News from ILRI

Improving food safety and human health through agricultural research: CGIAR future plans


Tanzanian boy with large jug of fresh milk (photo credit: East African Dairy Development project).

A useful summary of the future plans of the CGIAR Research Program on Agriculture for Nutrition and Health (A4NH), led by the International Food Policy Research Institute (IFPRI), based in Washington, DC, has been published. Two of the five flagships of this multi-institutional research program are led or co-led by the International Livestock Research Institute (ILRI), based in Nairobi, Kenya. Future work of these two flagships is described below.

‘Beginning in 2012, the CGIAR Research Program (CRP) on Agriculture for Nutrition and Health (A4NH) has provided an innovative perspective on the relationships between agriculture, nutrition, and health through research that strengthens the knowledge base and through new partnerships that lead to outcomes. . . . Led by the International Food Policy Research Institute (IFPRI), based in Washington, D.C., A4NH’s research activities are carried out through five flagship research programs and three cross-cutting units based across the globe working with partners on projects in at least 30 countries. This brief provides A4NH stakeholders with a summary of the full proposal we submitted in March 2016 to the Consortium Board for the next generation of the CRPs. . . .’

‘Food safety is moving rapidly up the development agenda as major new studies reveal its severely under-estimated importance. Solutions that are effective in developed countries and export systems have not translated well to informal or formalizing markets. There is an urgent need for technical and institutional solutions to food safety challenges, and broader policy and regulatory approaches to manage food safety risks in dynamic, developing markets.

‘Food Safety (Flagship 3) addresses these challenges through targeted research on technological and institutional solutions and appropriate policy and regulatory options that align public health goals with country priorities to ensure that food is both safe and equitable for the poor. Primarily, this flagship focuses on mitigating aflatoxin contamination in key staples and on managing risks in informal markets for nutrient-rich perishables like meat, milk, fish, and vegetables. In close collaboration with value chain research in other CRPs and with partners, this flagship will reach tens of millions of consumers, millions of farmers, and thousands of market agents working in priority countries in Africa and Asia.

The Flagship 3 topics are consolidated into three main clusters of activities
‘1) Evidence that Counts generates evidence on questions at the interface of agriculture and foodborne diseases so that key food safety evidence users (donors, academics, INGOs, national policymakers, civil society, and industry) are aware of and use evidence in the support, formulation and/or implementation of pro-poor and risk-based food safety approaches.

‘2) Safe Fresh Foods conducts research on how an institutional innovation known as training & certification (T&C) can improve the quality and safety of fresh foods (initially limited to dairy and meat), in order that market-based food safety innovations, like T&C, are delivered at scale in key countries along with understanding of their impact and appropriate use.

‘3) Aflatoxin Mitigation looks at how use of farm-level mitigation technologies and practices, like good agricultural practices, resistant varieties, and/or biocontrol (aflasafe™), could reduce aflatoxin exposure among consumers with the goal of seeing biocontrol and good agricultural practices delivered at scale in key countries along with understanding of their impact and appropriate use. . . .

‘Research that bridges disciplinary divisions and enhances links between agriculture and health provides a largely untapped opportunity to improve the health and livelihoods of poor people, especially in rural areas where ill health may be the most critical pathway for staying or becoming poor, and undermines the benefits of agricultural development. Improving Human Health (Flagship 5) is an innovative collaboration between public health and agriculture researchers aimed at mitigating health risks and optimizing benefits in agricultural systems.

‘This flagship is led by a joint partnership arrangement co-convened by the London School of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine and the International Livestock Research Institute (ILRI), thus bridging agriculture and public health research to deliver high-quality scientific outputs and to identify new key opportunities for integrated actions that improve human health. Flagship 5 will also host a Platform for Public Health and Agriculture Research Collaboration, convened by the London School of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine, which will serve as a resource for other CRPs looking to collaborate on agriculture and health.

Priorities for cross-sectoral research fall into three clusters of activities
‘1) Diseases in Agricultural Landscapes concentrates on understanding the health effects of agricultural intensification, including changes in water use, so that agricultural research initiatives, including those in farming communities, are more aware of how and why it is important to measure health risks and benefits.

‘2) Emerging and Neglected Zoonotic Diseases studies shared human and animal disease risks and explores the impacts of co-locating and aligning health and agricultural interventions for effective management so that agricultural and public health policymakers and implementers deliver coordinated and effective solutions to cysticercosis, in particular, and other zoonotic threats; and public and private sector policymakers.

‘3) Global Challenges on Agriculture and Health coordinates research on tackling emerging, common problems for health and agriculture, such as antimicrobial resistance and pesticide resistance, in order for public and private sector policymakers to implement measures to reduce health risks from antimicrobial resistance in hotspot livestock systems. . . .’

Read the whole brief: A4NH—Plans for phase II (2017–2022), IFPRI, 2016.

For more information, contact Delia Grace, the ILRI scientist who leads this A4NH work, at d.grace [at], or Tezira Lore, the ILRI communications officer covering this work, at t.lore [at] Lore manages a blogsite for this work at: AgHealth. And you’ll find all of this CRP’s five flagships covered at the A4NH website.


India and Vietnam in South-South collaboration on shared pig breeds, production systems and cultures


Wild Boar by Rajendra Singh Shyam, Gond art of India (via Pinterest).

This article is written by Jules Mateo, ILRI communications specialist for East and Southeast Asia.

A new state breeding policy for Nagaland’s pig sector
Nagaland launches a comprehensive
state pig-breeding policy,
the first of its kind in India,
developed through participatory
and consultative processes.

A new pig breeding policy for the state of Nagaland in northeastern India aimed at conserving indigenous breeds, improving productivity and promoting livelihoods and pig enterprises among all sectors of society, including the rural poor, ethnic minorities and women in the state, has been formally launched.

The launch was officiated by Shri Radha Mohan Singh, union minister for agriculture of the Government of India, at a public meeting in Kohima, the state’s capital, in the presence of the chief minister of the state on 6 Aug 2016.

The new breeding policy is the offshoot of several stakeholder consultation workshops held in 2015–2016, where government officials, scientists and community workers generated recommendations to develop pig breeds/cross-breeds that are adaptable, productive and appropriate for smallholder farmers in Nagaland.

A study of breeding practices and policies in Nagaland, commissioned by the International Livestock Research Institute (ILRI) and led by a Vietnamese scientist from the National Institute of Animal Sciences (NIAS), an ILRI partner, in collaboration with Nagaland livestock sector scientists and officials, found haphazard breeding within and between various pig breeds was a problem and that the ill-defined pig populations were caused by lack of systematic and scientifically based breeding programs.

To redress this, the scientists and officials participating in the workshops developed a series of recommendations that are comprehensive in scope but also carefully tailored for specific regions, taking into consideration such important local factors as the available feed resources and farmer preferences, demand levels, climatic conditions and altitudes.

Different policy recommendations were made for different circumstances.

For example, for remote rural farmers raising indigenous breeds or poor-quality cross-bred pigs in open range, tethered or pen systems, with the animals maintained on locally available feeds and raised for household consumption, the breeding policy focuses on conserving meritorious indigenous germplasm in their native pig breeding tracts by establishing nucleus breeding herds.

For rural farmers raising cross-bred pigs in intensive or semi-intensive and low-input–low-output production systems that generate main sources of household income, the breeding policy promotes cross-breeding local female stock with Hampshire or Large Black males of 50% exotic genotypes, with the breed of choice depending on farmer preference and consumer demand.

And for urban and peri-urban producers raising good-quality cross-bred pigs or poor-quality exotic pigs in intensive, high-input–high-output systems for commercial purposes, the breeding policy promotes the keeping of pure Large Black/Hampshire pigs or their crosses.

