Building capacity for better conservation and use of Africa’s animal genetic resources: Burkina Faso workshop

Jeremy Ouedraogo, Minister of Livestock and Fisheries, Burkina Faso

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

By Diana Brandes-van Dorresteijn

Jeremy Ouedraogo, Minister of Livestock and Fisheries in Burkina Faso, attended a Regional Capacity Development Workshop in Animal Genetic Resources in Sub-Saharan Africa, held in the capital of Ouagadougou, 4 to 6 November, 2013.

Sub-Saharan Africa has only a handful of qualified livestock breeders and geneticists. Regional collaboration among scientists and institutions in this area provides rare opportunities to exchange information, pull together resources, network with other professionals, and partner strategic organizations.

Addressing more than 75 representatives from 22 sub-Saharan countries before meeting with the UN Secretary General Ban-Ki-Moon on 6 November, Minister Ouedraogo highlighted the need for regional cooperation among individuals and institutions given the region’s scarcity of qualified livestock breeders. He pointed out the urgent need for more appropriate breeding strategies and schemes that will ease access by poor farmers herding livestock in harsh environments to superior livestock germplasm. He thanked ILRI and its partners for supporting Africa’s Global Action Plan on Animal Genetic Resources, which was endorsed by African governments in 2007.

The minister referred to collaboration between ILRI and partners that has effectively built investments, programs and capacity in this area. Best practices must be captured for replication and scaling up, he said. While research should benefit local communities, he said, the scale of the impacts of research depend largely on whether national policies, national budget allocations and national development plans reflect the importance of better use of native livestock resources and allocate funds for developing national capacity in this area.

The minister encouraged the workshop participants to engage actively with those developing a second State of the World’s Animal Genetic Resources report, due to be published by the United Nations Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) in 2014.

APM 2013: How can we unlock the genetic potentials of local livestock breeds?

The workshop was organized by the International Livestock Research Institute (ILRI) and the Swedish University of Agricultural Sciences (SLU). In partnership with FAO, the African Union–Interafrican Bureau for Animal Resources (AU-IBAR) and the Tertiary Education for Agriculture Mechanism for Africa (TEAM-Africa), ILRI and SLU are holding regional back-to-back workshops this November in Burkina Faso, Rwanda and Botswana. The purpose is to strengthen regional platforms boosting knowledge exchange, collaboration and capacity in improved conservation and use of Africa’s animal genetic resources.

CGIAR and ILRI have worked together with SLU for a decade to develop capacity in animal genetic resources work. Groups of selected ‘champions’ of this work have been given training in their home institutions by the ILRI/SLU project to advance animal genetic resources teaching in higher education and research work within and outside the university.

Abdou Fall

Abdou Fall, ILRI representative for Burkina Faso and West Africa (photo credit: ILRI/Susan MacMillan)

In an opening address to the workshop, Abdou Fall, ILRI’s country and West Africa’s regional representative, commended the strong representation from 22 countries in the region: from Senegal to Congo and from Benin to Ivory Coast, Guinea Bissau and Niger.

This geographic breadth’, Fall said, ‘should help provoke dynamic discussions on better and more sustainable use of Africa’s livestock breeds and genes and the capacity development programs that underpin this.

Training has long been a central element in the capacity development approaches ILRI and SLU have taken to strengthen Africa’s use of animal genetic resources; indeed, for many partners and donor organizations, Fall said, this training has been a hallmark of the project’s achievements over the past decade. But Fall highlighted that capacity development work in CGIAR/ILRI goes beyond training and transferring knowledge and skills to individuals, and now embraces work effecting change in organizations, institutions, cultures and sectors.

Fall said capacity development activities can serve sustainable use and appropriate management of the continent’s diminishing livestock genetic resources only if they are embedded within broader policies, strategies and frameworks. ILRI takes a systems approach to capacity development, he said, which addresses up front institutional and organizational shortcomings and regulatory and cultural barriers to sustainable development.

Progress in this kind of capacity development work is measured at the following three levels:
Environment: The policies, rules, legislation, regulations, power relations and social norms that help bring about an enabling or disabling environment for sustainable development;
Organization: The internal policies, arrangements, procedures and frameworks that enable or disable an organization to deliver on its mandate and individuals to work together to achieve common goals
Individual: The skills, experience, knowledge and motivation of people.

Taking such a systems perspective, Fall explained, requires finding the right balance between, on the one hand, responding to expressed demand for agricultural research-based knowledge and interventions, and, on the other, jumping on emerging opportunities and innovations with potential for accelerating agricultural development.

This workshop should help AU-IBAR increase its animal genetics work through a 5-year project funded by the European Union and through strengthened collaboration with FAO in this area. Outcomes of the 4-day Burkina Faso workshop — including lessons learned from the past, a prioritized list of new topics/problems for new MSc and PhD students to take on, a list of key messages, and action plans for animal genetic resources work in Western Africa — will help lay the foundations of the West African Platform on Animal Genetic Resources.

More information on ILRI’s contribution to capacity development for animal genetic resource work can be found here: http://mahider.ilri.org/handle/10568/16393 and here http://agtr.ilri.cgiar.org

About ILRI
ILRI is one of 15 CGIAR research centres and 16 multi-centre research programs located around the world and dedicated to reducing poverty and improving food security, health and nutrition, and natural resource management. Like other CGIAR centres, ILRI leads, co-leads or supports cutting-edge research on sustainable agriculture and designs, conducts and monitors in-country research-for-development programs and projects with the aim of producing international public goods at scales that make significant difference in the lives of the world’s poorest populations. ILRI does this work in collaboration with many public and private partners, which combine upstream ‘solution-driven’ research with downstream adaptive science, often in high-potential livestock value chains engaging small- and medium-sized agri-businesses and suppliers. In this work, ILRI and its partners are explicitly supporting work to meet the UN Millennium Development Goals and their successor (now being formulated), the Sustainable Development Goals.

ILRI envisions a world where all people have access to enough food and livelihood options to fulfill their potential. ILRI’s mission is to improve food and nutritional security and to reduce poverty in developing countries through research for efficient, safe and sustainable use of livestock, ‘ensuring better lives through livestock’.

Diana Brandes-van Dorresteijn is a staff member in ILRI’s Capacity Development Unit.

 

Growing more food using fewer natural resources: Pipe dream or the ‘only’ development pathway possible?

Banalata Das, a shrimp farmer feds her cow at the family home. Khulna, Bangladesh. Photo by Mike Lusmore, 2012

 Banalata Das, a dairy and shrimp farmer, feeds her cow in Khulna, Bangladesh (photo credit: WorldFish/Mike Lusmore).

Ramadjita Tabo, a member of The Montpellier Panel and deputy executive director of the Forum for Agricultural Research in Africa (FARA), recently described the recent rather divisive nature of academic discussions on the viability of the ‘sustainable intensification’ of agriculture as follows.

