World’s largest agricultural research partnership, serving 1 billion poor, marks $1 billion funding milestone–CGIAR

Tanzanian Maasai helping to treat cattle against East Coast fever

Tanzanian Maasai help vaccinate their calves against lethal East Coast fever (photo credit: ILRI/Stevie Mann).

CGIAR has doubled its funding in the last five years, from $500 million (in 2008) to $1 billion (in 2013).

Officials say harvesting the fruits of this historic commitment could, among other benefits, lift 150 million people in Asia out of poverty by boosting rice production, provide 12 million African households with sustainable irrigation, save 1.7 million hectares of forest from destruction, give 50 million poor people access to highly nutritious food crops, and save up to 1 million cattle from dying untimely deaths each year due to a lethal disease.

The International Livestock Research Institute (ILRI) is one of 15 global research centres belonging to CGIAR, which works with hundreds of partners to develop innovative solutions, tools, and technologies for the benefit of the world’s poorest people. It seeks to bring cutting edge science to bear on a wide range of issues facing millions of farmers and other poor smallholders in developing countries who collectively generate nearly 70 percent of the world’s food production.

‘The $1 billion in funding will help finance CGIAR’s 16 global research programs and accelerate the development of scientific, policy and technological advances needed to overcome complex challenges—such as climate change, water scarcity, land degradation, and chronic malnutrition, greatly improving the well-being of millions of poor families across the developing world’, said Frank Rijsberman, CEO of the CGIAR Consortium.

For more than 40 years, CGIAR and its partners have transformed the lives of hundreds of millions of people with the tangible outcomes of agriculture research, including improved crop varieties, sustainable farming methods, new fish strains, novel livestock vaccines, climate-smart solutions, and incisive policy analysis.

For example:

In eastern Africa, a ‘live’ vaccine against the deadly cattle disease East Coast fever developed by ILRI with the Kenya Agricultural Research Institute and other partners and now being distributed by GALVmed, has saved 620,000 calves, benefiting up to 50,000 poor households that rely on cattle for food and income. The vaccine could benefit 20 million more people in the region, with annual benefits of $270 million.

  • Drought tolerant maize has increased farmers’ yields by 20-30%, benefiting 20 million people in 13 African countries.
  • ‘Scuba rice’, which can survive under water for two weeks, is protecting the harvests, incomes, and food security of poor farmers and consumers across monsoon Asia.
  • Newly developed potato varieties that withstand late blight disease and yielded eight times more than native varieties in the region have made the difference between having enough to eat or not in the Paucartambo province of Peru, where late blight threatened to devastate staple food supplies.
  • By integrating food crops with trees that draw nitrogen from the air and transfer it to the soil, an innovative agroforestry practice captures carbon and reduces greenhouse gas emissions, while improving soil fertility, rainwater use efficiency, and yields by up to 400% for maize in the Sahel region.
  • Across Afghanistan, Bangladesh, Ethiopia, Egypt, Nepal, and Pakistan, high-yielding wheat varieties resistant to Ug99, a highly virulent disease, have protected the livelihoods and food security of 500,000 farming families.

Read the CGIAR press release: CGIAR doubles funding to $1 billion in five years, 17 Dec 2013.

ILRI’s Jimmy Smith on global health and food security: Why developing-country livestock matter so much

Global food security

Jimmy Smith, director general of the International Livestock Research Institute (ILRI) gave a keynote presentation this morning (17 Oct 2013) at the opening of the Global Animal Health Conference, ‘Developing global animal health products to support food security and sustainability’, in Arlington, Virginia.

Smith began his presentation, ‘Global health and sustainable food security: Why the livestock sectors of developing countries matter’, by setting out the state of global food security and questioning how the world will manage to feed itself as the human population grows before stabilizing at about mid-century. Some 60% more food than is produced now will be needed by then, he said. And, somehow, some 75% of that increase will have to come from increases in productivity rather than from increases in land under cultivation. This higher production, he said, must be achieved while at the same time reducing poverty and hunger and addressing environmental, social and health concerns. In addition, the greater food production will have to be achieved in the face of temperatures 2−4 degrees C warmer than today’s.

He pointed out the great nutritional divides in today’s world, and warned of malnutrition’s huge financial as well as public health costs.

Nutritional divides among 7 billion people today

He noted that gains in consumption of meat in poor and emerging economies are greatly outpacing those of the industrialized countries.

Gains in meat consunmption in developing countries outpace those of developed countries

Smith then pointed out how much of the world’s food comes not from large-scale farmers but rather from hundreds of millions of very small-scale farmers in developing countries.

Global food production: From where?

These small-scale food producers, he said, are more competitive than most people think. He cited two examples. In East Africa, one million smallholders keep Africa’s largest dairy herd, Ugandans produce milk at the lowest cost in the world, and Kenya’s small- and large-scale poultry and diary producers have the same levels of efficiency and profits. In Vietnam, 50% of the country’s pig production is done by farmers with less than 100 pigs, and producers keeping just 1 or 2 sows have lower unit costs than those with more than 4 sows. Scientists estimate that Vietnam’s industrial pig production could grow to meet no more than 12% of the national pig supply in the next 10 years, so small-scale farmers will continue to supply most of the country’s pork for the foreseeable future.

Global livestock markets

In a series of graphs, ILRI’s director general presented figures for livestock commodities being global leaders, for the huge global trade in livestock products and for the fast-rising demand for meat, milk and eggs in developing countries.

4 out of 5 of the highest value global commodities are livestock

Percentage increase in demand for livestock products

Global trade of livestock products (milk excluded)

Global trade in livestock products (milk included)

Global animal health

Smith said that the developing world’s smallholder livestock producers can continue to produce most of the world’s milk, meat and eggs only if we can find ways to improve livestock health, especially by reducing food safety problems that reduce market participation by smallholders, by reducing the endemic livestock diseases that greatly lower livestock productivity in developing countries, and by lowering zoonotic disease transmissions that threaten small-scale livestock production in poor countries—as well as human health in all countries.

Food safety in developing countries, where most milk, meat and eggs are sold in informal or ‘wet’ markets, is a bigger problem than most people recognize, the ILRI director general said. He said we need to manage the risks of illness while retaining the benefits—to livelihoods and food and nutritional security—of informally sold livestock foods. And, he said, we have to educate people about the various risks of these informal markets, where common perceptions can be misleading; eating vegetables sold in these markets, for example, can be as risky to health as handling cattle or drinking raw milk.

Gender is an important determinant of food safety in developing countries, Smith said, with evidence indicating that Africa’s women butchers sell safer meat than their male counterparts. Women and children and farm workers are also at greater risking in contracting food-borne diseases.

Regarding health advice, Smith argued that it is most useful when it is tailored for specific circumstances, when it is based on evidence, and when it is developed in and with local communities. It’s also been found that what works best for increasing food safety are social incentives (e.g., ‘good parents do X rather than Y with their milk cows’), and risk- rather than rule-based approaches. Finally, he said, relatively simple and cheap interventions can lead to substantial improvements in food safety.

The big livestock productivity gaps between rich and poor countries, Smith explained, are due largely to poor animal health in these countries.

Big productivity gaps, largely due to poor animal health, persist between rich and poor countries

Livestock diseases take a huge toll . . .

Annual losses from selected diseases--Africa and South Asia

. . . especially in Africa.

Animal disease is a key constraint in Africa

And the toll from ‘zoonotic’ diseases, which are transmitted from animals to people, is especially devastating.

A deadly dozen zoonotic diseases each year kill 2.2 million people and sicken 2.4 billion

These zoonotic infections harm poor people the most.

