New leadership in ILRI’s livestock research-for-development work in Asia

Steve Staal, Theme Director

ILRI’s new regional representative for East and Southeast Asia Steve Staal (picture credit: ILRI).

Steve Staal has been appointed the new regional representative of the International Livestock Research Institute (ILRI) for East and Southeast Asia. An American citizen who has lived and worked in developing countries throughout his life, Staal will be based at the headquarters of the International Rice Research Institute (IRRI), in Los Baños, The Philippines.

Staal, an agricultural economist by training, has been based at ILRI’s headquarters in Nairobi, Kenya, for many years, where he recently led ILRI’s Markets, Gender and Livelihoods Research Theme and in the past year served as ILRI’s interim deputy director general for research, during the institute’s transition to a new management team. Among other assignments, he has worked in South and Southeast Asia to enhance smallholder dairy and pig systems in particular. He has a long-standing track record in making a difference in policy analysis and advocacy for inclusive and pro-poor smallholder livestock-based development.

This ILRI position for coordinating and shaping ILRI’s collaborative livestock research in East and Southeast Asia is new. Staal’s appointment to it is a reflection of ILRI’s intent to strengthen its presence in Asia and its productive partnerships there so as to provide better support for livestock research for development in the region. Purvi Mehta-Bhatt (India), who has been heading ILRI’s research in all of Asia, will continue to represent ILRI in South Asia.

ILRI's Purvi Mehta-Bhatt #2 in India

ILRI’s head of Asia Purvi Mehta-Bhatt, taken during a field day In Haryana, India, in 4 Nov 2012 (picture credit: ILRI).

This new assignment for Staal and new focus for Mehta-Bhatt is made to increase ILRI’s engagement with partners throughout Asia.

ILRI stakeholders are encouraged to communicate with Steve Staal, at s.staal [at], on areas of potential mutual interest, including opportunities for new collaborations and interactions, in East and Southeast Asia.

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:

Reducing the risks of bird flu in poor communities in Indonesia

Poultry seller in Indonesia

Poultry seller in Indonesia (photo by ILRI / C Jost)

To reduce risks faced by poor communities to outbreaks of bird flu (highly pathogenic avian influenza), experts in Indonesia say poultry farmers, traders and transporters, as well as the general public, need to be better educated about the disease and its control. They also recommend strengthening the capacity of Indonesia's institutions to control the country's bird flu pandemic.

These recommendations were made during a workshop held in Bogor, Indonesia, 5–6 August 2010, that concludes the research activities of an Indonesian component of a project to develop strategies for reducing the risks of bird flu among poor communities in countries of Asia and Africa.

The two-year project is supported by the UK Department for International Development and is implemented in Cambodia, Indonesia, Thailand, Vietnam, Ethiopia, Ghana, Kenya and Nigeria.

About 40 participants attended the Bogor workshop, some drawn from the key partners in the project: the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations, the Indonesian Ministry of Agriculture, the International Food Policy Research Institute, the International Livestock Research Institute (ILRI), and the Royal Veterinary College. Other participants represented a variety of stakeholders in better control of bird flu in poor communities. These included local universities such as Gadjah Mada University, in Yogyakarta, and Bogor Agricultural University; local poultry farmer groups and members of the poultry industry; and international researchers and donor agents conducting similar projects in the country.

The workshop participants made 5 key recommendations regarding better control of bird flu in poor communities:

  1. widen uptake of basic biosecurity measures through education
  2. provide targeted subsidies
  3. develop professional actor associations with certification schemes
  4. find ways to encourage prompt reporting of outbreaks of bird flu
  5. build public awareness campaigns to promote changes in public behaviour that reduce risks to the disease 

Ad hoc institutions set up after the initial outbreaks of bird flu in the country played a key role in the subsequent dissemination of information on  bird flu. The Indonesia National Committee for Avian Influenza Control and Pandemic Influenza Preparedness is one such institution, which usefully brought together animal and human health authorities in a joint response to the pandemic. The workshop members recommended that these institutions be integrated into relevant government departments throughout the country’s administrative units. These recommendations will be further developed in consultation with the Indonesian Ministry of Agriculture.