Sustainable intensification, an agricultural development pathway that aims to reconcile food production and environmental protection, is a highly politicised term that divides academics and practitioners alike. Although, when first coined by Jules Pretty, the term was a way of bringing often divergent priorities such as addressing declines in land and agricultural productivity, pollution and food insecurity together under a new paradigm, it has been since accused of being a ruse for big, industrial agriculture. — Ramadjita TaboSustainable intensification: A practical approach to meet Africa’s food and natural resource needs, Global Food Security blog, 18 Apr 2013

Now a team of diverse scientists and other experts, having broadened the concept, make a case in a new report published in the journal Science that sustainable intensification is absolutely central to our ability to meet increasing demands for food from our growing populations and finite farmlands.

Tara Garnett and Charles Godfray, the article’s lead authors, say that we can increase food production from existing farmland if we employ sustainable intensification practices and policies. These, they say, can help minimize already severe pressures on the environment, especially for more land, water, and energy, natural resources now commonly overexploited and used unsustainably.

The authors of this Science ‘Policy Forum’ piece are researchers from leading universities and international organizations as well as policymakers from non-governmental organizations and the United Nations. One of the co-authors is Mario Herrero, an agricultural systems scientist who recently led a ‘livestock futures’ team at the International Livestock Research Institute (ILRI, a member of CGIAR), in Nairobi, Kenya, and who earlier this year moved to Brisbane, Australia, to take up the position of chief research scientist for food systems and the environment at the Commonwealth Scientific and Industrial Research Organisation (CSIRO). Another co-author is Philip Thornton, another ILRI systems scientist and a leader of a multi-institutional team and project in the CGIAR Research Program on Climate Change, Agriculture and Food Security (CCAFS).

The authors of this Science paper outline a new, more sophisticated account of how ‘sustainable intensification’ should work. They recognize that this policy has attracted criticism in some quarters as being either too narrowly focused on food production or as representing a contradiction in terms.

Why does articulating this new, more refined, account of sustainable intensification matter so much? ‘We often confuse sustainable intensification as synonymous with increases in productivity and resource use efficiency, but the picture is far more complex’, explains Herrero. ‘We attempted a balanced definition, one that encompasses all major perspectives.’ Such a new definition, Herrero says, can be telling. Take the pig and poultry sub-sectors, he says, which are commonly lauded for being more efficient than raising cattle, goats, sheep, water buffalo and other ruminant animals. ‘Well, that can be true. But not in large parts of Europe, for example, which import grain to feed their pigs and poultry, with one result being that Brazilian farmers are chopping down the rain forest to provide that feed to Europe’s livestock farmers. From this perspective, those “efficient” pig and poultry business are just not sustainable. In our endeavour to intensify’, Herrero continues, ‘we can overlook important aspects of agricultural intensification like ecosystems services, biodiversity and human health. Take the livestock sector, for example. With this sector so intimately connected to land management issues and with so many livestock-based livelihoods of poor people at stake, it’s essential that we don’t pay lip service to the ‘sustainability aspects’ of livestock intensification.

We need to  come up with suitable practical indicators of just what is sustainable, and the fact is that we’ll sometimes need to reduce intensification, as in places where additional increases in yields or efficiencies could place too much pressure on other facets of food systems. — Mario Herrero, agricultural systems scientist, CSIRO (formerly of ILRI)

Herrero’s colleague, Philip Thornton, agrees. And he reminds us of the ‘multi-functionality’ of agricultural production systems in developing countries, particularly livestock systems in sub-Saharan Africa. ‘These ‘multifunctions’ (such as keeping cows for household milk, and/or to generate a daily household dairy income, and/or to produce manure to fertilize croplands, and/or to transport produce to markets, and/or or to build household assets) differ by place and context, and our interventions aiming to enhance them need to differ accordingly, Thornton says. No ‘silver bullets’ or ‘one-size-fits-all’ approach, he says, is going to work in these varied smallholder production system contexts.

‘As usual, it’s a matter of scale, with landscape or regional approaches expected to become critical to success. To achieve our desired development outcomes, we’re going to have to “intensify” small-scale livestock, mixed crop-livestock and other agricultural production systems where intensification can be done viably, and we’re going to have to ‘extensify’ these smallholder systems elsewhere in the landscape, where intensification is just not viable.
The main reason for producing this Science paper was to try to wrest the concept of ‘sustainable agricultural intensification’ back from those driving specific agendas. (We may well have to try to do the same for ‘climate-smart agriculture’, but that’s another story.) — Philip Thornton, ILRI and CCAFS

Similar arguments were published in a previous article in Science by Herrero, Thornton and their colleagues (Smart investments in sustainable food production: Revisiting mixed crop-livestock systems, Science, 12 Feb 2010, DOI: 10.1126/science.1183725). This new investigation, Herrero says, is something of a follow-up to that earlier paper. The new Science article stresses that while farmers in many regions of the world need to produce more food, it is equally urgent that policymakers act on diets, waste and how the food system is governed. The authors say we must produce more food on existing rather than new farmland; converting uncultivated land, they say, will lead to greater emissions of greenhouse gases, which are causing global warming, and greater losses of biodiversity.

The authors make a strong case for sustainable intensification being the only policy on the table that could generate ways of producing enough food for all without destroying our environment.

But, warns Charles Godfray, of the Oxford Martin Programme on the Future of Food, sustainable intensification should be only one part of an agricultural and development policy portfolio. ‘Sustainable intensification is necessary’, he says, ‘but not sufficient’.

Achieving a sustainable food system will require changes in agricultural production, changes in diet so people eat less meat and waste less food, and regulatory changes to improve the efficiency and resilience of the food system. Producing more food is important but it is only one of a number of policies that we must pursue together. — Charles Godfray, Oxford Martin Programme on the Future of Food

Increasing productivity does not always mean using more fertilizers and agrochemicals, which frequently carry unacceptable environmental costs, argue the authors. They say that a range of techniques, both old and new, should be employed to develop ways of farming that keep environmental damage to a minimum.

The authors of the paper accept that the intensification of agriculture will directly as well as indirectly impact other important policy goals, such as preserving biodiversity, improving human nutrition and animal welfare, protecting rural economies and sustaining development generally in poor countries and communities. Policymakers will need to find ways to navigate conflicting priorities, they say, which is where research can help.

Lead author Tara Garnett, from the Food Climate Research Network at the Oxford Martin School, says that food security is about more than just more calories. Better nutrition also matters, she says.