Greatest burden of zoonoses falls on one billion poor livestock keepers

Incidences of zoonotic events are worringly on the increase . . .

Emerging zoonotic disease events, 1940-2012

. . . and can have enormous costs . . .

Costs of emerging zoonotic disease outbreaks

. . . as they spread, just as African swine fever is now spreading.

Africa swine fever threatens US$150-billion global pig industry

Global animal health markets

The animal health markets in developing countries are already significant and are growing rapidly. The global animal health market is a multi-billion-dollar industry. The global human health market amounts to US$1000 million and the global animal health market, including livestock, pets and other animals, some $20 billion. The global livestock health market is worth about $13 billion, with the livestock health market in Africa now experiencing a 15.7% year-on-year growth (the second fastest growth after Latin America).

Just 15 countries make up more than 85% of the global animal health market today; demand for animal health markets in developing and emerging economies is increasingly important.

Take India, for example.

Animal health markets: India

To take advantage of the increasing opportunities in developing countries will require an understanding of smallholder livestock systems and customers, who will need tailored packaging and marketing (e.g., drugs in small packets), delivery systems appropriate for widely dispersed farms, surveillance systems for development of drug resistance, and ‘One Health’ approaches and ‘Rational Drug Use’ used for both people and their animals. Among the ‘game-changing’ livestock health products urgently needed in poor countries and communities are appropriate vaccines for Newcastle disease in poultry and East Coast fever in cattle and quality assurance for all veterinary medicines.

Jimmy Smith ended his presentation with four key messages:

Global health and sustainable food security: Key messages

And he closed his presentation the following thoughts.

The risks of ignoring pressing animal health issues in the developing world are huge:

  • Lost livelihoods in poor countries
  • Greater global food insecurity
  • Increased risk of human illness in all countries

The opportunities for improving animal health in developing countries are just as big. With appropriate approaches, this significant animal health market should grow rapidly, for the good of all.

View the presentation.

See other recent presentations by Jimmy Smith:

Improving the environmental sustainability of livestock systems in the developing world–ILRI’s Jimmy Smith, 30 Sep 2013

Why the world’s small-scale livestock farms matter so much: Keynote address at International Grasslands Congress, Part 1, 16 Sep 2013

Why tackling partial truths about livestock matters so much: Keynote address at International Grasslands Congress, Part 2, 16 Sep 2013

More presentations by Jimmy Smith.

Scissors and crazy glue: Lorne Babiuk, award-winning vaccine evangelist, speaks his (clear) mind in Ottawa

Vish Nene and new ILRI Board Member

Director of ILRI’s vaccine development program Vish Nene (left) with Canadian vaccinologist and ILRI board member Lorne Babiuk (right) at morning tea with ILRI staff (photo credit: ILRI/Susan MacMillan).

Canadian Lorne Babiuk, an internationally recognized leader in vaccine research, visited the International Development Research Centre (IDRC) in Ottawa yesterday (8 Oct 2013) to deliver a live webcast talk on exciting breakthroughs in the development of animal vaccines, which, he argued, can both improve global food security and reduce the global impacts of infectious diseases.

Babiuk is vice-president of research at the University of Alberta and the recipient of two recent distinguished awards for his outstanding career in vaccinology — the Gairdner Wightman Award in 2012 and the Killam Prize in Health Sciences in 2013. He serves on the board of trustees of the International Livestock Research Institute (ILRI).

For all his illustrious awards, Babiuk talked not like a scientist but rather like ‘a regular guy’, preferring to speak of  ‘scissors’ and ‘crazy glue’ to describe molecular advances in vaccinology rather than use scientific jargon.

Here’s some of what he said.

ON POVERTY
One billion people go to bed hungry every night. Not hungry like you and me when we miss a meal. But hungry, really hungry, every day, day in and day out. By 2050, we’ll have another 2 billion people to feed. The last time I checked, they were not making more land. So we’re going to have to do more with the land (and livestock) that we have. We have an opportunity to develop new approaches to increase food supplies or to have a lot more hungry people.

The developing world is looking for more and more protein; those of us in the developed world should not deny them that.

Livestock are a critical component of smallholder farming, which supports about two billion people, some two-thirds of them women

ON DISEASE
I’ve spent my career in infectious diseases. They matter partly because they cost so much. Alberta has still not recovered from BSE. And SARS cost a staggering USD100 billion—USD2 billion in Ontario alone.

Some 74% of new or emerging diseases are ‘zoonotic’, which means they’re transmitted from animals to humans, or from humans to animals. The economic impacts of zoonoses are huge for farmers, for producers, for international traders . . .

ON DISEASES OF THE DEVELOPING WORLD
I have concerns about Rift Valley fever spreading to North America. The West Nile virus, which has the same kind of vector, has already arrived here.

ON BIOTECH
Technology and biotechnology can be a saviour, but it’s a challenge because we have a large number of people against genetically modified food. We have to work with social scientists to make sure we have healthy animals for healthy people

ON RESEARCH
Basic research and applied research are two sides of the same coin—the two of them need each other.
We no longer train our biologists in broad biology but rather in narrower molecular biology studies. That’s a mistake.
We biological scientists must get smarter at engaging social science and scientists.

ON VACCINES
Vaccination has saved more lives than all other treatments and prophylactics combined.
The traditional types of vaccines, live or killed, have given way to really interesting new types.
We eradicated smallpox with a vaccine; that research would never be approved today because the vaccine has too many side effects.
What can we do to change perceptions of vaccines and biotechnology?
It costs something in the order of one billion dollars to get a vaccine approved.

ON VACCINES FOR THE DEVELOPING WORLD
The major obstacle in Africa is to get a commercial company to invest in the regulatory component of a vaccine because there isn’t a financial incentive. You can’t sell a livestock vaccine for much more then 50 cents per dose in a developing countries. That’s why we have to work with African or Asian vaccine companies, which can produce vaccines much cheaper than industrial countries can.

Several diseases in the developing world are protozoan and those are, of course, much bigger challenges. But there have been new donors for protozoan vaccine research. We need to convince more donors that this research is needed.

ON THE ANTI-VACCINE LOBBY
I’m an evangelist for vaccination because I think we have lost the battle to the anti-vaccine lobby. In North Amercia there is a huge anti-tech group. They misquote or use data to push their own agenda at the expense of large numbers of lives lost. Look at the article published decades ago about a possible link between vaccination and autism. Despite decades of subsequent research showing no such links, we still haven’t managed to convince a lot of people that vaccines do not cause autism.

How do we encourage the scientific community to stand up and be more vocal about what they know? We have to continue to advocate and demonstrate what we can do using the new technology. We should promise less and deliver more. We have been our own worst enemies. We have to be realists and say what can be done in what time period. That will give us back some credibility.

People go into science because they like doing the science part of it. If they loved the podium, they would have gone into the social sciences. We need to encourage others to do this kind of communication.

ON TEAM DYNAMICS
Any successful researcher has to stimulate the team around him or her and make them all feel part of something big. Getting people excited about working together as a team, providing a vision, and saying how the team can achieve something, that’s what I’m good at. Get people passionate about something and get them to know it’s their idea. I’m a facilitator. I don’t tell people what to do. I create an environment that facilitates what they do. You have to accept different cultures, different ways of doing science. You have to have patience and go with the flow. I learned patience.

ON HIS SUCCESSFUL CAREER
I still get up in the morning and put one leg in my pants and then the other, just like everyone else.

About CIFSRF
Lorne Babiuk manages a grant funded by the Canadian International Food Security Research Fund (CIFSRF), among others. CIFSRF is a CA$124.5-million program of IDRC undertaken with financial support from the Government of Canada. CIFSRF supports applied research partnerships between Canadian and developing-country organizations to find lasting solutions to hunger and food insecurity. It is a core element of Canada’s Food Security Strategy.

