Storming the ivory towers: Time for scientists to get out, ‘get social’, to learn better, faster–Nature commentary

Framework for building an evidence base on impacts of social learning

An evaluative framework for assembling an evidence base on the impacts of social learning. Figure 1 in Social learning and sustainable development, article by Patti Kristjanson, Blane Harvey, Marissa Van Epp and Philip Thornton, published in Nature Climate Change 4, 5–7 (2014) (first published online 20 Dec 2013).

Most of us like learning new things. But while learning alone is no fun, it’s hard to convince scientists, who spend their professional lives attempting to learn new things, to adopt ‘social learning’ approaches. These could help bring about new understandings, and help transform such understandings into development benefits, by helping scientists learn with, and from, a diverse group of stakeholders, including non-scientists, holding common purpose.

Those assumptions are held by social learning advocates, who include Patti Kristjanson, an agricultural economist at the World Agroforestry Centre and lead author of a commentary on social learning published in the 20 Dec 2013 online edition of Nature Climate Change. Kristjanson gives a main reason for the reluctance of her agricultural research colleagues to take up social learning. ‘First and foremost’, she says, ‘is the worry of scientists about the large transactions costs of the “many conversations and messy partnerships” such joint learning necessarily entails.’

‘Yet many of the same scientists also worry about the slow pace of agricultural development in many parts of the world’, Kristjanson says.

Those of us attempting to use science to help solve complex agriculturally related development problems—like how to help hundreds of millions of smallholder farmers adapt to harsher, more erratic, climates while producing more food and lifting themselves out of poverty—need to try new approaches. If we keep doing science the way we’ve always been doing it, we’re going to run out of time.’

This Nature Climate Change commentary includes a ‘call to action’.

Kristjanson and her colleagues say it’s time for climate change scientists to step up—to help effect a step change. ‘We need the “social engagement” of many, many more scientists working on climate change adaptation and mitigation strategies. We need them to help us build a solid body of evidence on the benefits—and the costs—of applying social learning approaches.’

The commentary provides a framework that can be used to assess when social learning is likely to be ‘really worth it’ and begins with an introduction, summarized here:

Agricultural research-for-development bodies such as the United Nations Food and Agriculture Organization, CGIAR and their partners are under mounting pressure from their funders to link their research knowledge to actions that achieve faster and more substantive and long-lasting ‘development outcomes’, such as CGIAR’s four ‘system-level outcomes’ of reduced rural poverty, increased food security, better nutrition and health, and sustainable management of natural resources. To bring about the many changes in behaviour, policies and institutions as well as agricultural practices needed to achieve such broad benefits, the authors argue that researchers and their projects need to be continuously informed by, and engaged with, many others, including the individuals and societies they are working to benefit, so as to better understand, and more effectively use, the processes by which people and communities, and policymakers and government officials, learn and adapt their behaviour in the face of climate and other changes and pressures.

Among the many advantages the authors cite of agricultural scientists employing social learning approaches are the following:

  • joint learning and knowledge sharing and co-creation are enhanced among diverse stakeholders around a common purpose
  • the established traditions of participatory development are built on, with learning and collective change placed at the heart of such engagement
  • diverse knowledge and value systems are integrated in ways that help us tackle so-called ‘wicked’ (highly complex) socio-agro-ecological problems

The Nature Climate Change commentary provides a table of examples of agricultural development projects and programs that are already using social learning approaches.

On the face of it, the authors says, social learning approaches should help research-for-development institutions become smarter and more effective. But while iterative learning processes appear to be critical to adapting to environmental and other big changes, it’s difficult to apply ‘learning tools’ in many developing-country situations, they say, where there is high uncertainty and great poverty. ‘And we have as yet little evidence of the impacts of social learning approaches on “hard” development outcomes’, says Kristjanson. Scientists are also concerned, she says, about a lack of demonstrated ability to replicate and scale out the benefits of localized social learning.

The authors of this commentary include Philip Thornton, an agricultural systems analyst and climate change specialist at the International Livestock Research Institute (ILRI). Thornton says that the authors are embarking on a ‘systematic evidence-gathering initiative, using a common evaluative framework to track new initiatives from a range of institutional settings that incorporate social learning approaches’.

