News from ILRI

Mixing it up—The information ‘black hole’ on crop+animal recipes for climate-smart and climate-resilient farms


Male antelope headdress (chi wara), from the Bamana people, Mali. In Bambara, ‘chi wara’ means ‘labouring wild animal’ and is a representation of Bambara mythos about the creation of farming. Chi Wara, a half antelope, half human figure came to earth to teach humans to sow crops, and thus is honoured at both sowing and harvest festivals, where the figure is used to bless the crops. (Text credit: Wikipedia; picture credit: Peggy Guggenheim Collection, Venice; photo by Paolo Manusardi).

This article is written by Philip Thornton

Bunguey is a typical East African farmer. He plants a couple of fields with maize, others with millet. His five cows produce manure to fertilize his crops and milk, a critical source of calcium and protein and micronutrients for his family. His animals stay healthy thanks to a nutritious supplement provided by the leaves and stalks of cereal plants leftover after crop harvests.

Across sub-Saharan Africa, there are millions of similar farms, from Senegal in the west to Ethiopia in the east and down into southern Africa. In fact, the vast majority of food produced and consumed in the region comes from what agricultural researchers call ‘mixed’ farms, meaning simply farms that integrate livestock raising with crop growing to take advantage of the synergies between the two.

This fact might seem unremarkable—unless one looks at the vast global effort under way to ensure farmers around the world can adapt to climate change, particularly in sub-Saharan Africa, where climate change will be especially difficult for food producers to manage.

In the thousands of pages of analyses produced by the highly influential United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change, most of the work on agricultural impacts focuses on how rising temperatures and more erratic rainfall will affect crops.

Livestock are considered separately—and relatively briefly.

Even more absent is any understanding of how climate change is likely to affect food production on the hundreds of millions of farms that integrate crops and animals.

As my colleagues and I note in a perspective published recently in Nature Climate Change, this is a substantial information black hole. For millions of African farmers like Bunguey, feeding their families and generating income for things like school fees and healthcare is tied to maintaining an interdependent relationship between crops and livestock—what they (and the rest of the world until recent decades) would simply call ‘farming’.

Mixed farm-systems, which include both crops and farm animals, hold up the world’s milk and food supply. These farms produce over 90% of the world’s milk and 80% of the meat from ruminants, while providing incomes and livelihoods for millions of people in the tropics.—CCAFS blog

Across sub-Saharan Africa today there is a strong consensus emerging—from both governments and donor countries—that the surest path to increasing food security and reducing poverty lies in helping small family farms become more productive, resilient businesses.

But climate change looms as a major spoiler, posing a threat to existing production levels—which are already often insufficient—while dashing any dreams of an agriculture-led economic boom.

That’s because climate projections show that over the next 35 years, across large parts of sub-Saharan Africa, the global build-up of greenhouse gases in the atmosphere will pose serious problems for smallholder farming, such as reductions in the length of the growing season and high daily temperatures that can greatly reduce yields of some major staple crops.

But how these problems will affect individual farmers in Africa—many of whom could also see rainfall become more erratic—depends on how they produce food. The millions of farmers depending on livestock-crop interactions could be at once more vulnerable and more resilient to climate change: more vulnerable because losses in one area quickly affect the other, potentially leading to a rapid downward spiral; and more resilient because intermingling crops with livestock can lead to a more efficient use of natural resources and provide a buffer against losses in a particular season. For example, selling a few sheep or goats can help a family overcome a poor maize harvest.

Addressing the vulnerabilities inherent when crops are mixed with livestock and taking advantage of the resilience inherent in this form of farming require greater understanding of these risks and the benefits. Yet we are unaware of any comprehensive studies undertaken in sub-Saharan Africa to explore how mixed farms will be affected by climate change and the cost and benefits of different adaptation options.

How will rising temperatures and shortened rains affect a farmer who is predominately growing maize and tending cattle compared to a farmer focused more on growing yams and tending a small herd of sheep or goats? How will a switch from maize to a crop like cassava that is more tolerant of heat and drought affect the amount of crop ‘stover’ available on the farm for feeding its ruminant animals? How does a farmer plough her fields or get her produce to market when climate conditions aggravate the spread of livestock diseases, including those that sicken or kill her prize cows?

Failure to consider the impacts of climate change on farms that integrate crops with livestock may reflect the bias of wealthy country. In the United States, for example, the overwhelming majority of cereals, fruits, vegetables, meats and dairy products come from farms that specialize in just one of these. In sub-Saharan Africa as in Asia, on the other hand, the great majority of staples are produced on mixed farms.

Underestimating the importance of livestock in the mixed’ smallholder farming systems that are ubiquitous across the developing world weakens both emissions reduction and climate change adaptation efforts.

When it comes to adapting to climate change, the traditional mixed farming approach offers big advantages. Yes, we still need focused investments in building climate-resilient crop varieties and animal breeds.

But we also need to start investing in a better understanding of how climate change may affect farms where field and pasture, animal and vegetable and (literally) milk and cereal still sit side by side, in a harmonious whole, much greater than the sum of its parts.

Read a recent perspective by Philip Thornton and Mario Herrero published in Nature Climate Change: Adapting to climate change in the mixed crop and livestock farming systems in sub-Saharan Africa, 21 Aug 2015, doi:10.1038/nclimate2754.

Read a recent opinion piece published by Philip Thornton published in Devex: Why farms of the future need to mix livestock and crops, 31 Aug 2015.

Read an article about the Thornton and Herrero Nature Climate Change paper published by CCAFS: Why mixed crop and livestock farming systems are central for future agriculture development, 24 Aug 2015.

Philip Thornton is a principal scientist at the International Livestock Research Institute (ILRI) and a flagship leader in the CGIAR Research Program on Climate Change, Agriculture and Food Security (CCAFS). Mario Herrero, formerly of ILRI, now works as chief research scientist and office of the chief executive science leader in the agriculture flagship program of Australia’s Commonwealth Scientific and Industrial Research Organisation (CSIRO).