This Nagaland pig breeding policy was made possible by bringing together relevant research and development organizations, including the Department of Veterinary and Animal Husbandry (V&AH), the governments of Nagaland and India, Department of Animal Husbandry, Dairying & Fishery (DAHDF), the Indian Council of Agricultural Research (ICAR)-National Research Center on Pig (NRCP), ICAR-National Bureau of Animal Genetics Resources (NBAGR), Assam Agricultural University (AAU), Nagaland University North East Initiative Development Agency (NEIDA) and ILRI. Discussions to develop the new breeding policy ensured that it does not conflict with prevailing policies of the state or central governments.

The participatory, consultative processes employed to develop this comprehensive state pig breeding policy, which is the first of its kind in India, can serve as a model for developing breeding policies in other states where pig-keeping is important.


Vietnamese warty pig, by Trousset Encyclopedia via Shutterstock.

The highland pig breeds, production systems, climates and cultures of northeastern India and East and Southeast Asia share similar pig breeds, production systems, climates and cultures. The smallholder pig production systems that characterize India’s far northeastern state of Nagaland continue to occur in a band reaching more than one thousand kilometres across southwestern China, Myanmar (Burma), Thailand, Lao and Vietnam, with cultural ties among these pig-keeping cultures that go back centuries. This pig policy work in Nagaland is making excellent use of the unique role ILRI can play in mediating South-South agricultural exchanges bridging South, East and Southeast Asia. —Steve Staal, leader of ILRI’s Policies, Trade and Value Chains program HampshirePig_MeyersKonversations-Lexikon

Hampshire Pig, from Meyers Konversations-Lexikon via Shutterstock.

Native pig production in India and Vietnam:
A cross-regional research cooperation

Study tour for delegation from India’s
northeastern state of Nagaland to
northern Vietnam advances understanding
of community-level pig breeding
and smallholder pig value chains.

In June 2016, ILRI East and Southeast Asia regional staff based in Hanoi held a study tour for a delegation of Nagaland officials and scientists working on native pigs. The goal of the study tour was for the Indian delegation to learn more about pig value chains in Vietnam and for participants from both countries to share experiences in community-level pig breeding and service delivery systems.

The Nagaland, India, team, led by Mesetshulo Kezienuo Mero, V&AH commissioner and secretary, visited small-scale native pig farms, small- and medium-scale exotic pig farms, slaughterhouses and fresh markets in the northern Vietnam provinces of Lao Cai (northwest border) and Hung Yen (Red River Delta).

In Hanoi, the Nagaland team also met with key ILRI Vietnamese partners, including representatives from the Ministry of Agriculture and Rural Development (MARD), Vietnam National University of Agriculture (VNUA), Hanoi School of Public Health (HSPH) and National Institute of Animal Sciences (NIAS). They discussed the successes of Vietnam’s pig sub-sector as well as the limitations of Vietnam’s current production methods and food safety problems that remain big challenges to smallholder and large-scale pig producers alike.

It was noteworthy that the India delegation had a particular interest in small- and medium-scale exotic pig farms of Vietnam when they visited Hung Yen, a study site of an ILRI PigRisk project. The Indian officials and scientists see this production system as a way forward for Nagaland’s pig sector.

This knowledge exchange was particularly productive because northeastern India and northern Vietnam are geographically close and share similar highland regions, climates and cultures as well as native pig breeds and  production systems.

The two regions can mutually benefit from partnerships and collaborations, not just on pig breeding policies but also on ways to improve smallholder pig production and increase the incomes of small-scale pig producers. Making use of its years of work on smallholder pig systems in both northeast India and northern Vietnam, ILRI is helping to facilitate this South–South research cooperation, particularly in ensuring that it is inclusive and participatory.


Large White Pig, from Meyers Konversations-Lexikon via Shutterstock.


Read an article about ILRI’s inter-region (Vietnam and India) collaboration on native pig research.

See why pig production is important to agricultural communities in northeast India.

Know more about a pig research partnership between Tata Trusts and ILRI.

Cloned bull could contribute to development of disease-resistant African cattle

Cloned Boran bull and his offspring

Tumaini, ILRI’s cloned bull, and his offspring (photo credit: ILRI).

A new note in a scientific journal gives an update on long-term research to develop African cattle resistant to the African animal disease known as trypanosomiasis. The aim of this research is to help reduce widespread poverty and hunger on the continent by improving livestock livelihoods. This research is being conducted by an alliance of international partners, including the International Livestock Research Institute (ILRI); the Centre for Tropical Livestock Genetics and Health (CTLGH) of the University of Edinburgh (The Roslin Institute), ILRI and Scotland’s Rural College (SRUC); and the City University of New York.

The research described in this publication is part of a collaborative project led by Jayne Raper, of the City University of New York, and was funded by the Basic Research to Enable Agricultural Development (BREAD) program of the US National Science Foundation.

Excerpts from the science note follow.

‘Kenyan Boran, an indigenous East African zebu (Bos indicus) breed, is kept mostly for beef production in semi-arid areas of Kenya. The breed is well adapted to high ambient temperature, poor quality feed and high disease challenges compared to European exotic Bos taurus breeds.

‘However, they are susceptible to African tsetse fly-transmitted trypanosomiasis (ATT) caused by parasites (Trypanosoma spp.), which are also the cause of human African trypanosomiasis or sleeping sickness. The ATT is a major constraint to livestock production in sub-Saharan Africa.

‘It is known that serum from baboons kills both animal- and human-infective African trypanosomes through serum trypanosome lytic factors (TLFs).

The generation of trypanosomiasis-resistant transgenic cattle carrying baboon-derived TLFs may have the potential to improve livestock productivity in Kenya and Africa.

‘As a precursor to such a study, we cloned a Kenyan Boran bull by somatic cell nuclear transfer (SCNT) using primary embryonic fibroblasts. This successful cloning represents an important first step towards the establishment of genetically modified Kenyan Boran through SCNT with genome-modified fibroblasts. . . .

‘Two calves were born after introducing the cloned bull to a female Boran herd. . . .

With the boom of genome editing tools, for example transcription activator-like effector nucleases and clustered regularly interspaced short palindromic repeats/Cas9, there are unprecedented opportunities for improving livestock genetics efficiently through the introduction of superior traits between breeds by precise genome modification. The successful cloning of a Kenyan Boran bull has opened the possibility of making genetically modified Kenyan Boran with foreign genes or desired traits through genome editing at the fibroblast level followed by SCNT.

Download the open access article
Mingyan Yu (ILRI and the Centre for Tropical Livestock Genetics and Health (CTLGH) of the University of Edinburgh, ILRI and Scotland’s Rural College), Charity Muteti (ILRI and CTLGH), M Ogugo (ILRI and CTLGH), WA Ritchie (Roslin Embryology), J Raper (City University of New York) and Stephen Kemp (ILRI and CTLGH), Cloning of the African indigenous cattle breed Kenyan Boran, Animal Genetics, 2016.

More about this project

Re-engineering cattle to fight disease, by Jayne Raper, TEDxCUNY, 14 Mar 2016

ILRI News blog
New advances in the battle against a major disease threat to cattle and people in Africa, 1 May 2013

ILRI Clippings blog
DID YOU MISS IT? Who’s developing African cattle resistant to sleeping sickness—and why it matters—by Tamar Haspel, 26 Dec 2015

ILRI website

National Science Foundation

Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences (USA) on original breakthrough in this research project (2009 paper)

Kenyan economist Andrew Mude wins the 2016 Norman Borlaug Award for Field Research and Application


Andrew Mude, a principal research scientist
at the International Livestock Research Institute (ILRI), in Nairobi, Kenya,
was yesterday named the 5th recipient of a prestigious award
for his work in providing insurance to livestock herders
in East Africa’s drylands through innovative, state-of-the-art technologies.