‘The practical guidelines we provide’, he says, ‘should help those interested in applying social learning approaches to use the best available knowledge, information and tools to implement and document their initiatives’.

Acknowledgements
Patti Kristjanson and Philip Thornton both lead work of the CGIAR Research Program on Climate Change, Agriculture and Food Security Program (CCAFS), where Kristjanson leads its Linking Knowledge to Action Theme and Thornton its Data & Tools ThemeCCAFS is funded by the CGIAR Fund, AusAid, Danish International Development Agency, Environment Canada, Instituto de Investigação Científica Tropical (Portugal), Irish Aid, Netherlands Ministry of Foreign Affairs, Swiss Agency for Development and Cooperation, UK Aid, and the European Union, with technical support from the International Fund for Agricultural Development.

Read
An authors’ version of this article is available for all to read on Cgspace.

Journal subscribers can read the whole article, Social learning and sustainable development, by Patti Kristjanson, Blane Harvey (International Development Research Centre, Canada), Marissa Van Epp (International Institute for Environment and Development, UK)) and Philip K Thornton, in Nature Climate Change 4, 5–7 (2014) doi:10.1038/nclimate2080 (first published online 20 Dec 2013).

A lively article about this Nature commentary was published by CCAFS yesterday (8 Jan 2014): Want sustainable development? Then it’s time to get social.

CCAFS, ILRI and their many partners invite you to join our efforts to create an evidence base on the impacts of social learning approaches. Leave your comments and ideas in the commentary section below or on the CCAFS website.

This Nature commentary article was produced as part of a continuing social learning process — see their wiki here: Climate Change and Social Learning initiative — in which knowledge is being co-constructed through many different channels. We are grateful and indebted to all who have participated in this process.

As livestock eat, so they emit: Highly variable diets drive highly variable climate change ‘hoofprints’–BIG new study

Cattle being watered at the Ghibe River in southwestern Ethiopia

Cattle being watered in Ethiopia’s Ghibe Valley (photo credit: ILRI/Stevie Mann).

The most detailed livestock analysis to date, published yesterday, shows vast differences in animal diets and emissions.

The resources required to raise livestock and the impacts of farm animals on environments vary dramatically depending on the animal, the type of food it provides, the kind of feed it consumes and where it lives, according to a new study that offers the most detailed portrait to date of ‘livestock ecosystems’ in different parts of the world.

The study, published yesterday (16 Dec 2013) in an early edition of the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences (PNAS), is the newest comprehensive assessment assembled of what cows, sheep, pigs, poultry and other farm animals are eating in different parts of the world; how efficiently they convert that feed into milk, eggs and meat; and the amount of greenhouse gases they produce.

The study, produced by scientists at the International Livestock Research Institute (ILRI), the Commonwealth Scientific and Industrial Research Organisation (CSIRO) and the International Institute for Applied Systems Analysis (IIASA), shows that animals in many parts of the developing world require far more food to produce a kilo of protein than animals in wealthy countries. It also shows that pork and poultry are being produced far more efficiently than milk and beef, and greenhouse gas emissions vary widely depending on the animal involved and the quality of its diet.

There’s been a lot of research focused on the challenges livestock present at the global level, but if the problems are global, the solutions are almost all local and very situation-specific’, says Mario Herrero, lead author of the study who earlier this year left ILRI to take up the position of chief research scientist at CSIRO in Australia.

‘Our goal is to provide the data needed so that the debate over the role of livestock in our diets and our environments and the search for solutions to the challenges they present can be informed by the vastly different ways people around the world raise animals’, said Herrero.

‘This very important research should provide a new foundation for addressing the sustainable development of livestock in a very resource-challenged and hungry world, where, in many areas, livestock can be crucial to food security’, said Harvard University’s William C. Clark, editorial board member of the Sustainability Science section at PNAS.