Ethiopia Livestock Master Plan: Feed priorities

Feed priorities in the Ethiopia livestock master plan

Investment in livestock agriculture in Ethiopia has the potential to halve poverty, improve the food security of rural people and make livestock an increasing contributor to GDP growth. The Ethiopia Livestock Master Plan sets out ambitious year 2020 targets for several livestock value chains—cross-bred dairy cows, red meat-milk and feedlot, and poultry. The 2020 targets aim to increase meat, milk and egg production by 58%, 83% and 828% respectively above 2012/2013 totals.

Yet the high cost and low availability of good quality animal feed is perhaps the most critical constraint to increasing livestock productivity. To meet government targets, the latest research by the International Livestock Research Institute (ILRI) and the Ministry of Agriculture (MoA), Feed priorities in the Ethiopia livestock master plan, outlines how to increase the availability of feeds and productivity of feeding practices.

The feeds brief presents recommendations on how to overcome forage and processed feed shortages in highland areas and feed shortages in lowland pastoral and agro-pastoral areas, the making of suitable land available to private investors for forage seed and feed production….

Analysis by ILRI and MoA shows, however, that feed requirements are projected to exceed available resources in all production zones, except in the lowland grazing and agro-pastoral areas, during all years when rainfall is equal or above the long-term average. Assuming a ‘business as usual’ scenario for feed resources (without major feed development interventions), the future outlook for feed availability is a great cause of concern.

With estimates foreseeing no change in the rates of animal growth—0.2-1.5% annual increases in cattle population—or dry matter requirements per animal—1.86 metric tonnes per head per year in lowland grazing areas—the total feed requirements 15 years from now will rise to more than 165 million tonnes of dry matter per year: 56 million for the lowlands, 33 million for the rainfall-deficient and 76 million for the rainfall-sufficient mixed crop-livestock highland areas. This feed requirement would not be met under any climatic condition.

The feeds brief presents recommendations on how to overcome forage and processed feed shortages in highland areas and feed shortages in lowland pastoral and agro-pastoral areas, including the adoption of more productive forage production technologies, the making of suitable land available to private investors for forage seed and feed production, and accreditation of private analytical service laboratories to ensure quality feed production, among others.

The brief sets out key areas for future research, including the development of crop management technologies for improved forage seed availability, the design of alternative livestock feeding strategies to alleviate the escalating cost of industrial feeds, and engagement in research on the link between climate change and grazing pressure in driving bush encroachment and the consequences on cattle populations.

Since 2014, the Livestock Resources Development Sector (or Livestock State Ministry) of the Ethiopian MoA and ILRI have been collaborating to develop an Ethiopia Livestock Master Plan to provide guidance to the government of Ethiopia on future priorities for livestock research and development activities. The development process was funded by the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation. Beyond the plan itself, the project aims to build the capacity of the government to carry out data-driven, fact-based analytics and planning.

Download the Feed priorities in the Ethiopia Livestock Master Plan and other related materials.

New DNA analysis of Asian sheep reveals unique diversity crucial to contemporary food and climate concerns


Head of a ram-headed god, Ptolemaic Period, Egypt, 400-30 B.C. (via the Metropolitan Museum of Art, USA).

Scientists look back 10,000 years to rewrite the history
of one of humanity’s oldest farm animals,
with a goal to aid herders eager for more productive breeds.

At a time when the price of mutton is climbing and wool crashing, a groundbreaking new study has used advanced genetic sequencing technology to rewrite the history of sheep breeding and trading along the ancient Silk Road—insights that can help contemporary herders in developing countries preserve or recover valuable traits crucial to their food and economic security. 

The new findings regarding one of the first animals ever domesticated will be published in the October print edition of the journal Molecular Biology and Evolution. They are the product of an unprecedented collaboration involving scientists in China, Iran, Pakistan, Indonesia, Nepal, Finland, and the United Kingdom.

The team analysed the complete mitochondrial DNA of 42 domesticated native sheep breeds from Azerbaijan, Moldova, Serbia, Ukraine, Russia, Kazakhstan, Poland, Finland, China and the United Kingdom, along with two wild sheep species from Kazakhstan.

These data were compared to DNA sequences of 150 breeds
from several other countries to complete the most exhaustive
maternal genetic analysis of sheep ever undertaken.

The DNA of contemporary sheep can now be read like a historical record, allowing researchers to look back 10,000 years to the time when humans first started herding these animals in the Fertile Crescent of the Middle East.

‘What we found is that sheep in Asia are far more genetically diverse than sheep now common in Europe and we can use that diversity to help herders in places like Mongolia and western China who now want to focus on meat rather than wool production’, said Jian-Lin Han, a senior scientist working at the Joint Laboratory on Livestock and Forage Genetic Resources, established in Beijing by the Chinese Academy of Agricultural Sciences (CAAS) and the Nairobi-based International Livestock Research Institute (ILRI). Han and Meng-Hua Li, a molecular geneticist of the Chinese Academy of Sciences (CAS), are the leading corresponding authors of this study.

Not one, but two migratory waves
The scientists found that the rich genetic heritage of Asian sheep is a product of two distinct ‘migratory waves’ of domesticated animals, not one as previously believed.

Han said that DNA analysis of thousands of tissue samples of 150 breeds from many countries confirmed previous findings that domesticated sheep first emerged in the Fertile Crescent about 8,000 to 11,000 years ago. And that they then made their way east to what is now China and Mongolia via the Silk Road, a set of trading routes extending some 4,000 miles that has facilitated commerce and human migration between Asia and Europe for thousands of years.

But Han and his colleagues discovered a second migration with evidence that herders in what are now northern China and Mongolia developed their own unique breeds some 5,000 years ago. These animals later made their way back west along the Silk Road, where frequent trading of breeding females, or ewes, allowed them to be mixed in with the progeny of their ancestors to produce yet more distinct breeds. For example, Han said, warriors of the infamous Mongol hordes of Genghis Khan often rode west with live sheep strapped to their horses.

‘What this study shows is that the genetic lineages of modern sheep were shaped by thousands of years of trading and breeding moving first west to east and then back, east to west, which created a unique collection of beneficial traits’, said Olivier Hanotte, a livestock geneticist and ILRI collaborator at the University of Nottingham, in the United Kingdom. ‘This is important information for contemporary sheep breeding programs’, he added. ‘In the world of animal husbandry, to get what you want you first need to know what you have. Until now, we barely knew anything about the genetic makeup of Asian sheep.’

