Biometrics and Research Methods Teaching Resource: Enhanced version 2 released this week

Students and teachers of biometrics and applied statistics in agriculture and livestock have long faced a shortage of case studies and datasets suited to African settings.

Version 2 of the Biometrics and Research Methods Teaching Resource provides 17 case studies (each with its own Excel data sets) prepared by students, lecturers and researchers at the University of Nairobi, University of Swaziland, University of Kwazulu-Natal, Islamic University of Uganda and ILRI).

Each case study follows the typical stages in a research process:

  1. Research strategy (deciding research objectives; choosing the type of study)
  2. Study design (planning the study; accounting for variation; sampling; designing an experiment; designing a survey).
  3. Data management (collecting data; organising data; storing data)
  4. Data exploration (looking at data; describing data; formulating statistical models).
  5. Data analysis (modelling data; handling variation; applying different statistical techniques – analysis of variance, regression analysis, general linear models).
  6. Reporting (interpreting and presenting results; communicating research results).

Six teaching modules complement the cases and provide additional teaching and learning material of a practical nature.
In this second version, users can be linked directly to subjects of interest. The presentation and description of data sets has improved and GenStat dialog boxes now appear within the case studies. The Teaching Resource relies on the statistical package GenStat (two case studies also demonstrate the use of R), which can readily be downloaded with a ’Discovery’ version free for not-for-profit users in sub-Saharan Africa.

To make the resource more usable by teachers and students, this version will include both a zipped website version for those with intermittent internet connections so they can download the CD and separate pdf documents.

View the Teaching Resource online at http://www.ilri.org/biometrics

A CD version of the Resource is available on request from ILRI (contact a.m.odanga@cgiar.org)

The Teaching resource was funded by the Ford and Rockefeller Foundations.

View an interview with John Rowlands on the resource:

‘Virtual Kenya’ web platform launched today: User-friendly interactive maps for charting human and environmental health

Map of the Tana River Delta in Nature's Benefits in Kenya

Map of the the Upper Tana landforms and rivers published in Nature’s Benefits in Kenya Nature’s Benefits in Kenya: An Atlas of Ecosystems and Human Well-Being, published in 2007 by the World Resources Institute, the Department of Resource Surveys and Remote Sensing of the Kenya Ministry of Environment and Natural Resources, the Central Bureau of Statistics of the Kenya Ministry of Planning and National Development, and ILRI.

For the last nine months, the World Resources Institute (USA) and Upande Ltd, a Nairobi company offering web mapping technology to the African market, have been working to develop what has been coined ‘Virtual Kenya,’ an online interactive platform with related materials for those with no access to the internet.  The content was developed by the International Livestock Research Institute (ILRI), the Kenya Department of Resource Surveys and Remote Sensing (DRSRS) and the Kenya National Bureau of Statistics (previously the Central Bureau of Statistics). The Wildlife Clubs of Kenya and Jacaranda Designs Ltd developed offline educational materials. Technical support was provided by the Danish International Development Assistance (Danida) and the Swedish International Development Agency (Sida).

The Virtual Kenya platform was launched this morning at Nairobi’s ‘iHub’ (Innovation Hub), an open facility for the technology community focusing on young entrepreneurs and web and mobile phone programers, designers and researchers. Peter Kenneth, Kenya’s Minister of State for Planning, National Development and Vision 2030, was the guest of honour at the launch.

The minister remarked that:

Given that the government has facilitated the laying of fibre optic cabling across the country and is now in the process of establishing digital villages in all the constituencies, the Virtual Kenya initiative could not have come at a better time. I hope that it will accelerate the uptake of e-learning as an important tool in our school curriculum.

Virtual Kenya is designed to provide Kenyans with high-quality spatial data and cutting-edge mapping technology to further their educational and professional pursuits. The platform provides, in addition to online access to publicly available spatial datasets, interactive tools and learning resources for exploring these data.

Users both inside and outside of Kenya will be able to view, download, publish, share, and comment on various map-based products.

The ultimate goal of Virtual Kenya is to promote increased data sharing and spatial analysis for better decision-making, development planning and education in Kenya, while at the same time demonstrating the potential and use of web-based spatial planning tools.

The Atlas
At the moment, the Virtual Kenya platform features maps and information based on Nature’s Benefits in Kenya: An Atlas of Ecosystems and Human Well-Being, published jointly in 2007 by the World Resources Institute (USA), ILRI, DRSRS the National Bureau of Statistics. Publication of the Atlas was funded by Danida, ILRI, Irish Aid, the Netherlands Ministry of Foreign Affairs, Sida and the United States Agency for International Development.

The Atlas overlays geo-referenced statistical information on human well-being with spatial data on ecosystems and their services to yield a picture of how land, people, and prosperity are related in Kenya.

By combining the Atlas’s maps and data on ecosystem services and human well-being, analysts can create new ecosystem development indicators, each of them capturing a certain relationship between resources and residents that can shed light on development in these regions. This approach can be used to analyze ecosystem-development relationships among communities within a certain distance of rivers, lakes and reservoirs; or the relations between high poverty areas and access to intensively managed cropland; or relations among physical infrastructure, poverty and major ecosystem services.

Decision-makers can use the maps to examine the spatial relationships among different ecosystem services to shed light on their possible trade-offs and synergies or to examine the spatial relationships between poverty and combinations of ecosystem services.

Virtual Kenya Platform
The Virtual Kenya platform is designed to allow users with more limited mapping expertise, specifically in high schools and universities, to take full advantage of the wealth of data behind the Atlas. The website also introduces more advanced users to new web-based software applications for visualizing and analyzing spatial information and makes public spatial data sets freely available on the web to support improved environment and development planning.