This piece is adapted from an original story posted on the Market Opportunities Digest blog drafted by ILRI staff members Fred Unger and Bernard Bett, scientific members of the project who attended the Bogor workshop, and Tezira Lore, communications specialist for ILRI's Markets Theme.

Read more on the website of the collaborative research project: Pro-poor HPAI Risk Reduction

Controlling bird flu in Indonesia through local knowledge

‘Participatory epidemiology’ – an approach to controlling livestock diseases pioneered by ILRI’s Jeff Mariner and colleague Christine Jost – is being used to improve control of bird flu in Indonesia.

Indonesia has the worst bird flu problem in the world. Experts fear that the country provides the perfect setting for the highly pathogenic form of avian influenza, H5N1, to evolve into a form easily passed among humans, touching off a global pandemic. Through an approach known as ‘participatory epidemiology’, teams of veterinarians are tapping into local knowledge of where and when bird flu outbreaks are occurring and then enlisting villagers’ cooperation in control efforts.

The H5N1 virus is endemic among poultry throughout much of Indonesia. ‘You simply couldn’t get more virus in the environment,’ says Jeffrey Mariner, a veterinarian at the International Livestock Research Institute (ILRI), in Nairobi, who is helping train surveillance teams under the auspices of the Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) of the United Nations.

To establish a systematic control program, officials will have to track where and when outbreaks of bird flu are occurring, especially among the estimated 300 million chickens kept in backyards by 60% of all Indonesian households. That’s the challenge for a new approach called ‘participatory epidemiology’ pioneered by Jeff Mariner and his colleague Christine Jost, an assistant professor at Tufts University, in Massachusetts. By talking to villagers and about disease incidences and symptoms, researchers can gather valuable epidemiological data on how disease is spreading and kept in circulation, which in turn informs control strategies. Mariner and Jost pioneered participatory epidemiology to help control rinderpest in Africa. This approach enabled authorities in Sudan to target vaccination programs that eradicated rinderpest from the country. Although participatory approach has never been tried for avian influenza and has never been tried on such a large scale for any disease, international and Indonesian animal health officials believe that this approach will be a key component for bringing the H5N1 crisis under control, both in Indonesia and elsewhere in the developing world.

Early in 2006, with USD1.5 million in funding from the United States Agency for International Development (USAID), a pilot program was established in 12 districts in Java comprising two teams of publicly funded vets specializing in either participatory disease surveillance or participatory disease response. The teams ‘turned up much more avian influenza than anyone expected,’ Mariner says. ‘Poultry populations were fully saturated with the disease.’

Those alarming results persuaded Indonesian authorities and international experts to push for a rapid expansion of participatory epidemiology. Even though coverage of the country is still fairly limited, the data being accumulated are providing clues to what keeps the virus in circulation.

Participatory response is an important part of the program. Mariner says that until recently the standard response was for government vets to indiscriminately cull all poultry around the villages where infected birds were found and then vaccinate widely. This mass culling, known as ‘stamping out’, causes resentment among smallholders, who may correctly believe that their birds have not been exposed to the virus. Delays in compensation exacerbate the ill feelings. The participatory approach aims to involve villagers in decisions—ideally, to cull all poultry directly exposed to infected birds, with immediate compensation, and then vaccinate other birds in the vicinity. Mariner says that even smallholders can be convinced of the need to cull birds that have been directly exposed to H5N1-infected chickens.

At the same time that Indonesia is verifying the effectiveness of participatory epidemiology, the country, with FAO support and financing from the United States, Australia and Japan, is planning to extend the program to all of Java and Bali and parts of Sumatra by next May.

This article was taken from a longer article published in Science on 5 January 2007 titled: Indonesia Taps Village Wisdom to Fight Bird Flu.

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