Beneficial traits for breeding

ILRI’s Han said the study lays the foundation for more effective
breeding programs that support Asia’s millions of poor livestock herders,
many of whom are now seeking breeds of sheep better suited for meat production.

Meat animals are now wanted because of a soaring urban demand for meat in developing countries. Mutton prices in China alone have risen more than 40 percent since 2011, presenting new economic opportunities for the country’s poor herding communities. But sheep breeds globally are still dominated by animals developed mainly to produce wool—and prices of wool have dropped steadily since 1996. Furthermore, most breeds raised for meat today are found in Australia and New Zealand, where they dine on relatively expensive feeds and lush pasture grasses.

‘The kind of sheep we need in places like Mongolia and western China are animals that are strong and hardy and can cover long distances every day in search of grass’, Han said. ‘That’s not the kind of animal they’re producing in New Zealand and Australia.’

In China today, Han often encounters herders trying on their own to develop more meat-oriented sheep. He said some herders are even experimenting with breeding local sheep with massive wild sheep known as Argali. But that experiment, he says, could bring along undesirable traits as well. New genomic data and genetic markers can guide this effort to enable the inclusion of beneficial traits, he adds.

Han and his colleagues say the next step in their work is to take the information
generated from this current study and use it to build a foundation
for breeding programs that can efficiently provide herding communities
in Asia and sub-Saharan Africa with animals suited
to local conditions, preferences and markets.

There have already been strides in the integration of desirable traits in sheep. For example, in Kenya today, ILRI scientists have helped local livestock keepers develop an improved version of an indigenous ‘hair’ sheep long kept by Maasai pastoralists. These red Maasai sheep are among the ‘climate-smart’ solutions being developed to help farmers and herders adapt to climate change in East Africa. The red Maasai sheep better cope with heat stress and disease (they are naturally resistant to intestinal worm infections) and they convert poor forage grasses into meat and milk more efficiently than other breeds.

‘In China and many other parts of the world today, a small herd of sheep is a family’s most important asset, providing the family with food, income, clothing and fertilizer for their crops’, says ILRI’s director general Jimmy Smith. ‘We need to be doing everything we can to ensure that the animals they raise have the genetic traits that will help the sheep endure and progress and herders benefit from new sources of income, such as the growing mutton market.’

‘In coming years and decades, as we face global climate, population and other changes’, Smith said, ‘we need to be able to put our hands on the best traits for diverse and changing circumstances. That’s what research like this is giving us.

To quote leading genomicist and ILRI collaborator Claire Fraser,
‘Doing biology like this—with knowledge of genomes—
is like doing science with the lights turned on.’
—ILRI Director General Jimmy Smith

Read the scientific paper in Molecular Biology and Evolution: Mitogenomic meta-analysis identifies two phases of migration in the history of eastern Eurasian sheep, by Feng-Hua Lv, Wei-Feng Peng, Ji Yang, Yong-Xin Zhao, Wen-Rong Li, Ming-Jun Liu, Yue-Hui Ma, Qian-Jun Zhao, Guang-Li Yang, Feng Wang, Jin-Quan Li, Yong-Gang Liu, Zhi-Qiang Shen, Sheng-Guo Zhao, EEr Hehua, Neena A. Gorkhali, S. M. Farhad Vahidi, Muhammad Muladno, Arifa N. Naqvi, Jonna Tabell, Terhi Iso-Touru, Michael W. Bruford, Juha Kantanen, Jian-Lin Han (ILRI/JLLFGR) and Meng-Hua Li; first published online 16 Jun 2015; doi: 10.1093/molbev/msv139.

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

New study recommends continued research on the possible role pigs could play in transmitting Ebola in Uganda

High-risk areas in Uganda for possible/potential pig transmission of Ebola

The map above shows high-risk areas due to a spatial overlap of three proposed risk factors for zoonotic Ebola virus transmission in Uganda: modelled zoonotic niche, domestic pig distribution and high numbers of people living in extreme poverty; the map is taken from a paper published in Transboundary and Emerging Diseases, Assessing the potential role of pigs in the epidemiology of Ebola virus in Uganda, by C Atherstone, E Smith, P Ochungo, K Roesel, D Grace, 27 August 2015 (figure credit: ILRI).

This article is written by two of this paper’s authors: Christine Atherstone, an ILRI researcher based in Uganda who leads this work and is lead author, and Delia Grace, who leads ILRI’s Food Safety and Zoonoses research program.

A new risk assessment paper, Assessing the potential role of pigs in the epidemiology of the Ebola virus in Uganda, was published in the science journal Transboundary and Emerging Diseases on 27 Aug 2015. The authors are scientists at the International Livestock Research Institute (ILRI).

Presently, there is no solid evidence that pigs have any role in the past outbreaks of Ebola virus disease.

In recent years the world has seen major problems caused by bird flu, MERS and other new ‘zoonotic’ diseases, which appear first in animals and then spread to people.

Zoonotic diseases cause most damage when they take animal and human health workers by surprise, giving public health and animal disease control workers no advance warning or time get disease prevention practices in place before the infections start to spread widely.

ILRI works with Ugandan partner organizations to carry out research on several pig diseases to help determine the country’s disease risks and the best measures for protecting Uganda’s public health and important pig industry.

In addition to Ebola, some of the animal-to-human diseases the scientists are investigating in pigs are brucellosis, trichinellosis (measles), cysticercosis (pig tapeworm) and human sleeping sickness.

Undertaking this kind of research helps to detect and stop the spread of emerging zoonotic animal diseases before they can jump to humans.

Why study pigs to find disease?
Due to rising demand for pork in Uganda, a massive expansion of pig production is taking place throughout the country. Pigs are preferred to other livestock species due to their relatively rapid growth rate, large litter sizes and potential to provide financial returns in a relatively short time.

Uganda’s expanding pig populations, particularly those reared under free-range systems, overlap with habitats shared with fruit bats. Pigs scavenging for food can thus come in contact with the dropped fruit, excrement, saliva, urine and faeces of fruit bats, which are suitable hosts for the Ebola virus.