Some two billion people worldwide are thought to be deficient in micronutrients. We need to intensify the quality of the food we produce in ways that improve the nutritional value of people’s diets, preferably through diversifying the range of foods produced and available to people but also, in the short term, by improving the nutrient content of crops now commonly produced. — Tara Garnett, Food Climate Research Network

Michael Appleby, of the World Society for the Protection of Animals, says that ‘Attention to livestock welfare is both necessary and beneficial for sustainability. Policies to achieve the right balance between animal and crop production will benefit animals, people and the planet.’

Agriculture is a potent sector for economic growth and rural development in many countries across Africa, Asia and South America, says co-author Sonja Vermeulen, of CCAFS.

Sustainable intensification can provide the best rewards for small-scale farmers and their heritage of natural resources. What policymakers can provide are the strategic finance as well as institutions needed to support sustainable and equitable pathways rather than quick profits gained through depletion. — Sonja Vermeulen, CCAFS

Get the paper: Sustainable intensification in agriculture: Premises and policies, by T Garnett, MC Appleby, A Balmford, IJ Bateman, TG Benton, P Bloomer, B Burlingame, M Dawkins, L Dolan, D Fraser, M Herrero, I Hoffmann, P Smith, PK Thornton, C Toulmin, SJ Vermeulen, HCJ Godfray, Science, vol. 341, 5 Jul 2013.

Note
ILRI director of institutional planning and partnerships, Shirley Tarawali, will be travelling to Accra, Ghana, tomorrow (9 Jul 2013) to take part in a 4-day workshop (10–13 Jul 2013) for major stakeholders in sustainable agricultural intensification in Africa. The participants will explore the links between systems research and sustainable intensification to refine and reach a common understandings.

The workshop also aims to help determine:
1) factors critical for successful sustainable intensification
2) institutional arrangements for integrating sustainable intensification into investment and service delivery programs
3)  best mechanisms for sharing and learning across Africa’s major sustainable intensification programs.

About 50 people will participate in this sustainable intensification workshop, representing the Forum for Agricultural Research in Africa (FARA); Africa’s sub-regional and non-governmental organizations, national agricultural research systems, universities and farmer organizations; CGIAR centres and research programs; and major African sustainable intensification programs, financing organizations and investors.

More information
Contact the University of Oxford Press Office on +44 (0)1865 280534 or email press.office@admin.ox.ac.uk
Contact taragarnett [at] fcrn.org.uk or charles.godfray [at] zoo.ox.ac.uk
Contact Shirley Tarawali: s.tarawali [at] cgiar.org

The Science article follows a workshop on food security convened by the Oxford Martin School and the Food Climate Research Network at the University of Oxford; a more detailed account of the workshop is at: http://www.futureoffood.ox.ac.uk/sustainable-intensification

Tara Garnett runs the Food Climate Research Network: http://www.fcrn.org.uk
Charles Godfray is the Director of the Oxford Martin Programme on the Future of Food: http://www.futureoffood.ox.ac.uk
For more information on the Oxford Martin School, please visit http://www.oxfordmartin.ox.ac.uk/
Michael Appleby is chief scientific adviser for humane sustainable agriculture at the World Society for Protection of Animals: www.wspa.org.uk
Sonja Vermeulen is head of research at the CGIAR Research Program on Climate Change, Agriculture and Food Security: http://ccafs.cgiar.org

Addendum
Simon West, a PhD student within a GLEAN project and working at the Stockholm Resilience Centre, has an interesting point to make about the importance of ‘learning’ at the interface of ecosystem management and sustainable development (One thought on GLEAN @ STEPS summer school, 30 May 2013).

‘. . . My research examines the production of learning within ecosystem management, and how such learning – informed by mental models, narratives and framing of ecological change – affects the way that people interact with their environment. Learning is increasingly recognized as critical in achieving transitions toward sustainable development – but how does such learning take place, and what types of learning are required? Scholars from different disciplinary backgrounds will answer these questions in very different ways, and such differences reveal the contestation at the heart of any idea of sustainable development. . . .

‘Even in open and inclusive participatory processes decisions have to be made which inherently require closing down around particular courses of action; the success of one narrative (even if the narrative was previously marginalized) will inevitably come at the expense of others. Not everyone in a participatory process can necessarily ‘win.’ . . .

‘[T]oo much emphasis (by any discipline looking at sustainability issues) on developing any kind of “general content” of learning for sustainability is likely to be misguided. . . . I would argue that a more productive goal would be to encourage a new structure to knowledge, moving towards an ability to think in terms of complexity, multiple variables, interaction of social and ecological factors and temporal and spatial variability, in order to facilitate understanding of the adaptive and dynamic relations between values, framings and narratives, and the material environment.

‘Most importantly, this may lead to the realization that others in all contexts . . . will have wildly different, but equally legitimate, understandings of reality and what really matters – and this is perhaps the hardest concept for all of us, not least scientists, to really grasp.’

ILRI PhotoBlog — ‘Livestock Portraits’: Sheko cattle in Ethiopia

Sheko calf kept in the Ghibe Valley of Southern Ethiopia (photo credit: Jim Richardson)

The above photo, taken by National Geographic photographer Jim Richardson, is of a Sheko calf kept in the Ghibe Valley of southern Ethiopia. The Sheko cattle breed is endangered, with only about 2,500 in existence today. They are a valuable breed because of their ability to resist diseases (African animal trypanosomiasis, related to human sleeping sickness) transmitted by Africa’s tsetse fly. The International Livestock Research Institute (ILRI) is protecting, studying, and breeding Sheko cattle in Ethiopia.

Read more here about ILRI’s work to conserve animal genetic resources of developing countries.

 

 

Better grass for better smallholder dairying in East Africa

The tuft of grass minor, by Albrecht Durer (via Wikipaintings).

The Tuft of Grass Minor, watercolour by Albrecht Dürer (1471–1521) (image via Wikipaintings).

An impact case study on Getting superior Napier grass to dairy farmers in East Africa was published on 1 Mar 2013 by the European Initiative for Agricultural Research for Development (EIARD), the International Livestock Research Institute (ILRI) and the Kenya Agricultural Research institute (KARI). Excerpts follow.

To meet demand for high-yielding, disease resistant fodder from smallholder dairy farmers in East Africa, scientists from the Kenya Agricultural Research Institute (KARI) and the International Livestock Research Institute (ILRI) worked together to select and distribute smut-resistant varieties of Napier grass.

‘Napier grass has become the most important fodder crop in Kenya, but 20 years ago head smut disease began to have a devastating impact, turning valuable fodder into thin, shrivelled stems. With the cost of disease control using systemic fungicide beyond the means of most smallholder dairy farmers, KARI began work to select smut-resistant varieties.

‘With access to Napier grass germplasm from ILRI’s genebank, KARI developed two resistant varieties — Kakamega I and Kakamega II. Favourable laboratory results were confirmed in farmer’s fields and work began to multiply planting material. Within a year, cuttings were distributed to over 10,000 smallholder farmers. The new varieties are not quite as productive as the best of Kenya’s local Napier grass varieties, but have still proven popular in smut-affected areas. By 2007, 13 per cent of farmers were using Kakamega I for zero grazing systems in smut prone areas.