It was announced yesterday (30 Aug 2016) in Nairobi, Kenya, that Andrew Mude has won the 2016 Norman Borlaug Award for Field Research and Application. Mude’s is developing insurance for never-before-insured communities whose livelihoods depend on herding cattle, goats, sheep and camels in the remote, arid and drought-prone lowlands of the Horn of Africa. He and his colleagues have made novel use of satellite data to achieve an innovative and highly effective solution that helps pastoral livestock herders reduce the considerable and costly drought-risk they face in this region.

At an event hosted by Director General Jimmy Smith of the International Livestock Research Institute (ILRI) in Nairobi, Kenya, Mude’s selection as the winner of the 2016 Borlaug Field Award for individuals under the age of 40 was made by Ambassador Kenneth Quinn, president of the World Food Prize Foundation, which is headquartered in Des Moines, Iowa. The field award is endowed by the Rockefeller Foundation.

¶ Dr Mude reflects Borlaug-like persistence in his science-based, community-mediated and innovative approach to providing financial protection, through insurance, to millions of poor herders and their families who care for and depend upon their livestock as they move across the vast rangelands of East Africa. It should be a matter of great pride for Kenya that two of the first five Borlaug Field Award recipients are Kenyans. —Ambassador Kenneth Quinn, President of the World Food Prize Foundation ¶

Charity Mutegi, a food scientist and also of Kenya, received the award in 2013. Mutegi coordinates an Aflasafe project in Kenya protecting consumers from aflatoxin contamination of foodstuffs; Aflasafe is led by the International Institute for Tropical Agriculture (IITA).

ILRI’s Andrew Mude will be formally presented with USD10,000 and the ‘Norman Borlaug Award for Field Research and Application, Endowed by the Rockefeller Foundation’, in a special ceremony on 12 Oct 2016, in which Rockefeller Foundation President Judith Rodin will participate, in Des Moines, Iowa, USA, as part of the 2016 World Food Prize international symposium.

A Kenyan native who received his PhD from Cornell University, 39-year-old Mude is a principal economist at ILRI, a CGIAR research centre. He spearheads a program called ‘Index-Based Livestock Insurance’ (IBLI), which is greatly reducing the vulnerability of East Africa’s livestock herding families to recurring droughts, which kill great numbers of livestock, sending many hungry households in remote regions into deep and lasting poverty.

Since launching IBLI in 2008, Mude and his team have engaged local herders and leaders in building and delivering extension education programs—employing, in addition to traditional communications and training materials, videos, cartoons, radio broadcasts as well as e-learning platforms and ‘gamifications’ for insurance sales agents—to increase understanding of the principles, coverage and marketing of the insurance plans.

Before Mude’s innovative approach was implemented, African herders had no access to livestock insurance. It was highly impractical and costly for insurance claim adjusters to travel through East Africa to confirm dead animals and pay claims. IBLI eliminates the need for such visual confirmation of stock losses by using satellite data to monitor grazing conditions. When these conditions are seen to fall below a certain threshold, these data serve as a proxy for dead animals and insurance payouts are made.

By early 2016, 11,800 IBLI contracts had been sold (representing an insured livestock value of USD5,350,000) and USD149,007 indemnity payments made to insured pastoralists. In future, more than 50 million pastoralists across Africa are expected to have an opportunity to benefit from this financial technology.

¶ Dr Mude represents the type of citizen-servant we as a government are proud to partner with. He is a citizen dedicated to helping grow the productivity and welfare of the Kenyan people. It’s because of Andrew Mude’s passion, commitment and technical competence that we’re now planning to replicate this novel insurance scheme across all of northern Kenya, where some 4 million pastoralists depend primarily on livestock. —Willy Bett, Cabinet Secretary in the Kenya Ministry of Agriculture, Livestock and Fisheries ¶  Dr Mude’s Index-Based Livestock Insurance program is a remarkable example of the innovative, market-driven solutions that develop when countries invest in quality education for young people. —Robert Godec, United States Ambassador to Kenya ¶ With today’s changing climate, weather-based insurance has become a critical tool in building the resilience of some of the world’s most vulnerable populations. By utilizing the most current technology, Dr Mude’s innovation is helping pastoralist livestock herders to protect their livelihoods. We can provide farmers with no better form of food security than by empowering them to protect themselves from the impacts of climate change. —Mamadou Biteye, Managing Director of The Rockefeller Foundation’s Africa Regional Office ¶ We have the satellite technology needed to monitor grazing conditions in the remotest of regions. We should be using it to ensure that Africa’s remote livestock herders have access to basic insurance farmers around the world take for granted. We draw inspiration from Norman Borlaug’s lifelong commitment to make his agricultural research make a difference. Together with many partners and the herders themselves—and only together—we’re determined to find new ways to help millions of people continue to practice the oldest form of sustainable food production the world has ever seen. —Andrew Mude, ILRI economist and award winner ¶

A new Kenya Government ‘Kenya Livestock Insurance Program’ (KLIP), based on IBLI, has already provided 5,012 households with livestock insurance coverage. Just last week (24 Aug 2016), the Kenya Government’s KLIP made indemnity payments to 290 herders in Kenya’s huge and arid northern county of Wajir, which has suffered prolonged drought.

And in Ethiopia, Kenya’s neighbour to the north, a government pilot project spearheaded by Mude’s team is working to scale out this insurance program while the World Food Program is making IBLI-type insurance a key pillar of its food security strategy in Ethiopia’s pastoralist lowlands. Other governments and development agencies are seeking help in testing IBLI-type policies across West Africa’s Sahel and the drylands of southern Africa.

¶ ‘Take it to the farmer’ are reported to be the last words uttered by Norman Borlaug before he died. Andrew Mude and his team, working with the Kenya and Ethiopian governments, insurance agencies and others, have taken Borlaug’s injunction to heart, and are taking it even further—to thousands of individual pastoralists raising and herding their animal stock across the vast, remote and generally inhospitable drylands of the Horn of Africa. —Jimmy Smith, Director General of ILRI ¶

About the Norman Borlaug award for Field Research and Application
An independent jury of experts chaired by Dr Ronnie Coffman selected Dr Mude from an impressive group of candidates who were evaluated based on the attributes and accomplishments that reflect those demonstrated by Dr Norman Borlaug during his work at the Rockefeller Foundation and as a scientist with the International Maize and Wheat Improvement Center (CIMMYT) in developing high-yielding, disease-resistant wheat in Mexico and introducing adaptable wheat varieties into India and Pakistan during the 1950s and 60s, for which he received the Nobel Peace Prize in 1970. More details at

About the World Food Prize
The World Food Prize was created in 1986 by Nobel Peace Prize Laureate Dr Norman Borlaug. It is the foremost international award recognizing individuals whose achievements have advanced human development by increasing the quality, quantity or availability of food in the world. The prize was endowed by the Ruan family of Des Moines, Iowa. Businessman John Ruan III now serves as chairman of the foundation and Ambassador Kenneth M Quinn, former US ambassador to Cambodia, is the president of the organization. A selection committee of experts from around the world oversees the nomination and selection process and is chaired by Prof MS Swaminathan, of India, who was also honoured as the first World Food Prize Laureate. Other past prize winners include former President of Ghana John Kufour, US senators Bob Dole and George McGovern, Nobel Peace Prize Laureate Dr Muhammad Yunus, Professor Yuan Longping of China and former Executive Director of the United Nations World Food Programme Catherine Bertini.

Media contact
Michelle Geis | Director of Africa Burness, ILRI | | +254 711 326 770

More information
More information will be posted here soon. To view a film of the whole event, go to

Photographs of the event are on ILRI’s Flickr album here:

View the original press release, by Nicole Barreca, from the World Food Prize Foundation, here:

KALRO–ILRI agreement to deepen cooperation in livestock research in Kenya

KALRO-ILRI MoU signing ceremony

Jimmy Smith (left) director general of ILRI, and Eliud Kireger, director general of KALRO signing the MoU (photo credit: ILRI/Paul Karaimu). 

On 29 August 2016, the Kenya Agricultural and Livestock Research Organization (KALRO) and the International Livestock Research Institute signed a memorandum of agreement that will pave way to deepen their collaboration in agricultural research for development.