Pigs are often a source for human disease, and the pig industry is growing rapidly in Uganda, where the pig sector is of big and growing importance to the livelihoods and diets of many poor households.

The combination of pork sector growth supported by development programmes and Ebola virus risk prompted a foresight exercise using desk, interview and spatial methods.

Over the past three decades, the reported pig population has increased 1500%, from 0.19 to 3.2 million in Uganda. In 2011, Uganda had the highest per capita consumption of pork in East Africa at 3.4 kg/person/year. More than 1.1 million poor households in Uganda own pigs, mostly managed by women and children in backyard activities. Indeed, 80% of pig production in Uganda is carried out by smallholder crop-livestock farmers. Despite this dependence on livestock, there is a strong association between poverty, hunger, livestock keeping and zoonoses.

Greater understanding of if and how the Ebola virus is or could be infecting any of the country’s pig populations will help Uganda expend its limited veterinary and medical health resources most efficiently to ensure the health and the livelihoods of its people through improved food safety and security.

This risk assessment paper indicates that further research on the role pigs may play in Ebola virus transmission in Uganda is warranted due to the following facts and factors.

  • A lack of serological evidence that fruit bats are the reservoir species of the Ebola virus in Uganda
  • A number of human Ebola index cases unable to account for their source of infection, particularly in Uganda
  • Pigs are the only domestic livestock species presently known to be naturally infected with Ebola viruses
  • The overlapping of Uganda’s domestic pig habitat with environments suitable for the Ebola virus
  • Reported interactions at the human-pig-wildlife interface that could support transmission, such as bats and pigs consuming the same fruits and chimpanzees hunting bush pigs
  • The possibility of Ebola virus infections in pigs going undetected in Uganda due to their being mistaken for African swine fever and other common pig infections causing similar symptoms; furthermore, common practices in Uganda such as selling off sick pigs and consuming meat from pigs that have died of unknown causes could help spread an outbreak of Ebola virus in pigs and increase the risk of the virus spilling over to humans
  • Outbreaks of Ebola in people in Uganda are correlated with peak pork consumption, such as during festivals, and anecdotal accounts have been reported of widespread pig deaths before outbreaks of Ebola in humans, although the cause of these pig deaths hasn’t been ascertained

Although there is no solid evidence that pigs have any role in past outbreaks of Ebola in Uganda, ILRI and its Ugandan partners are conducting further studies to elucidate the roles pigs may play in many new diseases. These researchers have identified some best practices, especially reducing pig movements and improving hygiene at slaughter, that can greatly reduce the spread of any disease associated with pigs.

Read the whole paper in Transboundary and Emerging Diseases: Assessing the potential role of pigs in the epidemiology of Ebola virus in Uganda, by ILRI scientists Christine Atherstone, Eliza Smith, Pamela Ochungo, Kristina Roesel and Delia Grace, 27 Aug 2015. DOI: 10.1111/tbed.12394

This research is conducted within ILRI’s Food Safety and Zoonoses program and within the Prevention and Control of Agriculture-Associated Diseases flagship of the CGIAR Research Program on Agriculture for Nutrition and Health.

Ethiopia recognizes ILRI contribution to the country’s livestock sector growth and transformation

Ethiopian Society of Animal Production Career Awardees with the Ethiopian State Minister for Livestock, (from left to right) Gijs van ‘t Klooster of the United Nations Food and Agriculture Organization, Jean Hanson, ILRI forage diversity project, H.E. Gebregziabher G/Yonhannes, State Minister for Livestock, Barry Shapiro, ILRI program development specialist, and Layne Coopock of Utah State University.

Ethiopian Society of Animal Production Career Awardees with the Ethiopian State Minister for Livestock, (from left to right) Gijs van ‘t Klooster of the United Nations Food and Agriculture Organization, Jean Hanson, ILRI forage diversity project, H.E. Gebregziabher G/Yonhannes, State Minister for Livestock, Barry Shapiro, ILRI program development specialist, and Layne Coopock of Utah State University.

Livestock production accounts for approximately one third of the global water footprint, and Ethiopia is no different. A scarce commodity in the country, water availability has been aggravated by climatic fluctuations and rapid economic growth. With the potential consequences for human health of a lack of quality drinking water, as well as for the country’s development, there is a strong case for enhancing the role of research for development in understanding better how limited water resources can be used.

The Ethiopia livestock master plan (LMP) will be officially launched by the Government of Ethiopia in September 2015, but the full report and a series of research briefs on the LMP, livestock feeds, genetics, animal health and an enabling policy and institutional environment can be found on the ILRI website.

Water and Livestock Development in Ethiopia, the theme of this year’s Annual Conference of the Ethiopian Society of Animal Production (ESAP) from 27 to 29 August, was addressed by speakers from a range of related issues, including rangeland dynamics and human health, sustainable pastoralism, genetics, livestock value chains, and the contribution of the livestock master plan to the national Growth and Transformation Plan (GTP) II.

Prior to the official commencement of the event, ESAP officially recognized the contribution of five non-Ethiopian scientists—two present day and two former staff member of the International Livestock Research Institute (ILRI)—to the development of the country’s livestock sector. They were presented with an ESAP Career Award by the Ethiopian State Minister for Livestock, H.E. Gebregziabher G/Yonhannes.

 ESAP 2015 annual conference–water and livestock development in Ethiopia

Barry Shapiro, a program development specialist at ILRI, was recognized for his ‘Outstanding collaborative leadership in the analysis and development of the Ethiopian livestock master plan’, while Jean Hanson, who leads ILRI’s forage diversity project, was acknowledged for ’35 years of outstanding achievements in genebank management and the conservation of forage genetic diversity’. Other awardees included former ILRI staff members Layne Coopock of Utah State University and Henry Fitzhugh of the Norman Borlaug Institute for International Agriculture, and Gijs van ‘t Klooster of the United Nations Food and Agriculture Organization.

Agricultural development is a national priority, and within that the livestock sector is crucial, the Ethiopian State Minister for Livestock explained to crowded room of academics and practitioners. Of the rapid growth experienced in recent years in the country, more than 40% has been accounted for by growth in the agricultural sector. Key to further development will be creating an enabling environment to meet the challenges of feeds shortages and the pressures on limited water resources. Trade-offs between higher production and stressed water resources need to be addressed intentionally; this is where research and knowledge sharing come in.