‘The chance of head smut resistance breaking down in the new varieties is high, so KARI is screening more materials from ILRI, which is continuing to build its Napier grass collection to have germplasm available to screen for new resistant varieties. In 2012, ILRI provided the Brazilian Agricultural Research Corporation, Embrapa, with Kakamega I and II to enable researchers to use them to develop higher yielding and more nutritious resistant varieties. . . .

Background
‘Dairy farming, Kenya’s leading livestock sector activity, is vital for the livelihoods and food security of millions of Kenyans. More than 80 per cent of milk produced and sold in Kenya comes from smallholder farmers, typically raising just one or two dairy cows on small plots of land. Women perform half of all dairy related activities in Kenya, which improves household welfare, primarily through increased household income and milk consumption.

‘With a growing population and shrinking areas for pasture, cattle are increasingly being fed on crop residues, cultivated fodder and some concentrates. Ninety per cent of farmers now produce on-farm feeds. Being able to provide enough good quality fodder is by far the most important factor in achieving high milk quality and yield, with a well fed animal producing two or three times more milk than an averagely fed one.

‘The high yielding fodder, Napier grass — Pennisetum purpureum — has become by far the most important due to its wide adaptation to different regions, high yield and ease of propagation and management. Napier grass constitutes between 40–80 per cent of the forage for more than 0.6 million smallholder dairy farms. With fodder in high demand, selling Napier grass as a business has good potential for improving smallholder livelihoods. According to a recent survey, up to 58 per cent of Kenyan smallholder farmers already sell fodder, including crop residues, straw or grass.

‘However, in the early 1990s, head smut disease, caused by the fungus Ustilago kamerunensis, began to have a devastating impact on Napier grass. Spread rapidly by wind and infected plant material, smut turned valuable Napier grass into thin, shrivelled stems and reduced yields by 25–46 per cent. For smallholder farmers, the threat was very serious.

‘Disease control using systemic fungicide in fodder crops is very expensive and therefore beyond the means of most smallholders. Using tolerant high yielding varieties is a cost effective solution and avoids the additional costs of moving to a different feeding system. ILRI maintains an international collection of forage germplasm under the auspices of the International Treaty on Plant Genetic Resources for Food and Agriculture. The state of the art genebank, based in Ethiopia, holds over 19,000 forage accessions, including 60 genotypes of Napier grass. . . .’

Funding
ILRI received direct funding from the European Union, Germany, Switzerland and the United Kingdom to support their forage diversity work and forage genebank in addition to funding from CGIAR.

For further information
Getting superior Napier grass to dairy farmers in East Africa, impacts case study by EIARD, ILRI and KARI, Mar 2013
Visit ILRI’s forage diversity website
Visit the project site: Napier Grass Stunt and Smut Project
Saving animal feed plants to preserve livelihoods, 2007 (ILRI film, run-time: 11 minutes)
Putting ILRI’s genebank to work, 2007 (ILRI film: run-time: 14 minutes)
Contact: Alexandra Jorge, ILRI Genebank Manager: a.jorge [at] cgiar.org

Policy workshop seeks sustainable practices to preserve livelihoods in Africa’s drylands

Nairobi workshop on Biodiversity, Ecosystem services, social sustainability and tipping points in African Drylands

Policymakers, practitioners and community users discussed, this week, ways to improve the sustainable management of Africa’s drylands at a workshop held at ILRI in Nairobi (photo credit: ILRI/Samuel Mungai).

Researchers, policymakers and livestock experts from Africa and the UK met this week to discuss the impacts of land use changes on African drylands  in efforts towards shaping policies that will enhance the sustainable management of these ecosystems.

In a workshop held on 14 February 2012 at the Nairobi headquarters of the International Livestock Research Institute (ILRI), community representatives, scientists and specialists in ecology, economics and anthropology discussed research that is expected to shape policies for the improvement of poverty alleviation and ecosystems management in eastern Africa’s dryland ecosystems.

African drylands are fast approaching a tipping point brought about by policy-driven changes in land tenure that have transformed communal lands into private enclosures and wildlife conservancies and the closing off of open access lands that have limited livestock and wildlife mobility. These changes have led to environmental and social consequences that are threatening livestock production and and the livelihoods of pastoral people who depend on these lands.

‘This project will get to the heart of the complexities of drylands management because it is seeking to put pastoralists at the centre of managing their resources,’ said Jimmy Smith, the director general of ILRI. ‘Findings from this project will help us understand how livestock keepers interact with policies, the environment and their economic opportunities,’ said Smith.

The workshop which is part of a 24-month project known as the ‘Biodiversity, Ecosystem services, Social sustainability and Tipping points in African drylands (BEST).’ It is being carried out by a consortium of international partners who include ILRI, the Institute of Zoology, London, University College London and the African Technology Policy Studies Network who are using their expertise in natural resource and biodiversity assessment, natural resource management and communication to analyze the impacts of the changes taking place in dryland ecosystems. Other partners in the research include the Tanzania Wildlife Research Institute and the Association of Strengthening Agricultural Research in Eastern and Central Africa. The project is funded by a consortium of the Department for International Development and the UK’s Natural Environment Research Council and  Economic and Social Research Council.

‘We hope to address the very rapidly developing and severe challenges arising in east African arid- and semi-arid rangelands, particularly in Ethiopia, Kenya and Tanzania,’ said Katherine Homewood, an anthropologist with the University College London and the principal investigator for the project. ‘These changes have led to significant opportunity costs for pastoralists who depend on livestock production in these areas; some of whom have been displaced or dispossessed of their livelihoods,’ Homewood says, ‘because marginal areas have become immensely important to a huge variety of competing land uses like mining, biofuels production, crop farming and wildlife conservation.’

Despite these changes, findings indicate that livestock production remains the key source of income for pastoralists and the project, now in its first phase, will investigate how households are responding to the changes in dryland ecosystems, how pastoralist households invest time, labour and capital into livestock, farming or wildlife tourism in light of these changes and the consequences of these choices on poverty reduction, biodiversity and the local and national economies.

‘Results from this project will provide the government with useful information on biodiversity management, environmental reporting and land use practices by offering up to date information on social and environmental interactions that are essential for management of environmental risks in rangelands,’ said Ali Mohammed, Permanent Secretary in Kenya’s Ministry of Environment and Mineral Resources, who officially opened the workshop.

The project has been implemented for just under one year and  project partners used the workshop to draw on existing expert knowledge of dryland systems. This information will be used in modeling approaches for further analysis of dryland ecosystems. Among others, participants called for better evaluation of the opportunities and tradeoff emerging from differences in land tenure systems, disparities in distribution of  tourism income and displacements of pastoralists and diminishing livestock productivity. Information from this workshop will guide research and deliver findings that will help evaluate policy scenarios and give insights into ecosystem services to inform policymaking and practice.