The MoU is the culmination of a series of previous meetings between KALRO and ILRI senior management that explored areas of mutual interest in supporting livestock sector development in Kenya.

‘This MoU marks the renewal of a historical relationship between our two organizations and will forge a new partnership that will make our joint activities more effective and efficient,’ said Jimmy Smith, the director general of ILRI.

Eliud Kireger, the director general of KALRO said the agreement was a ‘milestone in regularizing a relationship that has existed between the two organization for many years’. ILRI and KALRO have previously worked in the smallholder dairy development and East Coast fever vaccines development among other projects.

Kireger said the two organizations would share their experiences to create programs that will better benefit the livestock sub-sector in Kenya and the people who depend on livestock. ‘The new agreement will also provide a platform for feedback from end users of livestock research,’ he said.

Following the signing, KALRO and ILRI will now set up a framework for the implementation and monitoring joint programs and activities. They will also work together to support partners, capacity development initiatives and staff exchange programs.

The signing took place at the ILRI campus in Nairobi, Kenya and was attended by senior staff from the two organizations.

Download a brief on ILRI activities in Kenya

No one dietary choice is the answer to sustainable development—ILRI in ‘The Guardian’


Illustration via Twitter.

The following opinion piece, by Jimmy Smith, director general of the International Livestock Research Institute (ILRI), was first published in The Guardian on 16 Aug 2016, in response to an opinion piece published by environmental reporter George Monbiot in the same paper on 9 Aug 2016 (I’ve converted to veganism to reduce my impact on the living world).

Below is Jimmy Smith’s response, copied in full.

‘Veganism is not the simple solution to sustainability that some have recently argued. I wish it were that easy.

While I commend those taking steps to change their diets to reduce their environmental footprints, a vegan world—where no one consumes any animal-derived meat, milk and eggs—is not how we will achieve sustainable global development.

‘Let me explain.

‘First, while some argue that veganism is the best dietary choice to feed the world’s growing population because of its low environmental footprint, research suggests otherwise. Only last month, research in the US compared ten different eating patterns and concluded that diets incorporating some animal-source foods (especially milk and eggs) use less land than their vegan alternative. This is because more inclusive diets make optimal use of all existing land to feed people, such as croplands and rangelands for growing grain and hay to feed livestock. A lot of meat and milk is produced on these marginal rangelands that would otherwise remain unproductive in a vegan context. For example, sixty per cent of sub-Saharan Africa is covered by drylands where livestock raising is the main—and often only—land use option available.

‘Furthermore, decades of research has shown that medium levels of livestock grazing are better for the health, productivity and biodiversity of these rangelands than no livestock at all. And when managed well, these lands also sequester large amounts of carbon in their soils.

‘Secondly, those living in high-income countries have many other actions they could prioritise to reduce their dietary impacts on the world. These include moderating their intake of all foods and reducing the amount of food they waste, the latter of which accounts for up to 50 per cent of total production globally and for 7 per cent of total greenhouse gas emissions.

‘Thirdly, and most importantly, livestock are too essential to many of the world’s poorest people to simply cast them aside. In low- and middle-income economies, where livestock account for 40 to 60 per cent of agricultural GDP, farm animals are a main source of livelihoods for almost one billion people, many of whom are women. Here, cows, goats, sheep, pigs and poultry are scarce assets that bring in regular household income and can be sold in emergencies to pay for school or medical fees. Here, where malnutrition is rife and stunted children still common, livestock can provide an energy-dense and micronutrient-rich source of food for people otherwise subsisting largely on cheap grains and tubers. Animal-source foods are especially important for pregnant women, babies in their first 1000 days of life, and young children.

When so many lives and livelihoods depend on these animals, could we really envision depriving an African household from raising a few chickens or a couple of stall-fed dairy cows? Or an Asian family from keeping a dozen pigs on a tiny plot? Or pastoralists from herding goats, sheep and cattle across drylands?

‘As any other sector, livestock production has challenges that it must tackle. The sector is a big user of water and other natural resources, for example, and its greenhouse gas emissions contribute to climate change. Overconsumption of animal-source foods can lead to obesity and ill health. Many human infectious diseases originate in livestock and other animals. And then there is the overuse of antibiotics in intensified livestock production systems and the welfare of animals themselves.

‘These challenges, all of which are being addressed today in multi-institutional initiatives, should not encourage us to turn away from livestock. Rather, they should encourage us to pay much greater attention to this sector, enabling it through scientific advances and enlightened policymaking to provide the greatest benefits for all the world’s people at the least environmental and social costs.

Many of those in the developed world advocating for veganism, or indeed any other single kind of diet, are doing so in a context of food excess. Let’s remember the many, many other people who are not so fortunate. It would be a tragedy if some of these good intentions were to end up hurting many of the most vulnerable of us on the planet.

‘Whatever our passions and whatever “side” of the vegan debate we fall on, we must all work to overcome the temptation to find simple answers to the complex and context-specific sustainability challenges we face. Demonizing livestock is one such misguided simple response.’

To achieve true sustainable development, we are going to have to make good use of livestock—and all the other natural resource assets we have at our disposal.

Read this opinion piece by Jimmy Smith as published in The Guardian: Veganism is not the key to sustainable development—natural resources are vital (Lives and livelihoods the world over hinge on livestock, and efforts to reduce our dietary impact can still include some meat, milk and eggs), 16 Aug 2016.

And, below, read Jimmy Smith’s full follow-up comment in The Guardian, made in response to the many comments his opinion piece generated (441 comments were posted in the day following publication of his op-ed).

‘First, to respond to those who think my organisation may be a livestock lobby or industry PR group of some kind. It is not. My organisation, the International Livestock Research Institute (ILRI), is a centre of CGIAR, a global, public and non-profit partnership working for a food-secure future. For the last four decades, CGIAR has helped reduce global poverty, hunger and environmental degradation through agricultural research in and for poor countries. All of the work of ILRI and the other CGIAR centres and programmes is focused on producing and using the best scientific evidence available. 

ILRI specifically conducts research to bring about ‘better lives through livestock’. ILRI and its many partner organisations focus on developing-world livestock issues not because we’re pro-livestock but rather because smallholder animal agriculture matters so greatly to so many.

‘Raising cattle, goats, sheep, pigs, poultry and other animals provides milk, meat and eggs and a wealth of other services to family farmers—e.g., household incomes from daily sales of milk and eggs (to pay for school, medical and other essentials), manure to fertilize croplands, traction to pull ploughs, and to serve as four-legged savings accounts and insurance for  some billion people who remain unbanked and uninsured.

‘In short, animal agriculture remains the mainstay of smallholder livelihoods and food production across the developing world. It is often the only livelihood option available and one of the few ways out of poverty for urban and well as rural low-income populations. It has equally strong links to nutritional, public and environmental health.

‘My argument is that trying to force one-size solutions for more sustainable food production, whether that be veganism or any other food choices, will not work. Livestock systems vary drastically around the world, depending on the animal species kept and the region in which it is raised, on the production system used and the wealth or poverty levels of the producers, on the particular culture and traditions of the producers, traders and consumers, and so on.

‘The implications of these great disparities are big.

While some people may find a rational response to be a reduction in their consumption/overconsumption of meat or all animal-source foods, or complete removal of these foods from their diets, other people, just as rational if often malnourished, will come to the opposite conclusion and try to consume a little more of these foods to improve their diets and health.

As mentioned, such energy- and micronutrient-dense foods are critical for the cognitive and physical development of the young, with this more nourishing start in life conferring on them lifelong benefits.

The context, in other words, is decisive.

A particular context my institute is focusing on is the emerging economies where the livestock ‘hotspots’ are. While livestock production and consumption levels in the UK and other high-income countries have levelled off, those levels are increasing in many low- and middle-income countries. We should be putting much of our efforts here, helping to shape the fast-transforming livestock sectors of these emerging economies in ways that benefit all the world’s people and health and environments. Fortunately, many organisations in addition to ILRI are now working to help bring about just such sustainable livestock futures.

