East Africa News

Roots, tubers and banana plants: Next-generation pig feeds for Uganda


Pigs (photo credit: N Palmer/CIAT).

The demand for animal source foods in Uganda is rising as the country’s population continues to grow alongside improved income and urbanization.

Pork in particular has become an increasingly important food in the diets of Ugandans, reflected in the significant growth in consumption rates from the 1960s, when it accounted for only 1–2% of the per capita consumption of meat, to today’s level of at least 30% of the 10 kg consumed per capita/year.

Despite its growing popularity among both farmers and consumers, smallholder pig production in Uganda is faced by key constraints including limited access of farmers to a reliable supply of quality pig feed and the high cost of feed which can account for up to 62% of the total production cost.

Among the common fodder given to pigs in Uganda are sweetpotato, banana and other root and tuber ‘residues’, such as vines, leaves and peels. However, new research reveals that at time of harvest there is an excess of feed that is subsequently wasted as small-scale pig farmers in Uganda struggle to conserve this fodder for use during periods of scarcity.


Silage made from crop residue (photo credit: N Palmer/CIAT).

The results are part of a qualitative study entitled ‘Perceptions and practices of farmers on the utilization of sweetpotato, and other root tubers, and banana for pig feeding in smallholder crop-livestock systems in Uganda’, which was undertaken in two districts of Uganda with high pig and sweetpotato production in order to understand how farmers’ use and perceive root, tuber and banana crops as pig feed.

Published in the open-access journal Livestock Research for Rural Development, the study shows that pig production in these districts is dominated by small-scale farmers who produce both crops and livestock, and depend heavily on crop residues for feed.

Sweetpotato in particular was found to be the leading contributor to pig diet in rural areas, with farmers mostly using fresh, raw vines (70%) as compared to roots and peels. In peri-urban areas where farmers have greater access to commercial feeds, they typically mixed crop residues with commercial concentrates.

However, the conservation of crop residues is not a common practice and without access to new preservation technologies farmers can waste between 37–40% of their feed during periods of excess when the amount of feed exceeds demand by the herd.


Piglets eating fresh sweetpotato vines in Uganda (photo credit: S Quinn/CIP).

In contrast, during times of feed scarcity many farmers must sell off their stock to cope, subsequently lowering pig market prices and affecting the profitability of their businesses.

In light of these findings, the authors call for further exploration of strategies to conserve root, tuber and banana crop residues during the harvest period to reduce waste and improve incomes for smallholder pig farmers in Uganda.

This research was conducted by scientists from the International Livestock Research Institute, the International Potato Center, Iowa State University-Uganda Program and the Ugandan government as part of the ‘Expanding Utilization of Roots, Tubers and Bananas and Reducing Their Post-harvest Losses’ (RTB-ENDURE) project, which is implemented by the CGIAR Research Program on Roots, Tubers and Bananas. This work also forms part of a portfolio of collaboration with the CGIAR Research Program on Livestock and Fish.

The RTB-ENDURE project is funded by the European Union and implemented with the technical support of the International Fund for Agricultural Development (IFAD) with the aim to improve food availability and income generation through better post-harvest management and expanded utilization of root, tuber and banana crops in Uganda.

This news release is also posted on the website of the CGIAR Research Program on Roots, Tubers and Bananas.
For more information about ILRI research work in Uganda, visit the ILRI webpage on Uganda.
For more information about ILRI’s research work on pigs, visit the ILRI webpage on pigs.

High-level German delegation visits ILRI for updates on CGIAR livestock and sweet potato research

Visit to ILRI by BMZ delegation

Shirley Tarawali, assistant director general of ILRI, giving a presentation during the visit (photo credit: ILRI/Paul Karaimu).

Earlier this week (16 Nov 2015) a delegation from the German Federal Ministry of Economic Cooperation and Development (BMZ) and the German Embassy in Kenya visited the International Livestock Research Institute (ILRI) in Nairobi. The visit—part of an ongoing conversation between BMZ and other German development organizations and ILRI on ways to strengthen the impacts of livestock research for development—was the latest demonstration of the long-standing commitment of Germany and ILRI to advance ‘better lives through livestock’.

German universities, research institutions and funding bodies have partnered ILRI in livestock research and development for more than four decades, starting with ILRI’s two predecessors, the International Laboratory for Research on Animal Diseases (ILRAD) in Kenya, and the International Livestock Centre for Africa (ILCA) in Ethiopia.

This year BMZ is funding more than half a dozen projects at ILRI with a total value of over €5 million. Eleven German scientists now work at ILRI, six of them based in Nairobi, including two on joint appointments with German institutions and ILRI. ILRI also hosts six African PhD students under the German Academic Exchange Service (DAAD) scholarships program and a PhD student from Germany’s Karlsruhe Institute of Technology. Two experts from Germany’s Centre for International Migration and Development (CIM) and three former CIM experts are also working at ILRI.

During the visit, researchers briefed the visitors on ongoing innovative research supported by Germany. This included research to enhance African smallholder dairy and sweet potato value chains; a novel mobile phone-linked diagnostic test for livestock diseases, including a lung disease in cattle called ‘contagious bovine pleuropneumonia’ (CBPP); research on developing and expanding use of varieties of Africa’s all-purpose (nutritious and drought-tolerant) Brachiaria, or signal grass, to improve fodder production; research on Africa’s livestock and greenhouse gas emissions and other important environmental issues being conducted at ILRI’s Mazingira Centre; and research to improve the safety of Africa’s smallholder dairy products, commonly sold in ‘informal’ markets.

Visit to ILRI by BMZ delegation

Josephine Birungi (left) led a tour of BecA-ILRI Hub facilities (photo credit: ILRI/Paul Karaimu).