For more information, see the IDRC website.

Study finds Vietnam has low awareness of leptospirosis, a bacterial disease commonly transmitted between animals and people

A smallholders pig in Chưng Mỹ, Vietnam

A three-year study by ILRI and partners shows that farmers in Vietnam have low awareness of leptospirosis, a bacterial disease that infects animals (including pigs) and humans (photo credit: ILRI/Andrew Nguyen).

A joint research team consisting of staff from the Vietnamese Department of Animal Health, the Pasteur Institute in Ho Chi Minh City, Nong Lam University and the International Livestock Research Institute (ILRI) recently completed a three-year study of leptospirosis, a bacterial disease passed from animals to humans. The aim of the study was to identify behaviours and conditions in Vietnam that increase the risk of humans and animals contracting this disease.

Results from Tien Giang and Binh Phuoc provinces, where the study was conducted, indicate farmers and small-scale slaughterhouse workers have low awareness of leptospirosis, even though researchers found that the disease was common in the pigs and humans tested.

The study, the findings of which were presented at a workshop in August 2013, was part of a larger project called ‘Ecosystem approaches to the better management of zoonotic emerging infectious diseases in Southeast Asia’, or EcoZD for short, which is coordinated by ILRI and funded by the International Development Research Centre, of Canada.

The EcoZD project used an ‘ecohealth’ approach, which requires bringing scientists from different disciplines and partner organizations to work together on complex health problems. Applying an ‘ecohealth’ framework improves understanding of the web of social, economic and ecological dimensions of infectious diseases and the importance of engaging local actors in preventing and controlling them.

‘Leptospirosis is a disease that has been around for a long time, but it often gets ignored as attention and resources are focused on emerging diseases like avian influenza’, said Mai Van Hiep, the deputy director general of the Department of Animal Health in Vietnam.

Leptospirosis affects animals and humans worldwide. The most common way humans get the disease is through direct exposure to urine from infected animals or from contact with water contaminated with such urine. People living in areas with open sewers, or that regularly flood, or that have poor hygiene are at particular risk. People who work or live with animals are at even greater risk. Animals that commonly acquire and spread leptospirosis include rodents, dogs and livestock.

Leptospirosis stunts the growth of pigs and causes them to abort, leading to economic losses for pig owners and the pork industry as a whole. People who develop the disease also suffer economic losses due to decreased productivity or missed work and the costs of seeking medical treatment.

‘We started by looking at public health records dating back to 2008 but there were no records telling us how common leptospirosis has been in Vietnam, in animals or humans’, said Hiep. ‘We knew that if animal and human health researchers worked side by side to better understand this disease, we would collect relevant data.’

The research team tested more than 360 people and 880 pigs in Tien Giang and Binh Phuoc. In Tien Giang, 29% of pigs and 10% of humans in the sample tested positive for leptospirosis. In Binh Phuoc, 22% of pigs and 20% of humans in the sample tested positive. (A positive test indicated the person or animal had past contact with the causative pathogen.)

Discussions with community members in both provinces revealed that people were unfamiliar with the symptoms of leptospirosis, how it could harm them and their animals and ways they could prevent it.

As yet, no mechanism in Vietnam links disease reporting between animal and human health. This missing link makes it hard for researchers in both sectors to understand how changes in the environment or behaviour may affect leptospirosis and other zoonotic diseases, which are passed between animals and humans.

‘Identification of serovars and serogroups provides us with clues as to which types of animals are transmitting leptospirosis. This information can help authorities to design strategies to control the spread of the disease to humans’, said Cao Thi Bao Van, deputy director of the Pasteur Institute in Ho Chi Minh City.

‘Some simple things reduce the risk of exposure’, said Van. ‘People working with animals should wear protective clothing, like gloves and boots, when cleaning animals and their pens; this reduces the chance of bacteria entering the body through cuts or scratches. The risk of leptospirosis spreading among animals can be reduced by separating them in several pens rather than keeping them altogether in large groups.’

Lucy Lapar, an ILRI agricultural economist based in Hanoi, said research should now be conducted on the economic burden of leptospirosis in Vietnam, which remains largely unknown. ‘We need estimates of the economic burden in terms of harm both to human health and to livestock production so that decision-makers can better prioritize their resources for disease control’, said Lapar. ‘As long as the true burden of leptospirosis remains unknown in Vietnam, we will not know if the country should direct more resources to controlling it.’

For more information about EcoZD, visit www.ilri.org/ecozd

More information about the project is available on the EzoZD wiki.

Experts meet to share tactics in fight against ‘goat plague’: Filmed highlights

 

Watch this short (3:50 minutes) film on the views of participants at a recent meeting to coordinate research strategies for a disease of small ruminants known as peste des petits ruminants, or PPR. This second meeting of the Global Peste de Petits Ruminants (PPR) Research Alliance, held 29–30 April 2013 in Nairobi, Kenya, brought together over 60 livestock experts from across the world.

The harm caused by PPR, also known as ‘goat plague’ because it is closely related to ‘cattle plague’, or rinderpest, has been increasing in recent years, especially across Africa and Asia. This infectious viral disease of sheep and goats poses a major threat to the livelihoods of smallholder farmers. The disease is highly contagious, with roughly an 80 per cent mortality rate in acute cases.

‘We’re bringing together the relevant animal health experts so that we can find ways to better coordinate the diverse research on PPR, and determine the fastest and most effective and efficient ways to better control it in different developing-country regions and circumstances’, said Geoff Tooth, the Australian High Commissioner to Kenya.

The meeting was co-hosted by four institutions: the African Union-Interafrican Bureau for Animal Resources (AU-IBAR), the Australian Agency for International Development (AusAID), the Biosciences eastern and central Africa-ILRI Hub (BecA-ILRI Hub) and the International Livestock Research Institute (ILRI).

A current AusAID-funded project being conducted by the BecA-ILRI Hub and Australia’s Commonwealth Scientific, Industrial and Research Organisation (CSIRO) has supported development of a thermostable vaccine that is now being piloted in vaccination campaigns in Sudan and Uganda, with similar work proposed for Ethiopia.

Read more about efforts to develop a pan-African strategy to fight goat plague: http://www.ilri.org/node/1344

New advances in the battle against a major disease threat to cattle and people in Africa

ILRI research on biotechnology to fight a major disease threat to cattle and people in Africa

An 8-month old cloned Boran calf named Tumaini (meaning ‘hope’ in Kiswahili), on the left, is part of a long-term ILRI research project to develop cattle for Africa that are genetically resistant to trypanosomiasis (photo credit: ILRI/Paul Karaimu).

The International Livestock Research Institute (ILRI), a member of the CGIAR Consortium, is a non-profit organization based in Africa. ILRI’s mission is to use the best and safest livestock science available to confront poverty, hunger, and disease in the developing world, where livestock provide livelihoods and food for hundreds of millions of people.

One of ILRI’s most important priorities today is to help poor livestock keepers in Africa deal with the constant threat of a devastating disease called trypanosomiasis. This disease is arguably Africa’s most important livestock disease, wasting and killing cattle, commonly the most important asset of poor households. The human form of the disease is called sleeping sickness, which afflicts tens of thousands of people every year, killing many of them, and putting tens of millions more people at risk.

As part of ILRI’s comprehensive fight against trypanosomiasis, the institute is now in the very early stages of a project to develop disease-resistant cattle, which could save the lives of livestock and people both. Thus far, ILRI and its partners have taken a preliminary step in the process, which involved successfully cloning a male calf from one of East Africa’s most important cattle breeds, the Boran. The calf is healthy and is being raised at ILRI’s research facilities in Kenya.