(At ILRI, we’re also working to enhance livestock ‘cold spots’, where production remains stubbornly at subsistence levels. But I’ll save that topic for a future communication.)

‘I take heart in the great number of responses the livestock articles by Mr Monbiot and myself and others have generated, as well as in the diverse passions and viewpoints on display in these conversations. I see these as pointing to a desire in most of us to make a lasting difference in the world—and conversations like these to be the foundation of a more sustainable and equitable  future for all of us.’

Apocalyptic numbers: Antibiotic resistance as the classic ‘One Health’ (and classic ‘One World’) planetary issue


Depicted in this watercoloured etching, The Ancient of Days, by William Blake,
is Urizen, a  figure that for Blake embodied reason and law.
Urizen’s outstretched hand holds a compass over the darker void below,
representing an event in the Book of Proverbs,
‘when he set a compass upon the face of the earth’
(image via the British Museum).

This is the first in a series of articles being published by the International Livestock Research Institute (ILRI) in the lead up to the High-Level Meeting on Antimicrobial Resistance, which will be held in the margins of the 71st session of the United Nations General Assembly, attended by heads of state and government at the UN’s New York City headquarters on 21 Sep 2016. Global leaders at the summit will commit to leading the fight against antimicrobial resistance, including the all-important resistance to antibiotics. Following statements from the World Health Organisation (WHO), the Food and Agriculture Organisation (FAO) and the World Organisation for Animal Health (OIE), a declaration emphasizing the five strategic objectives of the World Health Assembly’s Global Action Plan on Antimicrobial Resistance will be submitted for adoption by the UN General Assembly.

Scientists from the International Livestock Research Institute (ILRI) and partner organizations this week published a must-read article on the ‘One Health’ as well as ‘One World’ aspects of the rapid rise of antimicrobial resistance (AMR) in pathogenic organisms.

The UN declaration on antimicrobial resistance, says ILRI’s Tim Robinson, lead author of the new scientific article, ‘should place national governments under pressure to take action towards reducing consumption of antibiotics in both human medicine and agriculture.’

Apocalyptic AMR numbers

In May this year, the long-awaited final report from the Review on Antimicrobial Resistance, which was commissioned by the UK Government and Wellcome Trust, was published. The report, Tackling drug-resistant infections globally, recommends four main actions: (1) conducting a global public awareness campaign, rewarding developers of (2) new antibiotics and (3) rapid diagnostic tests for microbial infections and (4) reducing overuse of antibiotics in agriculture.

The report presents some apocalyptic figures but the truth is that we really don’t know what the burden is, how it is likely to change or what contribution to that is made by antibiotic use by the livestock sector.
—Tim Robinson

But, Robinson adds, ‘The problem is already immense and is growing rapidly. We have been squandering our antibiotic resources for far too long and immediate action is needed on a very large scale if we are to reverse current trends.’

What follows are excerpts from the paper by Robinson and his colleagues, Antibiotic resistance is the quintessential One Health issue, published in the Transactions of the Royal Society of Tropical Medicine & Hygiene on 29 Jul 2016.


One Health diagram from the One Health Platform (

AMR is a ‘One Health’ (people-animals-environment) issue It is difficult to imagine an issue that epitomises the principles of One Health more than AMR does. The One Health approach . . . recognises that the health of people is connected to the health of animals and the environment.
—Tim Robinson

Human health: Of the three domains, human health takes the spotlight, with multidrug-resistance genes now highly prevalent in many important and common pathogens like Escherichia coli, Klebsiella pneumoniae and Staphylococcus aureus. Quite apart from the many infectious diseases for which we rely on antibiotics to combat, these drugs underpin modern medicine by allowing us to carry out common surgical procedures and treatments that depress the immune system, such as chemotherapy to treat cancer. . . .

Animal health: [T]he published estimates of the proportion of antibiotics consumed in animal agriculture—84% (for 36 antibiotics) in China and 70% in USA—suggest global agricultural consumption probably exceeds that of humans. A large part of this use is justified and valid on veterinary grounds, but there is much misuse in the agricultural sector. With such large consumption levels it seems likely that agricultural use contributes significantly to AMR. . . .

Environmental health: . . . Environmental bacteria, being quantitatively the most prevalent organisms, serve as sources for AMR genes that can become incorporated, over time, into pathogens of people and animals.

AMR is also a One World issue

‘As well as being a One Health issue, AMR is a One World issue. The globalisation of the food system, with increasing movement of livestock and agricultural produce, combined with increasing human travel, facilitates the rapid spread and mixing of AMR genes that emerge. . . .

Like . . .  carbon emissions, no matter how good a country’s programme of antimicrobial stewardship in health and agriculture, they are laid bare to the importation of AMR genes that have emerged and spread from other parts of the world.
—Tim Robinson

‘. . . The other factor making AMR a One World issue is that dealing with AMR is central to the long-term economic development of countries and to our global well-being. LMICs [low-to middle-income countries] face the greatest burden of AMR because of their disease-prone environments, poorer sanitary standards and, for the poorest, much reduced access to effective antibiotics. Poor access to competent veterinary and extension services leaves farmers in LMICs with antibiotics as their only resource to tackle endemic bacterial animal infections. Interventions must be based on an understanding of and respect for the different social and socio-economic contexts in which they are to be implemented.

AMR is a global problem calling for global solutions: but the solutions will not be the same in every country, or among different socio-economic groups. Some use antimicrobials too much, some too little and many use them unwisely: understanding patterns of use and incentives for changing these, and exploring alternative options, must underpin any reduction efforts.

‘. . . [AMR] is not a problem that HICs [high-income countries] will be able to solve alone. The important role that animal agriculture plays in livelihoods in LMICs is unknown or underestimated by many in HICs and needs to be an integral part of the thinking and negotiation if we want to avoid the pitfalls seen in climate negotiations, with LMICs often reluctant to take measures that may compromise their short-term economic development. . . .’

Integrated approaches to reduce selection pressure and disrupt AMR transmission cycles on a global scale must be sought that are founded not only on sound One Health principles, but also based on economic evidence and on principles of social equity and global access to effective healthcare for people and their animals. Acknowledgments

This work was made possible through a Wellcome Trust Our Planet, Our Health planning grant [201848/Z/16/Z] and was further supported by CGIAR Fund Donors under the CGIAR Research Program on Agriculture for Nutrition and Health.

Read the whole scientific paper

Antibiotic resistance is the quintessential One Health issue in the Transactions of the Royal Society of Tropical Medicine & Hygiene, 29 Jul 2016, written by the following:
Timothy Robinson (ILRI)
Dengpan Bu (Chinese Academy of Agricultural Sciences)
Juan Carrique-Mas (Oxford University Clinical Research Unit in Vietnam)
Eric Fèvre (University of Liverpool and ILRI)
Marius Gilbert (Université Libre de Bruxelles)
Delia Grace (ILRI)
Simon Hay (University of Washington, USA, and Oxford Big Data Institute at the Li Ka Shing Centre for Health Information and Discovery of Oxford University)
Jatesada Jiwakanon (Khon Kaen University, Thailand)
Manish Kakkar (Public Health Foundation of India)
Sam Kariuki (Kenya Medical Research Institute)
Ramanan Laxminarayan (Center for Disease Dynamics, Economics and Policy, USA)
Juan Lubroth (Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations)
Ulf Magnusson (Swedish University of Agricultural Sciences)
Pham Thi Ngoc (National Institute of Veterinary Research, Vietnam)
Thomas Van Boeckel (Swiss Federal Institute of Technology)
Mark Woolhouse (University of Edinburgh)