Researchers from the International Potato Center who are based on ILRI’s Nairobi campus also updated the German delegation on progress to widen the benefits of consuming Vitamin A-rich orange-fleshed sweet potato. The delegation then toured two of ILRI’s advanced laboratory facilities and resources: the Biosciences eastern and central Africa (BecA)-ILRI Hub and ILRI Biorepository.

The six members of the German delegation were Christel Weller-Molongua, GIZ division head for agriculture and rural development; Ulrike Meier, of BMZ’s special ‘One World—No Hunger’ initiative; and, from the German Embassy in Nairobi, Julia Kronberg, head of cooperation and development; Andrea Bahm, GIZ agricultural program officer; and Jacqueline Knopp and Christine Telep.

Aflatoxin levels in cow milk and feed in the Addis Ababa milk shed—New study


Ethiopian farmer with fresh milk from her cow (photo credit: ILRI/Apollo Habtamu).

This article is written by ILRI scientists Dawit Gizachew, Barbara Szonyi, Azage Tegegne, Jean Hanson and Delia Grace

A vibrant dairy sector is important for the economic development of Ethiopia. Dairy offers a pathway out of poverty for a large number of households keeping livestock. At the same time, the dairy industry can provide highly nutritious animal-source foods (milk and dairy products) to meet the increasing food security and nutritional requirements of an expanding population.

Estimates place Ethiopia far below recommended annual milk intake at 17 litres per capita and even below the African-wide average in per capita consumption. However, tremendous potential exists to increase production and consumption of dairy products. As the dairy sector in Ethiopia is growing, attention needs to be paid to testing the quality of both dairy feeds and milk to ensure that the milk is safe for consumers (see USAID/Land O’ Lakes: The next stage in dairy development for Ethiopia, 2010).

We recently published the results of a survey on aflatoxins in cow’s milk and dairy cattle feed in the Addis Ababa area. Our results showed levels of aflatoxin in some of the milk samples significantly higher than that allowed by the European Union and USA standards. While the situation is of concern and definitely warrants action, only one in four samples were above the limits set by the US (but these are more lenient than those set by the EU). On the other hand, other countries are adopting the standards of the USA or EU, which has implications for international trade.

The level of aflatoxin contamination found in this study in milk and feed should prompt action to identify suitable interventions.

As reported in The Parasitologist, aflatoxin secreted in milk ‘is highly stable; heating will not break down the toxin sufficiently. Subsequently, the toxins are further processed into yoghurt, cheese and butter. This means that milk and other dairy product pose a threat to humans, particularly children.’

Drinking milk with aflatoxin levels above standards is not advisable, but in terms of risk, says ILRI’s Delia Grace, ‘there are many things in Addis Ababa that are more dangerous, such as driving a motorbike without a helmet or drinking from surface water. Therefore, we do not recommend that consumers stop consuming milk and dairy products in Addis Ababa, because milk has very high nutritional value.’

The other good news is that we have identified the main culprit—noug cake, an animal feed made from niger seed that is a by-product of noug oil factories.

Though all dairy farmers of different towns use similar types of animal feeds, differences in temperature, moisture and storage conditions might be the cause for the variation of aflotoxin contamination between areas. In addition, the composition of the feed mixture (in particular the proportion of noug cake) will have an effect on the toxin content.

This contamination can be fixed by improving handling and storage,  by using decontaminants or aflatoxin binders in animal feeds, or by avoiding risky feeds. Milk from cows not fed contaminated feed even for a few days is free of aflatoxin. The passing of aflatoxins into meat and eggs is much, much less (beef cattle and poultry probably get much less noug as feed), so we are not so concerned about contamination in meat or eggs, although testing these products for aflatoxin levels would also be useful.

We need further studies to determine how widespread the aflatoxin contamination is in other parts of Ethiopia. Also, we need to test interventions targeting noug cake to reduce aflatoxin contamination in the greater Addis Ababa area.

We suggest the following approaches to move forward:

  • The survey, though statistically sound, was relatively small; conducting a larger survey would help identify hot spots where contamination is most severe as well as areas where the problem may be negligible.
  • With the noug cake dairy feed identified as a major source of aflatoxins, dairy producers can reduce or mitigate contamination by changing or decontaminating their feed and applying other interventions.
  • Other countries have successfully adopted test and certificate schemes for controlling aflatoxin levels, which Ethiopia could explore.
ILRI takes this food safety issue seriously and is seeking funds to support follow-up studies on aflatoxins in Ethiopia.—Barbara Szonyi

Read the science paper: Aflatoxin contamination of milk and dairy feeds in the Greater Addis Ababa milk shed, Ethiopia, by Dawit Gizachew, Barbara Szonyi, Azage Tegegne, Jean Hanson and Delia Grace, in Food Control, Vol 59, Jan 2016, pp 773–779.

Read another blog article about these research results in The Parasitologist: Aflatoxin-milk in Addis Ababa, 11 Sep 2015.

Find more ILRI blog articles about aflatoxins, 6 Feb 2014–3 Aug 2015.

Subscribe to the AgHealth news blog and consult AgHealth’s Food Safety page.

View an ILRI infographic on alfatoxin contamination of developing-country food chains, Nov 2013.

Read about 19 aflatoxin briefs published by the International Food Policy Research Institute or the whole publication: Aflatoxins: Finding solutions for improved food safety, edited by Laurian Unnevehr and Delia Grace, Nov 2013.


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.

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


Paula Dominguez-Salas, above, is a post-doctoral scientist of ILRI and the Leverhulme Centre for Integrative Research on Agriculture and Health (LCIRAH) 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, and the Environmental & Social Ecology of Human Infectious Diseases Urban Zoo project.

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 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 Dorper sheep. 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. https://cgspace.cgiar.org/handle/10568/35655

Sustainable small ruminant breeding programs for ‘Climate Smart Villages’ in Kenya: Baseline Household Survey Report. (Working paper will be available soon, http://ilri-angr.wikispaces.com/Nyando+Project)

IGAD’s Horn of Africa, Nile Valley and Great Lakes region member states sign agreement for joint work with ILRI


Horn of Africa from Space (via Planet Earth.ca).