For the last four years, Herrero has been working with scientists at ILRI and the lIASA in Austria to deconstruct livestock impacts beyond what they view as broad and incomplete representations of the livestock sector. Their findings—supplemented with 50 illustrative maps and more than 100 pages of additional data—anchor a special edition of PNAS devoted to exploring livestock-related issues and global change. Scientists say the new data fill a critical gap in research on the interactions between livestock and natural resources region by region.

The initial work was funded by ILRI and the CGIAR Research Program on Climate Change, Agriculture and Food Security (CCAFS).

By the numbers

Livestock production and diets
The study breaks down livestock production into nine global regions—the more developed regions of Europe and Russia (1), North America (2) and Oceania (3), along with the developing regions of Southeast Asia (4), Eastern Asia (5, including China), South Asia (6), Latin America and the Caribbean (7), sub-Saharan Africa (8) and the Middle East and North Africa (9).

The data reveal sharp contrasts in overall livestock production and diets. For example:

Of the 59 million tons of beef produced in the world in 2000, the vast majority came from cattle in Latin America, Europe and North America. All of sub-Saharan Africa produced only about 3 million tons of beef.

Highly intensive industrial-scale production accounts for almost all of the poultry and pork produced in Europe, North America and China. In stark contrast, between 40 to 70 per cent of all poultry and pork production in South and Southeast Asia, the Middle East and Africa is produced by small-scale farmers.

Almost all of the 1.3 billion tons of grain consumed by livestock each year are fed to farm animals in Europe, North America, Eastern China and Latin America, with pork and poultry hogging the feed trough. All of the livestock in sub-Saharan Africa combined eat only about 50 million tons of grain each year, relying more on grasses and ‘stovers’, the leaf and stalk residues of crops left in the field after harvest.

Greenhouse gas emissions
Scientists also sought to calculate the amount of greenhouse gases livestock are releasing into the atmosphere and to examine emissions by region, animal type and animal product. They modelled only the emissions linked directly to animals—the gases released through their digestion and manure production.

Some important findings include:
South Asia, Latin America, Europe and sub-Saharan Africa have the highest total regional emissions from livestock. Between the developed and developing worlds, the developing world accounts for the most emissions from livestock, including 75 per cent of emissions from cattle and other ruminants and 56 per cent from poultry and pigs.

The study found that cattle (for beef or dairy) are the biggest source of greenhouse emissions from livestock globally, accounting for 77 per cent of the total. Pork and poultry account for only 10 per cent of emissions.

Analyzing efficiency and intensity
Scientists note that the most important insights and questions emerging from the new data relate to the amount of feed livestock consume to produce a kilo of protein, something known as ‘feed efficiency’, and the amount of greenhouse gases released for every kilo of protein produced, something known as ’emission intensity’.

Meat v. dairy, grazing animals v. poultry and pork
The study shows that ruminant animals (cows, sheep, and goats) require up to five times more feed to produce a kilo of protein in the form of meat than a kilo of protein in the form of milk.

The large differences in efficiencies in the production of different livestock foods warrant considerable attention’, the authors note. ‘Knowing these differences can help us define sustainable and culturally appropriate levels of consumption of milk, meat and eggs.’

The researchers also caution that livestock production in many parts of the developing world must be evaluated in the context of its ‘vital importance for nutritional security and incomes’.

The study confirmed that pigs and poultry (monogastrics) are more efficient at converting feed into protein than are cattle, sheep and goats (ruminants), and it further found that this is the case regardless of the product involved or where the animals are raised. Globally, pork produced 24 kilos of carbon per kilo of edible protein, and poultry produced only 3.7 kilos of carbon per kilo of protein—compared with anywhere from 58 to 1,000 kilos of carbon per kilo of protein from ruminant meat.

The authors caution that the lower emission intensities in the pig and poultry sectors are driven largely by industrial systems, ‘which provide high-quality, balanced concentrate diets for animals of high genetic potential’. But these systems also pose significant public health risks (with the transmission of zoonotic diseases from these animals to people) and environmental risks, notably greenhouse gases produced by the energy and transport services needed for industrial livestock production and the felling of forests to grow crops for animal feed.