 

More on the Biodiversity, Ecosystem services, Social sustainability and Tipping points in African drylands project: http://www.ilri.org/best

 

Watch a 10-minute film about finding ways of balancing the needs of people, lands and wildlife:

http://blip.tv/ilri/counting-in-a-disappearing-land-people-livestock-and-wildlife-1458292

 

Putting a price on water: From Mt Kenya forests to Laikipia savannas to Dadaab drylands

Ewaso Ng'iro Catchment A map of the Ewaso Ng’iro watershed catchment, taken from Mapping and Valuing Ecosystem Services in the Ewaso Ng’iro Watershed, published in 2011 by ILRI. The Ewaso Ng’iro watershed incorporates the forests of Mt Kenya, the second highest mountain in Africa; the wildlife-rich savannas of Laikipia; and the arid scrublands around Dadaab, the world’s largest refugee camp, located in Kenya’s Northeastern Province near the border with Somalia.

The International Livestock Research Institute (ILRI) published in 2011 a ground-breaking assessment of Kenya’s Ewaso Ng’iro watershed that maps its key ecosystem services—water, biomass, livestock, wildlife and  irrigated crops—and estimates their economic value. Based on the quantification of, and the demand for, these services, the ILRI scientists estimated their economic value and then obtained downscaled climate change projections for northern Kenya and assessed their impact on crop conditions and surface water hydrology.

Excerpts from the first chapter of the ILRI report
‘The Arid and Semi-Arid Lands (ASALs) cover 80% of Kenya’s land area, include over 36 districts, and are home to more than 10 million people (25% of the total population) (GoK 2004). A vast majority (74%) of ASAL constituents were poor in 2005/06; poverty rates in the ASALs have increased from 65% in 1994 (KIHBS 2005/6 cited in MDNKOAL 2008), which contrasts with the rest of Kenya — national poverty rates fell from 52% to 46% in the decade 1996–2006. Similar stark inequalities between the ASALs and other areas of Kenya are found in health and education as well as infrastructure development and services provisioning (MDNKOAL 2010a).

‘After decades of neglect, the government is committed to close the development gap between the ASALs and the rest of Kenya. To do so, it charged the Ministry of State for Development of Northern Kenya and other Arid Lands (MDNKOAL) to develop policies and interventions addressing the challenges specific to ASAL, mostly regarding their climate, pastoral and agro- pastoral livelihood strategies and low infrastructure, financial, and human capitals (MDNKOAL 2008). Unlike line ministries with sectoral development planning, MDNKOAL has a cross- sectoral mandate, which requires a holistic approach to development, weighting trade-offs and promoting synergies between sectoral objectives. . . .

‘ASALs, with 24 million hectares of land suitable for livestock production, are home to 80 percent of Kenya’s livestock, a resource valued at Ksh 173.4 billion. The current annual turnover of the livestock sector in the arid lands of Kenya of Ksh 10 billion could be increased with better support for livestock production and marketing. Since livestock is the main source of livelihood of ASAL constituents, any improvement in livestock value could substantially reduce poverty. While rainfed crop production is quite marginal and restricted to pockets of higher potential areas within ASAL districts, there is a sizeable area that could support crop production if there were a greater investment in irrigation (“Pulling apart” and ASAL Draft Policy 2007 cited in MDNKOAL 2008). Wildlife-based tourism, which contributed 10% to GDP in 2007/2008 (World Bank 2010) is largely generated in the ASALs (MDNKOAL 2010a). While tourism revenue has been constantly on the rise (21.5 Million Ksh in 2000 to 65.4 Million Ksh in 2007 (Ministry of Tourism 2007)), the sector would benefit, among others, from improved road and tourism infrastructure (World Bank 2010).

‘Reliance of the ASAL on their natural capital for their development: the importance of ecosystem services In most of Kenya’s arid and semi-arid areas, pastoral livelihood strategies dominate. This involves moving livestock periodically to follow the seasonal supply of water and pasture. Agro-pastoralism, combining cropping with pastoral livestock keeping, is a livelihood strategy in areas where rainfed agriculture is possible and around more permanent water sources. In areas with slightly more rainfall, there is mixed farming with sedentary livestock. These agricultural lands are typically dominated by a mix of food, livestock and increasingly cash crops, such as flowers and high value vegetables which are often destined for export. The cash crops often rely on irrigated agriculture. Wildlife conservation and tourism are also important land uses with an increase in the dryland area under a protected status.

All of these livelihood strategies are directly dependent on ecosystem services, the benefits people get from ecosystems. As described, dryland ecosystems supply food from livestock and crops, water for domestic use and irrigation, and wood for fuel and construction (provisioning services). Beyond contributing to people’s livelihood strategies, healthy dryland ecosystems contribute to their standard of living (health, physical security) by delivering regulating services such as mitigating the impacts of periodic flooding, preventing erosion, sequestering carbon, purifying water, and affecting the distribution of rainfall throughout the region. These, in turn, all depend on supporting services, such as soil fertility that underlies the productivity of dryland and crops in particular and the production of biomass (vegetation) that sustains livestock and wildlife grazing. Moreover, Kenya’s dryland ecosystems provide important cultural services that maintain pastoral identities and support wildlife tourism.

‘ASAL ecosystems must be managed effectively so that they continue to provide these services. In developing land use planning, decision-makers need to understand and holistically manage the complex linkages between ecosystems, ecosystem services and people. The ecosystem services approach will provide tools to integrate socio-economic and bio-physical aspects providing a holistic approach to look at synergies and trade-offs in terms of land and water between land uses across the catchment.

‘One of the challenges the Ministry faces in taking the most of ASAL’s ecosystem services is to manage the various uses of water and land, as both are and will increasingly be the major limiting factors in improving standards of living in ASAL. In this context, the Ministry needs tools to compare alternative land and water uses between livestock, crop production, and wildlife-based tourism to enable its future assessments of how and how much each use will improve standards of living and whose standard of living. . . .’

Download the whole publication, Mapping and Valuing Ecosystem Services in the Ewaso Ng’iro Watershed, by Ericksen, PJ; Said, MY; Leeuw, J de; Silvestri, S; Zaibet, L; Kifugo, SC; Sijmons, K; Kinoti, J; Ng’ang’a, L; Landsberg, F; and Stickler, M. 2011. Nairobi, Kenya: ILRI.

