume camel products, including camel meat and milk. But thus far, scientists studying the disease have not been able to pinpoint how camels might be passing along the virus to humans.

Read the science paper
Published in Emerging Infectious Diseases: MERS-CoV Antibodies in Humans, Africa, 2013–2014, by Anne Liljander (ILRI), Benjamin Meyer (University of Bonn Medical Center), Joerg Jores (ILRI), Marcel Müller (U of Bonn Medical Center), Erik Lattwein (EUROIMMUN AG), Ian Njeru (Kenya Ministry of Health), Bernard Bett (ILRI), Christian Drosten (German Center for Infection Research) and Victor Max Corman (German Center for Infection Research), Vol 22, No 6–June 2016, Ahead of Print.

Read previous reports of ILRI studies on MERS
UK chief scientific adviser visits Kenya: Part 4—Development of a field-friendly diagnostic test for MERS, 24 Jul 2015
New studies on MERS coronavirus and camels in eastern Africa published, 28 Aug 2014

ILRI’s Shirley Tarawali joins global livestock industry leaders to discuss beef’s role in feeding the world

Shirley Tarawali, assistant director general of ILRIShirley Tarawali, assistant director general of the International Livestock Research Institute (ILRI), will today (Friday, 4 Mar 2016) join global livestock industry leaders to discuss ‘Beef’s role in feeding the world’ at the International Livestock Congress (ILC), in Houston, USA.

The ILC, which is taking place this week (3–4 Mar 2018), is a unique global event hosted each year by the International Stockmen’s Educational Foundation to discuss issues of international importance affecting the future of animal agriculture. This year’s event is deliberating on strategies that address the ever-changing beef industry in the world.

Tarawali will in the afternoon make a presentation, and moderate a panel discussion, on the ‘Emerging middle class and the world market for beef’. Panel members include Erin Borror, of the US Meat Export Federation; Jason Strong, from the Australian Agricultural Company; and Bruno Cunha, of Brazil Betha Consult.

‘Meat consumption in developing countries is outpacing that of developing countries,’ says Tarawali, ‘driven by increasing population, rising incomes and urbanization.’ Higher incomes in these countries also mean that more people are joining the middle class, predicted to number nearly 5 billion people by 2030, which will lead to even more increases in beef consumption, especially in the Asia Pacific region and in sub-Saharan Africa.

According to Tarawali, about 90 million tonnes of beef are needed to meet this demand by 2050, and sustainable animal food systems that ensure production efficiency, reduce waste and address emerging disease challenges are required for sustainable global beef production.

A sustainable beef industry will also need to respond to, and address, concerns over ‘appropriate’ meat consumption, animal welfare and environmental sustainability. ‘We also need to ensure that opportunities for positive impacts on livelihoods are not missed,’ she says.

The emerging middle class and the world market for beef from ILRI


See the 2016 International Livestock Congress agenda here.

Protecting crop and feed diversity enhances food security while reducing greenhouse gases

 a major centre of crop diversity High level seminar in Addis Ababa on 23 February 2016

Marie Haga, executive director, Global Crop Diversity Trust

Crop diversity can be conserved and shared. Scientists know how to do it and at a very limited cost to the world community. It requires global leadership and stronger partnerships and the building of capacities of scientists in the developing world. No country is self-sufficient; successful breeding is highly dependent on functioning multilateralism, according to Marie Haga, executive director of the Global Crop Diversity Trust, speaking at a high-level seminar held 23 Feb 2016 at the Addis Ababa campus of the International Livestock Research Institute (ILRI).

Participants at the seminar—Celebrating biodiversity in Ethiopia: a major centre of crop diversity—heard four Ethiopian and international experts outline the enormous potential of Ethiopia’s biodiversity and the importance of conserving global biodiversity: Eleni Shiferaw representing Gemedo Dalle, director general of the Ethiopian Biodiversity Institute; Marie Haga, Gebisa Ejeta, genetics professor at Purdue University and World Food Prize laureate; and Jimmy Smith, director general of ILRI.

‘Agriculture is probably facing one of its biggest challenges ever in its 13,000 years history… .’, said Haga.

Jimmy Smith underlined the linkages between livestock and crop diversity, and international partnership and cooperation. He said the ILRI Forage Genebank has 18,000 collections and 1,400 species from 149 countries. In line with its international obligations under the International Treaty on Plant Genetic Resources, ILRI holds this crop diversity in trust to share it with those involved in producing food and agriculture. Over the years, ILRI has given out 13,000 samples to Ethiopians and thousands to other countries.