Feed quality in the developing world

The study shows that the quality of an animal’s diet makes a major difference in both feed efficiency and emission intensity. In arid regions of sub-Saharan Africa, for example, where the fodder available to grazing animals is of much lower quality than that in many other regions, a cow can consume up to ten times more feed—mainly in the form of rangeland grasses—to produce a kilo of protein than a cow kept in more favourable conditions.

Similarly, cattle scrounging for food in the arid lands of Ethiopia, Somalia and Sudan can, in the worst cases, release the equivalent of 1,000 kilos of carbon for every kilo of protein they produce. By comparison, in many parts of the US and Europe, the emission intensity is around 10 kilos of carbon per kilo of protein. Other areas with moderately high emission intensities include parts of the Amazon, Mongolia, the Andean region and South Asia.

Our data allow us to see more clearly where we can work with livestock keepers to improve animal diets so they can produce more protein with better feed while simultaneously reducing emissions’, said Petr Havlik, a research scholar at IIASA and a co-author of the study.

No absolute indicators of sustainability
While the new data will greatly help to assess the sustainability of different livestock production systems, the authors cautioned against using any single measurement as an absolute indicator of sustainability. For example, the low livestock feed efficiencies and high greenhouse gas emission intensities in sub-Saharan Africa are determined largely by the fact that most animals in this region continue to subsist largely on vegetation inedible by humans, especially by grazing on marginal lands unfit for crop production and the stovers and other residues of plants left on croplands after harvesting.

‘While our measurements may make a certain type of livestock production appear inefficient, that production system may be the most environmentally sustainable, as well as the most equitable way of using that particular land’, said Philip Thornton, another co-author and an ILRI researcher at CCAFS.

That’s why this research is so important. We’re providing a set of detailed, highly location-specific analyses so we can get a fuller picture of how livestock in all these different regions interact with their ecosystems and what the real trade-offs are in changing these livestock production systems in future.’

Read the full paper in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences: Biomass use, production, feed efficiencies and greenhouse gas emissions from global livestock systems, by Mario Herrero (ILRI), Petr Havlík (ILRI and IIASA), Hugo Valin (IIASA), An Notenbaert (ILRI), Mariana Rufino (ILRI), Philip Thornton (ILRI), Michael Blümmel (ILRI), Franz Weiss (IIASA), Delia Grace (ILRI) and Michael Obersteiner (IIASA), in a Special Feature on Livestock and Global Change, early online edition of 16 Dec 2013.

119 pages of supporting online information, including 50 maps, is available at PNAS here.

Read the introduction to this Special Feature on Livestock and Global Change: Livestock and global change: Emerging issues for sustainable food systems, by Mario Herrero and Philip Thornton, in the early online edition of 16 Dec 2013.

About ILRI
The International Livestock Research Institute (ILRI) works with partners worldwide to improve food and nutritional security and to reduce poverty in developing countries through research on efficient, safe and sustainable use of livestock—ensuring better lives through livestock. The products generated by ILRI and its partners help people in developing countries enhance their livestock-dependent livelihoods, health and environments. ILRI is a member of the CGIAR Consortium of 15 research centres working for a food-secure future. ILRI has its headquarters in Nairobi, Kenya, a second principal campus in Addis Ababa, Ethiopia, and other offices in southern and West Africa and South, Southeast and East Asia.

Want ‘climate-smart’ farming adopted in Africa? Then better start collecting data on how much greenhouse gases African countries are emitting

Livestock live talk: Klaus Butterbach-Bahl

Klaus Butterbach-Bahl, a scientist at ILRI, says data on emissions estimates from developed countries are inapplicable to Africa’s climatic and environmental conditions (photo credit: ILRI/Paul Karaimu).

Obtaining country-specific greenhouse gas emission data from agricultural activities is critical in supporting ‘climate smart’ agricultural practices that will help Africa’s smallholder farmers protect their livelihoods in the face of climate change.

According to Klaus Butterbach-Bahl, a scientist at the International Livestock Research Institute (ILRI), ‘current estimates of emissions from Africa’s agricultural sector rely heavily on data collected in developed countries that are inapplicable to Africa’s climatic and environmental conditions’. As a result, he says, many African countries simply don’t have reliable information on ‘greenhouse gas emission factors’ for their agricultural production activities. This is despite the fact that such agricultural emissions are the dominant source of harmful greenhouse gases in developing countries.