READ MORE The 21 Sep 2016 UN High-Level Meeting on Antimicrobial Resistance

UN High-Level Meeting on Antimicrobials—what do we need?, commentary published in The Lancet by Ramanan Laxminarayan, Carlos Amábile-Cuevas, Otto Cars, Timothy Evans, David Heymann, Steven Hoffman, Alison Holmes, Marc Mendelson, Devi Sridhar, Mark Woolhouse and John-Arne Røttingen, 16 Jul 2016. Excerpt:

‘The UN General Assembly High-Level Meeting of Heads of State will discuss sustainable access to effective antimicrobials in September, 2016. The meeting must develop realistic goals, stimulate political will, mobilise resources, and agree on an accountability mechanism for global collective action on this issue. . . . We believe that the UN General Assembly High-Level Meeting should establish a UN High-Level Coordinating Mechanism on Antimicrobial Resistance (HLCM) with four core functions’:
(1) Raise awareness about lack of access to antibiotics and drug resistance
(2) Establish, monitor and report on global and national enforceable targets
(3) Finance implementation of global and national level action plans and a global coordination and monitoring platform
(4) Support member states to pursue national level, multisectoral action for implementation of WHO’s Global Action Plan on Antimicrobial Resistance alongside national efforts to improve access to effective antimicrobials.

United Nations prepares to tackle antibiotic resistance, commentary by Molly Miller-Petrie published on the Center for Disease Dynamics, Economics and Policy (CDDEP) blog, 26 Jul 2016. Excerpts:

‘On June 29 [2016], Ambassador Gómez Camacho, Mexican Permanent Representative to the U.N. and lead for the high-level meeting, invited CDDEP to speak to the U.N. Member States as a part of a civil society panel on antimicrobial resistance. . . . Each organization presented their view on what should be included in the final outcome document, after which member states were able to ask questions of the experts directly. A similar panel was conducted with members of industry the following week. As the only participating organization with a major focus on low- and middle-income countries, CDDEP was also invited to speak to the Group of 77 Member States plus China, representing 134 low- and middle-income member countries. On July 18, CDDEP Director Dr. Ramanan Laxminarayan and Molly Miller-Petrie met with the group at the U.N. Headquarters to address the particular challenges of combatting resistance in low-resource settings. . . .’

Earlier research on antimicrobial use in food animals

Global trends in antimicrobial use in food animals, by Thomas Van Boeckel (Princeton University), Charles Brower (Center for Disease Dynamics, Economics & Policy [CDDEP]), Marius Gilbert (Université Libre de Bruxelles), Bryan Grenfell (Princeton University), Simon Levin (Princeton), Timothy Robinson (ILRI), Aude Teillant (Princeton) and Ramanan Laxminarayan (CDDEP), published in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Science, early edition, 20 Mar 2015. See also a report of this PNAS paper on the ILRI News blog, First global map of the rising use of antimicrobial drugs in farm animals published in PNAS (25 Mar 2016), and also reports published on the ILRI Clippings blog, Reuters: Livestock in poor countries need drugs to stay alive and productive, but how to avoid the rise of ‘super bugs’? (23 Mar 2015) and  New publication warns of rising use of antibiotics and other antimicrobial drugs in farm animals (30 Mar 2015).

Animal production and antimicrobial resistance in the clinic, a commentary published in The Lancet, by Timothy Robinson, Heiman Wertheim, Manish Kakkar, Samuel Kariuki, Dengpan Bu and Lance Price, published online 18 Nov 2015, DOI: See also a report of this Lancet commentary published on the ILRI News blog, Limiting use of antibiotics in livestock production to stem growing antimicrobial resistance in human pathogens (31 Dec 2015).

Review of evidence on antimicrobial resistance and animal agriculture in developing countries, by ILRI’s Delia Grace, published Jun 2015, DOI: This 44-page report was produced by ILRI with the assistance of the UK Department for International Development and its ‘Evidence on Demand’ hub. The report identifies key evidence gaps in our knowledge of livestock- and fisheries-linked antimicrobial resistance in the developing world and documents on-going or planned research initiatives on this topic by key stakeholders.

ILRI-Liverpool project tracking microbial flows in Nairobi

Slum farming and superbugs—An ‘Urban Zoo’ science project tracks bacterial routes in complex environments, 29 Dec 2015, a review posted on the ILRI Clippings blog about two news reports: Scientists study slums for signs of spreading superbugs, by Steve Baragona at Voice of America (23 Dec 2015), and Mapping for food safety: How and why communities in Nairobi’s informal settlements are creating and using maps to ensure their food and the people who sell it are safe, by Paolo Cravero on the International Institute for Environment and Development blog (21 Dec 2015).

All things zoonotic: An ‘Urban Zoo’ research project tracks livestock-based pathogen flows in and around Nairobi, 31 Mar 2015, a report published on the ILRI Clippings blog covering, among other publications, a news report about an ILRI-Liverpool project published in the New ScientistMapping the web of disease in Nairobi’s invisible city (30 Aug 2014).

Recent ILRI essay on emerging infectious diseases and disease plagues

Pandemic proofing the world: An epidemiologist in Nairobi on the next Zika virus, by ILRI’s Delia Grace, published in How We Get to Next, on Medium (29 Jun 2016), and on the ILRI News blog (26 Jul 2016).

The hand that cares and feeds: India’s unnatural ‘natural’ caretakers of livestock

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

Indian women—unnatural ‘natural’ caretakers of livestock (photo credit: ILRI/Jules Mateo)

Note: This is the twelfth and final article in a twelve-part series on
‘Curds and goats, lives and livelihoods—
A dozen stories from northern and eastern India’.
PART 12: The hand that cares and feeds:
India’s unnatural ‘natural’ caretakers of livestock
By Jules Mateo
International Livestock Research Institute (ILRI)
To awaken the people,
it is the women who must be awakened.
Once she is on the move, the family moves,
the village moves, the nation moves.
—Jawaharlal Nehru, first Prime Minister of India

This quote above appears on signage above a doorway at the Central Institute for Women in Agriculture (CIWA), an organization operating under the Indian Council of Agricultural Research (ICAR) and located in Bhubaneswar, the capital of India’s eastern state of Odisha. A delegation from the International Livestock Research Institute (ILRI), based in Africa, paid a visit to CIWA and took part in its celebration of International Women’s Day on 8 March 2016.


The ILRI team and ICAR officials and staff at the 2016 International Women’s Day celebration at the Central Institute for Women in Agriculture, in Bhubaneswar, Odisha, India (photo credit: ILRI/Susan MacMillan).

After undertaking a multi-state, communications-related trip in India 3–14 Mar 2016, I could not help but wonder if Jawaharlal Nehru, as quoted above, had got it wrong. All the women farmers the ILRI team met in Delhi and the towns and villages and farms of Haryana and Odisha were on the move, tireless and persevering. Some may have appeared as unassuming as they were confident, but all appeared most definitely ‘awake’.

This opinion piece is based on my observations throughout this field trip. I cannot speak for Indian women (I’m a Filipino), but I found it admirable how many of the women farmers we met in the towns of Karnal, Mayurbhanj and Bhadrak take on the role of caretakers and nurturers of their animals and their families, how they have ‘a confident sense of [their] own purpose and usefulness’, as my communications colleague put it in an earlier article in this series.

I was impressed by how much India’s women food producers make the most out of their situations, how often they thrive in what they do despite constraints, how few view themselves as victims of their circumstances, how often, and with what assurance and purposefulness, they exercise agency.

Indian women farmers and the feminist concept of ‘ethic of care’
Women are often believed to be ‘natural’ caretakers and nurturers by nature. Expressions such as ‘maternal instincts’ and ‘mother hen’ are often associated with women who are demonstrably protective of the welfare of their families. Women are also commonly believed to be more empathic and responsive than men. While caring is often seen as a feminine rather than masculine trait, some feminist theorists claim that this is due largely to the feminization of labour, particularly of ‘care work’.