The Intergovernmental Authority on Development (IGAD), an eight-country trade bloc in Africa including governments from the Horn of Africa, the Nile Valley and the African Great Lakes region and with headquarters in Djibouti City, signed a memorandum of understanding last Friday (27 Mar 2015) with the International livestock Research Institute (ILRI). The signing, which took place at an IGAD General Assembly meeting in Addis Ababa, Ethiopia, establishes and defines a framework for cooperation and strengthens the IGAD-ILRI research and development work in the IGAD member states: Djibouti, Eritrea, Ethiopia, Kenya, Somalia, South Sudan, Sudan and Uganda.

Under the auspices of a Technical Consortium for Building Resilience in the Horn of Africa, ILRI has been working with IGAD since 2012. ILRI’s primary role in the consortium till now has been to provide technical assistance to the member states in the form of development of investment strategies aimed at ending drought emergencies and ways to measure enhanced resilience.

ILRI and the IGAD Secretariat are already implementing the MOU and developing a joint work plan involving, but not limited to, the following areas of work in support of the IGAD Drought Disaster and Sustainability Initiative (IDDRSI) and the eight member states within the IGAD region.

  • The Technical Consortium for Building Resilience in the Horn of Africa
    (the consortium will continue to help measure resilience through data analyses and monitoring and evaluation)
  • The Climate Change and Sustainable Intensification mega program in IGAD countries
  • Agricultural development master plans along the Lamu Port (Kenya), South Sudan and Ethiopian Transport (LAPSSET) corridors
  • Regional and national livestock master plans in IGAD member countries

For more about the Technical Consortium, established in 2011 as a project of the CGIAR and housed at ILRI, see this poster and brochure and check out their website.

Fighting fire with fire: New study shows co-parasitic infections of cattle protect the animals from lethal disease

 Nr Mega, southern Ethiopia.

A Boran calf and girl in eastern Kenya (photo credit: ILRI/Stevie Mann).

A new study of the cattle killer East Coast fever finds a protective process that may also be at work in human malaria: Infections with milder parasites may protect against severe disease.

African cattle infected with a lethal parasite that kills one million cows per year are less likely to die when co-infected with the parasite’s milder cousin, according to a new study published today in Science Advances. The findings suggest that ‘fighting fire with fire’ is a strategy that might work against a range of parasitic diseases.

The immediate implications are for the battle in Africa against a tick-borne cattle-killing parasite, Theileria parva, which causes East Coast fever. The disease kills one cow every 30 seconds and claims US$300 million in livestock losses each year, mostly from poor herders who can scarcely afford to lose even a single animal.

‘Our results suggest seeking a simple vaccine that could protect cows from East Coast fever by inoculating them with a related but far less harmful parasite’, said lead author Mark Woolhouse, who is with the University of Edinburgh, in the UK. ‘It has been suggested that a similar process might be at work in malaria, where infection with the less harmful Plasmodium vivax parasite may protect people from the Plasmodium falciparum parasite that kills almost 600,000 people each year.’

The study, Co-infections determine patterns of mortality in a population exposed to parasite infections, was conducted as part of an Infectious Diseases of East African Livestock (IDEAL) project, a multi-partner study that includes the Nairobi-based International Livestock Research Institute (ILRI). The project followed more than 500 indigenous East African shorthorn zebu calves during their first year of life.

The calves live in a part of Western Kenya where they are routinely exposed to both the T. parva parasite and its less aggressive relatives. T. parva causes high fever and, like cancer, promotes uncontrollable proliferation of white blood cells. Its relatively innocuous cousins, such as Theileria mutans, typically cause chronic but mild infections that may have no symptoms at all. The researchers discovered that co-infection with a lesser parasite was associated with an impressive 89 per cent reduction in deaths from East Coast fever.

‘This is an important finding; East Coast fever is a major burden for millions of poor people in Africa whose existence depends on healthy cattle,’ said Phil Toye, of ILRI, which is leading an international effort to develop a new vaccine against the disease. ‘The control methods now available are very expensive for most farmers and herders, and if we could provide a cheaper approach, it could greatly reduce poverty in the region.’

Hope for healthier animals
ILRI experts are concerned that East Coast fever is spreading rapidly; it already threatens some 30 million cattle in East and Central Africa. In 2013, death and disease from this parasite caused US$300 million in losses, challenging the livelihoods of pastoralist herders and farmers in this region. East Coast fever also impedes economic development for livestock keepers by limiting their adoption of more productive cattle breeds, which are even more susceptible to the disease.

The researchers say that these new findings about East Coast fever could explain why European cattle breeds raised in the same region as the indigenous shorthorn Zebu are more likely to die from T. parva infections: because the European cattle are managed in ways that reduce their exposure to all tick-borne infections, they don’t get the benefit of infection with the less harmful parasite. The findings could also explain why spraying cattle with a pesticide that reduces exposure to all Theileria parasites may have little effect on the overall burden of disease.

The only existing vaccine against East Coast fever is made by grinding up ticks that carry the T. parva parasite. This so-called ‘live vaccine’ is costly to produce and deliver, and it induces an infection in the cows that must be treated with expensive antibiotics. The new study suggests that a simpler and cheaper vaccine might be based on more benign species of Theileria, which could also protect animals against disease but without the need for expensive drug treatment.

Lessons for malaria
The protective effect against East Coast fever that appears to be provided by the milder parasites could be relevant to the fight against malaria. Like East Coast fever, malaria is caused by a single-celled parasite, Plasmodium, although more than one species of Plasmodium can cause malaria. The deadliest species is Plasmodium falciparum, whereas Plasmodium vivax is more widespread but causes less severe disease.