Authors
ILRI’s Polly Ericksen was the project leader and editor/compiler of the report. ILRI scientists Mohammed Said, Jan de Leeuw, Silvia Silvestri and Lokman Zaibet wrote much of the material for the chapters. Shem Kifugo, Mohammed Said, Kurt Sijmons (GEOMAPA) and Leah Ng’ang’a compiled the data and made the maps. World Resources Institute’s Florence Landsberg contributed ideas and material for chapters 1 and 2. World Resources Institute’s Mercedes Stickler contributed information from Rural Focus.

Note
The following journal article is forthcoming: P Ericksen, J de Leeuw, M Said, S Silvestri and L Zaibet. In press. Mapping ecosystem services in the Ewaso N’giro Watershed. International Journal of Biodiversity Science, Ecosystem Services & Management.

 

Updated and extended Animal Genetics Training Resource online this week

The Animal Genetics Training Resource (AGTR) is a unique, ‘one stop’, user-friendly, interactive, multimedia resource, targeted at researchers and scientists teaching and carrying out research in animal biodiversity and genetics.

It is a dynamic training resource designed to help inform the design and implementation of breeding programmes and provide information that will empower countries and institutions to undertake their own research. It covers established and rapidly developing areas, such as genetic based technologies and their application in livestock breeding programmes.

Core modules in the AGTR are:

  1. Global perspectives on animal genetic resources for sustainable agriculture and food production;
  2. Improving our knowledge of tropical indigenous animal genetic resources;
  3. Sustainable breeding programmes for tropical farming systems;
  4. Quantitative methods to improve the understanding and use of animal genetic resources; and
  5. Teaching methods and science communication.

The modules are supported by over 40 case studies that summarize real-life experiences and capture indigenous knowledge and lessons learnt from developing countries. The case studies also illustrate principles and methodologies commonly applied in animal genetics, from real-life situations and they highlight knowledge gaps appropriate for post-graduate theses or further research.

A linked breed information tool incorporates all the breeds highlighted in the modules/case studies. Practical examples, exercises, compendia, a library with full-text articles, and links to relevant web resources are included. It also has links to many other information sources on and related to AnGR, including the Domestic Animal Genetic Resources Information System (DAGRIS: http://dagris.ilri.cgiar.org) and the Domestic Animal Diversity Information System (DAD–IS: http://dad.fao.org). A high quality and accuracy of the contents of the AGTR is assured through an external review process by subject matter specialists.

View the Resource online at http://agtr.ilri.cgiar.org

AGTR is a joint product of ILRI and SLU – the Swedish University of Agricultural Sciences (www.slu.se)

The first version of AGTR was released as a CD in October 2003. It included the first versions of the five training modules, case studies and breed information focused on livestock breeds mainly in Africa and to a small extent in Asia. It also included a few exercises, two video clips and a library of 50 documents.

The second version, released in 2006, was more expansive and comprehensive than Version 1. It was made available both as a CD and on the Web, and included additional information for Asia as well as for Africa.
Version 3 is online in November 2011 on a fully web-enabled platform, which allows for direct online revisions and content comments by authors. CD versions of the same will be prepared in 2012. Significant changes have been made to the content of the Modules. All of the case studies were externally reviewed and subsequently revised, and new case studies have been added. Software manuals for word processing and presentation have been updated, and an example of using the statistical software ‘R’ (freely available) has been added. The greatly enhanced multimedia section now includes links to film and clips by ILRI, as well as pictures of numerous livestock breeds.

Kenya’s pastoral herders are being paid for conserving their wildlife-rich rangelands for livestock and wildlife alike in innovate new schemes

Payments for ecosystem services

Maasai pastoral herders signing up to the Naboisho Conservancy in Mara area in 2010. Ecosystem conservation schemes are giving herders new sources of income (photo credit: ILRI/Bedelian).

Biodiversity conservation among pastoral communities is increasingly researched as an area that could hold the key to helping pastoralists deal with the challenges of climate change and land use policy changes by allowing them to diversify their incomes. In Kenya the use of payments for ecosystem services, mostly around the country’s reserves and parks—where people live close to wildlife—is providing a stable, reliable and predicable source of income to pastoralists with the double advantage of reducing poverty and protecting wildlife.

In many sites where payments for ecosystem services have be piloted successfully, local-level institutions have played a significant role in enabling communities to self-govern and are supported by flexible land-use and governance systems that respect the communal land ownership patterns that have traditionally existed in these areas.

Payments to livestock herders for the ecosystem services generated through their land uses are currently being made in lands adjacent to Kenya’s famous Masai Mara National Reserve, in the southwest of the country, and in the Kitengela wildlife dispersal area to the south of Nairobi National Park. In both areas, Maasai people have formed ‘eco-conservancies’ to protect their grazing areas for livestock and wildlife alike.

‘Findings from on-going research show that in 2009 in the Kitengela area, ecosystems payment schemes were providing a large amount of income that constituted 59 per cent of the total off-farm earnings among participating households, even though livestock keeping is still the largest and most important source of income for these pastoralists,’ said Philip Osano a student at McGill University who is affiliated to the International Livestock Research Institute (ILRI) and is evaluating the effects of payments for ecosystems services on poverty reduction among pastoral communities in Kenyan rangelands.

‘Even though income from conservation payments is proving a valuable buffer against shocks such as tourism unpredictability and drought, creation of ‘eco-conservancies’ has displaced people and introduced new restrictions to grazing, natural resource collection and movement, increasing pressure on land in areas that border the eco-conservancies,’ says Claire Bedelian, a University College London researcher at ILRI who is accessing the impact of conservancy land leases on Maasai pastoralists in areas adjacent to the Masai Mara National Reserve

Scientists at ILRI, headquartered in Nairobi, Kenya, are investigating these hard trade offs to ensure that the benefits of such interventions are more equitable among members of the pastoral communities inhabiting these wildlife-rich areas.

Livestock under threat: Managing the future of native West African ruminant livestock

There is more livestock diversity in Africa than on any other continent. Some indigenous breeds of cattle, goats and sheep are disease resistant, and others can withstand feed and water shortages. But most are less productive than some imported breeds and so do not meet farmers’ needs.

Millions of poor livestock keepers are importing animals, or cross-breeding their local animals with imported breeds to get more productive livestock. But imported breeds need expensive care because they are much less hardy, and animal deaths are increasing. There is a danger that many of Africa’s indigenous livestock breeds will disappear, just as climate changes and population growth are making their hardy traits increasingly important for food security across the region.

This film tells the story of an unusual research and development project working to increase understanding of a disease-resistant cattle breed of West Africa along with what is needed to improve the marketing and processing of their products. This information will then be combined with better feeding and breeding schemes, farmer training and policy changes to make indigenous animals more profitable for poor farmers, so that the important genetic traits of these native breeds are not lost forever.

Watch a new 15-minute film produced by the International Livestock Research Institute (ILRI): Livestock under threat: Managing the future of native West African ruminant livestock, 29 Jun 2011.

