East Africa News

Kenya’s wildlife populations are in ‘widespread’ and ‘catastrophic’ decline—New study


Cattle and Maasai herders and zebra share grazing land in Kenya (Photo credit: Rob Pringle/Harvard University).

Here’s a wake up call for all those who care about Kenya’s rich heritage of wild animals, rangelands and pastoral peoples. A new study reporting on the period from 1977 to 2016 says wildlife on the rangelands of Kenya, which still support some of the richest herds of mammals on earth, is in precipitous decline while populations of goats and sheep are increasingly sharply.

These results are published in a new paper, Extreme wildlife declines and concurrent increase in livestock numbers in Kenya: What are the causes?, written by Joe Ogutu, a Kenyan scientist formerly working at the International Livestock Research Institute (ILRI) and now at the University of Hohenheim, and Hans-Peter Piepho (University of Hohenheim), Mohamed Said (ILRI), Gordon Ojwang (Directorate of Resource Surveys and Remote Sensing [DRSRS]), Lucy Njino (DRSRS), Shem Kifugo (ILRI) and Patrick Wargute (DRSRS).

One of the solutions advanced is strengthening community-based wildlife conservancies:

With the right incentives and support wildlife conservancies can and have been an avenue for addressing wildlife loss.
—Dickson Ole Kaelo, CEO, Kenya Wildlife Conservancies Association From the results section of the paper The most salient features of the trends
were a striking increase in numbers of sheep and goats and camels
and concurrent
extreme declines in numbers of 14 of the 18 common wildlife species
throughout Kenya’s rangelands between 1977 and 2016.

‘The numbers of sheep and goats aggregated across all the 21 rangeland counties (“national” trend) increased markedly by 76.3%, followed by 13.1% for camels (Camelus dromedarius) and 6.7% for donkeys (Equus asinus) while the number of cattle (Bos indicus) dropped by 25.2%. In sharp contrast to the increasing trends or moderate declines in livestock numbers, the aggregated numbers of the common wildlife species declined precipitously, and for certain species catastrophically, in the same period in the Kenyan rangelands.’

From the abstract to the paper

‘There is growing evidence of escalating wildlife losses worldwide. Extreme wildlife losses have recently been documented for large parts of Africa, including western, Central and Eastern Africa. Here, we report extreme declines in wildlife and contemporaneous increase in livestock numbers in Kenya rangelands between 1977 and 2016. Our analysis uses systematic aerial monitoring survey data collected in rangelands that collectively cover 88% of Kenya’s land surface. Our results show that wildlife numbers declined on average by 68% between 1977 and 2016. The magnitude of decline varied among species but was most extreme (72–88%) and now severely threatens the population viability and persistence of warthog, lesser kudu, Thomson’s gazelle, eland, oryx, topi, hartebeest, impala, Grevy’s zebra and waterbuck in Kenya’s rangelands.

‘The declines were widespread and occurred in most of the 21 rangeland counties. Likewise to wildlife, cattle numbers decreased (25.2%) but numbers of sheep and goats (76.3%), camels (13.1%) and donkeys (6.7%) evidently increased in the same period. As a result, livestock biomass was 8.1 times greater than that of wildlife in 2011–2013 compared to 3.5 times in 1977–1980. Most of Kenya’s wildlife (ca. 30%) occurred in Narok County alone. The proportion of the total “national” wildlife population found in each county increased between 1977 and 2016 substantially only in Taita Taveta and Laikipia but marginally in Garissa and Wajir counties, largely reflecting greater wildlife losses elsewhere.

‘The declines raise very grave concerns about the future of wildlife, the effectiveness of wildlife conservation policies, strategies and practices in Kenya. Causes of the wildlife declines include exponential human population growth, increasing livestock numbers, declining rainfall and a striking rise in temperatures but the fundamental cause seems to be policy, institutional and market failures. Accordingly, we thoroughly evaluate wildlife conservation policy in Kenya. We suggest policy, institutional and management interventions likely to succeed in reducing the declines and restoring rangeland health, most notably through strengthening and investing in community and private wildlife conservancies in the rangelands.’

From the introduction to the paper

‘Rapid human population growth is driving wildlife population declines in Africa through its influence on expansion of agriculture, settlements and development of infrastructure. Deterioration in wildlife and livestock habitats caused by major land use and cover changes is exacerbated by climate change and variability, piling enormous pressures on pastoralism, ranching and wildlife conservation in African rangelands and protected areas. . . .

‘Rangelands cover about 512586.8 km2, representing 88% of the 582,646 km2 land surface of Kenya. They are hot, semiarid or arid with highly variable rainfall, often averaging less than 600 mm per year and thus are drought-prone and less suitable for sustainable crop production. The rangelands are currently home to 32.6% of the Kenyan population (12,582,028 of 38,610,097 people in 2009), principally pastoral communities and are crucially important for extensive livestock production and wildlife conservation in Kenya. More than half of the Kenyan livestock populations are found on these rangelands’

From the main section of the paper What should be done to stop the wildlife declines?

‘Since policy, institutional and market failures are at the heart of wildlife declines in Kenya, we examine important gaps in the current wildlife conservation and management policy which need to be addressed to stem the wildlife losses.

To be successful, efforts aiming to slow down or halt the declines and restore the depleted wildlife populations and the degraded rangelands must address the twin crux issues: what is wildlife beneficial for and who mainly benefits?

‘Such efforts must also account for the possibility that large areas of East Africa will inevitably pass over to more lucrative activities, as has happened, for example, in South Africa, which no longer has any counterpart of subsistence pastoralism. Counteracting this progression will require that some pastoral lands retaining wildlife should be buffered against such changes to ensure that they deliver the multiple benefits that they provide sustainably.

This demands a far-sighted land-use plan to secure wildlife habitats from the impacts of the rapidly expanding human and livestock populations.