The Virtual Kenya website provides users with a platform to interactively view, explore, and download Atlas data in a variety of file formats and software applications, including Virtual Kenya Tours using Google Earth. In addition, GIS users in Kenya will—for the first time—have a dedicated online social networking community to share their work, comment and interact with each other on topics related to maps and other spatial data.

For those with limited mapping and GIS experience, Virtual Kenya will increase awareness of resources and tools available online to visualize and explore spatial information. For users and classrooms that do not have access to the Internet yet, other materials such as wall charts, student activity booklets, teachers guide, as well as the DVD with all the Virtual Kenya data and software will be available, giving them the opportunity to interact with tools available on the Virtual Kenya website.

Virtual Kenya email: info@virtualkenya.org

Virtual Kenya on the web:
Website: http://virtualkenya.org
Twitter: @virtualkenya
Facebook: VirtualKenya
YouTube: http://youtube.com/user/VirtualKenya

Read more about Nature’s Benefits in Kenya: An Atlas of Ecosystems and Human Well-Being, or download the Atlas, published by World Resources Institute, ILRI, Kenya Central Bureau of Statistics, and Kenya Department of Remote Surveys and Remote Sensing, 2007.

Editor’s note: The Kenya Department of Resource Surveys and Remote Sensing (DRSRS) was incorrectly named in the original version and corrected on 26 June 2011.

Market-oriented smallholder development in Ethiopia

Today, the ‘Improving Productivity and Market Success (IPMS) of Ethiopian Farmers Project’ holds an experience-sharing workshop on market-oriented smallholder development.

This project – www.ipms-ethiopia.org – is funded by the Canadian International Development Agency (CIDA) as a contribution to the Ethiopian Government’s ‘Plan for Accelerated and Sustained Development to End Poverty’.

At its establishment in 2005, The project was designed to follow a participatory market-oriented commodity value chain development approach. This is based on the premise that technology uptake is significantly influenced by the profitability of production, and that production is driven by market demands for specific commodities. The approach is participatory in that it involves farmers and other value chain actors as well as associated service providers in diagnosis, planning and implementation of the interventions through formal and informal linkages.

The workshop is designed to facilitate experience-sharing – the 150+ participants are drawn from national, regional and district governments, the private sector, civil society, research institutions and universities, and development agencies. It focuses on specific commodity value chain interventions – livestock and crops – as well as essential enabling methods, approaches, and processes the project has applied. Exhibition-type displays showcase interventions on specific commodity value chains. Cross-cutting issues such as knowledge management, capacity development, and gender, are also explored.

After five years intense applied work, the workshop also provides an opportunity for project lessonsa nd outputs to be shared with the Government’s new Growth and Transformation Plan (GTP) that re-emphasizes the role of smallholders in the commercialization of Ethiopian agriculture.

Watch a video with project manager Dirk Hoekstra

Follow the event and its outputs online:

Wiki about the event
Photos from the event
Presentations and posters
Video interviews

Seeing the beast whole: When holistic approaches ‘come out of Powerpoints’ for better health

Purvi Mehta, Capacity Strengthening Officer

Head of capacity strengthening ILRI, Purvi Mehta-Bhatt delivered a lively presentation yesterday in New Delhi explaining how capacity building is an ‘impact pathway’ linking agriculture, nutrition and health for human well being (photo credit: ILRI).

Yesterday in New Delhi, Purvi Mehta-Bhatt, head of Capacity Strengthening at the International Livestock Research Institute (ILRI), was one of three speakers to make a presentation during a side session at the international conference ‘Leveraging Agriculture for Improving Nutrition and Health’ being put on this week by the International Food Policy Research Institute (IFPRI).

Saying it was ‘great to be home, in India’, Mehta-Bhatt, who is an Indian national based at ILRI’s Nairobi headquarters, started her 12-minute talk by getting down to basics—the basics of an elephant, that is. She told a ‘small story’ of an elephant that landed in a land where nobody had seen an elephant before. Everyone looked at this new beast in different ways, each seeing only a part of the animal. Even though all were looking at the same object, each interpreted the beast very differently, according to the small part they could see of it and according to their own interpretations. ‘This is pretty much the story of the three sectors we are talking about—agriculture, nutrition and health,’ said Mehta-Bhatt.  ‘We are all in our own silos’, she said, and need to see the beast whole.

Mehta-Bhatt sees capacity strengthening work as an important ‘impact pathway in linking these three sectors together’.

‘A piecemeal approach won’t work,’ she warned.  And although ‘this is nothing new’, she said, we still have limited capacity and understanding in this area, and only a few concrete case studies to show where linking different stakeholders in a health outcome has worked. As someone recently complained to her, it’s all very well talking about bringing all stakeholders together, but when has that ever ‘come out of Powerpoints’?

‘Capacity development is not just about training programs,’ says Mehta-Bhatt; ‘it goes beyond individual capacity building; it brings in systemic cognizance and impinges on institutional architecture, and all this happens in a process of co-learning, where messages are taken both from lab to land and from land to lab.’

Among ongoing ILRI initiatives that make use of multi-national, multi-disciplinary and multi-sectoral capacity building approaches are an ILRI-implemented Participatory Epidemiology Network for Animal and Public Health (PENAPH) with seven partners; a NEPAD-sponsored Biosciences eastern and central Africa Hub facility managed by ILRI in Nairobi and hosting many students from the region; a Stone Mountain Global Capacity Development Group of 11 members that is mapping existing capacities in the field of ‘one-health’ and co-led by the University of Minnesota and ILRI; and an EcoZD project coordinated by ILRI that is taking ecosystem approaches to the better management of zoonotic emerging infectious diseases in six countries of Southeast Asia and helping to set up two regional knowledge resource centres at universities in Indonesia and Thailand.