A next step is to develop a new Boran clone modified with a gene that naturally confers resistance to the disease. This involves using a synthetic copy of a gene sequence originally identified in baboons that should protect cattle against this devastating disease.

A final step will be to use these disease-resistant cattle in breeding schemes that will provide African countries with another option in their fight against trypanosomiasis.

This research potentially offers a reliable, self-sustaining and cost-effective way of protecting tens of millions of African cattle against disease and untimely death, as well as dramatically reducing poverty across Africa. By reducing the reservoir of pathogens, this should also help to save thousands of human lives each year.

It could take up to two decades to develop disease-resistant cattle herds for Africa. ILRI and its partners are also continuing to pursue other options for fighting trypanosomiasis, such as rationale drug treatment and integrated disease control methods.

For ILRI, public safety and animal welfare are paramount; this means working with all the relevant Kenyan and international regulatory authorities to ensure that the highest bio-safety standards are always employed. In line with its commitment to transparency, ILRI places all of its research results in the public domain.

ILRI is working with a team that includes scientists from New York University, along with experts from the Roslin Institute in Scotland, and Michigan State University in the USA. The fundamental research aspects of this project are being funded by the US National Science Foundation.

For further information, see:
ILRI website:
http://www.ilri.org/breadtrypanosome

National Science Foundation:
www.nsf.gov/news/news_summ.jsp?cntn_id=116932

2009 paper published in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences (USA) on original breakthrough in this research project:
http://dx.doi.org/10.1073%2Fpnas.0905669106

Or contact one of the following people:

Jimmy Smith
ILRI Director General
j.smith@cgiar.org

Suzanne Bertrand
ILRI Deputy Director General for Biosciences
s.bertrand@cgiar.org

Steve Kemp
Leader of ILRI’s research on this topic
s.kemp@cgiar.org

About ILRI: better lives through livestock
www.ilri.org
The International Livestock Research Institute (ILRI) works with partners worldwide to enhance the roles that livestock play in food security and poverty alleviation, principally in Africa and Asia. The outcomes of these research partnerships help people in developing countries keep their farm animals alive and productive, increase and sustain their livestock and farm productivity, find profitable markets for their animal products, and reduce the risk of livestock-related diseases. ILRI is a not-for-profit institution with a staff of about 600 and, in 2012, an operating budget of about USD 60 million. A member of the CGIAR Consortium working for a food-secure future, ILRI has its headquarters in Nairobi, Kenya, a principal campus in Addis Ababa, Ethiopia, and offices in other countries in East, West and Southern Africa and in South, Southeast and East Asia.

About CGIAR: working for a food-secure future
www.cgiar.org
CGIAR is a global partnership that unites organizations engaged in research for a food-secure future. It is carried out by 15 centres that are members of the CGIAR Consortium and conducted in close collaboration with hundreds of partner organizations, including national and regional research institutes, civil society organizations, academia and the private sector. The CGIAR’s 8,000 scientists and staff work in the developing world to reduce rural poverty, increase food security, improve human health and nutrition, and ensure more sustainable management of natural resources. With unparalleled research infrastructure and dynamic networks across the globe, and maintaining the world’s most comprehensive collections of genetic resources, CGIAR is the only institution with a clear mandate on science and technology development for the eradication of hunger and poverty at the global level.

Alliance meeting this week to battle global ‘goat plague’

Northern Kenya August 2008

The PPR virus, commonly known as goat plague, swept across southern Ethiopia and northern Kenya in 2008; Mohammed Noor lost 20 goats in the just one week and wondered how he would provide for his family (photo on Flickr by EC/ECHO/Daniel Dickinson).

Assembling for two days this week (29–30 Apr 2013) in Nairobi, Kenya, are members of a global alliance against ‘peste des petits ruminants’, abbreviated as ‘PPR’ and also known as ‘goat plague’ and ‘ovine rinderpest’.

Co-hosting this second meeting of the Global Peste de Petits Ruminants (PPR) Research Alliance (hereafter referred to as GPRA) are the International Livestock Research Institute (ILRI), which is headquartered in Nairobi; the Biosciences eastern and central Africa-iLRI hub (BecA-ILRI Hub), hosted and managed by ILRI; the African Union-Interafrican Bureau for Animal Resources (AU-IBAR), also based in Nairobi; and the Australian Agency for International Development (AusAID).

Among the 70 or so people attending are representatives from the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation (BMGFYi Cao), the Global Alliance for Livestock Veterinary Medicines (GALVMedBapti Dungu), the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEAAdama Diallo), the Pan African Veterinary Vaccine Centre (PANVAC), the Royal Veterinary College of the University of London Vet School (RVC), the United Nations Food and Agriculture Organization (FAOVincent Martin and Robert Allport, among others), the World Organisation for Animal Health (OIEJemi Domenech and Walter Masiga) and a range of national research institutions from developing countries where the disease is endemic.

What’s this alliance all about?
The GPRA is a participant-owned network of researchers and development professionals with an interest in the progressive control of PPR. The GPRA was inaugurated in 2012 at a meeting in London. GPRA aims to provide scientific and technical knowledge towards methods for the detection, control and eradication of PPR that are economically viable, socially practical and environmentally friendly.

Why, and how much, does PPR matter?
Infectious diseases remain the major limitation to livestock production globally and are a particular scourge in the developing world, where most of the world’s livestock are raised. Diseases not only kill farm animals but also cause production losses and hinder access to potentially high-value international livestock markets.

PPR, an infectious viral disease of sheep and goats, poses a major threat to the livelihoods of smallholder farmers in Africa as well as the Middle East and India. The disease is highly contagious, and has roughly an 80 per cent mortality rate in acute cases.

The impacts of PPR, which is closely related to rinderpest in cattle, have been expanding in recent years. At least 15 million sheep and goats are at risk of death from the disease in Kenya alone and the estimated economic impact of current PPR outbreaks—including production losses and disease control costs for Africa—is more than US$147 million per year. A recent outbreak of PPR in the Marakwet and Baringo districts of Kenya destroyed more than 2000 herds, with the disease spreading in days and farmers losing some KShs6 million (about US$70,000)  to the disease over about three months.

PPR is probably the most important killer of small ruminant populations in affected areas and some 65 per cent of the global small ruminant population is at risk from PPR.

Increasing interest in tackling PPR
Over the last several years, international experts and national authorities have both been increasingly prioritizing the progressive control of PPR, with the first phase designed to contribute to the long-term goal of eradication. Donor interest in this research and development area quickly ramped up over the past year. A current AusAID-funded project being conducted under a partnership between the BecA-ILRI Hub and Australia’s Commonwealth Scientific, Industrial and Research Organisation (CSIRO) has supported development of a thermostable vaccine now being piloted in vaccination campaigns in Sudan and Uganda, with similar work proposed for Ethiopia.

Collins Owino, ILRI research technician

Collins Owino, an ILRI research technician working on vaccines and diagnostics in the peste des petits ruminants (PPR) project (photo credit: ILRI/Evelyn Katingi).

Need for coordinated and progressive control of PPR
There is a growing recognition of the need for, and potential benefits of, a coordinated approach to the progressive control of PPR. The disease is now one of the high priorities of AU-IBAR, FAO and OIE, all of which have strong networks and expertise to offer the alliance. The role of the Global PPR Research Alliance as a network of research and development organizations is to develop a coordinated strategy to contribute to the progressive control of PPR.