According to Gebisa Ejeta, Ethiopia and Ethiopians had given and received a lot from the international community; few other African countries have benefited more from international assistance. The quality of the ILRI Forage Genebank, one of the best in the world, is down to the help from CGIAR, and past and present Ethiopian governments. Ethiopia has been home to 38 important crop species, many unique. This diversity offers the potential to adapt to the conditions facing us now and in the future. While there is the technology to adapt the genes, developing countries, Ethiopia included, need the institutions, capacity development, and effective partnerships.

The Ethiopian Biodiversity Institute has collected and conserved more than 80,000 accessions of cultivated crops, forage and forest species in its genebank. However, it is not just a question of conservation for conservation’s sake, more than 160,000 accessions have been distributed to users to be utilized for crop improvement, Shiferaw said, eventually ensuring farmers gain access to these important crops.

These days many argue we should reduce the number of livestock in the world to protect humans, the ILRI director general said. But using the forages in new ways, and managing the world’s rangelands better could contribute to huge carbon stocks, mitigating climate change. This sort of approach will help us make better animal systems.

‘Agriculture is probably facing one of its biggest challenges ever in its 13,000 years history. There are several reasons, but the main is the dual challenge of population growth and climate change. Producing sufficient, nutritious food can never be taken for granted, but it will be even harder in the years ahead’, said Haga.

If food security were easy, we would have it by now, Haga continued. The complexities are all well understood. But no matter how you look at it, no matter what the complexities, one fact is certain, simple, and clear: crop diversity is a prerequisite for a sustainable food system which provides more, and more nutritious, food in spite of climate change.

Read more about the high-level seminar at ILRI.

Livestock and the Sustainable Development Goals


Livestock are central to achieving many of the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) and directly relevant to most of them. The growing demand for livestock products in developing countries, driven by population growth, higher incomes and urbanization, represents a huge opportunity for hundreds of millions of poor smallholder livestock farmers, processors and marketers, many of whom are women, to meet that market demand and rise out of poverty. Livestock products (meat, milk, eggs) provide essential nutrients that contribute to food and nutritional security. Even small amounts of animal-sourced foods in the diets of children improve not only their physical development but also their cognitive and learning abilities. Improving the efficiency of livestock production in developing countries, especially the productivity per animal, can double livestock productivity while halving its adverse environmental impacts, including reducing emissions of greenhouse gases, in those countries.

Some key livestock facts

  • Four of the five highest value agricultural products are livestock products
    (milk, pig meat, beef, chicken meat)
  • 3 billion people (one in five of the world population)
    depend on livestock for their livelihoods
  • Livestock account for 40% of agricultural GDP
    in developing countries and the share is growing
  • Demand for milk and meat will triple in Africa by 2050
  • In many developing countries,
    up to 80% of the population is employed in agriculture
  • While livestock emit greenhouse gases that cause global warming,
    opportunities to greatly reduce such emissions in developing countries
    through better feeds and other more efficient livestock production practices
    are huge and as yet largely unexploited

CGIAR livestock scientists are working actively to help the world meet the SDGs. We are intentionally tailoring our livestock-related knowledge products, technologies, institutional arrangements and policy support to provide new options for meeting specific SDGs by addressing developing world livestock problems and opportunities. While our research is relevant to many of the SDGs, it impinges directly on the nine listed below.

Support to the development of targets and indicators
CGIAR livestock scientists contribute to the Sustainable Development Solutions Network, especially as part of the Sustainable Agriculture and Food Systems Thematic Network. This network identified the role that livestock play within agricultural and food systems development and highlighted specific examples in its report on Solutions for Sustainable Agriculture and Food Systems. It also proposed specific indicators that could be used to track the contributions of the livestock sector to achieving the SDGs.

Research solutions
CGIAR scientists are developing research solutions to some of the biggest and most intractable livestock problems of the tropics and sub-tropics. They are generating biological options to improve livestock feeds, breeds and health raised under harsh conditions and a changing climate. They are targeting women, youth and other disempowered groups to ensure economic as well as food and nutritional security. And they are employing smart ‘whole systems’ approaches to development challenges to safeguard and sustain the planet’s natural resources and ecosystem services.

The following are a few examples of specific ways CGIAR livestock research is helping the world achieve the SGDs.

Livestock and
inclusive and sustainable
economic growth
Goal 1. End poverty in all its forms everywhere
  • Connecting poor farmers to markets – e.g. developing new business models for 10 million poor dairy farmers in East Africa
  • Doubling the productivity of poor smallholders’ livestock through better feeding, veterinary care and breeding.