All of these projects, she explained, have capacity strengthening as a centrepiece; all are working with, and building on, what is already existing at the local and regional levels; and all are being conducted in a process of co-learning.

Mehta-Bhatt finished by finishing her elephant story. Capacity development, and collective action for capacity development, she said, can link the three sectors—agriculture, nutrition and health—allowing them not only ‘to recognize the elephant as a whole but to ride it as well.’

Watch the presentation by Purvi Mehta-Bhatt here:

‘Fixing the gender imbalance in agriculture will yield high returns’–Ethiopian State Minister of Agriculture

AgriGender 2011 logo The Hon. Wondirad Mandefro, Ethiopian State Minister of Agriculture, today delivered a strong opening address at an international workshop being held in the Ethiopian capital, Addis Ababa, this week.

The workshop, ‘Gender and Market-oriented Agriculture: From Research to Practice’, is being organized and hosted by the International Livestock Research Institute (ILRI), which for several years has been implementing a project of the Ethiopian Government on ‘Improving Productivity and Market Success of Ethiopian Farmers’.

The state minister made the following points.

  • Despite having made rapid progress over the last decade, Ethiopia was ranked 157th out of 168 countries in the Human Development Index prepared in 2010 by the United Nations Development Program.
  • Among Ethiopia’s urgent needs is the need to enhance the quality of life of its women, particularly the 85% of Ethiopian women who live in rural areas.
  • In the countryside, peasant farming is the main livelihood and it requires heavy labour that exacts a heavy physical toll on both women and children.
  • Only 34% of Ethiopian women have attended primary school; only 28% have any post-secondary education.
  • Only 8% of the seats in the Ethiopian Parliament are held by women.
  • Ethiopian women earn incomes (average of US$516) that are just half that of Ethiopian men (US$1008).
  • Ethiopia’s national targets for gender equality in agriculture, first set in 1993 in a National Policy on Women, are not yet met, due largely to women’s low education levels, low involvement in household and community decision-making, and low rewards accruing from the country’s agricultural and economic development.
  • Women’s access to markets is particularly constrained in Ethiopia, indicating that redressing the gender imbalance in the country’s market-oriented agriculture will yield high returns.
  • By removing the constraints Ethiopian women face in both education and the labour market, it is estimated that the country could add almost 2 percentage points to growth of its gross domestic product every year between 2005 and 2030.
  • If we consider in addition the effects of a ‘gender-equal’ agriculture on national growth, the expected economic benefits of including women in development strategies become huge.

For these reasons, the Ethiopian Government has instituted an Agricultural Growth Program that is focusing on increasing the involvement of women and youth in projects to increase agricultural productivity and market access for key crops and livestock in selected woredas (districts) in the country.

A project, ‘Improving Productivity and Market Success of Ethiopian Farmers’ (IPMS), implemented by ILRI on behalf of the Ethiopian Ministry of Agriculture and funded by the Canadian International Development Agency, has led to several successes, such as doubling the income of women fattening sheep in Goma, benefiting women dairy and honey farmers in Ada’a, helping women in Dale start an initiative that is supplying pullets for semi-commercial poultry producers, and increasing the levels of butter production and sales by supporting women with livestock fodder interventions.

The lessons, strategies and approaches raised at this workshop, and an understanding of what makes them effective in the Ethiopian context, should be immensely helpful to us in designing strategies to scale them out for the agricultural transformation to which the Ethiopian government and people are firmly committed.

Find the whole speech by the minister on ILRI Gender and Agriculture Blog.

Follow discussions on this and related topics at a workshop being held this week on ILRI’s campus in Addis Ababa, Ethiopia, on this main ILRI News Blog, on ILRI’s Gender and Agriculture Blog, or by searching for ‘AgriGender2011’ on social media websites such as Twitter (quotable quotes), Facebook (blog posts), SlideShare (slide presentations), Flickr (conference and other photographs) and Blip.tv (filmed interviews).

Read a full 68-page research report: Opportunities for promoting gender equality in rural Ethiopia through the commercialization of agriculture, IPMS Working Paper 18, ILRI 2010.

Read a 13-page general brief from which these recommendations were extracted: Empowering women through value chain development: Good practices and lessons from IPMS experiences, January 2011.

Top ten recommendations for helping Ethiopian women farmers break into the marketplace

AgriGender 2011 logo

Any development program or actions including women as major actors will have a higher chance of success in improving livelihoods, fighting food insecurity and poverty alleviation. While women are central to Ethiopian rural development, they typically receive an unequal share of the economic benefits from their efforts, an inequity particularly visible in the commercialization of agricultural commodities. A project of the Ethiopian Government implemented by the International Livestock Research Institute (ILRI) adopted calculated strategies in an attempt to ensure that a significant number of women targeted by the project benefitted from value-chain development. The project was more successful in some of the ten woredas (districts) targeted by the project than in others, but those in the project believe that the following ten recommendations stemming from this project apply broadly to the rural Ethiopian agricultural context.

Top ten recommendations
for helping Ethiopian women farmers
break into the marketplace

1 Change mindsets
Men and women both, and at all levels, need to change their traditional ways and to begin to actively involve women in Ethiopia’s rural development. In particular, professionals and other figures of authority, and women as well as men, tend to not see the full potential of Ethiopia’s rural women.