The researchers refer back to a 1996 study suggesting that protective effect of P. vivax could explain a genetic mutation common in people who live in the South Pacific that makes them susceptible to P. vivax: the people may be more vulnerable to P. vivax because it protects against the deadlier P. falciparum.

‘A protective effect of P. vivax could explain why bednets used in places where both parasites are common are less effective in reducing malaria deaths than when used in places where P. falciparum is dominant’, Woolhouse said. ‘A better understanding of how this milder parasite may protect against the more lethal form of the disease could generate new approaches to reducing severe illness and deaths from malaria.’

Read the paper in Science Advances: Co-infections determine patterns of mortality in a population exposed to parasite infection, 20 Mar 2015.

Abstract Many individual hosts are infected with multiple parasite species, and this may increase or decrease the pathogenicity of the infections. This phenomenon is termed heterologous reactivity and is potentially an important determinant of both patterns of morbidity and mortality and of the impact of disease control measures at the population level. Using infections with Theileria parva (a tick-borne protozoan, related to Plasmodium) in indigenous African cattle [where it causes East Coast fever (ECF)] as a model system, we obtain the first quantitative estimate of the effects of heterologous reactivity for any parasitic disease. In individual calves, concurrent co-infection with less pathogenic species of Theileria resulted in an 89% reduction in mortality associated with T. parva infection. Across our study population, this corresponds to a net reduction in mortality due to ECF of greater than 40%. Using a mathematical model, we demonstrate that this degree of heterologous protection provides a unifying explanation for apparently disparate epidemiological patterns: variable disease-induced mortality rates, age-mortality profiles, weak correlations between the incidence of infection and disease (known as endemic stability), and poor efficacy of interventions that reduce exposure to multiple parasite species. These findings can be generalized to many other infectious diseases, including human malaria, and illustrate how co-infections can play a key role in determining population-level patterns of morbidity and mortality due to parasite infections.

Researchers from the Universities of Edinburgh, Glasgow, Pretoria and Nottingham, the Roslin Institute and the ILRI contributed to the study, which was funded by the Wellcome Trust.

About ILRI
The International Livestock Research Institute (ILRI) works with partners worldwide to improve food and nutritional security and to reduce poverty in developing countries through research on efficient, safe and sustainable use of livestock–ensuring better lives through livestock. The products generated by ILRI and its partners help people in developing countries enhance their livestock-dependent livelihoods, health and environments. ILRI is a member of the CGIAR Consortium of 15 research centres working for a food-secure future. ILRI has its headquarters in Nairobi, Kenya, a second principal campus in Addis Ababa, Ethiopia, and other offices in Southern and West Africa and South, Southeast and East Asia.

Humidtropics program launches research-for-development platform in Ethiopia

Humidtropics Innovation platform

National-level members of the Humidtropics research-for-development platform (photo credit: ILRI/Apollo Habtamu).

Written by Zelalem Lema, research officer, innovation systems at ILRI and Dorine Odongo, communications specialist at ILRI.

The CGIAR Research Program on Integrated Systems for the Humid Tropics (Humidtropics) has been implementing action research activities in Ethiopia since 2014 through local innovation platforms established in two field sites in Jeldu and Diga districts in the western part of the country.

These local innovation platforms were established in 2011 by the International Livestock Research Institute (ILRI) as part of the Nile Basin Development Challenge (NBDC) project, which implemented natural resource management interventions for three years in these field sites. At the end of the project, livestock feed interventions for increased feed availability and improved natural resource management to reverse land degradation emerged as successful interventions of the NBDC.

In 2014, the Humidtropics program continued working with the existing local innovation platforms on sustainable intensification activities and tested various crop-livestock system improvement options at both field sites. Soil and water conservation is central in Humidtropics activities in Ethiopia to improve productivity of food and feed.

Through this program, an action site research for development (R4D) platform has been created, consisting of members from national and regional government line ministries, national research institutes, CGIAR centres, private sector, local NGOs, government administrators in the field sites and donors.

Humidtropics Innovation platform

On 5 February 2015, the Humidtropics Ethiopia Action Site R4D Platform was launched at the ILRI campus in Addis Ababa. The platform is designed to oversee, and link with, the local level innovation platforms at field sites for co-learning and guiding Humidtropics integrated research for development activities in the country.

The platform’s management consists of an elected chairperson from Ambo University, a vice chairperson from ILRI and an action site facilitator from Oromia Agricultural Research Institute (OARI) who will support and facilitate meetings and field visits. Steering committee members were also elected to support technical activities in-between the meetings. Meetings of the general assembly will be held twice a year.

During the inaugural R4D platform meeting, ILRI presented draft terms of reference, which were discussed and endorsed by members. Representatives from CGIAR centres with activities in the Humidtropics program in Ethiopia also presented the activities they accomplished in 2014 and shared their proposals for 2015.

Two CGIAR centres, the World Agroforestry Centre (ICRAF) and Bioversity International, which have joined the program this year, presented their proposals for 2015 at the meeting.Other CGIAR centres working in Humidtropics program include the International Water Management Institute (IWMI) and the International Potato Center (CIP).

Humidtropics Innovation platform

At the meeting, IMWI presented ideas for improving soil and water conservation in crop-livestock production systems through local innovation platforms, while ILRI gave a proposal on innovation platform facilitation and livestock feed development. CIP, in collaboration with ILRI and local innovation platforms, shared experiences from ongoing activities in integrating market-oriented livestock feed interventions with natural resource management and crop intensification as well as information on a project that is increasing farmers’ access to market for potato. The Oromia Agricultural Research Institute shared plans to introduce and integrate quality protein maize and new teff varieties in one of the field sites to increase productivity and improve nutrition.

Interventions to improve livestock feed for the dry season by integrating existing local feeds with silage from sweet potato vines and inedible roots formed a key element of proposed Humidtropics activities for 2015. Different projects including N2 Africa, Legume CHOICE and Africa RISING will be mapped into this platform to share findings and best experiences.