‘Such a plan would benefit from incorporating the biosphere concept of a protected core area enlarged by a multi-use buffer zone with compatible activities.

‘As the future role of wildlife has become a leading issue globally it is not surprising that different countries are following different routes in search for solutions, including (1) laissez-faire as traditionally prevalent in Kenya, (2) multiple economic uses including hunting, as in Tanzania and earlier in Botswana, (3) devolvement of full financial control to local communities, as in Namibia, (4) fenced protected areas as tourist attractions or living museums, as in South Africa, (5) private ownership in fenced ranches or conservancies, as in South Africa, and (6) transfrontier protected areas, consisting of a mosaic of wildlands and settlements. Despite the diversity of these approaches, the basic issues confronting all countries with wildlife are primarily those of land ownership and devolvement of financial benefits.

A crucial need is thus for part of the benefits of protected areas and conservancies to filter down to impoverished neighbours.

‘Although East Africa still supports the richest herds of wildlife on earth, our analysis shows that the future of Kenyan wildlife is in serious jeopardy without urgent, far-reaching and far-sighted changes to their current conservation and management. The new Act therefore not only restores some badly needed hope but also recognizes that for much of Kenya, environmental imperatives have progressed far beyond “conservation” to “recovery” and “restoration”. . . .

‘One of the hallmarks of the new Wildlife Conservation and Management Act 2013 is that it promotes private and community conservation and transition from open-access to private property regimes. It thus provides a framework within which communities can be empowered to use, manage and receive expanded economic benefits from wildlife. Greater benefits enhance the importance of wildlife as a component of livelihoods and development, help pay the costs of conservation and reduce human-wildlife conflicts. Yet, widespread poverty and inequality still deny many landowners the opportunity to benefit from wildlife. This reduces interest and investment in conservation because, understandably, attitudes of people towards conservation on private or communal lands are often shaped by the amount and distribution of financial benefits from supporting wildlife on their lands. Communities getting no benefits from wildlife and having little say in national policy, as most pastoralists are, are more likely to be more intolerant to wildlife.

‘Although initially started by individuals and communities in a policy vacuum, wildlife conservancies have had some tangible success in Kenya, associated with direct economic benefits to poor landowner households, poverty alleviation, rising land values and increasing wildlife numbers within the conservancies.

As a result, conservancies are fast emerging as the centrepiece of natural resource conservation on the rangelands and broader development institutions for championing community development projects around the conservancies and ensuring sustainability through land use planning, managing wildlife, livestock, rangelands, and forests, trading in conservation beef, organic products or carbon—because traditional institutions have collapsed in the pastoral lands.

‘Community conservation in conservancies is also important in complementing limited capacity and skills of state agencies and dwindling state resources for conservation in the wake of mounting conservation challenges.

Important wildlife policy gaps that should be addressed to stop the declines

‘Here, we highlight some root causes of wildlife declines that are not adequately addressed by the current wildlife conservation policy and hence need to be urgently addressed. It is crucial to regulate livestock stocking levels to limit the number of livestock that can be reared on the available rangelands in conservancies, or ranches to minimize rangeland degradation through overgrazing. Reducing livestock stocking levels is also important to ensuring economic viability and sustainability of wildlife conservation on the human and livestock dominated pastoral lands. High livestock stocking levels are associated with declines in large mammalian species richness, abundance and distribution. Regulating livestock stocking levels will also help ensure that pastoralists do not regularly move increasingly large livestock herds to conservancies, parks and reserves, as currently happens.

As most ordinary pastoralists still earn more from livestock than wildlife, it is crucial to maintain some balance between conservancies and livestock, make and enforce rules that control livestock grazing in conservancies. These measures will ensure that communities benefit from wildlife without necessarily having to sacrifice all their current major livelihood—livestock.

‘However, policies that can guide the development of models for optimally integrating livestock and wildlife in conservancies to ensure economically viable conservancies on pastoral lands rather than completely separating pastoral livestock and wildlife, especially in areas with low tourism potential, are still lacking. Although there are some benefits to be gained by not completely separating wildlife from livestock in conservancies, including mutually beneficial long-term modifications of rangeland habitats, livestock grazing and herd size in conservancies should be regulated and monitored. This is especially important because a major problem for conservancies currently is that some pastoral land owners benefitting from conservancies use their incomes to buy more livestock that then compete with wildlife and degrade rangeland habitats. Equally important to regulate and monitor to stem widespread destruction of woodland habitats is clear felling of woodlands for charcoal trade, fuel wood, fencing, and construction materials in pastoral lands.

‘. . . There is . . .  need to build community capacity in wildlife conservation, management and protection, conservation planning, effective leadership, security operations, conservation business enterprises, technical and negotiation skills, access to information, democratic and effective collective or collaborative action. . . . [T]he participation and support of pastoral land owners is critical to the success of conservancies because they have to vacate their lands for conservancies, refrain from erecting fences and other developments. Wildlife conservation policy should also recognize that wildlife is not just a Kenyan heritage but a global heritage, conferring upon Kenya both global and local responsibilities that need funding for conservation and habitat restoration. . . .

Wildlife policy should embrace a strong paradigm shift away from the past and current bureaucratic uncertainty, crippling restrictions on use, and extracting most wildlife revenues from community areas. Wildlife policy should also do away with state nationalization, monopolization and centralization of wildlife and grant local communities responsibility and authority over local conservation decisions within a wider and carefully crafted framework of accountability, regulation and governance.