Carol Gilligan, for example, has found a way to reclaim caring as ‘ethic of care’—as a form of ‘resistance to injustices and inequality inherent in a patriarchal society’. Whether knowingly or not, the women livestock farmers we met in India appeared to me to be doing a fine job of putting such ethics into practice.

In a village in the outskirts of Karnal, in India’s northern Haryana state, we met Rita, mother of Sanjiv, owner of a dairy-based company, a mushroom farm and several other agricultural businesses. Years ago, Sanjiv told us, the dairy business was not doing well and he was ready to discontinue producing dairy products and concentrate on his more profitable ventures. But Rita convinced him to keep the buffaloes and promised she would take care of the animals herself.

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

A woman in Haryana, India, tends to her family’s milk cows and buffaloes (ILRI/Jules Mateo).

True enough, when we went to their family home, we found Rita standing in a lot across from their house, watching over several large milk buffaloes, dutifully performing the task she promised to do to help the family business.

Some form of ‘ethic of care’ also appeared to be demonstrated by women goatkeepers of Mayurbhanj, in the eastern state of Odisha. Their caring attitude towards their goats while out herding the animals showed in the way they watched over them, never shouting at them but herding them gently, as though they were pets rather than livestock raised to be sold or slaughtered at a later date. Back home, the women fed and housed the goats right in their courtyards, enjoying their company, ensuring the animals’ comfort and seeing immediately to any animals that appeared to be ailing.

Goat lives and livelihoods in Mayurbhanj, Odisha, India

A woman in Odisha, India, herds goats near a forested area in Mayurbhanj (ILRI/Susan Macmillan).

Mayurbhanj goat farmers

The goat keepers of Mayurbhanj treat their farm animals like extended family (ILRI/Jules Mateo).

Agency as a feminist concept and the enterprising women farmers of Odisha
‘Agency’ refers to one’s ability to act for one’s self, a capacity for independent choice and action.

From a gender perspective, feminist writers Sonya Andermahr, Terry Lovell and Carol Wolkowitz define agency in their book A glossary of feminist theory (2000) as essentially involving self-determination, one’s ability to act in the world on one’s own terms—to be active, not passive. Female agency, they argue, often involves acting in accordance with one’s concerns, needs and wants despite restraints prevalent in a patriarchal and male-dominated society.

I saw what appeared to me to be this type of agency during our trip to Bhadrak, in northern Odisha, when we made several stops to visit dairy value chain actors in the town. First was a female paravet businesswoman running a milk collection and semen distribution centre. To become a paravet involves months of rigourous training, and for women like this one would mean juggling work and training needs with home and family duties. Whatever the hurdles she had to overcome, this paravet woman is today all business, appearing fully in command and running her centre like a ‘boss’.

Dairy producers and processors in Bhadrack, Odisha State, India

A woman paravet runs a milk collection and semen distribution centre on the outskirts of Bhadrak, Odisha (ILRI/Susan MacMillan).

Dairy producers and processors in Bhadrack, Odisha State, India

The Bhadrak businesswoman who trained to become a paravet (ILRI/Susan MacMillan).

Equally impressive was a woman running an integrated family farm just a block away from the milk collection centre. This matriarch businesswoman raises cattle and sells dairy products she makes every morning in her own house. She raises chickens and other poultry in her front yard. And she grows fish in a series of aquaculture ponds in her backyard.

Dairy producers and processors in Bhadrack, Odisha State, India

A woman who runs her family’s highly integrated crop-and-animal farm and associated successful small businesses on the outskirts of Bhadrak feeds her chickens (ILRI/Susan MacMillan).

We were invited into her home to watch her cheesemaking process, assisted by her sons. In a country where men typically take over such successful home businesses, it was impressive to see this older woman demonstrably still at the helm of her growing business, exercising agency on many levels, and disregarding conventional constraints imposed by her gender and age. As we left her home, we told her how impressive we found her finely integrated farm. Her response was along the lines of: ‘Yes, it is successful. But I don’t sleep much keeping it all going.’

Dairy producers and processors in Bhadrack, Odisha State, India

The Bhadrak businesswoman with her grandson before one of her several fish ponds (ILRI/Susan MacMillan).

The late journalist and cultural critic Christopher Hitchens once said:

The cure for poverty has a name, in fact.
It is called empowerment of women.

In India, this cure appears to be readily at hand—one that, with modest encouragement, is ready to spread widely, for the benefit of all.

Read previous parts in this blog series
‘Curds and goats, lives and livelihoods—A dozen stories from northern and eastern India’
Part 1: Colourful convocation: Jimmy Smith addresses graduates of India’s prestigious National Dairy Research Institute, 30 Mar 2016.
Part 2: Elite buffaloes and other exemplars of advanced Indian dairy science at the National Dairy Research Institute, 31 Mar 2016.
Part 3: Culture of the cow: Curds in the city—Better living through smallholder dairying in northern India, 5 Apr 2016.
Part 4: Building better brands and lives through peri-urban dairying and smart crop-dairy farming, 6 Apr 2016
Part 5: Wonder women of Bhubaneswar, 12 Apr 2016.
Part 6: Odisha Odyssey: The Arcadian landscapes and tribal goat keepers of Mayurbhanj, 9 May 2016.
Part 7: Odisha Odyssey: A look at the emerging commercial dairy value chains in eastern India, 12 May 2016
Part 8: Getting the (science) word out: ILRI and ICAR share livestock communications and knowledge management practices, 25 May 2016
Part 9: Reaching stakeholders, influencing policies: ICAR–ILRI communications workshop, 11 Jul 2016.
Part 10: Leveling livestock information: Knowledge management at an ICAR–ILRI communications workshop, 12 Jul 2016.
Part 11: India’s addiction to milk as a diabetes pandemic moves to the villages, 29 Jul 2016.

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

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

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

India’s addiction to milk as a diabetes pandemic moves to the villages


A ‘milk tree’ illustration at the National Dairy Research Institute, in Haryana, India
(photo credit: ILRI/Susan MacMillan).

Note: This is the eleventh in a series of articles on
‘Curds and goats, lives and livelihoods—
A dozen stories from northern and eastern India’. PART 11: India’s addiction to milk
as a diabetes pandemic moves to the villages
By Susan MacMillan and Jules Mateo,
of the International Livestock Research Institute (ILRI)

Addiction to milk in India, the biggest milk-drinking country in the world, is only getting bigger amid rising demand for food in this, the world’s second-most populous nation. As reported recently in Bloomberg, ‘Though eating beef is often taboo in India because the animal is revered in Hinduism, the country produces more than 160 million metric tons of milk a year as demand rises for cheese and other dairy products.’


One of endless branded advertisements for Indian dairy products (photo credit: ILRI/Susan MacMillan).

This love of milk was obvious to Jules Mateo, my communications colleague at the International Livestock Research Institute (ILRI), and I as we visited India capital and states of Haryana, in the north, and Odisha (formerly Orissa), on the east coast. Products made of milk are what we ate and were gifted with daily—for breakfast, for lunch, for dinner and for snacks. Always fresh and always delicious. But not an unmixed blessing, we discovered, in this country, where, we heard from scientists at the National Dairy Research Institute (NDRI), in Haryana, that diabetes could affect more than a quarter the population by mid-century. For that reason, NDRI researchers are developing dairy cows altered genetically to produce insulin in their milk.


A glass of fresh milk offered to guests in Haryana, India (photo credit: ILRI/Susan MacMillan).

First, a bit of background on the growing dual problem of mal- and over-nutrition in low-income countries. Here’s how an influential science paper described this global phenomenon in 2012 (emphases added).

‘It is useful to understand how vastly diets have changed across the low- and medium-income world to converge on what we often term the “Western diet.” This is broadly defined by high intake of refined carbohydrates, added sugars, fats, and animal-source foods. Data available for low- and middle-income countries document this trend in all urban areas and increasingly in rural areas. Diets rich in legumes, other vegetables, and coarse grains are disappearing in all regions and countries. Some major global developments in technology have been behind this shift. . . .


