Agricultural interventions for food safety and nutrition: Livestock reports at this week’s CGIAR Science Forum

Tea Room in Chinseu

The interior of a tea room in Chinseu Trading Centre, in Zomba West, Malawi (photo on Flickr by John Appiah-Duffell); the menu on the wall, written in Chichewa, lists the following: PRICES FOR TEA: Tea without milk, Tea with milk; EXTRAS: Buns, Nsima with chicken, Nsima with meat, Nsima with beans, Rice.

The following is a report on livestock-related presentations at the on-going three-day CGIAR Science Forum, 23–25 Sep 2013, in Bonn, Germany.

From yesterday’s session on food safety is this brief from veterinary epidemiologist and food safety expert Delia Grace, of the International Livestock Research Institute (ILRI), on the case for agricultural interventions for food safety.

Agriculture has allowed massive expansion of people and their animals.

Yet in a world of more than 7 billion people, more than one billion are hungry and more than 2 billion are sickened each year from the food they ate.

Agriculture is exacting a heavy biological cost, but health policy and programs often stop at the clinic door.

A consensus is growing that the disconnect between agriculture, health and nutrition is at least partly responsible for the disease burden associated with food and farming.

‘The new CGIAR Research Program on Agriculture for Enhanced Nutrition and Health is attempting to bridge this disconnect and the International Livestock Research Institute (ILRI) leads the component focusing on diseases related to agriculture. This session uses the case of fungal toxins to explore how research can contribute to game-changing innovations, powerful incentives and enabling institutions that improve at the same time food safety, food accessibility for poor consumers and access to markets for smallholder farmers.

Towards new ways of managing food safety in developing countries
* Incentives for risk management: In poor countries, where public and private standards are weak and where consumers’ choices are limited by income and information, incentives to safe production are lacking. Novel incentives need to be found to encourage farmers and other value chain actors in poor settings to produce quality and safe products.
* Innovations for risk management: Informal markets and food produced and consumed by smallholders typically have high levels of hazards. Innovations, whether technology, social or market-based, can change the game.
* Institutions for risk assessment: Food safety regulations in developing countries are characterized by complexity, inappropriateness for informal and smallholder production, lack of translation of policy into practice, and frequent negative impacts of policy. Both evidence and effective influence are needed to improve food safety institutions.

Mandela Corks 3

If not stored and dried properly groundnut can get mouldy (photo credit: ICRISAT/Swathi Sridharan).

Controlling aflatoxins as an example of agriculture based interventions for human health
‘Among staple crops (maize, groundnuts, sorghum), the most serious food safety problem is toxins produced by fungi. These cause around 90,000 cases of liver cancer each year and there are strong associations between aflatoxin exposure and stunting and immune suppression in children. There have also major impacts on trade and the livestock sector.

‘Using the example of fungal toxins, especially aflatoxins, we make the case for research investors to support research into agricultural approaches for enhancing food safety in value chains.’

From today’s session on economic implications
‘The objective of the session is to understand better the economic impacts of shifting investments towards more nutrition dense foods for healthier diets. Agricultural interventions in low income countries have often either focused on raising incomes for the poor assuming that nutrition and health benefits follow automatically or focused on improving diets through promotion of specific highly nutritious foods but do not often consider the economic sustainability of the programmes once intervention monies are removed. Furthermore, they may overlook other complex cultural and environmental issues which may be key to their success. For investment to effectively increase nutritional levels and incomes, a multi-dimensional approach including nutrition education, technical assistance, environmental awareness and community organization support may be needed to address the complex economic and social linkages between nutrition and agriculture

‘The session will present results from field research projects aimed at improving nutritional and income outcomes. Among the research questions to be addressed are:

  • How do initiatives to improve dietary and income outcomes need to be structured to reap benefits of both at present and over time?
  • How can the multi-dimensional nature of the nutrition-income linkage be integrated into investment projects in this area?
  • What are the knowledge gaps in developing and implementing these strategies?
  • Are new research approaches needed in developing interventions aimed at double objective outcomes?’

Faith Kivuti and Mom Milking a Cow

An East African smallholder dairy farmer and her cow and child (photo credit: Jeff Haskins).

Tom Randolph, ILRI agricultural economist and director of the CGIAR Research Program on Livestock and Fish, will make a presentation on Supporting the pro-poor transformation of smallholder-based animal-source food systems.