In his address to the conference, Shapiro outlined how investment interventions—better genetics, feed and health services, which, together with complementary policy support—could help meet the GTP II targets by improving productivity and total production in the key livestock value chains for poultry, red meat-milk, and crossbred dairy cows. If the proposed investments—of 7762 million Ethiopian birr (USD 388.1 million), 57% and 43% from the public and private sectors respectively—were successfully implemented, they could massively reduce poverty in livestock-keeping households, helping family farms move from traditional to improved market-oriented systems.

Other ILRI staff members presenting speeches at the proceeding include Tadelle Dessie of the African Chicken Genetic Gain project and Berhanu Gebremedhin of the Livestock and Irrigation Value Chains project.

The Ethiopia livestock master plan (LMP) will be officially launched by the Government of Ethiopia in September 2015, but the full report and a series of research briefs on the LMP, livestock feeds, genetics, animal health and an enabling policy and institutional environment can be found on the ILRI website.

Ways forward for food safety in countries bearing the brunt of the world’s food-borne diseases


Roadside meat for sale in Nairobi, Kenya (picture on Flickr by Andrew Chipley).

This article is written by Delia Grace

A new paper on food safety in low- and middle-income countries was published today (27 Aug 2015). The paper is based on a longer learning resource commissioned by the UK Department for International Development (DFID), which will appear shortly. Both publications reflect what the International Livestock Research Institute (ILRI) and its partners have learned over the last ten years since adopting a framework of risk analysis for assessing, managing and communicating about food safety in developing countries.

Some conclusions
The evidence indicates that low- and middle-income countries bear the brunt of food-borne disease; that developing-country consumers are concerned about food-borne diseases; that most of the known burden of food-borne disease comes from biological hazards; and that most food-borne disease results from eating contaminated perishable foods sold in the ‘informal food markets’ common in developing countries.

Microbial pathogens may cause a burden of 18 million disability-adjusted life years (DALYs) a year; food-borne parasites cause similar levels of illness, disability or early death; and aflatoxins consumed by people lead to 1–2 million DALYs. The full burden of chemical hazards is unknown.

What we do know is that the total burden of food-borne illness (38 million) is higher than that of lung cancer (32 million), malnutrition (35 million)  and neglected tropical diseases (26 million).

Food-borne disease has been increasing in some developed countries and is likely to increase in the world’s low- and middle-income countries as well as a result of massive increases in the latter countries in the consumption of risky foods (livestock and fish products and fresh vegetables and other produce) and of lengthening and broadening food value chains, which require the bulking of more foods and their transport over longer distances.

The on-going rapid intensification of livestock and fish production systems in many developing countries may also cause more food-borne illness, as may the increasing vegetable production systems in and around cities that rely on wastewater and untreated human and/or animal waste.

There is little evidence yet of effective, sustainable and scalable interventions to improve food safety in developing countries, but we already see some promising approaches. For example, building on existing food systems is likely to be more successful than attempting to impose completely new systems.

Given the global importance of food-borne disease, a priority must be improving the ways we assess interventions to improve food safety in resource-scarce environments. We see opportunities to improve food safety through use of new and better-used technologies, through innovations along the food value chains, and through restructuring food safety governance, but we don’t yet well understand the feasibility and effectiveness of these approaches.

The widespread concern over food safety in low- and middle-income countries and the growing evidence of the health burdens and economic costs of unsafe food make it necessary, and likely, that this area receives greater attention in future.

Read the whole paper: Food safety in low and middle income countries, by Delia Grace, International Journal of Environmental Research and Public Health,  2015, 12(9), 10490–10507; doi:10.3390/ijerph120910490.

Delia Grace is a veterinary epidemiologist and food safety expert at ILRI, based in Nairobi, Kenya, where she leads an ILRI research program on Food Safety and Zoonoses; Grace also leads an Agriculture-Associated Diseases flagship project of the CGIAR Research Program on Agriculture for Nutrition and Health (A4NH); the latter multi-institutional program is led by the International Food Policy Research Institute (IFPRI).

Read other ILRI articles on the topic of food safety in developing countries:

Towards professionalizing—not criminalizing—informal sellers of milk and meat in poor countries, 6 Aug 2015

Reducing human exposure to aflatoxins in poor countries: Towards new technologies and practices, 3 Aug 2015

The rise of antimicrobial resistance (lethal) and animal agriculture (critical): Their links in developing countries, 18 Jun 2015

Food scares: Agrifood systems everywhere need greater cooperation and investments in safer foods and farming, 16 Apr 2015

Managing the most nutritious, and riskiest, foods in the informal markets of developing countries, 11 Apr 2015

Despite contamination concerns, Africa must embrace ‘wet markets’ as key to food security, 27 Jan 2015

Bridging ‘biobanking’ and biomedical research across Europe and Africa: ‘B3Africa’ launched in Cape Town

Launch of B3Africa in Capetown

ILRI geneticst Steve Kemp (far left) and Erik Bongcam-Rudloff (centre front), of SLU, at the launch of B3Africa in Cape Town 24–25 Aug 2015 (photo credit: B3Africa).

The first meeting of a new project, ‘B3Africa, short for ‘Bridging Biobanking and Biomedical Research across Europe and Africa’, was held this week (24–25 Aug 2015) at the University of the Western Cape, in Cape Town, South Africa.

Biological specimens have been collected and stored for decades, but only since the late 1990s have biobanks been established in a more systematic way. Biobanks collect and store a variety of samples (human, livestock, pathogens) from tissue, cells, blood, saliva, plasma or DNA. These samples are essential in biomedical research to understand disease mechanisms and develop new therapies.

Africa’s rapidly evolving biobanks are invaluable for biomedical research because the African population has the greatest genomic diversity on the planet and represents an incredible resource of information to advance fundamental understanding of health and disease.

Eleven partners from African and European countries are jointly developing a collaboration framework and an informatics infrastructure that will accelerate and facilitate biomedical research across the continents to address global health challenges together. One of the partners is the International Livestock Research Institute (ILRI), which has a livestock-focused biorepository within its animal science laboratories at its headquarters, in Nairobi, Kenya.