During the event, representatives from ICRAF presented the new Humidtropics funding mechanism that will allow innovation platform members to apply for additional funding to carry out new research-for-development trials.

Steering committee members and representatives from each CGIAR centre then drafted a proposal for the project based on the discussions and partners renewed their commitment to collaborate towards sustainable intensification options in Ethiopia.

Case study on the first insurance for Africa’s camels, cows, sheep and goats


Image background by Mark Rothko, No 301, 1959 (via Daily Rothko Tumblr Blog).

‘On a hot morning in Nairobi in 2014, Andrew Mude, Team Leader for the Index-Based Livestock Insurance program (IBLI hereafter), looked out of his office window at cows grazing on Ngong Hills’ green pastures, but his mind was elsewhere.

‘In a few hours, he had to attend an executive management meeting where he was expected to recommend IBLI’s next
steps. But Mude was still undecided: should he recommend that the IBLI team focus exclusively on its current sites in northern Kenya and southern Ethiopia, and work to develop IBLI into a large-scale, proven and sustainable program in
these regions? Or should he go along with demands to expand quickly to multiple sites worldwide? It was necessary
for IBLI to grow, but Mude was not yet sure of the direction and trajectory of its growth.

‘IBLI, developed by the International Livestock Research Institute (ILRI) in collaboration with Cornell University, and
 the BASIS Research Program at the University of California at Davis, was the first index-based insurance product that 
protected poor pastoralists in drought-stricken areas in Africa from losing their primary asset—livestock. Studies by
 Janzen et al. (2013) had shown that IBLI coverage had a significant impact on these pastoralists’ assets, investments
 and consumption capacity. . . .

‘The goal was clear: to grow IBLI. But when and how should this growth take place? If IBLI stayed in Kenya, how
 could it keep donors happy and build a sustainable program? If they moved to new countries, how could they use
 their insights to be successful elsewhere, while ensuring that the Kenyan and Ethiopian programs were not adversely 
affected? Could they do it all, or would they have to choose? Being either overzealous or over cautious could harm 
IBLI. As ILRI’s senior management team gathered together to plan its 2015–2017 cycle, it was time for Mude to 
present a clearer, better direction for IBLI. . . .’

About this case study
‘Made popular by their extensive use at Harvard Business School, case studies are an effective and popular teaching
 tool employed by business schools worldwide. Management case studies present a real-world management or business 
decision faced by an organization, and are used by instructors to teach students how to think critically through such

‘Case studies use a mix of data, interviews and exhibits to give some background and context about a range of 
complex challenges faced by an organization’s stakeholders. While case studies use a real-life situation as a tool for
 discussion, they are not necessarily representative of all the facts, nor do they aim to delineate the right course of 
action. Cases may present alternate trajectories or options, but are generally devoid of any conclusions. They do not
 disclose the eventual decisions made by the case protagonist or the outcomes achieved. Instead, students are asked to
 use the facts and explanations within the case to discuss possible solutions and arrive at their own recommendations
 or decisions. This benefits students by putting them in the place of the real stakeholders and simulating a real-world 
decision making environment. Cases are thus designed to illustrate a complex problem fully, and to facilitate learning 
by encouraging students to develop their own solutions.

‘While case studies are mostly based on realistic scenarios and information, some creative license may be employed for
 teaching purposes. Cases are often accompanied by comprehensive teaching notes, accessible only to the instructors
 of the case, who may also choose to teach the case with the help of supplementary readings and lectures.

Iddo Dror says: ‘This case asks students to focus on growth strategy for a specialized insurance product for the poor. It focuses on the challenges and opportunities of establishing index-based livestock insurance (IBLI) in locations with large populations of poor pastoralists.

‘Students will consider various pressures from the market, governments, donors and partners faced by a nonprofit organization running a socially beneficial program. They will also explore when and how an insurance product serving the poor and vulnerable should be expected to become commercially sustainable and the consideration of donor interests when determining the future direction of non profit projects.’

Iddo Dror prepared this case study with case writer Shreya Maheshwari and IBLI team leader Andrew Mude as the
 basis for class discussion rather than to illustrate either effective or ineffective handling of an administrative situation.
 This case was prepared in collaboration with the IBLI team and benefited from useful insights by a range of partners 
and collaborators of the IBLI program.

Read the whole case study: Using satellite data to insure camels, cows, sheep and goats: IBLI and the development of the world’s first insurance for African pastoralists, by Iddo Dror, Shreya Maheshwari and Andrew Mude.

ILRI researchers test communication approaches for optimizing informed consent processes

The International Livestock Research Institute (ILRI) aims to employ the highest standards in its research, including the ways it engages with partners and stakeholders. The institutional research ethics committee (IREC) provides oversight of this effort. It was established to set and monitor ethical standards, including those affecting how researchers engage with farmers and other people participating it it research.

Informed consent is a key approach to ensure that ILRI research is not exploiting the people it work with and aims to serve.

Informed consent is essential, not only for legal and moral reasons but because the process provides a vehicle for dialogue between researchers and the people who keep livestock and are are most affected by any interventions that may be developed. Informed consent processes can be particularly complex in cross-cultural contexts. In these settings, novel communication approaches may enhance participant understanding of project information, so their consent can be truly informed.

While piloting field tools in Morogoro, Tanzania, ILRI researchers tested three alternative tools to use as part of the informed consent process. The study aimed to determine which tool would be best to use in field work, judged by participant comprehension of information presented and engagement in the process. Tools used to explain the project and informed consent included a written form, a poster with cartoons (see below) and a poster with photographs.

While the number of participants involved in this pilot study were small, some of the results were significant. The poster containing cartoons was found to be the superior communication tool and was therefore used for ensuing field work. The results will be written into a report for publication and ILRI is planning to expand the study to include more participants and trials in different contexts.