A traditional, and nutritious, lunch in Odisha, India (photo credit: ILRI/Susan MacMillan).

‘Most of the global increases in animal-source foods have been in low- and middle-income countries. For example, India has had a major increase in consumption of dairy products and China in pork and eggs, among others.

‘The increase in animal-source food products has both positive and adverse health effects. On the one hand, for poor individuals throughout the developing world a few extra grams of animal-source foods can significantly improve the micronutrient profile of food consumed. On the other hand, excessive consumption of animal-source foods is linked with excessive saturated fat intake and increased mortality. . . .

‘Despite substantial economic growth, large inequalities remain in many low- and middle-income countries, and it is common to see problems of underweight, stunting, and micronutrient deficiencies side by side with increasing rates of obesity. . . .

‘A challenge for programs and policies is the need to address food insecurity and hunger without adding to the burden of overweight and obesity.’

—Excerpted from ‘Now and then: The global nutrition transition—The pandemic of obesity in developing countries, by Barry Popkin, Linda Adair and Shu Wen Ng, in Nutrition Reviews, 2012, doi:10.1111/j.1753-4887.2011.00456.x


Milk and other sweets for sale at a popular sweet shop in New Delhi (photo credit: ILRI/Susan MacMillan).

And here’s how a health organization recently described how this problem is manifesting itself in India (emphases added).

‘India has the largest number of people with diabetes in the world. According to the International Diabetes Federation, the number of diabetics rose from its already high 1995 rate of 19 million to over 62 million in 2011. An estimated 11% to 20% of India’s urban population has diabetes, and 3% to 5% of the adult rural population has the disease. Estimates from the World Health Organization say that the disease currently costs India about $250 billion per year, and that in the next ten years this figure will skyrocket to $335 billion.

‘Clearly, India has a diabetes problem. But the real issue is that it’s a predictor of a growing global problem. According to the International Journal of Diabetes in Developing Countries, the alarming increase in diabetes “has gone beyond epidemic form to a pandemic one.”

‘India is just the “canary in the coal mine,” warning miners of dangers they cannot see. The rise of diabetes in India is being seen by health experts as a precursor of what we can expect to see happen all over the world in coming years.’


One of many ice cream brands for sale in Haryana, India (photo credit: ILRI/Susan MacMillan).

‘Because most of the newly-diagnosed cases in India are of Type 2 diabetes (formerly called non-insulin-diabetes), the root causes there are the same as they are in America—poor diet overloaded with fat, sugar, and calories, obesity, stress, and a sedentary lifestyle, in which people don’t get enough exercise. . . .

‘It has also been triggered by the large-scale importation of a Western lifestyle. Everywhere you go in India, you see roadside stands and carts selling sweets and samosas and pakoras deep-fried in “bad fats.” These vendors compete with fast-food franchises selling Western-style hamburgers and french fries. . . .


Milk sweets, for those who can afford it, is a gift for daily occasions (photo credit: ILRI/Susan MacMillan).

‘The result of all of this is that the diseases related to diabetes—hypertension, kidney failure, retinal damage, and ulcers—have also skyrocketed. And it’s all because India’s base standard of living has improved. People who were considered poor a few years ago had a diet driven by necessity, but which was relatively healthy—beans, rice, and vegetables. Now most people can afford the fast foods and processed foods, and their diets have become the same as those in the upper middle class, containing far too much sugar, fats, and “empty calories.”. . .

‘In the West, the onset of Type 2 diabetes is most commonly seen in adults in their 40s and 50s. In India, it’s affecting people in their early to mid 20s.’

—Excerpted from, The diabetes epidemic in India: A vision of the world’s future, by Juliette Siegfried, a health communications professional.

Beyond milk, new meat dietary changes are also occurring in India:

‘Two years after Kentucky Fried Chicken (KFC) announced that it will sell more vegetarian burgers in India, it is looking back at chicken in a big way. As competition in India’s burger market heats up, fast-food chains are returning to what they know best—in KFC’s case, tubs of fried chicken—leaving the vegetarian menu as it is, for now. . . . In the last six months, the fast-food chain has already rolled out three big marketing campaigns for its new chicken launches, including the Chizza which is fried chicken slathered with cheese.’
—Quartz India: KFC is ditching Indian vegetarians to do what it does best: sell fried chicken (25 Jul 2016)

The Times of India and Public Health Foundation of India report that:

‘Contrary to popular belief, diabetes affects more people in rural India (34 million) than affluent urban Indians (28 million).’

The paper goes on to report that the number of diabetes cases in India is expected to reach 101 million by 2030. By the year 2050, it is estimated that every fourth Indian will be diabetic, with India becoming the diabetes capital of the world.

fried-chicken-690039_960_720Kentucky Fried chicken in India (via

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

Part 1: Colourful convocation: Jimmy Smith addresses graduates of India’s prestigious National Dairy Research Institute, 30 Mar 2016.
Part 2: Elite buffaloes and other exemplars of advanced Indian dairy science at the National Dairy Research Institute, 31 Mar 2016.
Part 3: Culture of the cow: Curds in the city—Better living through smallholder dairying in northern India, 5 Apr 2016.
Part 4: Building better brands and lives through peri-urban dairying and smart crop-dairy farming, 6 Apr 2015
Part 5: Wonder women of Bhubaneswar, 12 Apr 2016.
Part 6: Odisha Odyssey: The Arcadian landscapes and tribal goat keepers of Mayurbhanj, 9 May 2016.
Part 7: Odisha Odyssey: A look at the emerging dairy value chains in eastern India, 12 May 2016.
Part 8: Getting the (science) word out: ILRI and ICAR share livestock communications and knowledge management practices, 25 May 2016.
Part 9: Reaching stakeholders, influencing policies: ICAR–ILRI communications workshop, 11 Jul 2016.
Part 10: ‘Leveling’ livestock information: Knowledge management at an ICAR–ILRI communications workshop, 13 Jul 2016.

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


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

Written by Delia Grace

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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

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

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

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

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

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

at the

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

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

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

Jimmy Smith's NDRI Convocation address

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

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

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

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


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

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

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

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

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


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

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

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

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

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


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

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

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


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Jimmy Smith presentation to UK parliamentary group

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

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


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

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

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

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

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

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

The findings in a nutshell

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

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


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Read more from ILRI about safeguarding livestock diversity.

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

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

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

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

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

National Agricultural Science Centre Complex

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Dinesh Kumar, of ICAR IASRI

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

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

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


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

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

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

Group discussion on delivering livestock information through mobile phones

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

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

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

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


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Reaching stakeholders, influencing policies: ICAR–ILRI communications workshop


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

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

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

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

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

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

Jimmy Smith listens to the workshop presentations

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

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

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

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

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


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

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

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

Group work

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

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

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

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

RK Singh, director of ICAR Indian Veterinary Research Institute

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

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

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

Padmakumar leads a group discussion

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

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

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

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

View the ILRI slide presentations on news and social media.

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

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

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

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

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

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


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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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

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

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

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

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

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


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

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

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

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

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


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

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

Recommendations related to specific livestock systems:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Keynote address
Balancing the Plate

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


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

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

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

In a word, yes.

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

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

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


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

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


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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

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

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

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


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

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

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

Thank you for your kind attention.

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

Jimmy Smith presents on livestock to UK parliament

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

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

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

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


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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Enhancing three smallholder livestock trajectories

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

UK investments, resources and collaborations

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

Some of ILRI’s current UK collaborators and funders


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


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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

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

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

Here is how Pengelly and Maass describe their newsletter.

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

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

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

Other stories in the newsletter:

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

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

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

The strategy

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Unconvinced? Here are another nine reasons

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

UN adopts resolution promoting sustainable pastoralism and rangelands


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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

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

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


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

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

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

See photos from the side event here.

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