The Australian Government, together with AU-IBAR and ILRI, is supporting the second meeting of the GPRA to advance with many other stakeholders progressive global control of PPR, particularly through collaborative research. The GPRA supports the sharing of relevant information and results, the establishment of productive working relationships among stakeholders, the establishment of research and development projects of interest to some or all members, and the closer linking of strategic plans of all stakeholders in better control of this disease.

Is progressive eradication of PPR possible?
Wide calls for PPR’s progressive global eradication cite the following factors supporting this goal:

  • The close relationship of PPR/’goat plague’ with the recently eradicated ‘cattle plague’ known as ‘rinderpest’ (rinderpest was only the second infectious disease, and the first veterinary disease, to be eradicated from the globe)
  • The availability of effective vaccines against PPR
  • The development of heat-stable PPR vaccines, following the same procedures that were so effective in developing a heat-stable rinderpest vaccine
  • The opportunity to increase focus on Africa and Asia’s small ruminants, which are of critical importance to the livelihoods of rural smallholder and pastoralist communities in many of the world’s poorest countries
  • The existence of vaccines and diagnostics considered sufficient to initiate the program; the current vaccines (based on the strain Nigeria 75/1) are safe, efficacious and provide life-long immunity.

More about the AusAID-funded PPR project at the BecA-ILRI Hub
The Australian Government via AusAID has funded development at ILRI of thermostable formulations of the PPR vaccine that provide a level of stability in the field as high as that demonstrated in the vaccine used to eradicate rinderpest. The project team has demonstrated that the PPR vaccine can be stored without refrigeration for extended periods of time without significant loss in viability. This is a crucial and significant success. Under the guidance of ILRI senior scientist Jeff Mariner and with the assistance of Australia’s CSIRO and BecA-ILRI Hub staff, the project team have developed strong links with AU-IBAR’s Henry Wamwayi, a senior member of his organization seconded to the PPR project.

ILRI veterinary epidemiologist Jeff Mariner at OIE meeting

ILRI veterinary epidemiologist Jeff Mariner presenting lessons learned from work to eradicate rinderpest at a meeting of the World Animal Health Organisation (OIE) (photo credit: OIE).

Next steps
The project has built on lessons learned from the recent global eradication of rinderpest, which depended on two equally important breakthroughs for its success: development of an effective thermostable vaccine and effective vaccine delivery networks in remote as well as other regions. The next 12 months of the PPR research project will focus on testing the vaccine and delivery strategies in South Sudan and Uganda. Staff will assess in the field just how effective the vaccine is in controlling PPR infections. They’ll also investigate some practical incentives for encouraging livestock owners and livestock service delivery personnel to participation in PPR control programs. And they’ll look into ways to build and enhance public-private community partnerships to deliver the PPR vaccine.

Read more in the ILRI News Blog and science journals about the close connections between the eradication of rinderpest and this new battle against PPR—and the role of ILRI’s Jeff Mariner in development of thermostable vaccines necessary to win the battle against both diseases.

Rinderpest: Scourge of pastoralists defeated, at long last, by pastoralists, 18 Sep 2012.

New analysis in ‘Science’ tells how the world eradicated deadliest cattle plague from the face of the earth, 13 Sep 2012.

Goat plague next target of veterinary authorities now that cattle plague has been eradicated, 4 Jul 2011.

Deadly rinderpest virus today declared eradicated from the earth—’greatest achievement in veterinary medicine’, 28 Jun 2011.

 

 

The spatial ecology of pigs: Where free-range doesn’t come free

IMG_0080

A report on the economic as well as health risks of keeping free-range pigs in western Kenya has been published by scientists in the animal health laboratories at ILRI’s Nairobi, Kenya, campus; here, two of the authors, lead author Lian Thomas (left) and principal investigator Eric Fèvre (right), inspect a household pig in their project site, in Busia, in western Kenya (photo credit: ILRI/Charlie Pye-Smith).

Like your livestock products to come from free-range systems? Consider that a healthy alternative to the factory farming of livestock? Consider the lowly pig, and what serious pathogens it can pick up, and transmit to other animals and people, in the course of its daily outdoor scavenging for food. Consider also the scavenging pig’s coprophagic habits (consumption of faeces) and you may change your mind.

A recent study has brought those habits to light. The study was conducted in an area surrounding Busia town, in western Kenya (Busia lies near Kenya’s western border with Uganda; Lake Victoria lies to the south). The study was conducted by scientists at the International Livestock Research Institute (ILRI) and the University of Edinburgh to better understand the transmission of several pathogenic organisms. This is the first study to investigate the ecology of domestic pigs kept under a free-range system, utilizing GPS technology.

Most people in Busia farm for a living, raising livestock and growing maize and other staple food crops on small plots of land (the average farm size here is 0.5 ha). More than 66,000 pigs are estimated to be kept within a 45-km radius of Busia town.

ILRI's Lian Thomas with pig in western Kenya

ILRI’s Lian Thomas with a household pig in western Kenya (photo credit: ILRI/Charlie Pye-Smith).

A GPS collar was put on 10 pigs, each nearly 7 months old, that were recruited for this study. A handheld GPS unit was used to obtain the coordinates of the homesteads to which the selected pigs belonged; the perimeters of the homesteads and their main features, including human dwellings, cooking points, rubbish disposal areas and latrines, were all mapped. The pig collars recorded the coordinates of the pigs every 3 minutes during the course of one week.

All the 10 pigs were kept under free-range conditions, but also regularly fed supplementary crop and (mostly raw) household waste. All the pigs recruited were found to be infected with at least one parasite, with most in addition also having gastrointestinal parasites, and all carried ticks and head lice.

The pigs, which scavenge both day and night, were found to spend almost half their time outside the homestead, travelling an average of more than 4 km in a 12-hour period (both day and night), with a mean home range of 10,343 square meters. One implication of this is that a community approach to better controlling infectious diseases in pigs will be better suited to this farming area than an approach that targets individual household families.

Three of the ten pigs were found to be infected with Taenia solium, a pig tapeworm whose larva when ingested by humans in undercooked pork causes the human disease known as cysticercosis, which can cause seizures, epilepsy and other disorders, and can be fatal if not treated. T solium infection in pigs is acquired by their ingestion of infective eggs in human faecal material, which is commonly found in the pigs environments in rural parts of Africa as well as Mexico, South America and other developing regions.

This study found no correlation between the time a pig spent interacting with a latrine at its homestead and the T solium status of the pig. The paper’s authors conclude that ‘the presence or absence of a latrine in an individual homestead is of less relevance to parasite transmission than overall provision of sanitation for the wider community in which the pig roams’. With a quarter of the homesteads in the study area having no access to a latrine, forcing people to engage in open defecation, and with less than a third of the latrines properly enclosed, there are plenty of opportunties for scavenging pigs to find human faeces.

IMG_0131

A typical household scavenging pig and pit latrine in the project site in Busia, Kenya (photo credit: ILRI/Charlie Pye-Smith).

Improved husbandry practices, including the use of effective anthelmintics at correct dosages, would enhance pig health and production in this study area.

One of the interesting findings of the study is that all this pig roaming is likely to be helping to reduce the weight of the pigs at slaughter. Mean live weights at the abattoir in the Busia area are 30 kg, giving a dressed weight of only 22.5 kg and earning the farmer only KShs.2000–2500 (USD24–29) per animal.

Encouraging the confinement of pigs is likely to improve feed conversion and weight gain, by both reducing un-necessary energy expenditure as well as limiting parasite burden through environmental exposure.