Poster, in Swahili, explaining a project and intended to strengthen community engagement.


Written by Tarni Cooper, consultant researcher with ILRI’s Food Safety and Zoonoses Program.

This week ILRI hosts major conference in Nairobi on livestock-based options for development

ILRI 40 years logo

On Wednesday 1 Oct 2014, the International Livestock Research Institute (ILRI) will host a high-profile conference in Nairobi on livestock-based options for sustainable development.

In 2014, to mark 40 years of its international research, ILRI is facilitating a series of events that highlight the ways in which livestock research advances the global development agenda, specifically for sustainable food and nutritional security, economic well-being and healthy lives.

Among the expected participants at the conference, at ILRI in Nairobi, are global, regional and local actors in sustainable livestock development, including farmers, the public and private sectors and research and development agencies.

The highlight of the event will be a keynote address by Modibo Traoré, United Nations Food and Agriculture Organization sub-regional coordinator for eastern Africa and representative to Ethiopia, the African Union and the United Nations Economic Commission for Africa. The keynote address will seek to answer the question: Why invest in livestock-based options for livelihoods, healthy lives and a sustainable environment?

At the conference, Ed Rege of PICO-Eastern Africa will facilitate a panel discussion to provide opportunities for regional and local actors, industry players and key partners in the livestock sector to look ahead to the next 40 years and identify the most critical livestock issues to invest in for better lives through livestock.

The members of the panel are:

  • Bright Rwamirama, Honourable State Minister for Animal Industry, Ministry of Agriculture, Animal Industry and Fisheries, Republic of Uganda;
  • Fina Opio, Executive Director, Association for Strengthening Agricultural Research in Eastern and Central Africa (ASARECA);
  • Kipkirui arap Lang’at, Chairman, Eastern and Southern Africa Dairy Association and Kenya Dairy Processors’ Association;
  • Joseph Kipkoech, Senior Advisor, Vocational Skills Development, SNV Kenya; and
  • Ibrahim Idi-Issa, Deputy Executive Secretary, Comité permanent Inter-Etat de Lutte contre la Sécheresse dans le Sahel (CILSS).

The event will be streamed live from 0900 hours (GMT+3) on 1 October 2014.

All ILRI alumni, partners, donors and other stakeholders are invited to a reception and ‘alumni gathering’ on the same day from 1630-2000 hours at the ILRI campus in Nairobi. Come meet your old colleagues and friends. Register with ILRI’s Angeline Nekesa (a.nekesa[at]cgiar.org) or Dorine Odongo (D.A.Odongo[at]cgiar.org) before 1 Oct.

Visit ilri.org/40 to find out about the other ILRI@40 events.

Follow #ilri40 on Twitter.

This article was written by Tezira Lore, a communications specialist at ILRI.

CTA-ILRI African dairy value chain seminar closes with colourful results

Crossbred dairy cow in Rwanda

An improved, crossbred, dairy cow made available in Rwanda by an East African Dairy Development project, which is funded by the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation and led by Heifer International; the International Livestock Research Institute is a partner in this project (picture credit: ILRI/EADD).

The International Livestock Research Institute (ILRI) and the Technical Centre for Agriculture and Rural Cooperation ACP-EU (CTA) organized the CTA-ILRI African dairy value chain seminar from 21 to 24 September 2014 in Nairobi, Kenya. This event was made possible thanks to funding support from CTA, the CGIAR Research Programs on Policies, Institutions, and Markets and on Livestock and Fish.

Around 80 participants came from all over Africa and beyond to share their experiences, lessons learned, dairy value chain development models and analytical tools to study dairy value chains. The event was facilitated in an interactive way and simultaneous translation was available to maximize opportunities for sharing across the continent’s French-English language barrier. Throughout the seminar, participants were asked to relate information they were gathering to three topics:

1. African smallholder inclusion into dairy value chains

2. Private-sector investment into the African dairy industry

3. Gender roles and empowerment in African dairy value chains

All the case stories shared, the analytical tools contributed, the solutions shared by peers to concrete dairy value chain development problems, the photos, the videos and the presentations linked to the seminar are being compiled on the seminar’s website.

As for the colourful finish, view it here.

Written by Jo Cadilhon, senior agricultural economist with the Policy, Trade and Value Chains Program at ILRI.

New studies on MERS coronavirus and camels in eastern Africa published

Northeastern Kenya 17

Part of a large camel herd in northern Kenya; on the outskirts of Marsabit and Moyale, the average distances to watering points run into dozens of kilometres (photo credit: Ann Weru/IRIN).

Written by Dan Klotz

Two new papers on MERS coronavirus and camels in Eastern Africa have been published in the science journal Emerging Infectious Diseases.

Summary points

  • Studies find that camels in Egypt, Kenya, Somalia and Sudan have antibodies to the coronavirus that causes MERS.
  • The first study indicates that young camels are at greater risk of harbouring the virus than older camels.
  • We do not know if the infections in East African camels have led to, or could lead to, disease in people; this possibility should be investigated.
  • We do not know if or how much the East African camel virus is related to the one infecting camels and people in the Arabian Peninsula and Egypt; this possibility should also be investigated.
  • Such investigations could help hasten knowledge and control of MERS, which is still urgently needed.

Middle East respiratory syndrome: Camel-to-human transmission
The Middle East respiratory syndrome coronavirus (or MERS-CoV) was first discovered in a Saudi Arabian patient in 2012 and, as of 23 July 2014, had infected 837 people, killing 291 (World Health Organisation [WHO]). Almost all of the reported cases have been linked to the Arabian Peninsula (US Centers for Disease Control). There is currently no cure or vaccine for MERS—a severe respiratory disease that causes cough, fever, shortness of breath, and can lead to pneumonia and kidney failure.

