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.

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

 

ILRI scientist Simon Graham wins international ‘Promising Young Scientist’ award

Young scientist receives prestigious award at the Consultative Group on International Agricultural Research (CGIAR)'s annual general meeting.


Simon Graham Award

Simon receives his awardSimon Graham, a veterinary immunologist at the Nairobi-based International Livestock Research Institute (ILRI), was bestowed the ‘Promising Young Scientist Award’ by the Consultative Group on International Agricultural Research (CGIAR) on 7 December 2005 by Ian Johnson, CGIAR Chairman and World Bank Vice President for Sustainable Development. This prestigious award was presented at the annual general meeting of the CGIAR, held in Marrakech, Morocco.

The award went to 33-year-old Graham for his research leading to the development of a sensitive and robust system for screening molecules that cause East Coast fever (ECF), a fatal disease of cattle in sub-Saharan Africa. Graham’s research, based at ILRI’s Nairobi laboratories, may also contribute to ongoing efforts to control tropical theileriosis, a cattle disease which puts 250 million cattle around the world at risk.

Simon Graham Dec 2005 During his first post-doctoral position at the Centre for Tropical Veterinary Medicine, Edinburgh, UK, in 1998, he developed an improved rapid screening and production of vaccines against the protozoan parasite Theileria annulata, which is responsible for tropical theileriosis.

In 2000, Graham joined a large multidisciplinary research team at ILRI whose goal is to develop a ‘subunit’ Simon At Workvaccine against the related protozoan parasite Theileria parva. (Subunit vaccines are based on molecular bits of parasites rather than whole parasites.) T. parva causes East Coast fever (ECF), which costs 11 countries of eastern, central and southern Africa US$300 million a year. ECF puts 28 million cattle at risk and annually kills 1 million animals, 90 percent of which are kept by poor dairy farmers and herders. There is a high demand from poor livestock owners for a cheap, effective, safe and easy-to-deliver subunit vaccine against this devastating disease of cattle.

Simon Graham and his ILRI team are working in collaboration with several centres of excellence, including the veterinary pharmaceutical giant Merial and a leading human vaccine research group at the University of Oxford, UK, to evaluate the ability of these molecules to protect cattle against ECF. Initial results are encouraging—there appears to be a significant association between an animal’s induction of killer T-cell responses and its levels of protection against development of disease. Graham’s results have within a short space of time had a major impact in moving the research close to its ultimate goal of producing a vaccine that will sustainably control not only ECF but also tropical theileriosis. The vaccine candidates identified by Graham have been filed with the US Patent & Trademark Office and the research is now being prepared for publication in the prestigious journal Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences (PNAS).

Research breakthrough against cattle killer

Innovation, capacity building and partnerships to combat a deadly African cattle disease are in the news. This month, ILRI's East Coast fever research is featured in two top journals – Science and the Journal of International Development. On 1 July 2005, America's leading scientific journal Science reported on the genome sequencing of a deadly parasite, Theileria parva, which causes East Coast fever (ECF), an infectious tick-borne disease that kills two cows every minute in Africa. This ground-breaking research was led by scientists at the International Livestock Research Institute (ILRI) in Nairobi Kenya, and The Institute for Genomic Research (TIGR), based in the USA. In addition to advancing research into parasitic livestock diseases, this research will also be valuable to scientists studying human malaria and cancers. TIGR/ILRI News Release ILRI News Backgrounder The ECF project is also of great interest to international development practitioners and policymakers. An article published in the July edition of the Journal of International Development by James Smith of Edinburgh University uses the ECF project as a case study example of how institutional research and development is changing. The old model 'technology-led' projects, often criticised for failing to deliver effective and affordable products downstream, is being replaced with  new model partnerships that have innovation and capacity building built in and that aim to deliver demand-led products of benefit to the poor in developing countries. Smith describes the ECF project as 'a potentially new model of… research and development partnership' which is an example of “a more ‘complete’ approach to innovation”. The ECF project has many partners and a very clear product focus. The project builds capacity in new ways, as those involved are forced to break out of their traditional boundaries. Scientists who were interviewed felt the project was encouraging them to think in new ways – like farmers and like businesspeople. There are many examples of 'good' technologies still sitting on shelves because scientists failed to consider the needs and circumstances of the end users of the technologies, such as whether the product would be accessible and affordable to farmers. International development professionals and donors are becoming increasingly focused on capacity building, partnerships, innovation systems and, ultimately, the delivery of tangible results, including products, as integral parts of R&D activity. There is a shift away from projects that could be described as 'research for the sake of research' to demand-led research, operated by many partners as a collaborating network that accomplishes a specific goal. John McDermott, ILRI’s Deputy Director General – Research said: 'The ECF Project illustrates ILRI’s new modus operandi, which generates innovation through strategic partnerships. Each partner is doing what they are best at – with the shared goal of delivering an effective and affordable vaccine for East Coast fever that will ultimately benefit millions of small-scale farmers in Africa.' There are lessons to be learned and the ECF project experience looks likely to be scrutinised further to gain more insights into new ways of doing R&D for greater benefits to the world's poor. Smith concludes: 'The East Coast fever vaccine project does appear to offer a new approach to prioritizing research and design, building capacity, and eventually producing an efficacious product. It does appear, however, that the positive spin-offs from the approach may not have been pre-planned but that the approach was shaped by a combination of the contingencies of vaccine production and the realities of institutional R&D in Kenya. The trick will be to identify exactly what makes this approach successful…'.