‘The presentation focuses on how food systems could be designed to contribute more directly to the nutritional security of poor rural and urban communities. In particular, how might investments to professionalize smallholder livestock and aquaculture production and informal market systems improve incomes and nutritional food security? The presentation explores the implications of such an objective, and provides an example from a dairy development project.’

Find the program and abstracts of presentations for the CGIAR Science Forum 2013, ‘Nutrition and health outcomes: targets for agricultural research’, 23‒25 Sep 2013, Bonn, Germany. Follow the ongoing discussions on Twitter by searching for the hashtag ‘ScienceForum2013’

As a new round of bird flu hits China, livestock scientist advises to ‘panic slowly’

China

At the chicken market in Xining, Lanzhou Province, China (photo on Flickr by Padmanaba01).

By Matthew Davis

The initial news reports were slim on details but the reaction was swift. There were at least three people dead in China after apparently contracting influenza from birds. Prices of soybean—a major ingredient in livestock feed—immediately took a dive.

Then the death toll rose to five, virus samples were detected in pigeons, and in Shanghai authorities began slaughtering poultry flocks. Within a few days the death count was up to seven, then nine. And people started to wonder about a connection to all those pig carcasses floating down Shanghai waterways.

Such is the confusing swirl of information emanating from the latest incident in which a worrisome disease has passed from animal to human, a phenomena—and a quite common one at that—known as zoonoses. In this instance, it’s an influenza virus called H7N9 that appears to have originated in wild or domestic bird populations, but much about its source remains murky.

For Delia Grace, a veterinary epidemiologist at the International Livestock Research Institute (ILRI) who spends most of her waking hours studying zoonotic events around the world, there are two essential facts to keep in mind as the situation in China evolves. And they embody how difficult it can be to craft a proper response.

One: the vast majority of zoonoses outbreaks do not escalate to crisis proportions. But, two:  every now and then, as happened with Spanish flu in 1918 and AIDS in more recent times, an animal disease jumps to human hosts and causes a ‘civilization altering event’.

Grace suggests the appropriate reaction is to ‘panic slowly’. In other words, be prepared to move quickly if things get worse, but don’t over-react to the early reports. Also, keep in mind that, just based on what gets reported, a new disease emerges somewhere in the world about every four months.

For example, Grace noted that epidemiologists in the United Kingdom, Germany, and the Middle East are probably more concerned right now about a new and deadly corona virus that as of late March had killed 11 of the 17 people known to have been infected. There is evidence that at least one of the infections may have originated in racing camels.

Grace advises decision-makers in the public and private sector to channel the impulse to take action toward addressing conditions that are intensifying zoonotic threats.

We know that in certain parts of the world, livestock intensification is being pushed well beyond the limits of anything we have done in agriculture in the past’, she said. ‘There are hundreds of thousands of animals packed together and little transparency about how they are being managed. And that’s making disease experts pretty nervous.’

But Grace cautions against focusing solely on the risks posed by certain livestock practices and ignoring the fact that livestock are a major source of food and income for 1 billion of the world’s poorest people. She worries that misguided reactions to emerging zoonotic diseases can end up doing significant harm to their lives and livelihoods.

For example, in 2009, the Egyptian government  ordered the mass slaughter of pigs tended by Coptic Christians on the mistaken belief that the pigs were linked to the H1N1 flu pandemic. Also, the possible link in Asia between a different, and also deadly, form of avian influenza called H5N1 and ‘backyard’ poultry farming has prompted a shift to more industrial-scale production. Yet, as Grace points out, given the problems plaguing industrial operations in the region, this shift could actually increase the risk of zoonotic diseases while imperiling the food security of livestock keepers.

‘The proper reaction to the risks posed by emerging zoonotic diseases is not to indiscriminately slaughter animals. That could threaten the health of far more people by depriving them of their primary source of protein and other nutrients’, Grace said.

What we need to do is look at the many ways livestock production has gone wrong—lack of diversity in animals, using drugs to mask signs of diseases, dirty conditions—and put them to right.

Matthew Davis is a Washington DC-based science writer and policy analyst; he also serves as a senior consulting writer for Burness Communications.