Goal 8. Promote inclusive and sustainable economic growth,
employment and decent work for all
  • Developing national ‘Livestock Master Plans’ to support effective investment planning to optimize livestock’s contribution to economic growth
  • Developing a new vaccine for East Coast fever, which costs African cattle producers $300M per year in cattle deaths and lost production
Livestock and
equitable livelihoods
Goal 5. Achieve gender equality and empower all women and girls
  • Applying gender-transformative approaches that give women in livestock raising, processing and trading greater access to, and control over, livestock resources
  • Developing labour-saving technologies for livestock feeding
Goal 10. Reduce inequality within and among countries
  • Insuring never-before-insured pastoralists against catastrophic drought and loss of livestock in remote drylands of the Horn of Africa
  • Developing options to reduce barriers to safe and sustainable domestic and regional trade in livestock products
Livestock and
food security and
safe and healthy balanced diets,
including animal-sourced foods
Goal 2. End hunger, achieve food security and improved nutrition
and promote sustainable agriculture
  • Doubling the supply of animal-sourced foods through better feeding, breeding and health
  • Reducing antimicrobial resistance through judicious use of antimicrobial drugs in livestock
Goal 3. Ensure healthy lives and promote well-being for all at all ages
  • Reducing the burden of zoonotic diseases through better animal health and promotion of ‘one health’ approaches that integrate veterinary, medical and environmental understanding
  • Improving food safety in informal markets (where most animal-sourced foods are traded in developing countries); 6.5 million consumers in Kenya and Assam, India, are already benefiting from safer milk
Livestock and
sustainable ecosystems
Goal 6. Ensure access to water and sanitation for all
  • Making more efficient use of water resources by improving forage varieties and livestock feeding regimes
Goal 13. Take urgent action to combat climate change and its impacts
  • Improving grazing practices on rangelands, which have potential to sequester 8.6 million tonnes of carbon per year
  • Measuring (for the first time) and significantly reducing greenhouse gas emissions from small-scale livestock systems in developing regions
Goal 15. Sustainably manage forests, combat desertification,
halt and reverse land degradation, stem biodiversity losses
  • Reducing and reversing land degradation through better rangeland management

See also this slide presentation by ILRI Assistant Director General Shirley Tarawali: The role of livestock in achieving the SDGs, Nov 2015.

Celebrating Ethiopia’s biodiversity, high-level seminar at ILRI on 23 February

ILRI Forage Genebank in Addis/ photo credit: ILRI/Stevie Mann.

In the ILRI Addis forage Genebank, Kifle Eshete, ILRI senior lab technician, withdrawing seeds stored at 8 degrees Celsius for despatch to multiplication sites.

Ethiopia has long been recognised as a biodiversity hotspot, one of the eight centres of global crop diversity. Barley, coffee, sorghum and some wild types of wheat all originated in these fertile lands. Recognizing the importance of utilizing this diversity to guaranteeing global food security, the Ethiopian Biodiversity Institute, the Global Crop Diversity Trust and the International Livestock Research Institute (ILRI) are holding a  seminar at the ILRI Addis Ababa campus on 23 February at 6 pm local time.

The seminar — Celebrating biodiversity in Ethiopia: a major centre of crop diversity — will hear four Ethiopian and international experts outline the enormous potential of Ethiopia’s biodiversity, and the importance of conserving global biodiversity. The speakers — Dr Gemedo Dalle of the Ethiopian Biodiversity Institute; Dr Marie Haga, Executive Director of the Global Crop Diversity Trust; Professor Gebisa Ejeta, World Food Prize laureate; and Dr Jimmy Smith, Director General of ILRI—will discuss a range of issues, including the biodiversity in Ethiopia, global efforts to conserve biodiversity, the contributions of Ethiopia to crop diversity, and the contribution of ILRI to the global efforts to conserve biodiversity.

With the world population expected to reach 10 billion in the next 50 years and as the effects of global warming become ever more apparent, protecting crop diversity has never been more critical. Throughout history, farmers have discovered and inspired indigenous solutions to challenges facing food crops, while wild crops have adapted to changing environments. It is diversity that allows farmers to feed the world. But this diversity is endangered, and once gone, it’s gone forever.

The loss of biodiversity is considered one of today’s most serious environmental concerns. If current trends persist, as many as half of all plant species could face extinction. There are hundreds of thousands of cultivated crop varieties. Together, we need to protect this diversity, as any one of these varieties may contain the traits necessary to fight a new disease, drought, salinity or flooding. Moreover, crop biodiversity is crucial to agricultural productivity and in turn to economic growth. Growth in agriculture, although beneficial for the wider economy, benefits the poor most.

On the 22 and 23 February 2016, the Global Crop Diversity Trust held its executive board meeting in Addis Ababa. Taking advantage of this, the three institutions aim to raise awareness on the importance of biodiversity conservation, particularly in key centres of origin like Ethiopia, and the work of the Crop Trust in conserving global crop diversity. The meeting will be attended by high level national, UN and AU officials, including Dr Shakeel Bhatti, Secretary of the Governing Body of the International Treaty on Plant Genetic Resources for Food and Agriculture, and Dr Wayne Powell, CGIAR Chief Science Officer.