2 Provide incentives
Make increasing women’s participation in trainings and skill development be part of the development agents’ evaluation criteria.

3 Set high but realistic gender targets
At the beginning of development projects, set high but realistic targets for the numbers of women to be reached and involved in the projects.

4 Work with men and women together
Include both heads of households in all gender development work so that men and women together can learn and give each other support in increasing household income, which should then give them both real incentives for increasing the decision-making power of the women.

5 Take a stepwise approach to gender issues
Projects targeting women should focus on commodities such as dairy, small ruminant production, poultry raising, bee keeping and backyard fruit production, which have traditionally been the province of women; as their incomes raise, they may then take on other even more profitable production systems such as cattle fattening.

6 Tailor training for women
When designing capacity building work aiming to enlarge women’s participation in markets, take into account that women often lack the time, confidence, skills and networks that make it possible for them to participate in the training. We need to provide hands-on training at times and venues convenient to women and to link them with input suppliers and markets.

7 Facilitate services
By linking actors along the value chain and facilitating private sector and rural entrepreneurs, government agents will spur Ethiopia’s commercial agriculture.

8 Scale out successes by adapting them to particular contexts
Agricultural interventions and options that work in one place will often not work in another unless the approach to the innovation as well as a given technology is adapted appropriately to the new context.

9 Change self-perceptions
Help women to see that they are a vital link in the agricultural value chain. As in many other parts of the world, rural Ethiopian women typically view themselves more as farm labourers than as household providers and income- earners. To change this will require women accessing more and better- quality information and higher caliber networks as well as other women serving as entrepreneurial role models.

10 Link women to markets
Create opportunities that will involve women as well as men in market-led agricultural activities by, for example, bringing them into relevant discussions; attending to their concerns, needs and ambitions; and ensuring in particular that those ready to enter markets have the links and tools they need to do so.

Follow discussions on this and related topics at a workshop being held this week on ILRI’s campus in Addis Ababa, Ethiopia, on this main ILRI News Blog, on ILRI’s Gender and Agriculture Blog, or by searching for ‘AgriGender2011’ on social media websites such as Twitter (quotable quotes), Facebook (blog posts), SlideShare (slide presentations), Flickr (conference and other photographs) and Blip.tv (filmed interviews).

Read a full 68-page research report: Opportunities for promoting gender equality in rural Ethiopia through the commercialization of agriculture, IPMS Working Paper 18, ILRI 2010.

Read a 13-page general brief from which these recommendations were extracted: Empowering women through value chain development: Good practices and lessons from IPMS experiences, January 2011.

What will it take for women farmers to break away from the hearth–and into the marketplace?

AgriGender 2011 logo

A three-day international workshop opens tomorrow (Monday 31 January 2011) in Addis Ababa, Ethiopia, focusing on women’s place in market-oriented agriculture in developing countries.

The workshop is being convened by the International Livestock Research Institute (ILRI) on behalf of a project of the Ethiopian Government implemented by ILRI called ‘Improving Productivity and Market Success of Ethiopian Farmers’ (IPMS). It is being held at ILRI’s principal, Ethiopian, campus.

The workshop organizers hope to identify the most useful products of gender research for the commercialization of smallholder agriculture—and to get these into wider practice.

Most development experts agree that gender is arguably the biggest ‘missing link’ holding back agricultural development in poor countries. But as Madeleine Bunting argued recently in the Guardian’s Poverty Matters blog:

‘It’s odd. There is now a powerful consensus about the central role of women in development. They are the key agents of change given their impact on the health and education of the next generation. Everyone is agreed that women’s empowerment is vital, and it crops up in countless speeches by politicians all over the world. And yet change is achingly slow—embarrassingly so. . . . Women’s rights are in danger of becoming a wordfest.’

The participants at this week’s workshop in Addis Ababa are aware of the danger of saying too much and doing too little. The workshop participants include scientists, development experts, donor representatives and policymakers already working in Africa and other regions to give women greater access to markets and agricultural ‘value chains’.

They will present and discuss research-based evidence on promising strategies for addressing this missing link and hope to begin work to develop a new paradigm for market-oriented research and funding that directly serves women’s interests.

The workshop will draw heavily on experiences of the IPMS project, which started six years ago with funding from the Canadian International Development Agency.

IPMS published a full report of its gender research in a working paper that appeared in December 2010, ‘Opportunities for promoting gender equality in rural Ethiopia through the commercialization of agriculture’, and yesterday released a 13-page brief for the general public, ‘Empowering women through value chain development’, that highlights findings and lessons the project learned, and the good practices it supported, in its four years of implementing projects in ten pilot learning woredas (districts) in four regions of the country. In this work, an IPMS gender research team set out to ‘mainstream’ best gender practices, specifically by increasing access by rural Ethiopian women to market-oriented agricultural resources, technologies and knowledge.

The IPMS gender working paper adds significantly to the literature available on women and agricultural development, which despite demonstrable need, remains thin. Few studies have ever been conducted on women’s role in Ethiopian agriculture, for example. This is despite the fact that 85% of Ethiopian women live in rural areas where virtually all households are engaged in small-scale farming of one kind or another, and despite the fact that most Ethiopian women continue to have far fewer opportunities than men for personal growth, education and employment.