Read the paper, published on PLOS ONE, Extreme wildlife declines and concurrent increase in livestock numbers in Kenya: What are the causes?, by Joseph Ogutu (University of Hohenheim, formerly of ILRI), Hans-Peter Piepho (University of Hohenheim), Mohamed Said (ILRI), Gordon Ojwang (Directorate of Resource Surveys and Remote Sensing [DRSRS]), Lucy Njino (DRSRS), Shem Kifugo (ILRI) and Patrick Wargute (DRSRS), 27 Sep 2016. http://dx.doi.org/10.1371/journal.pone.0163249

The following excerpts of a related and earlier policy paper provide more context: ‘More than half of the wildlife habitat in Kenya is located outside protected areas, dispersed in private and community grazing lands. The traditional pastoral approach to livestock husbandry is considered compatible with and complementary to wildlife. However, these areas have undergone increasing land use pressure within the past decades, leading to land degradation largely due to climatic factors, notably recurrent droughts and low and declining amounts of rainfall, increasing human and livestock population and unsustainable land uses. Pastoralists range has become too restricted for traditional livestock grazing practices forcing them to diversify livestock-based economies and agriculture. As the pressure on land intensifies, there is potential for conflict between wildlife and people over grazing land, characterised by competition for key resources, predation on domestic livestock, and disease transmission. Wildlife populations and their habitats have been adversely affected by these changes. Restoration of degraded arid environments is critically needed as a mitigation measure against land degradation, biodiversity loss, climate change (Lal, 2009) and for enhancing the adaptive capacity of the local agro-pastoral communities. . . .

‘One of the key ecological constraints in the coexistence of livestock and wildlife at the livestock-wildlife interface environments is pasture scarcity. Since the pastoral economy is pinned on livestock keeping, land degradation has led to depletion of livelihoods base, leading to poverty, food insecurity and resource conflicts which pose a serious conservation challenge. Implementation of NRM plans including land use zoning within the community wildlife conservancies is a step towards finding the right solution. . . .’ (Taken from: Range Rehabilitation for Wildlife Conservation and Pastoral Livestock Production, Policy Brief 1, Feb 2013, USAID and Higher Education for Development).

And further, and on a more hopeful note, you can watch American Robin Reid, an ecologist formerly with ILRI and a colleague of the paper’s authors Joe Ogutu, Mohamed Said, Shem Kifugo and also Dickson Ole Kaelo, and, since 2008, founding director of the Center for Collaborative Conservation at Colorado State University, describe how collaboration can change pastoral lands and lives:

Robin Reid gave the eighth ‘President’s Community Lecture’ hosted by Colorado State University in Fort Collins on 27 Sep 2016:

Walking with Herders (and Others):
Bringing Different People Together to Work with Nature

‘Dr. Robin Reid has found ways to bring together businesses, government, citizens, and scientists to work out solutions for complicated conservation problems.’ In this public lecture, Reid tells the story of her unexpected discovery of just how much ‘collaboration’ among East Africa’s wildlife populations, savannah landscapes and pastoral peoples has benefitted all three.

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 www.worldfoodprize.org/borlaugfieldaward/

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 | mgeis@burness.com | +254 711 326 770

More information
More information will be posted here soon. To view a film of the whole event, go to http://www.ilri.org/livestream

Photographs of the event are on ILRI’s Flickr album here: https://www.flickr.com/photos/ilri/albums/72157669992212163

View the original press release, by Nicole Barreca, from the World Food Prize Foundation, here: http://www.worldfoodprize.org/index.cfm/24667/39777/the_world_food_prize_recognizes_kenyan_economist

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

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]cgiar.org) or David Pelster (D.Pelster [at] cgiar.org).

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.

Vaccine research on Africa’s cattle-killing East Coast fever: A short (somewhat potted but handsomely illustrated) history

PowerPoint Presentation

Life-cycle of Theileria parva. This figure illustrates the different life cycle stages of the single-celled tick-transmitted Theileria parva parasite, which causes East Coast fever in cattle. The parasite undergoes transformations into different forms as it cycles through its mammalian and tick hosts. The figure, created by ILRI scientist Nicholas Svitek, was inspired by fluorescence and electron micrograph images of the parasite life cycle (Fawcett et al., 1982a, Norval et al., 1992von Schubert et al., 2010). 

Here’s what’s going on in this complicated, and complex, parasite life cycle: Within minutes of their injection by an infected tick into a cow, parasite forms known as ‘sporozoites’ zip open the membrane of the white blood cells (lymphocytes) of the cow to gain entry. Once safely inside, where the parasite is out of reach of attack by the cow’s immune system, the parasites develop to a ‘schizont’ stage, a process that results in genetic ‘transformation’ of the bovine cell, in which it acquires the properties of cancer and begins to divide, along with the parasites inside of it, endlessly. (T. parva is the only eukaryotic organism known to transform lymphocytes.) Some of the schizont parasite forms then undergo merogony, giving rise to yet another form of the parasite, called merozoites, which cause their host’s white cells to rupture, after which the parasites further mature into ‘piroplasm’ forms, which invade the cow’s red blood cells, where they are then ready for uptake by ticks taking their next bloodmeal from the cow.

Tick larvae and nymphs acquire an infection by feeding on infected cattle or buffalo, and transmit the parasite as the next tick instar, nymphs and adults. Kinete forms, the final products of the parasite’s sexual cycle, invade the tick salivary glands where sporogony occurs. Mature merozoites (Mz) and sporozoites (Sz) originate from a multinucleated residual body.

Notes: Stages of the life cycles are not drawn to scale. The vertebrate host cell nucleus is coloured in purple and the parasite nucleus is in orange. Microspheres in sporozoites and micronemes in merozoites are depicted as small dark green dots inside the parasite. Host cell microtubules in the dividing schizont-infected cell are drawn in green. Drawings and artistic creation by ILRI scientist Nicholas Svitek. (This drawing illustrates a new ILRI paper, published by Elsevier under a Creative Commons licence, in Ticks and Tick-borne Diseases on 26 Feb 2016: doi:10.1016/j.ttbdis.2016.02.001).