‘Confinement of pigs would also reduce the risk of contact with other domestic or wild pigs: pig to pig contact is a driver of African swine fever (ASF) virus transmission. ASF regularly causes outbreaks in this region . . . . Confining pigs within correctly constructed pig stys would also reduce the chances of contact between pigs and tsetse flies.’ That matters because this western part of Kenya is a trypanosomiasis-endemic area and pigs are known to be important hosts and reservoirs of protozoan parasites that cause both human sleeping sickness, which eventually is fatal for all those who don’t get treatment, and African animal trypanosomiasis, a wasting disease of cattle and other livestock that is arguably Africa’s most devastating livestock disease.

In addition, both trichinellosis (caused by eating undercooked pork infected by the larva of a roundworm) and toxoplasmosis (caused by a protozoan pathogen through ingestion of cat faeces or undercooked meat) are ‘very real threats to these free-ranging pigs, with access to kitchen waste, in particular meat products, being a risk factor for infection. Such swill is also implicated in ASF transmission’.

While confining pigs would clearly be advantageous for all of these reasons, the practice of free range will likely be hard to displace, not least because this low-input system is within the scarce means of this region’s severely resource-poor farmers. Local extension services, therefore, will be wise to use carrots as well as sticks to persuade farmers to start ‘zero-scavenging’ pig husbandry, Fortunately, as this study indicates, they can do this by demonstrating to farmers the economic as well as health benefits they will accrue by penning, and pen-feeding, their free-ranging pigs.

Scavenging pigs in Busia, western Kenay

Scavenging pigs in Busia, western Kenya (photo credit: ILRI/Charlie Pye-Smith).

Project funders
This research was supported by the Wellcome Trust, BBSRC (Biotechnology and Biological Sciences Research Council) and MRC (Medical Research Council), all of Great Britain. It is also an output of a component of the CGIAR Research Program on Agriculture for Nutrition and Health investigating Agriculture-Associated Diseases.

Read the whole paper
The spatial ecology of free-ranging domestic pigs (Sus scrofa) in western Kenya, by Lian Thomas, William de Glanville, Elizabeth Cook and Eric Fèvre, BMC Veterinary Research 2013, 9:46. doi: 10.1186/1746-6148-9-46

Article URL
http://www.biomedcentral.com/1746-6148/9/47  The publication date of this article is 7 Mar 2013; you will find here a provisional PDF; fully formatted PDF and full text (HTML) versions of the paper will be available soon.

About the project
Begun in 2009 and funded by the Wellcome Trust, with other support from ILRI, this project has studied neglected zoonotic diseases and their epidemiology to raise levels of health in poor rural communities. The project, People, Animals and their Zoonoses (PAZ), is based in western Kenya’s Busia District and is led by Eric Fèvre, who is on joint appointment at ILRI and the University of Edinburgh. More information can be found at the University of Edinburgh’s Zoonotic and Emerging Diseases webpage or on ILRI’s PAZ project blog site.

The May 2010 issue of the Veterinary Record gives an excellent account of this ambitious human-animal health project: One medicine: Focusing on neglected zoonoses.

Related stories on ILRI’s AgHealth, Clippings and News blogs
Tracking of free range domestic pigs in western Kenya provides new insights into dynamics of disease transmission, 22 Mar 2013.
Aliens in human brains: Pig tapeworm is an alarming, and important, human disease worldwide, 23 May 2012.
Forestalling the next plague: Building a first picture of all diseases afflicting people and animals in Africa, 11 Apr 2011. This blog describes an episode about this project broadcast by the Australian science television program ‘Catalyst’; you can download the episode here: ABC website (click open the year ‘2011’ and scroll down to click on the link to ‘Episode 4’; the story starts at 00.18.25).
Edinburgh-Wellcome-ILRI project addresses neglected zoonotic diseases in western Kenya, 28 Jul 2010.

Boosting pig production among India’s poor: Tata-ILRI research partnership helps farmers beat classical swine fever

ILRI pig production project in Nagaland

A pig farmer in Nagaland, India. A Tata-ILRI partnership is helping Indian farmers beat classical swine fever to boost pig production (photo credit: ILRI/Ram Deka).

A program that is supporting rural Indian farmers improve their livelihoods by helping them to raise pigs more efficiently is the highlight of a new annual report by a project coordinated by the International Livestock Research Institute (ILRI).

The project, ‘Enhancing livelihoods through livestock knowledge systems’, is a partnership between the Sir Ratan Tata Trust, the Navajbai Ratan Tata Trust and ILRI that was started in 2011. The pig farming component of the project is being implemented in four Indian states: Jharkhand, Arunachal, Mizoram and Nagaland.

‘We support animal breeding, feeding, housing, health care and marketing through appropriate institutions,’ said V Padmakumar, the project’s coordinator from ILRI, who is based in ILRI’s Hyderabad office.

Nearly 80 per cent of the households in the four states rear pigs in smallholder systems, with each household rearing up to three pigs. Pork meets a significant part of the dietary protein needs of these communities.

‘Pig farmers in these remote areas not only have difficulty accessing markets due to poor roads but also have little knowledge on how they can improve their feeds and feeding systems to speed and increase their pig production,’ says Padmakumar. ‘Veterinary services are also scarce,’ he said.

One of the project’s key successes has been to raise attention of the need to improve veterinary services to deal with classical swine fever, a highly contagious and potentially fatal viral disease of pigs.

The project carried out a survey in 2011 that revealed that smallholder farmers in Assam, Mizoram and Nagaland lose, each year, nearly USD40 million in incomes due to the costs of treating and replacing pigs lost to classical swine fever.

Targeted advocacy by the project has increased government attention to the burden of this disease on the country’s smallholders. As a result, there now exists a nationwide swine fever control program that is prioritizing interventions against the disease in Assam, Mizoram and Nagaland. The project has also managed to raise awareness of control options available for controlling classical swine fever; the government is now supporting increased in-country production of vaccines that will protect pig populations against the disease.

Read the ‘Tata-ILRI Partnership Program’ annual report.

Download the project policy brief.

Animal-to-human diseases: From panic to planning–new recommendations for policymakers

Greatest Burden of Zoonoses Falls on One Billion Poor Livestock Keepers

Map by ILRI, published in an ILRI report to the UK Department for International Development (DFID): Mapping of Poverty and Likely Zoonoses Hotspots, 2012.

The UK’s Institute for Development Studies (IDS) has published a 4-page Rapid Response Briefing titled ’Zoonoses: From panic to planning’.

Veterinary epidemiologist Delia Grace, who is based at the International Livestock Research Institute (ILRI), along with other members of a Dynamic Drivers of Disease in Africa Consortium, based at the STEPS Centre at IDS, c0-authored the document.

The briefing recommends that policymakers take a ‘One-Health’ approach to managing zoonotic diseases.

‘Over two thirds of all human infectious diseases have their origins in animals. The rate at which these zoonotic diseases have appeared in people has increased over the past 40 years, with at least 43 newly identified outbreaks since 2004. In 2012, outbreaks included Ebola in Uganda . . . , yellow fever in the Democratic Republic of Congo and Rift Valley fever (RVF) in Mauritania.

‘Zoonotic diseases have a huge impact – and a disproportionate one on the poorest people in the poorest countries. In low-income countries, 20% of human sickness and death is due to zoonoses. Poor people suffer further when development implications are not factored into disease planning and response strategies.

‘A new, integrated “One Health” approach to zoonoses that moves away from top-down disease-focused intervention is urgently needed. With this, we can put people first by factoring development implications into disease preparation and response strategies – and so move from panic to planning.

Read the Rapid Response Briefing: Zoonoses: From panic to planning, published Jan 2013 by the Dynamic Drivers of Disease in Africa Consortium and funded by the UK Department for International Development (DFID).