German Chancellor Angela Merkel arrives in Kenya, will visit ‘model research institution in Africa’–ILRI

Biosciences eastern and central Africa hub platform

One of 7 high-tech laboratories at the Biosciences eastern and central Africa Hub, a regional state-of-the-art science platform hosted and managed by the International Livestock Research Institute (ILRI), in Nairobi, Kenya (photo credit: ILRI/David White).

Germany’s Chancellor Angela Merkel has arrived in Kenya.

Her busy one-day visit to this country, the first of three countries she is visiting on her African tour, includes talks with Kenya President Mwai Kibaki and Prime Minister Raila Odinga.

As reported in Kenya’s Daily Nation newspaper on Sunday, Merkel will also hold a joint press conference with Prime Minister Odinga. At the press conference, to be held at the Intercontinental Hotel, in Nairobi’s city centre, Chancellor Merkel will sign a new agreement between her government and the International Livestock Research Institute (ILRI), which is headquartered in Kenya.

ILRI Director General Carlos Seré and Director for Partnerships and Communications Bruce Scott will attend the prime minister’s press conference and take part in the signing ceremony. Chancellor Merkel and ILRI’s Carlos Seré will then attend a State luncheon hosted by President Kibaki at State House.

After the luncheon, Chancellor Merkel is scheduled to give a speech at the University of Nairobi. She will then pay a visit to ILRI’s headquarters, in the suburb of  Kabete, where she will tour ILRI’s farm and labs, be introduced to some of the research partnerships her country is involved in, and give an address to the ILRI and diplomatic community.

The Daily Nation reports that some of Germany’s scientists are working at ILRI, which is ‘described as a model of a state-of-the-art research institution in Africa.’

President Kibaki is quite familiar himself with ILRI’s research. The president toured the laboratories at ILRI/BecA late last year (17 Nov 2010) when he officially launched the BecA Hub. And just last Friday (8 Jul 2011), the president paid a visit to an ILRI exhibit at the launch of his government’s ‘Open Data Web Portal,’ the first of its kind in Africa, at the Kenyatta International Conference Centre. At this launch, the president and several of his ministers as well as some 1,000 (techie) participants heard from ILRI scientist Andrew Mude, who presented to them a novel livestock insurance product that ILRI has initiated with private and public partners for poor livestock herders living in Kenya’s northern pastoral lands.

After her busy day today in Nairobi, Chancellor Merkel departs tonight (Tue 12 Jul 2011) for  Angola before going on to Nigeria.

This is a red-letter day for ILRI for another reason. ILRI Director General Carlos Seré, an agricultural economist from Uruguay, and his wife, Chrysille Seré, from Germany, will also be departing Kenya tonight, as it is the director general’s last official day in his Nairobi office. Carlos Seré has led ILRI for ten years, having started his tenure in January 2002. He is going on summer leave starting tonight. On 1 October of this year, Jimmy Smith, an animal scientist and policymaker from Guyana, now at the World Bank, will take over from Carlos Seré as director general of ILRI.

ILRI has had several informal goodbye parties for the Seré’s and will have one more opportunity to wish him well in the new position he is taking up in Rome at the International Fund for Agricultural Research (IFAD) at a 1.5-day ‘Seré Seminar’ that will take place this November in Addis Ababa to look back at Seré’s 10-year ILRI legacy and forward to new leadership under Smith.

ILRI staff are thus expressing to themselves how kind it is for Chancellor Merkel and President Kibaki to bid their director general farewell in suitable style at the State and ILRI functions today. :-)

Read the whole article in the Daily NationGerman leader jets in Tuesday, 10 Jul 2011.

Germany helps Africa fight bird flu by investing in its people

Substantial GTZ support provided to ILRI and AU-IBAR has provided 80 laboratory staff in 37 African countries with specialized knowledge in rapid detection of highly pathogenic avian influenza
 
This program of the German Technical Cooperation (GTZ) for early detection of bird flu in Africa did more than train people in advanced techniques for diagnosing a new disease. It invested in people, connecting them in a ‘who’s who’ of skilled African laboratory staff as well as a handful of international bird flu experts focusing on Africa. It united these laboratory experts in a common cause.