Article by Susan MacMillan and Vish Nene, illustration by Nicholas Svitek

Tremendous research progress has been made over the last ten years to better control the deadly African disease of cattle known as East Coast fever. This disease is caused by a single-celled organism, Theileria parva, which is carried by some tick species. Cattle become infected when a tick carrying the parasite takes a blood-meal from the animal over several days.

The disease was named for its importation into southern Africa by cattle that originated from the East Coast of Africa at the start of the 20th century. The parasite was named after Arnold Theiler, a Swiss veterinary researcher who had emigrated to South Africa, where he became famous for co-developing the first safe vaccine against the rinderpest cattle plague, an accomplishment that ushered in systematic, mission-orientated veterinary research in that country. Theiler, whose youngest son Max would later win the Nobel Prize for developing the yellow fever vaccine, was first to distinguish East Coast fever, then entirely unknown to science, in 1903.

Cattle infected with the T. parva parasite develop a cancer-like disease manifested by high fever, swollen lymph nodes and lungs filled with excess fluid, which eventually literally drowns the animals, typically within just three weeks of infection. This remarkable protozoan has genes that enable it—within minutes of being injected into an animal—to attach itself to the surface of a cow’s white blood cell, ‘unzip’ the cell membrane and slip into the cell. Once inside the bovine cell, the parasite is unseen and safe from attack by the cow’s antibodies. T. parva then proceeds to take over the cell machinery. Activating the cow’s cell division pathway, it multiplies along with its host cell, causing the cancer-like state.

Those animals that do not succumb to East Coast fever are thereafter immune to subsequent infections with the same strain of parasite. Such natural full recovery and immunity is what first piqued the interests of scientists, who reasoned that it must be possible to develop a vaccine that would provoke similar immune processes, thus providing cattle with life-long protection against the disease.

The sequencing of the genome of the T. parva parasite, completed in 2005, and its publication in the scientific literature enabled scientists to thoroughly characterize the protozoan’s genetic makeup, including the diversity of the parasite’s antigenic molecules that provoke the cow’s immune system to generate protective antibodies and killer T cells that attack and clear the parasite from the host. This is the basis of an effective ‘infection-and-treatment’ (ITM) immunization method, in which live parasites are inoculated into cattle along with a long-acting antibiotic. A ‘Muguga cocktail’ ITM vaccine combining several parasite strains and providing broad-spectrum immunity to East Coast fever is now a registered product in three countries in eastern Africa. Effort today is being directed at improving and scaling up the production of this ‘live vaccine’ to make it more widely and cheaply available to the millions of people whose livelihoods depend on livestock in the twelve countries of eastern, central and southern Africa where the disease remains endemic.

Meanwhile, research to develop a ‘subunit’ vaccine, which is based on bits of parasites rather than whole parasites, with the bits eliciting production of neutralizing antibodies and killer T cells, has been revived by a research consortium that is developing proof-of-concept for a next-generation East Coast fever vaccine. The pioneering genomic, molecular and immunological advances that are making this subunit vaccine work possible promise to finally and fully control this devastating disease within the next decade or so.

See the recent science article on which this article is developed:
The biology of Theileria parva and control of East Coast fever—Current status and future trends, by Vish Nene, Henry Kiara, Anne Lacasta, Rogé Pelle, Nicholas Svitek and Lucilla Steinaa, 2016, in Ticks and Tick-borne Diseases, 26 Feb 2016, http://dx.doi.org/10.1016/j.ttbdis.2016.02.001

Read other articles about this publication on ILRI’s ILVAC blog site:

Susan MacMillan leads ILRI’s Awareness and Advocacy communications work. Vish Nene leads ILRI’s Vaccine Biosciences program (ILVAC). Nicholas Svitek is a cellular immunologist within ILRI’s Vaccine Biosciences program.

Serious rain: East Africa’s annual Easter resurrection

Story by Susan MacMillan.


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

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


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

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

15 March 1997: Kinangop, Kenya

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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

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

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

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

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

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


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Tanzania ‘Livestock Master Plan’ project launched

Iain Wright

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

More information on livestock master plan development in Tanzania and Ethiopia

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


MERS-CoV antibodies found in two people in eastern Kenya


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Marie Haga, executive director, Global Crop Diversity Trust

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Read more about the high-level seminar at ILRI.

Vaccine development breakthrough for Rift Valley fever—new Nature Scientific Reports paper

Trade-related Vector-borne Animal Disease in Ethiopia with Particular Reference to Rift Valley Fever (TCP/ETH/0168) - Awash Veterinary Services

Trade-related ‘Vector-borne Animal Disease in Ethiopia with Particular Reference to Rift Valley Fever’,  Awash Veterinary Services, Ethiopia (photo via Flickr by Marc Bleich).

With colleagues from the Jenner and Pirbright institutes in the UK, Nairobi’s Strathmore University and institutions in Saudi Arabia and Spain, scientists and technicians in a vaccine biosciences program of the International Livestock Research Institute (ILRI) in Nairobi, Kenya, have recently published a paper in Nature Scientific Reports announcing a breakthrough in development of a ‘One Health’ vaccine that could protect both people and livestock from Rift Valley fever.

One of ILRI’s co-authors of the paper, Vish Nene, who leads the institute’s Vaccine Biosciences program, explains the significance of the study: ‘This study demonstrated that a single-dose immunization in several species mediated protection against Rift Valley fever, with no presence of the virus in the blood. We still have additional questions that need to be answered, such as will the vaccine also be efficacious under field conditions. And a pressing issue that regulatory authorities will need to address relate to registration requirements for recombinant vaccines.’ 