Numbers of wildlife in Kenya’s famous Mara region have declined by two-thirds or more over last 33 years

Landscapes from the Mara

Landscape taken on safari in the Masai Mara, Kenya, July 2009 (photo credit: jschinker‘s Flickr photostream). ‘Sadly, wildlife are apparently being monitored into extinction in the Mara. Without urgent, decisive and resolute actions, more local extinctions may yet occur and the spectacular migration for which the Mara is world famous may continue to dwindle’—Joseph Ogutu.

Some devastating news has just been published in a leading scientific journal about wildlife declines in Kenya.

Scientists have found that wildlife populations in Kenya’s famous Mara region declined progressively after 1977, with few exceptions. Populations of almost all wildlife species have declined to a third or less of their former abundance both in the protected Masai Mara National Reserve and in the adjoining pastoral ranches.

Human influences appeared to be the fundamental cause. Besides reinforced antipoaching patrols, the expansion of cultivation, settlements and fences and livestock stocking levels on the pastoral ranches need to be regulated to avoid further declines in the wildlife resource.

Populations of many wild ungulate species in Africa are in decline largely because of land-use changes and other human activities.

The four authors of this paper, published online last week in the Journal of Zoology (20 May 2011) include lead author Joseph Ogutu, formerly of the International Livestock Research Institute (ILRI) and now at the University of Hohenheim, and last author Mohamed Said, of ILRI.

Read a short brief providing background to this new item.

Read the abstract of the paper: Continuing wildlife population declines and range contraction in the Mara region of Kenya during 1977–2009

For more information, please contact:
Joseph Ogutu in Germany at jogutu2007 [at] gmail.com
Mohamed Said at ILRI Nairobi at m.said [at] cgiar.org
Jan de Leeuw, ILRI team leader, at ILRI Nairobi at j.leeuw [at] cgiar.org

Scientists identify livestock genes to unlock protection against one of Africa’s oldest animal plagues

Cow suffering from trypanosomosis

Cow suffering from trypanosomiasis (photo credit: ILRI/Elsworth).

An international research team using a new combination of approaches has found two genes that may prove of vital importance to the lives and livelihoods of millions of farmers in a tsetse fly-plagued swathe of Africa the size of the United States. The team’s results were published today in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences (PNAS).

The research, aimed at finding the biological keys to protection from a single-celled trypanosome parasite that causes both African sleeping sickness in people and a wasting disease in cattle, brought together a range of high-tech tools and field observations to address a critical affliction of some of the world’s poorest people.

With increased surveillance and control, sleeping sickness infections in people have dropped ten-fold in the last 13 years, from an estimated 300,000 cases a year in 1998 to some 30,000 in 2009, with the disease eventually killing more than half of those infected. Although best known for causing human sleeping sickness, the trypanosome parasite’s most devastating blow to human welfare comes in an animal form, with sick, unproductive cattle costing mixed crop-livestock farmers and livestock herders huge losses and opportunities. The annual economic impact of ‘nagana,’ a common name in Africa for the form of the disease that affects cattle (officially known as African animal trypanosomiasis), has been estimated at US$4–5 billion.

In a vast tsetse belt across Africa, stretching from Senegal on the west coast to Tanzania on the east coast, and from Chad in the north to Zimbabwe in the south, the disease each year renders millions of cattle too weak to plow land or to haul loads, and too sickly to give milk or to breed, before finally killing off most of those infected. This means that in much of Africa, where tractors and commercial fertilizers are scarce and prohibitively expensive, cattle are largely unavailable for tilling and fertilizing croplands or for producing milk and meat for families. The tsetse fly and the disease it transmits are thus responsible for millions of farmers having to till their croplands by hand rather than by animal-drawn plow.

‘The two genes discovered in this research could provide a way for cattle breeders to identify the animals that are best at resisting disease when infected with trypanosome parasites, which are transmitted to animals and people by the bite of infected tsetse flies,’ said senior author Steve Kemp, a geneticist on joint appointment with the Nairobi-based International Livestock Research Institute (ILRI) and the University of Liverpool.

This genetics of disease resistance research was led by scientists from ILRI in Africa and from the UK universities of Liverpool, Manchester and Edinburgh, and involved researchers from other institutions in Britain, Ireland and South Korea.

The researchers drew on the fact that while the humped cattle breeds characteristic of much of Africa are susceptible to disease-causing trypanosome parasites, a humpless West African breed, called the N’Dama, is not seriously affected by the disease. Having been domesticated in Africa some 8,000 or more years ago, this most ancient of African breeds has had time to evolve resistance to the parasites. This makes the N’Dama a valued animal in Africa’s endemic regions. On the other hand, N’Dama cattle tend to be smaller, to produce less milk, and to be less docile than their bigger, humped cousins.

African agriculturalists of all kinds would like to see the N’Dama’s inherent disease resistance transferred to these other more productive breeds, but this is difficult without precise knowledge of the genes responsible for disease resistance in the N’Dama. Finding these genes has been the ‘Holy Grail’ of a group of international livestock geneticists for more than two decades, but the genetic and other biological pathways that control bovine disease resistance are complex and have proven difficult to determine.

The PNAS paper is thus a landmark piece of research in this field. The international and inter-institutional team that made this breakthrough did so by combining a range of genetic approaches, which until now have largely been used separately.

‘This may be the first example of scientists bringing together different ways of getting to the bottom of the genetics of a very complex trait,’ said Kemp. ‘Combined, the data were like a Venn diagram overlaying different sets of evidence. It was the overlap that interested us.’

They used these genetic approaches to distinguish differences between the ‘trypano-tolerant’ (humpless) N’Dama, which come from West Africa, and ‘trypano-susceptible’ (humped) Boran cattle, which come from Kenya, in East Africa. The scientists first identified the broad regions of their genomes controlling their different responses to infection with trypanosome parasites, but this was insufficient to identify the specific genes controlling resistance to the disease. So the scientists began adding layers of information obtained from other approaches. They sequenced genes from these regions to look for differences in those sequences between the two breeds.

The team at Edinburgh conducted gene expression analyses to investigate any differences in genetic activity in the tissues of the two cattle breeds after sets of animals of both breeds were experimentally infected with the parasites. Then, the ILRI group tested selected genes in the lab. Finally, they looked at the genetics of cattle populations from all over Africa.

Analyzing the vast datasets created in this research presented significant computational challenges. Andy Brass and his team in the School of Computer Science at the University of Manchester managed to capture, integrate and analyze the highly complex set of biological data by using workflow software called ‘Taverna,’ which was developed as part of a UK e-Science initiative by Manchester computer scientist Carole Goble and her ‘myGrid’ team.