Studies are finding that dromedary camels can harbour the MERS-CoV, and camels infected with MERS have been reported from Qatar, the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia (KSA), and Egypt. Camels carrying antibodies to MERS—an indicator that the animals have been exposed to the virus or a similar virus variant—have been found in Egypt, Jordan, KSA, Oman, Qatar, Spain and United Arab Emirates.

The similarity between MERS found in camels and in people suggests that camels may provide a primary source of infection for people. The majority of livestock camels slaughtered on the Arabian Peninsula are imported from the Greater Horn of Africa, in particular Ethiopia, Kenya, Somalia and Sudan.

New studies of MERS in camels in East Africa
To improve our knowledge of the prevalence of MERS-CoV in camels, the research group of Christian Drosten from the University of Bonn, in Germany, and collaborators from the International Livestock Research Institute (ILRI) and Kenyan partners studied the prevalence of antibodies to the MERS virus in camels in Kenya. Their studies were published in the journal Emerging Infectious Diseases.

Serum samples were collected in camels in seven Kenyan counties in a study of MERS

In the first study, the scientists investigated MERS-CoV antibody levels and patterns of seroprevalence in farmed and nomadic camels in Kenya. Serum samples that were obtained from 1992 through 2013 from 774 camels in seven Kenyan counties (Baringo, Isiolo, Laikipia, Mandera, Marsabit, Turkana and Wajir) were examined in the first study. Ethical clearance for the collection was part of the overarching agreement between ILRI and the Government of Kenya, which authorizes ILRI to broadly investigate livestock disease in Kenya.

Camels with MERS-CoV antibodies were found in all regions and during the full 20-year sampling period. With the exception of one county, serum prevalence of MERS-CoV antibody levels was generally higher in camels from the northeastern and eastern counties than the counties in the northwestern Rift Valley area. Interestingly, 28 camels originating from the northeastern Wajir County but held in isolation in the Rift Valley since 1998 did not have MERS-CoV antibodies. This corresponds with a previous observation that camels bred in isolation in Dubai also lacked antibodies. The antibody levels of nomadic animals from the eastern region were significantly higher than in pastoral animals from the Rift Valley region. Adult animals in both regions had a 7–10 per cent higher level of infection than juveniles.

The first study proposed that young immunologically naïve animals (those with no evidence of previous exposure to the coronavirus) may spread the virus in camel populations and that MERS-CoV infections increase when camel population density increases.

Different types of animal husbandry in different counties may also be an important predictor of transmission. Camels in this area are often nomadic and are taken across borders into neighbouring countries such as Ethiopia for trade purposes. The observed rise in infection rates from Northwest to Northeast and East could be attributed to an increased animal-to-animal contact as the migration paths merge and cross.

In the second study, samples from 189 camels in Egypt, Somalia and Sudan that had been collected and stored over the past 30 years were tested for MERS-CoV antibodies. In all, 84 per cent of all camels tested positive, a finding that supports conclusions from previous studies.

In short, the combination of nomadic camel husbandry with a high-population density of camels, along with the presence of younger virus-susceptible camels, could increase the overall levels of the virus in regional camel populations and also increase the likelihood of virus transmission to humans.

That no human MERS cases have been observed in East Africa could indicate either that the virus is not as virulent in the region or that there is a lack of detection and reporting of cases. More research, focusing on people handling camels and consuming camel milk in this region, could help to determine whether there have been silent or unrecognized infections.

As the MERS outbreak continues, the WHO’s Emergency Committee addressing the MERS outbreak urged that WHO and member states improve national policies that address infection prevention and control, and then implement those policies in health care facilities and systems. Critical investigations should be initiated and accelerated, vulnerable countries should be supported, and better communications should be embraced to strengthen collaboration between all parties fighting the outbreak as well as to disseminate advice and warnings to the general public.

Read the two journal papers
Antibodies against MERS Coronavirus in dromedary camels, Kenya, 1992–2013, Emerging Infectious Diseases, Volume 20, Number 8—August 2014, by Victor M Corman, Joerg Jores (ILRI), Benjamin Meyer, Mario Younan, Anne Liljander (ILRI), Mohammed Y Said (ILRI), Ilona Gluecks, Erik Lattwein, Berend-Jan Bosch, Jan Felix Drexler, Set Bornstein, Christian Drosten and Marcel A Müller: http://wwwnc.cdc.gov/eid/article/20/8/14-0596_article

MERS Coronavirus Neutralizing Antibodies in Camels, Eastern Africa, 1983–1997, Emerging Infectious Diseases, Volume 20, Number 12—December 2014, by Marcel A Müller, Victor Max Corman, Joerg Jores (ILRI), Benjamin Meyer, Mario Younan, Anne Liljander (ILRI), Berend-Jan Bosch, Erik Lattwein, Mosaad Hilali, Bakri E Musa, Set Bornstein and Christian Drosten: http://wwwnc.cdc.gov/eid/article/20/12/14-1026_article

For further information, please contact Joerg Jores (j.jores@cgiar.org), senior scientist in the Mycoplasma Research Group at the International Livestock Research Institute (ILRI).

Dan Klotz is a Washington DC-based science writer and policy analyst; he also serves as a senior consulting writer for Burness Communications.

Gerardine Mukeshimana, BecA-ILRI Hub plant researcher, appointed minister of agriculture and animal resources in Rwanda

Gerardine Mukeshimana

Gerardine Mukeshimana has been appointed minister of agriculture and animal resources in Rwanda (photo credit: ILRI).

Gerardine Mukeshimana, a plant researcher working at the Biosciences eastern and central Africa-International Livestock Research Institute (BecA-ILRI) Hub in Nairobi, Kenya, has been appointed minister of agriculture and animal resources in Rwanda.

Mukeshimana has been working as a plant scientist at the BecA-ILRI Hub where her focus has been on using molecular virology, plant transformation, genomics and bioinformatics tools to develop strategies to control the spread of aphid-transmitted virus diseases in the common bean. She was also contributing significantly to capacity building and resource mobilization to better support African national agricultural research systems.