Our findings add value to the ChAdOx1 vaccine platform and support its application in developing experimental vaccines against other viral diseases, especially where candidate viral vaccine antigens are known. The platform provides a rapid ability to respond to new viral threats and to archive them in a vaccine bank. The ChAdOX1 platform is also being used in human vaccine trials. The ability to demonstrate safety and efficacy in animals to protect against zoonotic diseases, which are transmitted from animals to people, and to use the same experimental vaccine in human trials has obvious advantages.
—Vish Nene, ILRI

‘Rift Valley Fever virus (RVFV) causes recurrent outbreaks of acute life-threatening human and livestock illness in Africa and the Arabian Peninsula. No licensed vaccines are currently available for humans and those widely used in livestock have major safety concerns. A ‘One Health’ vaccine development approach, in which the same vaccine is co-developed for multiple susceptible species, is an attractive strategy for RVFV. Here, we utilized a replication-deficient chimpanzee adenovirus vaccine platform with an established human and livestock safety profile, ChAdOx1, to develop a vaccine for use against RVFV in both livestock and humans. We show that single-dose immunization with ChAdOx1-GnGc vaccine, encoding RVFV envelope glycoproteins, elicits high-titre RVFV-neutralizing antibody and provides solid protection against RVFV challenge in the most susceptible natural target species of the virus-sheep, goats and cattle. In addition we demonstrate induction of RVFV-neutralizing antibody by ChAdOx1-GnGc vaccination in dromedary camels, further illustrating the potency of replication-deficient chimpanzee adenovirus vaccine platforms. Thus, ChAdOx1-GnGc warrants evaluation in human clinical trials and could potentially address the unmet human and livestock vaccine needs.

‘RVFV, a negative-stranded RNA virus in the Bunyaviridae family, is listed as an emerging zoonotic Category A viral pathogen in the National Institute for Allergy and Infectious Diseases (NIAID) list of priority pathogens for biodefense research. The disease, Rift Valley Fever, has serious implications for livestock agriculture and trade and is also listed as a notifiable disease by the World Organization for Animal Health (OIE). Although primarily restricted to Africa, the virus can be transmitted by at least ten mosquito species that are more widely distributed than RVFV leading to concerns of disease spread, as has occurred in the Arabian Peninsula and Madagascar. Humans can also get infected through contact with virus-contaminated tissues and fluid.

‘Due to its epizootic nature related to heavy rainfall and flooding, Rift Valley Fever is a difficult disease to study. It is thought that successive and overlapping swarms of different mosquitos infect and amplify infection rates in ruminants with subsequent transmission to humans, resulting in epidemics. The high levels of human morbidity and mortality during the last major outbreak in 2006/7 in eastern Africa underscores the urgency of developing comprehensive surveillance, response and control programs, especially since there is growing evidence for inter-epidemic transmission of RVFV.

‘Rift Valley Fever causes high rates (>90%) of mortality in young ruminants, primarily sheep, goats and cattle. Although older animals are more resistant to disease, high rates of abortion (so-called “abortion storms”) are observed following RVFV infection in pregnant animals and this is often used as a warning sign of imminent human disease epidemics. Unlike other domestic ruminants, RVFV infection in dromedary camels tends to be mild or inapparent, with abortion among pregnant animals being the only clinical sign. However, severe clinical signs, including haemorrhagic septicaemia and sudden death, have been observed among infected dromedary camels in Mauritania. In humans RVFV infection presents as an acute self-limiting febrile illness, but severe manifestations, including haemorrhagic fever and encephalitis, also occur, with case fatality rates >30% reported in some outbreaks, and long-term sequelae (e.g. impaired vision) in some survivors. Live and inactivated RVFV vaccines are available for livestock, but no licensed vaccines or anti-viral therapies are currently available for humans. . . .

Replication-defective chimpanzee adenoviruses (ChAd) are among the most promising human vaccine platforms available. . . . Their use as a common vaccine development platform has the advantage of allowing multiple vaccines to be biomanufactured rapidly with standardized processes and low cost of goods. . . . In summary we have demonstrated the utility of the replication-deficient chimpanzee adenovirus platform in induction of functional antibody and protective immunity against RVFV in multiple target livestock species in a disease-endemic setting.

Larger field efficacy and dose optimization studies of ChAdOx1-GnGc in animals of different age groups and physiological status will be required to underpin its future licensure and general use in livestock, and to explore potential inter-species differences in vaccine-elicited immune responses. . . .’

This work was conducted with the support from the University of Oxford, a Wellcome Trust fellowship and a grant from the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation through its Grand Challenges Exploration Initiative.

Read the whole paper in Nature Scientific Reports: Chimpanzee adenovirus vaccine provides multispecies protection against Rift Valley Fever, 5 Feb 2016, doi:10.1038/srep20617, written by George M Warimwe, of the Jenner Institute at the University of Oxford (UK), the Centre for Research in Therapeutic Sciences and the Institute for Healthcare Management, Strathmore University (Kenya); Joseph Gesharisha (ILRI); B Veronica Carr, Pirbright Institute (UK); Simeon Otieno, ILRI; Kennedy Otingah, ILRI; Danny Wright, Jenner Institute; Bryan Charleston, Pirbright Institute; Edward Okoth, ILRI; Lopez-Gil Elena, Centro de Investigación en Sanidad Animal, Instituto Nacional de Investigación y Tecnología Agraria y Alimentaria (INIA-CISA, Spain); Gema Lorenzo, INIA-CISA; El-Behiry Ayman, Qassim University (Saudi Arabia); Naif K Alharbi, King Abdullah International Research Center (Saudi Arabia); Musaad A Al-dubaib, Qassim University (Saudi Arabia); Alejandro Brun, INIA-CISA; Sarah C Gilbert, Jenner Institute; Vishvanath Nene, ILRI; and Adrian VS Hill, Jenner Institute.