About the Dynamic Drivers of Disease in Africa
The Dynamic Drivers of Disease in Africa is a consortium of 30 researchers from 19 institutions in Africa, Europe and America. It conducts a major program to advance understanding of the connections between disease and environment in Africa. Its focus is animal-to-human disease transmission and its objective is to help move people out of poverty and promote social justice.

Over the past few decades, more than 60 per cent of emerging infectious diseases affecting humans have had their origin in wildlife or livestock. As well as presenting a threat of global disease outbreak, these zoonotic diseases are quietly devastating lives and livelihoods. At present, zoonoses are poorly understood and under-measured — and therefore under-prioritized in national and international health systems. There is great need for evidence and knowledge to inform effective, integrated One Health approaches to disease control. This Consortium is working to provide this evidence and knowledge.

Natural and social scientists in the Consortium are working to provide this evidence and knowledge for four zoonotic diseases, each affected in different ways by ecosystem changes and having different impacts on people’s health, wellbeing and livelihoods:

  • Henipavirus infection in Ghana
  • Rift Valley fever in Kenya
  • Lassa fever in Sierra Leone
  • Trypanosomiasis in Zambia and Zimbabwe

Of the 30 scientists working in the consortium, 4 are from ILRI: In addition to Delia Grace, these include Bernard Bett, a Kenyan veterinary epidemiologist with research interests in the transmission patterns of infectious diseases as well as the technical effectiveness of disease control measures; Steve Kemp, a British molecular geneticist particularly interested in the mechanisms of innate resistance to disease in livestock and mouse models, and Tom Randolph, an American agricultural economist whose research interests have included animal and human health issues and assessments of the impacts of disease control programs.

Delia Grace leads a program on Prevention and Control of Agriculture-associated Diseases, which is one of four components of a CGIAR Research Program on Agriculture for Nutrition and Health. Tom Randolph directs the CGIAR Research Program on Livestock and Fish. Steve Kemp is acting director of ILRI’s Biotechnology Theme.

 

 

Cows in the cloud: Kenyans are registering their cows, and increasing their milk yields, on their mobile phones

Su Kahumbu

Award-winning Kenyan agricultural entrepreneur Su Kahumbu (photo on Flickr by afromusing).

On Tue, 11 Dec 2012, Kenyan social entrepreneur Su Kahumbu gave ILRI’s fourth ‘livestock live talk’ seminar, titled ‘Livestock and mobile technology’, at the International Livestock Research Institute (ILRI), in Nairobi, Kenya.

Kahumbu founded Green Dreams Ltd and Green Dreams Tech Ltd companies, which are focused on creating solutions for small-scale organic farmers in Africa. She has 14 years experience across the whole of the organic value chains in Kenya, from production to consumption and policy to advocacy. Kahumbu is a TED Fellow and is spreading her passion through the TED network; her ambition is to help ‘Build a better Africa from the ground up’.

Kahumbu is also the creator of an Apps4Africa Award-winning app known as iCow, a mobile application officially launched in June 2011 that she developed to help small-scale dairy farmers track their cow’s fertility cycle. It prompts  farmers on vital days of cow gestation period, helps  farmers find the nearest vet and all service providers, collects and stores farmer milk and breeding records, and sends farmers best dairy practices.

A mother of three, Kahumbu started her presentation by confessing to her largely scientific audience that she knew little cows when she started and know little about technology . “What I feel I do know about is what smallholder farmers need to help them mitigate the big risks of farming. My presentation will take you through the development of iCow.

What keeps her up at night
‘There are a few things that keep me up at night. One billion people on the planet suffering from malnutrition. And climbing. Largely due to unsustainable agriculture and ecological practices. . . . We do produce enough food for the planet, but we only consume half of what we produce. Millions of tonnes are lost in post-harvest, transport, processing and retail.

‘That’s worrying. More worrying is that more than one in four Africans—218 million people—on this continent are suffering from undernourishment.

‘The current solutions I feel that we’ve been delivering to small-scale farmers and to farmers in general have been at the expense of our ecosystem and is resulting in dependence on very heavy, expensive inputs: fertilizers, adapted and modified seeds that generally the farmers cannot afford.

‘In working with farmers over the last few years, I’ve seen this continual vicious cycle, with farmers being pushed to adopt new technologies, and to spend more, and to get money from banks. And I don’t see this as sustainable, especially when the core problem is that we’re not focusing on the fertility of our soils.

‘On top of that, who is it that we call a farmer? Farmers in industrialized countries are mechanized, industiralized, subsidized, compared to farmers here who are, literally, unsupported, yet, in our case in Kenya, supply 80% of the national food. It’s quite shocking.

‘Farmers risks [here] are enormous. If I were to say to you, “Let’s all of us get out there and go get a job where we’re going to have weather on our doorsteps, poor storage, poor infrastructure, high inputs”, how many of us would actually say “That’s great, let’s go do it”? Yet we depend on these same smallholder farmers to feed us.

Going forward, one of the things I think we really need to focus on is what I’m largely doing with iCow, and that is focusing on reducing the risks of the smallholder farmer. . . .

It became quite evident that what farmers needed was knowledge, markets and finance. . . .

Mobiles in Kenya: A ‘huge, huge, huge opportunity’
‘We have today 80% mobile phone penetration across the country, with 100% penetration among 20 to 29 year olds. On the African continent, we have 700 million mobile phones. That is a huge, huge, huge opportunity to get information out to farmers.

‘And that leads me to iCow. iCow is an agricultural information platform accessed primarily via mobile phones, although we do do some stuff on the web. You don’t have to have a smart phone. We started out using sms [short message service]. The objectives were to increase farmer productivity through increased knowledge.

The iCow ‘pipe’
‘I describe iCow as a pipe, with one end the farmers. . . . Farmers register their cow on the date the animal is served and we start to push sms’s to them along the gestation period of that animal, reminding the farmer when she’ll come into heat again. We continue to drip-feed information on best practices right up until the animal gives birth. If it’s a lactating animal, when tell them when and how to dry the cow off without it getting mastitis, etc.

‘To get a vet or AI, farmers simply send the word “vet” or “AI” plus the short code—the short code is 50-24—over one of the three largest networks in the country. When they send the word “vet”; they get a response asking them where they’re located, and they receive the telephone numbers and the names of the vets in their locality. Same with AI. This service is offered 24/7.  The system is automated so they can receive the information whenever they like. Both these features are quite popular.

‘As we took the product to market, we had to build in a customer care centre . . . . We found that many farmers knowing that there is a voice at the end of the system helps them adopt new technologies.

‘As we started to roll out the platform, on 3 June 2011, . . . we had to build another feature quite quickly, and that is what we call Mashauri. That is where farmers register to receive three sms messages a week, at this point in time across the value proposition of the cow. And so they get information on feeding, on vaccinations, on calf care, etc. But they don’t have to have registered their cow.

‘Soon after that, farmers started saying “I want to buy a cow”, “Where do I get  a heifer calf”. Or “I want to buy a dairy goat”. So we built a marketplace [called Soko]. Very, very easy. Just like Craig’sList [an online classified ad service in many cities and countries throughout the world], but on a mobile phone [rather than the internet]. Through a series of steps, a farmer posts what it is he wants to sell, and through a series a steps whoever is looking for that will simply get his telephone number. So if you’re selling a Toggenburg goat, you will put in “Toggenburg goat” and farmers looking for Toggenburg goats will get your number. . . .

‘As our database started to grow—today our database is 42,000 farmers—we put on a feature called Sauti. Again, farmers register for it, and if anything critical comes up, we can send them that information on their authority. . . .