About ILRI’s livestock biorepository, Steve Kemp, ILRI geneticist, says:

ILRI’s biorepository allows us to efficiently and safely collect, store and use the biological samples that we collect in the field. But it also allows us to share them with other scientists to address other questions, increasing the value of the material for everyone. Sampling is a very time-consuming and expensive exercise. We have an ethical and scientific responsibility to make the best use of that effort and money. The B3Africa project draws together leaders in the field of biobanking to develop common standards and approaches to further increase the usefulness of these precious collections.

The European Commission’s Horizon 2020 program is providing the B3Africa initiative with about EUR2 million in funding for the next three years.

Access to high-quality biological samples is the number one requirement to advance biomedical research.—Jan-Eric Litton, an initiator of the European biobanking infrastructure consortium BBMRI-ERIC

B3Africa has two strategic aims:
1 Create a trusted informatics platform that allows the sharing of bio-resources and data by European and African partner institutions.
2 Provide ‘out-of-the-box’ informatics that facilitate data management, processing and sharing.

Partners in B3Africa
The 11 partners of B3Africa are: Sveriges Lantbruksuniversitet (Swedish University of Agricultural Sciences, SLU); Biobanking and Biomolecular Resources Research Infrastructure Consortium (BBMRI-ERIC); Karolinska Institutet (KI); Centre for Research Ethics & Bioethics (CRB) at Uppsala University; University of the Western Cape (UWC); Makerere University (MAK); Stellenbosch University (SU); International Agency for Research on Cancer (IARC); International Livestock Research Institute (ILRI); Medizinische Universitat Graz (MUG); and the Institute of Human Virology Nigeria (IHVN).

For further information, contact ILRI collaborator at SLU Erik Bongcam-Rudloff (Erik.bongcam [at]

Read the press release, B3Africa kickoff participants at the University of the Western Cape, South Africa the 24th August 2015, from the Swedish University of Agricultural Sciences, 21 Aug 2015.

At ILRI, B3Africa work is conducted within ILRI’s Animal Biosciences program, led by Steve Kemp, and within the CGIAR Research Program on Livestock and Fish.

About B3Africa
B3Africa—Bridging Biobanking and Biomedical Research across Europe and Africa—is expected significantly to improve and facilitate development of better predictive, preventive and personalized healthcare worldwide. The collaboration harmonizes the ethical and legal frameworks, biobank data representation and bioinformatics pipelines for sharing data and knowledge among biobanks and allowing access for researchers from both continents. Other initiatives that will collaborate with B3Africa include the Human Heredity and Health in Africa project (H3Africa), the European Biobanking and Biomolecular Resources research infrastructure (BBMRI-ERIC) and the LMIC Biobank and Cohort Network (BCNet). They will work together to address the following objectives:
• Define an ethical and regulatory framework for biobank data sharing between Europe and Africa
• Define data models for representing biobank and research data based on existing best practices, standards and ontologies
• Design an informatics platform using existing open-source software (with eBioKit and BiBBox as essential modules) and integrating workflows for biobank applications
• Implement an education and training system for information and capacity building

‘Soft’ science at ILRAD/ILRI: A lively look back at three decades of veterinary epidemiology for development

Towards a Healthier Planet, ILRI Research Report, 2015

The International Livestock Research Institute (ILRI) marked its 40-year anniversary last year, 2014. One of the publications commissioned to celebrate that milestone is this new research report, Towards a Healthier Planet, written by Brian Perry, a distinguished former ILRI staff member who in 1987 initiated the Epidemiological and Socioeconomics Program at ILRI, or, to be precise, at ILRI’s predecessor, the International Laboratory for Research on Animal Diseases (ILRAD). Perry is now a visiting professor at the University of Oxford and honorary professor at the University of Edinburgh.

For almost thirty years, the International Laboratory for Research on Animal Diseases (ILRAD) then ILRI benefited from a strong research program in the epidemiological sciences. Over time, it progressively broadened its coverage in disease, disciplinary and geographic terms. The results of this work have now been assembled in this impact narrative, which carefully documents the wide range of issues addressed by the teams of researchers, and presents them in an illustrated and highly readable format.

For those starting out in epidemiology studies or careers, and for all those contemplating pursuing epidemiological and socioeconomic studies within a ‘hard’ biological sciences environment, this will be instructive reading. For the many ‘soft’ scientists who have given ILRAD, ILCA (the International Livestock Centre for Africa) and ILRI and its partners part or much of their professional lives over the years, it will provoke memories and, one hopes, smiles of recognition. ILRI today is indebted to you all.

The following excerpts are taken from the executive summary and introduction.

‘Veterinary epidemiology was introduced into ILRAD in 1987 to provide more substantive justification for the investments being made into fundamental research on vaccine development for the two African vector-borne diseases—theileriosis (East Coast fever, ECF) and trypanosomiasis—on which ILRAD focused. Under the Epidemiology and Socio-economics Program a small multidisciplinary team set up a series of institutional collaborations to undertake impact assessments of these two diseases in different regions of Africa. The term epidemiology was not completely new to ILRAD, but it had been used in the context of parasite strain variations, not in the context of understanding disease dynamics in different livestock production systems, and the impacts on people who derived their livelihoods from them. For the next seven years, until the merger of ILRAD and the International Livestock Centre for Africa (ILCA ) in 1995 and the establishment of ILRI, the program focused almost exclusively on the dynamics and impacts of tick and tsetse-borne pathogens of livestock in Africa.

‘In the new institutional environment following the merger, the geographic focus, disease focus, disciplinary makeup and range of tools used by the group broadened substantially, tackling multiple diseases in Africa, Asia and Latin America, and building capacity in epidemiological and economic impact assessment techniques. For a period of 15 years (1987–2002) ILRAD/ILRI’s epidemiology and socio-economic impact assessment capacity was assembled in one team based at what became known as the ‘Epicentre’, serving a range of institutional and externally commissioned needs; it became increasingly recognized internationally for its focus on animal health issues affecting economic development and poverty reduction. . . . [E]pidemiological capacity at ILRI over the last decade has become scattered throughout the institute and regions, the emphasis on quantitative epidemiology has decreased, and the focus has moved to new areas such as food safety, zoonoses and emerging diseases. . . .