The unequal power relations in Ethiopia, as elsewhere, are maintained by policies, programs and information systems that reman directed primarily at men. A recent paper published by Agnes Quisumbing and Lauren Pandolfelli, researchers at the International Food Policy Research Institute (IFPRI), demonstrates how dysfunctional it is to ignore or marginalize women in development interventions: reviewing 271 World Bank projects, the authors found that by addressing the needs of both men and women, projects increased by 16% the long-lasting value of the benefits the projects generated.

Across four major regions and ten pilot learning communities, the IPMS gender researchers worked with Ethiopian research and development officers to strengthen women’s leadership and negotiating skills not only in farmer groups and local associations but also in their own households. The specific aim was to increase the women’s participation in market-oriented agricultural production. The project and government staff encouraged women to organize themselves into producer groups for various agricultural commodities and into marketing groups that could collectively demand and get higher market prices than individuals could get.

Women throughout the developing world suffer from unequal access to agricultural training and other resources, despite recent World Bank estimates that they carry out 40–60% of all agricultural labour in the world. The lead author of the IPMS working paper, Ethiopian scientist Lemlem Aregu, says: ‘Having only second-hand information passed on by their husbands and other men greatly reduces women’s ability to innovate and fulfil their productive potential. And this, of course, holds back commercial agriculture in these countries.’

Ranjitha Puskur, an Indian scientist who has led a gender research team in the IPMS project and now leads an Innovations and Livestock Systems project in ILRI’s Markets Theme, says that one way to start to change this situation is to scale up women’s work in agricultural commodities that have traditionally been the province of women.

‘Women posses animal-raising skills honed by years of living in rural areas,’ Puskur says. ‘A good entry point for helping them to better market those skills is to focus on poultry raising and other agricultural work that is often left to women to oversee. These enterprises then become sources of self-reliance, providing women with the means of generating a daily small income, with which they can meet their household expenses. With this experience, women are encouraged to move further up the ‘livestock ladder’ and to begin participating in other, traditionally male-dominated, kinds of livestock production.’

Follow discussions at this workshop on this main ILRI News Blog, on ILRI’s Gender and Agriculture Blog, or by searching for ‘AgriGender2011’ on social media websites such as Twitter (quotable quotes), Facebook (blog posts), SlideShare (slide presentations), Flickr (conference and other photographs) and Blip.tv (filmed interviews).

Read the full 68-page research report: Opportunities for promoting gender equality in rural Ethiopia through the commercialization of agriculture, IPMS Working Paper 18, ILRI 2010.

Read the 13-page general brief: Empowering women through value chain development: Good practices and lessons from IPMS experiences, January 2011.

Read more of what Madeleine Bunting has to say on the Guardian’s Poverty Matters Blog: Women’s rights are in danger of becoming a wordfest, 27 January 2011.

Highlights from speeches at the opening of the Biosciences eastern and central Africa Hub at ILRI

10BecA_Opening_CarlosSereBruceScottRomanoKiome

Carlos Seré, director general of ILRI; Bruce Scott, director of Partnerships and Communications at ILRI; and Romano Kiome, permanent secretary in Kenya’s Ministry of Agriculture; in discussion at the official opening of BecA at ILRI (photo credit: ILRI/MacMillan).

Following are key highlights from speeches read on Friday 5 November 2010 during the official opening of the Biosciences eastern and central Africa (BecA) Hub, which is hosted and managed by the International Livestock Research Institute (ILRI), at its Nairobi headquarters and laboratories.

Mohammed Kuti, Kenya’s Minister for Livestock Development said ‘Kenya is proud to host BecA, a modern research facility for sub-Sahara Africa. I am gratified to learn that this facility has adopted an integrated research approach, using biosciences to address animal and plant research, human health as well as the sustainable use of Africa’s natural resources.’

His Excellency, David Collins, Canadian High Commissioner to Kenya said ‘Canada is pleased to celebrate the achievements that have been made in establishing this particular centre of excellence in bioscience in agriculture.

‘In May 2003, Canada announced a contribution of C$30 million to establish the Biosciences eastern and central Africa (BecA) initiative in Kenya. BecA is the first of four networks of centres of excellence across Africa to strengthen Africa’s scientific and technological development. It allows eastern and central African countries to develop and apply bioscience research and expertise.’

‘BecA,’ said Collins, ‘is conducting important research that will help address key agricultural issues, including those facing small-scale African farmers, the majority of whom are women.’

He said Canada’s investment in BecA has supported the construction of new facilities and the renovation of existing facilities, including laboratories. With the completion of construction, the Hub is now in full operation, with a number of significant research programs under way, and quickly gaining regional and international recognition as a world-class facility to support capacity for biosciences in Africa.

‘The hub will enable African scientists and researchers play a major role in helping Africa meet its Millennium Development Goals by 2015 as a more productive and profitable agricultural sector is a critical component in the successful attainment of the MDGs,’ he added.

‘It is exciting to see the birth of a hub that will play a key role in ensuring that Africa drives its own agenda in regards to agriculture and strengthens the research pillar of the Comprehensive Africa Agriculture Development Program.’ Collins said.

Carlos Seré, director general of ILRI, made the following remarks (full text).

‘It is indeed a very special honour to welcome you to the ILRI campus on the occasion of the opening of the Biosciences eastern and central Africa Hub.

‘Your Excellency, the statue you have just unveiled is an artistic representation of the double helix. The double helix is the recipe for life. Its chains of molecules, the DNA, encode the information that determines the inheritance shaping all living beings: plants, animals and microbes. This beautiful piece of art, produced here in Kenya, very aptly represents what BecA is about: understanding this code of life and using this knowledge to develop novel solutions such as livestock vaccines and improved crops.’