Ethiopia-CGIAR country consultation meeting identifies five action areas got enhanced collaboration

Dr Gebregziabher Gebreyohannes, Ethiopia State Minister of Livestock and Fishery for Livestock opens the consultation meeting

HE Gebregziabher Gebreyohannes, Ethiopia State Minister of Livestock and Fishery, opens the consultation meeting (photo credit IWMI/D. Tadesse).

Five concrete areas of collaboration have been recommended in a meeting of CGIAR centres and national partners and key stakeholders in a move to better align CGIAR activities with the national Growth and Transformation Plan II (GTP 2015-2020). The meeting was scheduled following a decision by the Consortium of CGIAR centres to strengthen the alignment of CGIAR research with the priorities of national governments.

Improved coordination and collaboration of the second generation CGIAR research programs (CRPs), it was argued, will largely take place at country level where research outcomes are more likely to be achieved at scale when they are closely linked to national agricultural and related nutrition and health development priorities and initiatives.

This 11 December 2015 meeting was part of a wider process of coordination and alignment between CGIAR centres and programs and their national partners in six countries—Bangladesh, Ethiopia, Ghana, Kenya, Nicaragua, Nigeria and Vietnam. The process is intended to showcase what CGIAR centres and CRPs – and their partners – can achieve as a result of improved collective action (see http://gcard3.cgiar.org/national-consultations for more information on this process).

Opening the Ethiopia-CGIAR meeting, the State Minister of Livestock and Fishery, HE Gebregziabher Gebreyohannes, underlined the importance of sustained investment in agricultural research to deliver poverty reduction, achieve food and nutrition security, boost raw material for industries, and push up export earnings. An increase in production and productivity and developing a drought resilient agriculture, he argued, cannot be sought without strong research support. Thus, national and global research institutions are expected to fill technological gaps and must position themselves to respond to emerging challenges, transforming the livelihoods of smallholder farmers.

Representatives from key semi-state organizations, ministries, national research partners and development partners in Ethiopia also outlined their activities. Highlighting priorities in the coming years, in line with the GTPII, they also suggested where they thought Ethiopia would most benefit from closer collaboration with CGIAR centres in the country.

Five action areas

One key action highlighted was to establish a joint CGIAR-national agriculture research system collaboration and communication mechanism. This mechanism, it was recommended, would establish a permanent secretariat for joint planning, sharing of findings, and monitoring and evaluation.

The four other areas of collaboration were: The development of joint research proposals, sharing of equipment and resources, streamlining policy engagement, and improving opportunities and modalities of capacity development.

In terms of capacity building opportunities and modalities, participants focused on the need for both more formal, short-term and on-site training (joint research) training for national partners, and support in out-scaling for CGIAR centres. They also highlighted the need to facilitate access to laboratory facilities. These goals could be achieved through enhanced joint research implementation and supervision, and publications, linkages with international universities and research institutes and staff exchanges.

The participants also recommended more joint proposal development and research, focusing on a systems, rather than sectorial approach, with common objectives linked to national goals. The last recommendation highlighted the need for the development of protocols on shared facilities, equipment and germplasm.

The meeting was introduced by the International Livestock Research Institute Director General’s representative in Ethiopia, Siboniso Moyo, who spoke on the CGIAR work globally and in Ethiopia. She was followed by Dereje Biruk of the Agricultural Transformation Agency, Fentahun Mengistu of the Ethiopian Institute of Agricultural Research, and Garry Robbins of the United States Agency for International Development, on the Rural Economic Development and Food Security Sector Working Group.

Once the meeting report is finalised and reviewed, a country working group will move this agenda forward. In addition to feeding into the third Global Conference on Agricultural Research for Development (GCARD3), the recommendations will guide mechanisms for better alignment, coordination, collaboration and strengthening of the Ethiopia-CGIAR partnership going forward.

High-level EC-IFAD delegation tours smallholder pig projects in Uganda

Visit of IFAD-EC Delegation to Uganda, ILRI

Simon Lubega (left), manager of the Wambizzi Pig Cooperative Abattoir, in Uganda, in discussion with the EC’s Roberto Ridolfi (right) and other stakeholders during a tour of his biogas plant (photo credit: ILRI/Brian Kawuma).

This article is written by Brian Kawuma, communications officer for ILRI in Uganda.

Members of the Uganda country team of the International Livestock Research Institute (ILRI) hosted a five-person delegation from the European Commission (EC) and the International Fund for Agricultural Development (IFAD) on 28 and 29 Aug 2015. Led by Roberto Ridolfi, director for sustainable development at the EC, and accompanied by Balduin Zimmer, Margarita Astralaga, Amine Belhamissi and Malu Muia Ndavi, the delegation sought to understand the work done by ILRI and its partners to enhance Uganda’s pig value chain and how this work relates to climate change adaptation and mitigation work.

As part of their visit, the guests toured Wambizzi Pig Cooperative Society slaughterhouse, the only centralized pig abattoir in the country, where ILRI and partners are piloting the setup of a bio-digester that will transform pig slaughter waste into clean energy (biogas) for heating and lighting. The innovation was lauded for the opportunities it presents for reducing tree cutting for firewood as well as reducing water pollution due to dumping untreated waste.

‘We need to scale up such innovations for a greener earth’, said the EC-IFAD delegation.

IFAD-EC delegation visit to ILRI Uganda

ILRI staff and partners pose for photo with the IFAD-EC delegation at the ILRI office in Kampala (photo credit: ILRI/Brian Kawuma).

The delegation later held a dialogue with seven pig farmers from Masaka in a meeting that was attended by ILRI staff and officials from the Masaka District local government. The farmers presented different interventions being piloted by ILRI that they have benefited from, including use of planted forages and local feed resources for pig diets, implementation of biosecurity strategies on farms to counter the spread of African swine fever, and collective action through producer groups/cooperatives for greater access to input and output markets. Additionally, representatives of the pig farmers’ cooperative highlighted an ongoing pilot of the pig business hub in the Kabonera sub-county of Masaka that is expected to improve farmer access to markets and business development services.