‘ILRI and its predecessor ILRAD have played an important international role in exploiting epidemiological tools for the investigation and resolution of animal health constraints to livestock production and poverty reduction in many regions of the developing world. Furthermore, ILRI has been a leader in exploring new epidemiological approaches and in widening the disciplinary spectrum of epidemiological investigations. But arguably most important of all, ILRI has played a facilitating role in collaborating with countries, institutions and organizations in Africa, Asia and Latin America to respond to requests for both short-and long-term partnership and support at international, regional, national and local levels, and in extensive building capacity in epidemiological tools, techniques and approaches.’

The narrative that follows is decidedly lively, and at times honest to a fault. Here is how Perry describes the beginning of long struggles 1) to get his animal health laboratory colleagues (the ‘disease moleculars’) to understand and appreciate the quantitative and social sides of livestock disease in poor countries and 2) to get his hands on the datasets his team needed to start building a useful and credible body of work.

‘. . . While seen to be an important and long overdue investment by CGIAR donors and governors, the arrival of the new small team was viewed internally as rather inconsequential. It was labelled the ‘soft science’ group, the mandate and context of which was seen by many ILRAD bench scientists as irrelevant to the ‘real’ science being undertaken in the laboratories. The group rapidly laid out a plan for its work, which hinged upon establishing databases on the rapidly evolving livestock production systems in Africa at risk to the two diseases, and on methodologies for determining the impacts they were having. The donors were seeking numbers and monetary values, which needed data on where the diseases were, how much of them there was, and what effects they had on livestock and people.

‘This challenge rapidly opened up the realization that disease incidence and prevalence data in Africa were extremely scarce, and what little was available was often unreliable, let alone data on the denominators, such as the size, structure, composition and ownership of the populations at risk. And so the need for structured quantitative epidemiology capacity emerged, which led to a sustained program of data assembly, digital data documentation and synthesis, the development of modelling techniques, and of course the gathering of field data. . . .

‘Veterinary epidemiological and economic impact sciences at ILRAD and ILRI have left a valuable legacy of publications in peer-reviewed journals, strategic reports and policy documents, as well as methodologies and approaches which have been applied in virtually all corners of the world. The products of these sciences have also contributed to disease control policies and strategies in different ways, and a vast cadre of epidemiologists trained at ILRAD and ILRI is now serving different institutional needs in Africa, Asia, Australia, Europe and Latin America. . . .’

Reade the whole report: Towards a healthier planet: Veterinary epidemiology research at the International Laboratory for Research on Animal Diseases (ILRAD) and the International Livestock Research Institute (ILRI), 1987–2014, 66 pages, by Brian Perry, ILRI, Research Report 38, Jul 2015.

All flesh is grass (except in Nigeria, where it might be cassava peel)


Peeling cassava in Oyo State, Nigeria (photo credit: ILRI/Stevie Mann).

Scientists are developing a way of transforming the mountains of cassava peels created every day in Nigeria, where cassava is a staple food, into a nourishing feed for smallholder farm animals. The several CGIAR centres involved include the International Livestock Research Institute (ILRI), the International Institute for Tropical Agriculture (IITA) and the International Potato Center (CIP). Also involved in this project are several CGIAR research programs—Livestock and Fish; Integrated Systems for the Humidtropics; and Roots, Tubers and Bananas—as well as the Global Cassava Partnership for the 21st Century (GCP21).

Several avenues being considered for utilizing the huge quantities of cassava waste include as animal and fish feed, using it for energetic substrate to produce aflasafe™, or growing mushrooms and other products for human and animal consumption. Near infrared spectroscopy (NIRS) analysis in ILRI-India of cassava peel pellets produced in ILRI-Nigeria under the project showed that it had nutritionally similar energy value as some grains being used in the feed industry.

From the abstract
Nigeria, the world’s largest producer of cassava, harvests 54 million metric tonnes (Mt) of cassava tubers annually. More than 95% of its uses require peeling, which generates up to 14 Mt of waste annually; mostly due to challenges related to drying. Sun drying is practically impossible during the wet season and it takes 2–3 days in the dry season to reduce the moisture content of fresh peels from about 60 to 20% or less—a marketable state.

This is a report on a multi-centre and multi-disciplinary research work (in its early stages) to better utilize the waste. Ongoing work is showing great potential. Our intervention has so far dramatically reduced cassava peels moisture content to 12–15% within six sunshine hours using only equipment in current use by small-scale processors and households. The considerably shorter processing ensures high-quality products, low in aflatoxins contamination. Also, in a small sample experiment, when compared to sorghum grains currently being used for the production of aflasafe™ as control, the pellets supported the sporulation of Aspergillus flavus up to 87.5% of the control with better cost effectiveness.

The research challenges remain in terms of circumventing drying technologies, creating and maintaining product quality standards and facilitating and catalyzing collective action among adopters. Nevertheless, the research carries huge potential to address feed scarcity, contribute to food security and food safety, clean up the environment and improve the incomes and livelihoods of people currently engaged in processing cassava tuber into food—85% of them women.

From the introduction
‘Livestock production already accounts for more than 70% of all agricultural land and production is expected to more than double in the next 40 years to meet the rapidly expanding demand for livestock products, especially in developing countries where incomes are rising. With a fixed land base, it is imperative that the feed industry significantly boosts its production capacity from alternative and sustainable feed sources.

‘Can cassava waste contribute to feed the feed industry with alternative ingredients as well as contribute to food-feed safety? The production of cassava has increased steadily in Africa and in Nigeria for the last 30 years, growing at an average rate of 3% per year. Because of its resilience to global climatic change, and because of its affordability and easy storage underground, predictions are indicating that this trend will continue until 2050 and may in fact increase faster.

‘Total cassava production for the year 2013 in Africa is about 158 Mt/yr which accounts for 57% of the global production and in Nigeria alone it is about 53 Mt/yr (FAOSTAT 2015). By 2050 African and Nigerian production could reach and 150 Mt/yr, respectively, based on the observed 3% growth rate in the last three decades.