‘Much of this cutting-edge science could up to now only be undertaken in developed countries. The BecA-ILRI Hub now enables scientists from research institutions and universities across eastern and central Africa to come to Nairobi and undertake critical parts of their research with new tools and with support from colleagues with the requisite training and experience.’

‘How did this come about? NEPAD’s Science and Technology program and ILRI approached the Government of Canada in 2002 with a plan to refurbish ILRI’s laboratories and have ILRI provide, on behalf of NEPAD, a shared biosciences platform to provide African scientists with access to the most advanced facilities and equipment to conduct biosciences research of strategic importance for Africa’s development. This Hub forms part of NEPAD’s African Biosciences Initiative, which is creating a continent-wide network of shared biosciences research facilities.’

‘ILRI’s board of trustees and management team saw this as a logical evolution in its contribution to the continent’s development, responding on the one hand to the urgent need to boost biosciences capacity on the continent and on the other to the advantages of sharing such facilities. This is further driven by the fact that all agricultural research builds on the shared basic knowledge of biology, which underpins work in plants, animals and microbes. BecA is about exploiting this common body of knowledge to leapfrog the search for solutions. This is BecA’s unique contribution to Africa’s science endeavour.’

‘Beyond supporting the global community’s agenda of using livestock and livestock innovations as a pathway out of poverty, ILRI agreed to share its facilities with a wider array of African and international partners to better utilize this power of modern biosciences.’

‘Today we are witnessing the realization of that shared dream. Your Excellency, the strong support of the Kenyan Government to ILRI over the years has been critical to making this happen. Dr Romano Kiome, your Permanent Secretary of Agriculture and ILRI board member, passionately supported this initiaitive in its early days and chaired its first steering committee. Similarly, the financial and technical support of the Government of Canada  and many other development partners was absolutely critical. NEPAD’s vision and leadership in driving a continent-wide strategy for science and technology as a key building block for Africa’s development provided a strong case for creating BecA.

‘It is widely recognized that partnerships are critical to achieving significant impacts on the ground at the required speed. BecA is an innovative and complex partnership and a new way of operating across the boundaries of organizations. We are committed to working with all of you to make it flourish. To turn science into products for Africa, we will need to reach out to an even more diverse range of partners in the coming years. We thank your Excellency and the many other people and institutions who contributed to make BecA a reality.’

‘Your Excellency, this is a unique moment in history; Africa’s economy is growing faster than that of most Western economies. At the same time, we all know that there are serious concerns for food security globally and particularly on this continent. The BecA facility you are about to open today will deliver key elements to respond to the urgent demand for drastically increased agricultural productivity. It will provide practical hands-on experience in advanced biosciences to the next generation of African scientists. It will enable a wide range of African institutions, from research centres to universities to private-sector companies, to develop the technological solutions for today and tomorrow. We know there is a revolution going on in the biosciences worldwide. What has been lacking till now is effective grounding of this science in African realities. This will be done by Africans in Africa fully engaged in the global science community.’

Kenya’s President Mwai Kibaki officially opened the BecA-Hub at ILRI on Friday 5 November. Read key highlights from the president’s speech on the following link: http://ilriclippings.wordpress.com/2010/11/07/kenya-president-mwai-kibaki-officially-opens-state-of-the-art-biosciences-facilities-at-ilris-nairobi-campus/

Listen to and watch the BecA official opening speeches on the following links:
Podcasts
Short videos

Biosciences for Africa: Fuelling africa’s agricultural revolution from within

BecA official opening, 5 November 2010

His Excellency Mwai Kibaki, president of Kenya, listens to Lydia Wamalwa, a plant molecular biologist, during the official opening of the Biosciences eastern and central Africa Hub on 5 November 2010; in the middle, Carlos Seré, director general of the International Livestock Research Institute (ILRI), which hosts and manages the BecA Hub, looks on (photo credit ILRI/Masi).

A world-class research facility, the Biosciences eastern and central Africa Hub, was officially opened in Nairobi, today, by Kenya’s President Mwai Kibaki. This opening follows a scientific conference, Mobilizing Biosciences for Africa’s Development, which was held the day before at the International Livestock Research Institute (ILRI), which hosts and manages the new facility.

The BecA Hub is open for use by researchers from Africa and around the world who are working to improve African agriculture. The BecA Hub puts Africa’s research capacity on par with some of the world’s most advanced research institutes.

‘With the help of our many partners and investors, the research undertaken here will have a lasting impact in developing agriculture in Africa,’ says Carlos Seré, director general of ILRI.

The BecA Hub at ILRI brings the latest cutting-edge technologies into the hands of African graduate students and scientists. The Hub serves as a science integrator, allowing researchers to work together across institutional, national and disciplinary boundaries. There are already some 150 scientists, technicians and students using the facility today. The BecA Hub intends to double this number in the next five years. Since 2007, almost 1500 scientists have participated in BecA Hub conferences, workshops and short-term training and 100 graduate students and 57 visiting scientists have undertaken research at the facility.

‘This facility,’ said Kibaki, ‘will be used to develop what Africa requires and will serve as a focal point for Africa’s scientific community to enable them to carry out research to increase agricultural productivity and food security.’

Lydia Wamalwa, a Kenyan plant molecular biologist at the International Potato Center (CIP), says, ‘I left Kenya to start my PhD research with CIP laboratories in Lima, Peru. The opening of these facilities in Nairobi allowed me to return home to work on our agricultural challenges here in Africa.’

While the BecA Hub was formed to directly serve 17 countries in eastern and central Africa, demand for its use has been so strong that it now serves Ghana, Mali, Nigeria, Senegal, South Africa and Zambia, as well as other countries beyond the continent.