‘The Taverna workflows we developed are capable of analyzing huge amounts of biological data quickly and accurately,’ said Brass. ‘Taverna’s infrastructure enabled us to develop the systematic analysis pipelines we required and to rapidly evolve the analysis as new data came into the project. We’re sharing these workflows so they can be re-used by other researchers looking at different disease models. This breakthrough demonstrates the real-life benefits of computer science and how a problem costing many lives can be tackled using pioneering E-Science systems.’

To bolster the findings, population geneticists from ILRI and the University of Dublin examined bovine genetic sequences for clues about the history of the different breeds. Their evidence confirmed that the two genes identified by the ILRI-Liverpool-Manchester groups were likely to have evolved in response to the presence of trypanosome parasites.

‘We believe the reason the N’Dama do not fall sick when infected with trypanosome parasites is that these animals, unlike others, have evolved ways to control the infection without mounting a runaway immune response that ends up damaging them,’ said lead author Harry Noyes, of the University of Liverpool. ‘Many human infections trigger similarly self-destructive immune responses, and our observations may point to ways of reducing such damage in people as well as livestock.’

This paper, said Kemp, in addition to advancing our understanding of the cascade of genes that allow Africa’s N’Dama cattle to fight animal trypanosomiasis, reaffirms the importance of maintaining as many of Africa’s indigenous animal breeds (as well as plant/crop varieties) as possible. The N’Dama’s disease resistance to trypanosome parasites is an example of a genetic trait that, while not yet fully understood, is clearly of vital importance to the continent’s future food security. But the continued existence of the N’Dama, like that of other native ‘niche’ African livestock breeds, remains under threat.

With this new knowledge of the genes controlling resistance to trypanosomiasis in the N’Dama, breeders could screen African cattle to identify animals with relatively high levels of disease resistance and furthermore incorporate the genetic markers for disease resistance with markers for other important traits, such as high productivity and drought tolerance, for improved breeding programs generally.

If further research confirms the significance of these genes in disease resistance, a conventional breeding program could develop a small breeding herd of disease-resistant cattle in 10–15 years, which could then be used over the next several decades to populate Africa’s different regions with animals most suited to those regions. Using genetic engineering techniques to achieve the same disease-resistant breeding herd, an approach still in its early days, could perhaps be done in four or five years, Kemp said. Once again, it would be several decades before such disease-resistant animals could be made available to most smallholder farmers and herders on the continent.

‘So it’s time we got started,’ said Kemp.

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See this news and related background material at ILRI’s online press room.

The International Livestock Research Institute (www.ilri.org) works with partners worldwide to help poor people keep their farm animals alive and productive, increase and sustain their livestock and farm productivity, and find profitable markets for their animal products. ILRI’s headquarters are in Nairobi, Kenya; we have a principal campus in Addis Ababa, Ethiopia, and 13 offices in other regions of Africa and Asia. ILRI is part of the Consultative Group on International Agricultural Research (www.cgiar.org), which works to reduce hunger, poverty, illness and environmental degradation in developing countries by generating and sharing relevant agricultural knowledge, technologies and policies. This research is focused on development, conducted by a Consortium (http://consortium.cgiar.org) of 15 CGIAR centres working with hundreds of partners worldwide, and supported by a multi-donor Fund (www.cgiarfund.org).

The University of Liverpool (www.liv.ac.uk) is a member of the Russell Group of leading research-intensive institutions in the UK. It attracts collaborative and contract research commissions from a wide range of national and international organizations valued at more than £110 million annually.

The University of Manchester (www.manchester.ac.uk), also a member of the Russell Group, is the largest single-site university in the UK. It has 22 academic schools and hundreds of specialist research groups undertaking pioneering multi-disciplinary teaching and research of worldwide significance. According to the results of the 2008 Research Assessment Exercise, the University of Manchester is now one of the country’s major research universities, rated third in the UK in terms of ‘research power’. The university has an annual income of £684 million and attracted £253 million in external research funding in 2007/08.

New project to help Vietnamese and other farmers conserve their native livestock breeds

Hmong girl hold native black chicken of Viet Nam A native black pig of Viet Nam

Left: A Hmong girl, 13-year-old Hi Hoa Sinh, holds a native black chicken in the village of Lung Pu, northern Viet Nam; Right: One of Viet Nam’s native black pigs on the farm of Ma Thi Puong, near the northern town of Meo Vac (photo credit: ILRI/Mann).

A project funded by the Global Environment Facility has selected Vietnam, a country with a wealth of livestock diversity, as one of four countries in which to implement a project to conserve livestock genotypes.

The diversity is deteriorating due to the popularization of new breeds together with the commercialization of livestock production. To preserve indigenous livestock breeds, the Global Environment Facility and the International Livestock Research Institute (ILRI) have selected 4 countries—Vietnam, Bangladesh, Pakistan and Sri Lanka—to implement the project ‘Developing and applying supporting tools on the conservation and sustainable utilization of the genetic diversity of livestock and their wild relatives.’

Vietnam’s Ministry of Agriculture and Rural Development has made the National Institute of Animal Husbandry as the Vietnamese partner in the project.

The project aims to enhance livestock keepers’ awareness of the importance of the genetic conservation of indigenous livestock while helping them to raise their incomes through adoption of indigenous livestock breeds. The project is being implemented over 4 years (2010–2012) in Vietnam’s Son La and Bac Ninh provinces, with a focus on indigenous chicken and pig breeds. The project will train farmers on survey methods and data collection; on ways to maintain their use of indigenous animals; on livestock management; and on business skills in such areas as as tourism with traditional cuisine and cultural activities.

Basic information about valuable indigenous breeds and representative animals is needed, as is the capacity to prioritize, monitor and manage them at both scientific and farm operational levels. Stakeholder groups need to be empowered with knowledge and conducive operational environments in which they can make decisions that work best for them.

Agriculture in the partner countries in this project contributes 20 to 26% of gross domestic product, of which livestock contributes approximately 15 to 20% in terms of income, insurance, food (meat, milk, eggs), hides/skin, traction and manure. It is mostly smallholder farmers who are dependent on indigenous breeds. These animals have evolved in diverse tropical environments and possess valuable traits such as disease resistance, adaptation to harsh environments, including heat tolerance and ability to utilize poor quality feeds, attributes essential for achieving sustainable agriculture in low-input production systems. However, it is still largely unknown which breeds hold significant genetic diversity or specific genes that should be targeted for conservation and/or incorporation into breeding programs. In the meantime, crossbreeding with exotic breeds is increasing and indigenous breeds are being lost.

The development objectives of this project are to help conserve the indigenous livestock of the partner countries for future generations and to help increase the contribution these native breeds make to the livelihoods of poor people. The first goal of the project is to develop and to make available effective tools to support decision making for the conservation and sustainable use of indigenous farm animals and their wild relatives in developing countries.

For more information, see the project’s description on ILRI’s Biotechnology Theme webpage.