Jimmy Smith, the director general of ILRI, congratulated Mukeshimana on the appointment on behalf of the entire ILRI community and remarked, ‘this is tremendous news, we will do all we can to support Gerardine, and look forward to working with her in her new capacity’.

‘Gerardine’s appointment is a recognition of the values of a true scientist, a great leader and a strong advocate for African agricultural development that we all saw in her,’ said Appolinaire Djikeng, the director of the BecA-ILRI Hub. Djikeng further added that ‘we are excited by this appointment and we believe it is a testament to the importance of the work we do at the BecA-ILRI Hub and the caliber of the people that we attract for our mission.’

‘I am absolutely pleased and proud of Gerardine’s appointment. It gives her an opportunity to contribute to African agricultural research at a larger scale,’ said John Carr, a researcher in the department of plant science at the University of Cambridge, UK, the principal investigator who worked with Mukeshimana in her bean project.

Her passion to make food and nutritional security in Africa a reality has resulted in recognition for international awards. In 2012, she was recognized by the United States Agency for International Development’s Board for International Food & Agriculture Development (BIFAD) for her significant contributions to the breeding of the common bean for drought tolerance and disease resistance. She also received a Norman Borlaug Leadership Enhancement in Agriculture Program (Borlaug LEAP) fellowship for key contributions to breeding of the common bean.

Mukeshimana has previously served in different roles in education, agriculture and rural development sectors in Rwanda and she has conducted research in Africa, South America and the USA. She holds both PhD and MSc degrees in plant breeding, genetics and biotechnology from Michigan State University (USA), and an agriculture engineering degree from the National University of Rwanda.

New map: Benefits of controlling trypanosomosis in the Horn of Africa

Benefits of trypanosomosis control in the Horn of Africa

Benefits of Controlling Trypanosomosis in the Horn of Africa, by Timothy Robinson, Giuliano Cecchi, William Wint, Raffaele Mattioli and Alexandra Shaw.

The International Food Policy Research Institute (IFPRI) has published an atlas illustrating the current state of African smallholder agriculture.

The Atlas of African Agriculture Research and Development comprises a series of maps and short analyses that showcase and locate the continent’s diverse agricultural challenges and opportunities. Seven topics are covered: political, demographic, and institutional classifications; the footprints of agriculture; growing conditions on the continent; the role of water in African agriculture; drivers of change in African agriculture; access to agricultural trade; and human welfare.

In briefs facing each map, the Atlas answers four questions: What are these maps telling us? Why is this important? What about the underlying data? Where can I learn more? By presenting a broad range of geospatial data and explanatory text, the analysts hope the Atlas will serve as a reliable and up-to-date guide for informed decision-making, which can help speed, broaden and sustain Africa’s agricultural productivity.

Benefits of Controlling Trypanosomosis in the Horn of Africa
By Timothy Robinson, Giuliano Cecchi, William Wint, Raffaele Mattioli and Alexandra Shaw

What are these maps telling us?
Using the Horn of Africa as an example, the maps illustrate different steps in a methodology developed to estimate and map the economic benefits to livestock keepers of controlling a disease (Shaw et al. 2014). Cattle are first assigned to different production systems as shown in Map 1, illustrating for example, where mixed farming is heavily dependent on the use of draft oxen in Ethiopia, areas of Sudan and South Sudan where oxen use is much lower, and the strictly pastoral areas of Somalia and Kenya.

Information on the location of cattle and production systems is combined with the distribution of tsetse fly species in the area (Map 2) to estimate the presence and absence of trypanosomosis, a parasitic disease transmitted by the tsetse fly. Herd growth and spread is modelled for the current situation, and for the simulated removal of trypanosomosis.

The outputs of the model are then presented as a map of the financial benefits to livestock keepers that would be realized from trypanosomosis removal, expressed as US$ per km2 (Map 3).

The estimated total maximum benefit to livestock keepers, interpreted also as the maximum level of losses avoided, in the Horn of Africa amounts to nearly $2.5 billion, discounted at 10 percent over 20 years to account for the opportunity cost of funds— an average of approximately $3,300 per square kilometer of tsetse-infested area. Map 3 shows how these benefits vary spatially.

Why is this important?
African animal trypanosomosis reduces the productivity of livestock, especially cattle, when it sickens or kills them. It also affects rural development and livelihoods more generally by limiting options for mixed farming and hindering a balanced use of natural resources. Moreover, in many areas the parasite causes sleeping sickness in people; a highly debilitating disease which if not treated is lethal.

Deciding where and how to intervene against this disease requires knowledge of relevant socioeconomic dimensions, such as poverty levels and the role of livestock in people’s livelihoods. The map of potential benefits from trypanosomosis removal in the Horn of Africa can help decisionmakers prioritize interventions by highlighting areas, such as Ethiopia, South Sudan and Kenya, where the financial return on investments to control the disease would be highest.

More information
Production of 30-plus maps covering the 7 topics took more than 5 years of work and the collaboration of many experts and organizations, including the Australian Centre for International Agricultural Research (ACIAR) and the UN Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) on Africa’s diverse farming systems; McGill University on the extent of crop- and pasturelands; HarvestChoice and IFPRI on agroecological zones; and Welt Hunger Hilfe, Concern Worldwide and IFPRI on the severity of hunger.

Scientists at the International Livestock Research Institute (ILRI) produced four of the maps and accompanying analyses:

  • ‘Livestock and mixed crop-livestock systems’ and ‘Impacts of climate change on length of growing period’,
    by Phil Thornton, of ILRI’s Livestock Systems and Environment Program
    and the CGIAR Research Program on Climate Change, Agriculture and Food Security
  • ‘Ruminant livestock’ and ‘Benefits of trypanosomosis control in the Horn of Africa’,
    by Tim Robinson, also of ILRI’s Livestock Systems and Environment Program