Research at the BecA Hub focuses on some of Africa’s biggest agricultural problems, including frequent droughts, devastating crop pests, diseases and weeds, lethal livestock diseases and unsafe foods.

‘We aim to help build Africa’s capacity by empowering its scientists to lead the coming African agricultural revolution from within,’ says the facility’s director, Segenet Kelemu, a leading Ethiopian bioscientist.

‘Many of the research findings generated so far look like they will find quick application in agriculture.’

African and international scientists are working here to develop drought-tolerant food crops. They are also working to improve food safety in Kenya by reducing the amount of its maize crop that is contaminated by aflatoxins, which cause cancer, stunt children’s growth, increase vulnerability to disease and, at high levels, kills. In addition, these scientists have developed and validated a new test for detecting bush meat being sold in Kenya’s butcheries, a diagnostic that can safeguard both wildlife populations and human health.

The BecA Hub began in 2004 as part of the African Union/New Partnership for Africa’s Development (NEPAD)’s African Biosciences Initiative, which was part of a framework of Centres of Excellence for Science and Technology and the Comprehensive African Agricultural Development Programme. The Hub was also aligned with regional priorities set by the Association for Strengthening Agricultural Research in Eastern and Central Africa.

Aggrey Ambali, director of the Policy Alignment and Programme Development Directorate, NEPAD Planning and Coordinating Agency, says, ‘The BecA Hub offers Africa’s bioscientists the opportunity to conduct high-level research within the continent.’

The Canadian International Development Agency strongly supported the Hub by funding renovation of laboratories already existing at ILRI’s Nairobi campus and the construction of new facilities. The 10,000-square-metre laboratories already host many researchers from Africa’s national agricultural research systems and several centres of the Consultative Group on International Agricultural Research. The facilities are now complete and the BecA Hub is ready to operate at full capacity.

The Syngenta Foundation for Sustainable Agriculture, a long-time supporter, is helping to fund the Hub’s operations through 2014. And many other investors are supporting specific research and training projects.

‘The BecA Hub at ILRI serves as a focal point connecting African science to fast-moving scientific superhighways in the rest of the world,’ says Knut Hove, chair of the ILRI Board of Trustees.

For example, BecA Hub graduate students have formed a group dedicated to bioinformatics. They are using the Hub’s high-performance computing platform, fast internet connectivity and bioinformatics expertise for ongoing peer-to-peer training. The group has organized international workshops and published a paper in a leading international journal. Some of these students have been awarded scholarships from the Australian Agency for International Development; Nescent, Durham, USA; and EMBL‐European Bioinformatics Institute, Cambridge, UK.

Romano Kiome, permanent secretary in Kenya’s Ministry of Agriculture, says that Kenya is proud to host a facility that is allowing leading African scientists to return home to work on African problems.

‘The BecA Hub,’ says Kiome, ‘should help this continent become a breadbasket for the world.’

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For more information on the BecA Hub, visit http://hub.africabiosciences.org

Listen to and watch the BecA official opening speeches on the following links:
Podcasts
Short videos

Hands on the plough: Kofi Annan and Forum promise to pool resources for African ‘agricultural growth corridors’ combining crops and livestock

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Kofi Annan speaking at the African Green Revolution Forum held in Accra, Ghana, September 2010 (photo credit: AGRF).

An inaugural African Green Revolution Forum has moved Africa forward in its quest to transform agriculture and tackle food security. 

Closing the Forum in Accra, Ghana, on 4 September 2010, the Forum's chair, Kofi Annan, praised efforts to accelerate a green revolution in Africa. The Forum's executive co-producer, Akin Adesina, said the meetings kick-started a new phase in an African green revolution. The Forum agreed to pool efforts and resources to scale up breadbasket project plans and investment blueprints for agricultural growth corridors. Ghanaian Minister for Agriculture, Kwasi Ahwoi, invited new partners to join the Ghana breadbasket initiative. The Prime Minister of Tanzania, H.E. Mizengo Pinda, agreed to finalise a blueprint for the Tanzania Southern Corridor by January 2011.

The Forum participants specifically agreed on the following actions:
· empower women by accelerating their access to technologies, finances and markets
· scale up farmer and agri-business access to finances
· invest in science, technology and research for food and nutritional security
· increase access to improved seed via plant breeding, seed companies and seed distribution systems
· improve fertilizer supply systems and build more efficient fertilizer value chains
· link agri-business to commercial farms and smallholder farmers
· manage water resources better
· make better and wider use of 'mixed' farming systems that raise animals as well as grow crops
 

The director general of the International Livestock Research Institute (ILRI), Uruguayan agricultural economist Carlos Seré, participated in the Forum and led a panel session of livestock development. A report on that livestock session will be posted here later this week.

The African Green Revolution Forum issued a detailed plan of action to the delegates. Government and development groups, including the African Union and the Alliance for a Green Revolution in Africa, will conduct peer review assessments.

'We pledge ourselves to work with all other key partners to ensure that capacity is not a limiting factor in the green revolution,' said Namanga Ngongi, President of the Alliance for a Green Revolution in Africa, the organization that founded the Forum alongside Yara.

Mr Annan thanked the government leaders, including H.E. Mizengo Pinda, H.E. Olusegun Obasanjo, former President of Nigeria, and the Hon. John Dramani Mahama, Vice President of Ghana, who had taken part in the African Green Revolution Forum. 'These gracious, impassioned leaders threw their political weight behind this shining moment of transformation for Africa,' said Mr Annan.