‘And then Videos. An sms is only 160 characters long; you cannot put too much information in an sms. So we’ve put up 2-3-minute videos on our website and we’ve shown farmers who are registered what to do when they get to the nearest cybercafe; we send them short links where they’ll find short videos about  the information they’re looking for. . . .

TEDx Nairobi 2010: Su Kahumbu

Su Kahumbu is a TEDX Fellow (picture on Flickr by Wa-J, Joshua Wanyama).

Both ends of the iCow pipe are working
‘What we found was that as we were dealing with farmers, other people started getting interested—the other end of the pipe—the NGOs, government, practitioners on the ground, etc. We started getting requests from them to help reach farmers, in some cases just to do surveys, so that they could see very quickly how their programs were impacting on the ground. So both ends of the pipe are now actually working.

Virtual vets
‘We also found that sometimes farmers were requesting things from us that we couldn’t answer. And they weren’t very happy about the vets on the ground. So we thought, “What can we do about that?”. So we started looking at using vets in the virtual sense.

‘We formed a very simple system using Google Docs. We upload any question that we can’t deal with or that the farmer didn’t get an answer to on the ground to a few vets, and the vets send the messages among themselves and come up with the best answer that they send to us, that we then forward to the farmer.

‘It’s really interesting because we have vets in Uganda answering questions from farmers in Kenya. And we’ve had requests from Senegal, where they had only four vets on the ground, asking whether they can use the same system.

‘Long-term, it makes it very interesting how expertise and skills using the cloud can actually network and reach out across borders quite easily, if it is planned right and there is political support.

iCow snapshot

  • 42,000 farmers in the iCow database.
  • iCow is becoming an educational tool.
  • Profile of iCow farmer: 1–2 acres land, 2–3 cows, 20% women.
  • After 7 months, iCow farmers are getting 2–3 extra litres of milk per cow per day.
  • Other gains:
    Reduced calf mortality
    Fee conservation
    Fodder production
    Reduced veterinary costs
    Healthier animals

Amazing maize story
‘An interesting thing happened on April 10th, when the first information started coming out about maize disease in the country. Farmers were up in arms—they weren’t getting any responses from government. They wanted to know “What is the solution? What can we do?” Government was being quite, everybody was being quiet, because nobody knew what to do.

‘But we heard from some farmers on Facebook that one of the seed multiplication centres of KARI [the Kenya Agricultural Research Institute] had some good-quality disease-free seed. So we took that information, put it on our system and sent it to 11,000 farmers, using iCow. And literally, within minutes, the phone in that centre was ringing off the hook and farmers started to buy the seed using MPESA [Kenyan mobile phone financial service] and having it sent by matatu [Kenyan taxi]. Within three days, there was no seed left in that centre.

‘We called KARI and asked “What was the reaction?”. They said, “How did that happen? We now have to bulk up three times as much seed as we thought we needed. They expected to sell the seed over a six-month period and they sold it, literally, within days. So again, using technology to make those links, make those connections work. It was 6 weeks later that the seed problem hit the headlines in Kenya. I was so happy that at least we could do something that much earlier for farmers.

East Coast fever vaccine: 99% of Kenyan farmers want it
‘Many of you know, especially here in ILRI, that the ECF [East Coast fever] vaccination has just been launched  in Kitale. We worked with GALVmed to do a survey using iCow to find out what farmers felt about the vaccination. And 99% of those surveyed said they want the vaccination and said “When can we have it? Let us know straight away.”

‘We were invited to the launch and I’m happy to say that this is going to be a huge thing for the farmers in Africa. This is an awful disease killing up to 1.1. million livestock a year on the continent.

‘That brings me to the end of my presentation.

What iCow is doing, I believe, is turning our farmers, our survivors, our people on the land, whatever you want to call them, into knowledgable farmers. We currently have farmers in 42 different counties; we have 42,000 farmers in our database using different features of the platform.

Thank you.’

Watch and listen to this Part 1 of ILRI’s ‘livestock live talk’ seminar here: http://www.ilri.org/livestream. Part 2 of this talk, in which Kahumbu tells us more about herself and answer questions, will be posted here soon.

Or view her slide presentation here: Livestock and mobile technology, presentation by Su Kahumbu at ILRI on 11 Dec 2012.

You can contact Su Kahumbu at su [at] greendreams.co.ke

 


 

Livestock live talks’ is a seminar series at ILRI that aims to address livestock-related issues, mobilize external as well as in-house expertise and audiences and engage the livestock community around interdisciplinary conversations that ask hard questions and seek to refine current research concepts and practices.

All ILRI staff, partners and donors, and interested outsiders are invited. Those non-staff who would want to come, please contact Angeline Nekesa at a.nekesa[at]cgiar.org (or via ILRI switchboard 020 422 3000) to let her know. If you would like to give one of these seminars, or have someone you would like to recommend, please contact Silvia Silvestri at s.silvestri[at]cgiar.org (or via ILRI switchboard 020 422 3000).

New vaccine launched today to protect Kenyan cattle against East Coast fever

Mrs Kivuti and Cow

Mrs Kivuti and her dairy cow in Kenya (on Flickr by Jeff Haskins).

Today is a red-letter day for livestock keepers in Kenya. A vaccine is being launched by the  Kenya Department of Veterinary Services that will help Kenyan farmers protect their dairy and other cattle against East Cost fever. The launch is being held in Kenya’s Kitale town.

For four decades, the Nairobi-based International Livestock Research Institute (ILRI) and its predecessor (the International Laboratory for Research on Animal Diseases, ILRAD) have conducted research on the lethal tick-borne cattle disease known as East Coast fever. ILRI’s work has focused on developing a new-generation ‘subunit’ vaccine, comprising molecular components of the causative parasite, while also developing molecular tools to enhance the quality of an infection-and-treatment (ITM) immunization method, consisting of whole live parasites.

The ITM vaccine was developed first by the former East African Veterinary Research Organisation, at Muguga, Kenya, between 1967 and 1977, now known as the Veterinary Research Centre, which is part of the Kenya Agricultural Research Institute (KARI) and which has continued to refine the vaccine.

ILRI produced the first commercial batch of the ITM vaccine in the late 1990s, at the request of the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations. A decade later, on request from regional stakeholders, ILRI produced a second batch, which is now being used in East Africa. ILRI and KARI also supported Kenya’s Director of Veterinary Services (DVS) in his department’s successful trials that have confirmed the safety and effectiveness of the ITM vaccine, thus making way for the launch of its national distribution today.

Two ILRI scientists, Phil Toye and Henry Kiara, that have been involved in this research for many years are attending the launch. They say that East Coast fever continues to cause major economic and social losses to families in eastern, central and southern Africa.

Of the 46 million cattle in this region almost half are at risk from this disease, say Toye and Kiara.

‘ILRI’s work has focused on better understanding of the biology of the parasite that causes the disease and the host immune responses to infection. While the ITM vaccine was developed in the early 1970s at Muguga, Kenya, the vaccine was not readily taken up due to inadequate understanding of the biology and epidemiology of the diseases at the time.’

Scientists in KARI and ILRI continued to refine the technology to the point where it was deemed safe and effective to distribute the vaccine on a commercial basis to farmers. ILRI will continue working with Directors of Veterinary Services in the region to address any research questions that may arise as we continue to use this technology.

It gives me great pleasure today to congratulate the Kenya Department of Veterinary Services on this great occasion of the launch of the East Coast fever vaccine. ILRI is proud to have played a role in this and will continue to offer any research support needed to keep Kenya’s cattle safe from this deadly disease.—Phil Toye