Commending ILRI for the good work it is doing, Roberto Ridolfi urged the organization to focus on the ‘last inch’—the critical links between research and development outcomes—by working closely with other CGIAR centres and development partners.

‘I thank IFAD for supporting the smallholder pig value chain project—it is a vital link between research and development’, Ridolfi said.

While appreciating the role of research in agriculture, Ridolfi stressed the need for researchers to produce deliverables that clearly benefit poor people. He took particular note of ILRI’s work in catalyzing the formation and strengthening of pig farmer cooperatives in Uganda. These cooperatives, he said, should help eliminate unnecessary middlemen and give farmers greater bargaining power with pork buyers and consumers. Raising the issue of water scarcity in the dry season, Ridolfi recommended that ILRI and its partners explore sustainable and scalable water harvesting technologies for smallholder farmers.

The EC director commended the pig farmers from Masaka for being proactive in finding solutions to their farming challenges and embracing collective action. He encouraged them to use producer cooperatives to enable members to borrow money among themselves at good rates and also to borrow from banks to finance big investments. And he spoke of opportunities for the EC directly to support farmer groups.

From 2011 to 2013, IFAD and the EC funded a Smallholder Pig Value Chain Project to improve the livelihoods, incomes and assets of smallholders, women in particular, in Kamuli, Mukono and Masaka districts of eastern and central Uganda. The project helped the pig farmers increase their productivity, reduce their risks and access markets.

Watch a 2-minute video clip (between minutes 4 and 6) about ILRI’s work to enhance Uganda’s pig value chains; this film was showcased at the COP 21 climate change conference in Paris in Nov 2015.

Tanzania’s ‘Livestock Master Plan’ kicks off with a one-year training program for government officials


Amos Omore and livestock in Ubiri village, Lushoto

Amos Omore and livestock on a dairy farm in Ubiri village, Lushoto, Tanzania (photo credit: ILRI/Nils Teufel).

This article is written by Mercy Becon, communications officer for ILRI in Tanzania.

Eight staff from Tanzania’s Ministry of Livestock and Fisheries Development are undergoing a 14-month training and planning program assisted by experts from the International Livestock Research Institute (ILRI) with funding from the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation.

Amos Omore, ILRI’s country representative, lauded the project and the contribution it will bring to the livestock sector: ‘This is the first time the livestock sector will benefit from a quantitative sector analysis of this kind, thus providing more credible bases for investments. Tanzania’s livestock sector is currently dominated by the traditional and mostly pre-commercial production. This needs to change towards more commercialization’.

On what to expect from the master plan, Omore added: ‘The Tanzanian Livestock Master Plan should provide pathways for livestock sub-sectors where investments for commercialization would provide the greatest returns serving the country’s national goals of reducing poverty, improving food security and increasing the country’s earnings from exports.

‘Evidence generated by the livestock master plan should support efforts by Tanzanian institutions and ILRI to transform the country’s smallholder dairy value chains in inclusive ways, through such programs as the “Maziwa Zaidi“, a national initiative to have more milk in Tanzania. “Maziwa Zaidi” is supported on the research side by the ILRI-led the CGIAR Research Program on Livestock and Fish.

The Tanzanian government officials are being trained in using a ‘Livestock Sector Investment and Policy Toolkit’. The results of using the toolkit will be used to build herd and sector models for a 15-year ‘Livestock Sector Analysis’ and a 5-year ‘Livestock Master Plan’ for Tanzania.

A group photo with the Director of Policy and Planning

Participants of the Tanzanian Livestock Master Plan workshop, including Catherine Joseph (front row, second from right), director of policy and planning in the Tanzanian Ministry of Livestock and Fisheries, who represented the permanent secretary at the opening of the workshop (photo credit: ILRI/Mercy Becon).

The training started on 17 Nov 2015, with Catherine Joseph, director of policy and planning in the Ministry of Livestock and Fisheries Development and representing the permanent secretary in the ministry, lauding the syllabus and saying she is looking forward to see the results of the training. The country’s livestock master plan, she said, will identify high-priority livestock investment interventions for the government, donor agencies, the private sector and other development stakeholders. She further said the plan will help Tanzania reduce poverty and improve food security in the country while also significantly increasing the country’s earnings from exports of livestock and livestock products.

At the opening of this training and planning program, Barry Shapiro, ILRI’s senior livestock development advisor leading the livestock master plan project, thanked the director of policy and planning in the Tanzania Ministry of Livestock and Fisheries Development for the ministry’s ownership of this work, exemplified by the government assigning eight officials to attend the one-year full-time training and planning program.

Shapiro briefed the participants and guests on the origin of the toolkit and where it has been used. ‘Under the auspices of AU-IBAR’, Shapiro said, ‘the toolkit was developed by livestock experts at the French agricultural research and international cooperation organization (CIRAD), the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations (FAO) and the World Bank. It has been applied in Mali and Zambia, with financial and technical support from the World Bank, and in Ethiopia by ILRI, with financial support from the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation.

The ILRI staff members and livestock specialists experienced with the toolkit from Ethiopia who are delivering the training are Getachew Gebru, Solomon Desta, Asfaw Negassa and Kidus Nigussie.

Shapiro also shared his insights as to how development of the Ethiopia Livestock Master Plan should help the exercise in Tanzania:

‘To realize the economic potential of livestock, the government of Tanzania has launched the Tanzanian Livestock Modernization Initiative to raise the level of government and donor support and private investment in the sector (TLMI concept note 2015 and TLMI Scoping Study 2015). The first step was to hold a TLMI workshop for key policymakers and stakeholders to identify the key policy issues that need to be resolved to modernize the sector.