And he urged governments and parliamentarians to help eradicate poverty and realise the dream of a green revolution. 'The time for action is now. For as you leave this forum, you are carrying upon your shoulders the vibrant hopes of a generation and a continent. We will not dash the dream of the African farmer,' said Mr Annan. 'With our hands on the plough, we will till this beautiful land’s soil together, and help Africa reap a bountiful harvest.'

About the Forum
The African Green Revolution Forum brings together African heads of state, ministers, farmers, private agribusiness firms, financial institutions, non-governmental organizations, civil society and scientists to an African-led forum to promote investments and policy support for driving agricultural productivity and income growth for African farmers in an environmentally sustainable way.

This public-private network it is a catalyst for the African Green Revolution called for by former UN Secretary General Kofi Annan in 2004. The Forum gathered momentum during three successful African Green Revolution conferences in Oslo, Norway. This year it was held 2–4 September 2010 in Accra, Ghana, co-chaired by Kofi Annan. The African Green Revolution Forum is supported by the Alliance for a Green Revolution in Africa, Yara, the Rockefeller Foundation, the International Fund for Agricultural Development, the New Partnership for Africa's Development, the African Development Bank and Standard Bank.

Read more about the outcomes of the African Green Revolution Forum, media releases and a summary of the African Green Revolution parallel sessions here.

Small-scale traders in ‘clean milk’ strengthen the milk value chain in urban India

Fresh milk traders in Guwahati, Assam, India

Small- and medium-scale milk traders—not big or even small grocery stores—are what links most dairy farmers and consumers in Guwahati, the capital of Assam. Milk and milk products make up a large part of the most nourishing foods available to millions of poor people in this remote, poverty-stricken state of northeastern India. To promote the business of ‘clean milk’ among smaller scale traders, researchers recently trained more than 90 dealers in improved milk handling technique.

For three weeks this July 2010, courses were conducted on clean and hygienic milk handling and distribution for milk traders and vendors. Participants were trained in such specifics as the causes of milk spoilage and disease, hygienic milk handling and transportation, how to conduct tests for milk quality, and ways to ensure milk containers used in all processes of milk handling are sanitized.

The course trainers and materials were provided by staff of the International Livestock Research Institute (ILRI), who are working to educate and skill up relatively informal milk traders in the production and sales of clean milk and milk products. The benefits of this training are many, including not only cleaner, hygienically handled, milk, but also more milk sales, greater customer satisfaction and improved community health.

The trainings are part of a series that will reach more than 300 traders who collect and sell milk on the outskirts of Guwahati. The five modules that make up each training course are being delivered in 12 batches through October 2010.

Led by the Directorate of Dairy Development in Assam, the training program is supported by the Assam Agricultural Competitiveness Project under an initiative of the Joint Coordination & Monitoring Committee, which is bringing together organizations such as Dairy Development, the Veterinary Department, the public health departments in Assam, the Guwahati Municipal Corporation, the Assam Rural Infrastructure & Agricultural Services Society, and ILRI.

ILRI’s participation in this initiative is part of a project, ‘Improvement of the traditional dairy value chains in Assam’, partly funded by the UK Department for International Development’s Research-into-Use program. The project aims to increase demand for locally produced, good-quality milk in Assam and the capacity to supply it. Project members are supporting agents involved in the entire peri-urban traditional dairy value chain, from production, to distribution to the sales of safe, high-quality milk and dairy products.

ILRI dairy project office in Guwahati, Assam, India

ILRI has helped the Directorate of Dairy Development to mobilize Assamese dairy producers, suppliers and processors in the traditional sector as well as policymakers to improve the quality of milk delivered to consumers and to strengthen the dairy sector in general. ILRI is a member of a team strengthening the capacity of the local milk producer & milk traders/vendors association and will work with the Directorate of Dairy Development on a Joint Coordination and Monitoring Committee to monitor the ways that the lessons imparted to the milk traders are implemented and adapted.

Asif Bin Qutub, a project coordinator with ILRI in India and one of the trainers in this course, said that: ‘This training addresses trader needs identified after a baseline survey conducted by ILRI showed that most of the traders had lost potential customers as a result of selling inferior milk due to not following proper milk handling procedures.’

‘The training aims to address other issues as well,’ Qutub said. ‘It provides dealers with information on milk prices and good business practices—information likely to motivate them to improve the quality of the milk they supply to their customers.’

Those trained said their newly acquired knowledge would help them as well as farmers to increase their milk sales, and at higher prices, to reduce their losses from spoilage, and to protect their health and that of their families. They also mentioned that they looked forward to gaining greater approval for their businesses as well as new opportunities.

Sagar Dhakal, vice president of Guwahati’s Milk Suppliers Association, said he and his colleagues had agreed to keep the training materials on display in their offices and to share their training more widely with others in the business.

Those participating in the courses will receive certificates from Assam’s Directorate of Dairy Development and Joint Coordination and Monitoring Committee.

New participatory initiative to involve local communities in disease control

A new approach to disease surveillance and control aims to unite human and animal medical approaches to better control disease spread and so improve public health.

In this 10-minute film from the International Livestock Research Institute (ILRI), representatives of seven institutional members of a Participatory Epidemiology Network for Animal and Public Health (PENAPH), which includes researchers from ILRI, discuss ways of involving communities and health workers in the process of empowering local people.

The network uses participatory approaches to come up with effective ways of dealing with community challenges and encourages teamwork among farmers, veterinarians, nurses, doctors, governments and other specialists, especially in setting up effective disease surveillance systems.