As Carola von Morstein, coordinator of the GTZ Task Force on Avian Influenza, puts it, ‘This—remarkably the first regional training in Africa to diagnose avian influenza—is helping to improve transparency, communication and information exchange in bird flu campaigns. We will publish in print and on the web a training manual so we can widely share the lessons learned in this training. One of those lessons is the great advantage to be gained in coordinating work to prevent and control bird flu across the continent.’

Staff at the International Livestock Research Institute (ILRI) and the Africa Union’s Interafrican Bureau for Animal Resources (AU-IBAR), who organized the series of intensive training courses conducted over the last year across the continent, are interested in continuing their work with GTZ to sustain this cooperation among agricultural, veterinary and medical experts. Such inter-sector cooperation in disease control is regrettably unusual in all countries but particularly so in those lacking resources to bring together experts from different ministries and disciplines.

ILRI’s research director John McDermott is excited about this cooperative aspect of the project. ‘The network of African veterinary and human diagnosticians created by this training over the past year has great potential. It has fostered “diagnostic champions” in Africa who are being consulted by their colleagues. The benefits of this will go beyond avian influenza to other important infectious diseases of both people and animals.’

ILRI’s director general Carlos Seré also sees opportunity to build on the momentum that has been created. ‘We’re interested to explore with others how this regional emergency training might be transformed into long-term indigenous capacity-building for better control of infectious diseases in Africa.’

Other partners involved in organizing the training courses or providing training materials were the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations (FAO), the World Animal Health Organization (OIE), the World Health Organisation (WHO) and the U.S.-based Centres for Disease Control (CDC). ILRI and AU-IBAR worked closely together to conduct a basic 10-day training course that they held in three countries: Cameroon, Kenya and Senegal. They drew trainers from OIE/FAO/WHO avian influenza reference laboratories, ILRI, AU-IBAR, CDC-Kenya, the Institut Pasteur, the Centre Pasteur and African universities and research organizations.

These courses revealed that most African countries have the capacity to collect samples of bird flu virus, including the highly pathogenic H5N1 avian influenza virus, and ship these to designated laboratories for analyses. Some of these labs can also perform basic serological tests for bird flu virus. But few of them are equipped with the advanced diagnostic tests in molecular diagnosis and virology or with the BL3 facility (a laboratory built to a secure biosafety level 3) needed to handle the deadly live H5N1 virus. ILRI and AU-IBAR staff organizing the training courses targeted the few labs that did have these facilities to serve as regional reference laboratories and provided 20 of their staff with two advanced training courses (one in English, the other in French) conducted at South Africa’s ARC-Onderstepoort Veterinary Institute (OVI), in Pretoria, which is equipped with all the facilities needed for diagnosis of avian influenza. (OVI had previously trained staff in southern African countries.)

Funding for this project was provided by Germany’s Federal Ministry for Economic Cooperation and Development (BMZ) and implemented by GTZ within its ‘Poverty Reduction in Rural Areas’ project. The latter works to boost—in a sustained manner—the capacity of developing countries to prepare for and respond to outbreaks of bird flu. With uncommon foresight, this German project further helps countries implement preventive measures that help their farming communities maintain their livestock, the mainstay of livelihoods of the rural poor. Among the farm animals at risk from zoonotic diseases and conventional programs implemented to control them are many local poultry breeds kept by the poorest of the poor.

Carola von Morstein, leader of the GTZ Task Force conducting this pro-poor work fighting avian and human influenza, visited Nairobi this week to consult with ILRI and AU-IBAR directors and scientists who organized the training and tailored the English and French courses to suit African circumstances.

In early July, the first follow-up training took place in three veterinary laboratories in Ghana. Staffs of the laboratories in Accra, Pong Tamale and Kumasi were trained by the German Friedrich-Löffler-Institute (FLI). This Federal Research Institute for Animal Health has a Task Force for Epidemiology. GTZ and FLI are together providing training to affected countries such as Ghana. GTZ also procured for these laboratories equipment, such as Quick Tests Influenza Kits, V-bottomed Microtest-Plates and Pipettes, to ensure that the country is equipped for diagnosis of bird flu.

For more information about this GTZ project, email the GTZ task team:
carola.morstein-von@gtz.de> or
kerstin.schoell@gtz.de

or the Rene Bessin at AU-IBAR:
rene.bessin@au-ibar.org

or Duncan Mwangi or Roger Pellé at ILRI:
d.mwangi@cgiar.org and r.pelle@cgiar.org