‘From the annual production, it has been calculated that in Nigeria alone cassava waste amounted to approximately 14 Mt/yr (calculated at a 25% average in dry matter content); that is, about 30% of the annual production. Currently, this huge amount of waste is hardly being used. . . .’

Read the whole paper published in the journal Food Chain:Technical innovations for small-scale producers and households to process wet cassava peels into high quality animal feed ingredients and aflasafe™ substrate. The authors are: Iheanacho Okike, senior agricultural economist, and Anandan Samireddypalle, livestock nutritionist, both at ILRI and based in ILRI’s offices at the International Institute for Tropic Agriculture (IITA), in Ibadan, Nigeria office; Alan Duncan, principal livestock scientist, and Michael Blümmel, team leader, both at ILRI and based at ILRI’s campus in Addis Ababa, Ethiopia; and Lawrence Kaptoge, Joseph Atehnkeng, Ranajit Bandyopadhyay, Peter Kulakow and Tunrayo Alabi, all from IITA; and Claude Fauquet, director of the Global Cassava Partnership for the 21st Century (GCP21), at the International Center for Tropical Agriculture (CIAT), in Cali, Colombia.

Watch a film about this new technology: Adding value through existing technologies, 2015.

Towards professionalizing—not criminalizing—informal sellers of milk and meat in poor countries


Transporting fresh milk by motorcycle in Tanzania (photo credit: ILRI/Ben Lukuyu).

‘. . . Researchers from the International Livestock Research Institute (ILRI) and partners have developed and piloted an institutional innovation—a training, certification and branding scheme for informal value chain actors—with good potential to improve the safety of animal-source foods sold in informal markets.

‘Past development policy often focused on formal markets, which at best meant neglect of informal markets and often resulted in harassment and penalties for informal agents.

While in the long term markets are likely to formalize, in the short term, interventions that seek to suppress informal markets can be both ineffective and antipoor.

‘Recent evidence suggests that a more constructive, incentive-based approach to informal markets could improve their contribution to economic development as well as increase compliance with standards in areas such as the environment, public health, and labor.

‘There is a growing recognition of the importance of food safety in developing countries. Forthcoming work by the World Health Organization Foodborne Diseases Burden Epidemiology Reference Group estimates that around 25 per cent of all diarrhea is food borne. As diarrhea is usually among the top three infectious diseases in developing countries, this represents an enormous health burden.

Most food-borne disease is associated with animal-source foods and produce.

‘. . . [I]n developing countries government systems to support food safety are often still emerging, and consumers’ choices may be limited by income and information, which means that the most important incentives to safe production—private demand and effective private or public regulation—are lacking. New approaches to food safety that support and are supported by a range of incentives—social, market, or regulatory based—need to be developed to encourage farmers and other value chain actors to produce quality and safe products.

‘Because of the high level of involvement of the poor and women in producing for, and selling in, informal markets, agricultural research and development interventions that aim to improve their livelihoods have engaged with these informal markets. But in comparison to either smallholder producers or formal-sector food chains, informal markets have received little attention in programs or policy.

This paper looks at the potential of one type of institutional innovation—a training, certification and branding scheme for traders—to contribute to improved food safety outcomes in informal markets for animal-source foods.

‘Evidence from risk analyses and other studies of livestock value chains have found that actors whose roles include aggregating product from many producers—for example, traders, processors, chilling plants, slaughterhouses—play a key role in maintaining and improving the quality of food, and they also may be easier to reach since there are fewer of them compared to either producers or consumers. The intervention, which emerged from research on smallholder dairy production and marketing in Kenya, has been adapted for milk traders in India and Tanzania and butchers in Nigeria.

It is based on the hypothesis that professionalizing rather than criminalizing informal-market actors improves food safety outcomes while at the same time improving nutrition and protecting and enhancing important sources of income and employment for the poor. The approach also may be applicable to formal-sector actors who are currently unable to ensure food safety.

‘Building on the experiences of the pilot studies, this paper develops the theory of change that explains how the intervention is expected to work and identifies the assumptions that underlie its successful implementation. . . . It complements work using theory-based approaches to evaluate value chain interventions, in particular in terms of spelling out the linkages between agricultural interventions and improvements in health and nutrition outcomes. . . .’

More information
Read the whole theory of change analysis—IFPRI Discussion Paper 01451, July 2015: How will training traders contribute to improved food safety in informal markets for meat and milk? A theory of change analysis, by Nancy Johnson, of the CGIAR Research Program on Agriculture for Nutrition and Health (A4NH) at the International Food Policy Research Institute (IFPRI); John Mayne, independent advisor on public-sector performance; Delia Grace, leader of the agriculture-associated diseases flagship of A4NH and of ILRI’s Food Safety and Zoonosis program; and Amanda Wyatt, of A4NH.

Read more on ILRI’s AgHealth site.

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


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

More CGIAR information on aflatoxins

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 Brian Perry interviews Mario Herrero

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

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

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

ILRI 2006 Annual Program Meeting

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

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

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

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

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

ILRI 2007 Annual Program Meeting

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

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

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

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

ILRI 2011 ‘Livestock Exchange’ Conference

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

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

Incoming director general JIMMY SMITH

Departing director general CARLOS SERÉ

ILRI@40 2014 Addis Conference


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

Training in how to interview scientists

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


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

Happy viewing!

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


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

Written by Paula Dominguez-Salas

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Joerg Jores with Sir Mark Walport

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

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

Northeastern Kenya 10

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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

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

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

Watch Robinson’s slide presentation below.

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

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

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


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 Lab shot

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

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

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

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

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

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

Watch the slide presentation below.

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

Sir Mark Walport, UK chief science advisor

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

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

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

Slide in presentation by Jimmy smith to UK chief scientific adviser

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

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

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

Jimmy Smith gives an overview of ILRI

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

See the presentation:

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



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


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Sir Mark’s previous career highlights include:

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

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

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

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

See other news of Sir Mark’s visit:

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

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



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

Sustainable ruminant breeding programs for climate-smart villages

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

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

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

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

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

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

Nyando climate-smart villages

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Moulding climate champions; creating food secure communities

Additional resources:

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

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

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

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

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