‘The analysis of potential investments now being undertaken for development of Tanzania’s Livestock Master Plan will help identify high-priority interventions and also provide the evidence needed to increase both public and private investments in the livestock sector.’

The 14-month training program will be launched on 10 Dec 2015, after the newly elected president of Tanzania appoints his new cabinet.

ILRI is leading several projects in the country, including the MoreMilkiT project which is implemented by Tanzania Dairy Board, Faida MaLi and Heifer International with funds from Irish Aid. The project works with farmers in Morogoro and Tanga to pilot approaches to increase their use of inputs and services to improve milk production and marketing to meet rising demand for milk and dairy products. Information on other ILRI-led initiatives in Tanzania can be accessed here: www.ilri.org/Tanzania

Towards more productive dairy cattle for Africa’s smallholders

Dairy cow in Tanga, Tanzania

Dairy cow in Tanga, Tanzania (photo credit: ILRI/Paul Karaimu).

Improving the genetic makeup of Africa’s dairy cattle has the potential increase farmer productivity and profitability, hence transform the lives of millions of dairy families across Africa. This latest program, African Dairy Genetic Gains (ADGG) program, led by the International Livestock Research Institute (ILRI), offers real opportunities to help smallholders improve their lives through livestock. It also contributes to ILRI’s global livestock genetics program—LiveGene.

Building on previous research and integrated with complementary ongoing initiatives, the program draws on recent successfully outcomes in the Dairy Genetics East Africa (DGEA) projects: the achievement of productivity gains in smallholder dairy herds when farmers are informed about the suitable cross-bred animal types.

Initiated in November 2015 by ILRI and partners, ADGG helps African smallholder farmers grow their livelihoods through better access to productive and adapted dairy cow breed types, and helps them to access two-way information, extension and training systems tailored to their needs. This improved knowledge of the breed composition of their cows will help farmers determine the profitability compositions in their environments.

Specifically, ADGG will establish performance recording and sampling systems in Tanzania and Ethiopia, use the information and samples to develop systems to select cross-bred bulls and cows of superior genetic merit for artificial insemination (AI) and natural mating, and pilot farmer-feedback systems that assist farmers to improve their productivity. The goal is to establish working systems based on public-private partnerships with a clear route to long-term sustainability within the five-year life of the program.

Building on previous research and integrated with complementary ongoing initiatives, the program draws on recent successful outcomes in the Dairy Genetics East Africa (DGEA) projects: the achievement of productivity gains in smallholder dairy herds when farmers are informed about the suitable cross-bred animal types. Building upon these outcomes, ADGG will establish national Dairy Performance Recording Centres (DPRCs), equipped with digital data capture and farmer-feedback systems in the two countries.

This initiative will run parallel with a private-public Partnership for Artificial Insemination Delivery (PAID). Led by Land O’Lakes International Development, PAID will partner with local government institutions and multinational and local dairy genetics companies to scale-out effective door-step AI delivery and heifer multiplication in Tanzania and Ethiopia. The linkages between the two programs will combine the partners’ strengths to engage in research and deliver improved dairy performance for smallholders.

Funded by the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation, ILRI will partner with national AI centres in Ethiopia and Tanzania, the Tanzania Livestock Research Institute, the University of New England, Scotland’s Rural College, Green Dreams Tech Ltd. and Land O’Lakes International Development.

For more information, see the ILRI project profile, African Dairy Genetic Gains

New Kenya value chains program to lift 300,000 plus households out of poverty

Harvesting season in Nyando climate-smart villages

The new program focuses on the livestock, dairy, staple crops root crops and staple drought-tolerant crops value chains (photo credit: S. Kilungu-CCAFS).

Starting in October 2015, the International Livestock Research Institute (ILRI), in partnership with two other CGIAR centres, has initiated a new three-year USD 25 million program to help lift 317,000 households out of poverty, making them food secure and enabling their transition from subsistence to market-orientated farming.

This latest ILRI-led initiative focuses accelerating value chain development in 23 counties in Kenya.

Sustaining the Kenyan government’s targeted annual GDP growth rate of 7% will require extensive policy reform and considerable public and private sector investment in the sector. Despite improvements in the last 15 years, Kenya is still a food and nutrition insecure country. Incidence of undernourishment stands at 25% nationally, affecting between 15% and 85% of the population in high rainfall and semi-arid areas respectively. Reducing poverty, hunger and malnutrition, therefore, remains a priority for the country.

Funded by the United States Agency for International Development (USAID) as part of the global hunger and food security initiative in Kenya, the Feed the Future Kenya Accelerated Value Chain Development (AVCD) program seeks to apply technologies and innovations in four value chains, contributing to increased productivity, inclusive agricultural growth, and nutrition and food security. This latest ILRI-led initiative focuses on accelerating value chain development in 23 counties in Kenya through the livestock, dairy, staple crops root crops and staple drought-tolerant crops value chains.

The underlying causes of food and nutrition insecurity in Kenya include low agricultural productivity, frequent droughts, lack of knowledge on good nutrition practices, poor natural resource management, dysfunctional markets, over-dependence on rain-fed agriculture, and limited investment in the country’s arid and semi-arid regions.

In partnership with the International Crops for Research Institute for the Semi-Arid Arid Tropics (ICRISAT) and the International Potato Center (CIP), ILRI will lead the implementation of AVCD. The three CGIAR centres will work closely with partners—county governments, NGOs, CBOs, private sector actors and other USAID-funded projects/programs, as well as leverage knowledge and best practices from academic institutions and foundations.

For further information see the two-page fact sheet and four-page brochure on the AVCD program.

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


Pigs (photo credit: N Palmer/CIAT).

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

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

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

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


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

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

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

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

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


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Visit to ILRI by BMZ delegation

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

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

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

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

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

Visit to ILRI by BMZ delegation

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

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

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

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


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

We suggest the following approaches to move forward:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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