Butterbach-Bahl, who is on joint appointment at ILRI and the Institute of Meteorology and Climate Research, in Garmisch, Germany, made these remarks while giving a ‘livestock live talk’ on ‘Standard assessment of mitigation potentials and livelihoods in smallholder systems’ at ILRI’s Nairobi campus on 14 Aug 2013.

Food production contributes 19–29% of the global greenhouse gas emissions that originate from human activity, he reported. Agricultural production, including indirect emissions associated with land cover change, contributes 80–86% of total food system emissions.

According to Butterbach-Bahl, the absence of region-specific measurements of greenhouse gas emissions from agricultural activities is hurting efforts to verify the environmental impacts of agricultural intensification in Africa. ‘Farmers and farmer organizations, government and non-governmental organizations need this information to know which options will make the best use of their land resources without further fuelling climate change.’

‘Without accurate emission data’, says Butterbach-Bahl, ‘African countries have little chance of identifying emission hotspots, of developing ways to reduce their emissions or of helping their communities to adapt better to a changing climate’. This will happen only by developing capacity and expertise in collecting greenhouse gas emission data in Africa, he says.

Butterbach-Bahl is leading a team of climate change scientists at ILRI and partner organizations, including an initiative of the CGIAR Research Program on Climate Change, Agriculture and Food Security (CCAFS) that is assessing ways smallholder farmers in Kenya can help reduce emissions, and, thus climate change.

This project, ‘Identifying pro-poor mitigation options for smallholder agriculture in the developing world’, is working with smallholder farmers in mixed livestock-and-crop production systems in Nyando, in western Kenya. The project aims to quantify greenhouse gas emissions in this region and to identify mitigation options for smallholders at both farm and landscape levels.

Livestock live talk: Klaus Butterbach-Bahl

The audience at a ‘livestock live talk’ on assessing climate change mitigation potentials in smallholder systems at ILRI’s Nairobi campus on 14 Aug 2013 (photo credit: ILRI/Paul Karaimu).

‘We’re looking at both the ecological and the economic impacts of climate change options adopted by smallholder farmers’, said Butterbach-Bahl.

ILRI is hoping to use experiences from this project and other ongoing climate change research activities:

  • to develop capacity in quantifying greenhouse gas emissions from agricultural sources
  • to build ILRI’s competence in measuring Africa’s agricultural greenhouse gas emissions
  • to build a network of greenhouse gas assessment labs across the continent that will allow countries to obtain country-specific agricultural-related data.

‘We want to show the benefits of climate-smart agriculture’, says Butterbach-Bahl. ‘We intend to collect enough evidence to demonstrate these benefits to policymakers so that governments have the information they need to implement climate-smart interventions.’

View the slide presentation made by Butterbach-Bahl.

Climate change–Wholesale reconfiguration of diets, livelihoods, farming will be required in some regions

Field photos from Lower Nyando, Kenya

A new report identifies ‘regret-free’ approaches for adapting agriculture to climate change. Amid fears of wasted investments and imprecise science, researchers are providing clarity on actions small-scale food producers and their governments can take now. Gala goats, pictured above, for example, are an improved breed being acquired by farmers in Kenya’s Lower Nyando region to help them cope with climate change: The goats mature early, are easy to manage and produce high levels of milk (photo credit: K Trautmann).

Findings from a new report from the CGIAR Research Program on Climate Change, Agriculture and Food Security (CCAFS) chart a path for farmers to adapt to climate shifts despite uncertainties about what growing conditions will look like decades from now.

As this week’s UN climate talks in Bonn continue to sideline a formal deal on agriculture, the study, ‘Addressing uncertainty in adaptation planning for agriculture’, which was published recently in the Proceedings of the National Academies of Sciences (PNAS), finds that the cloudy aspects of climate forecasts are no excuse for a paralysis in agriculture adaptation policies.

Climate projections will always have a degree of uncertainty, but we need to stop using uncertainty as a rationale for inaction’, said Sonja Vermeulen, head of research at CCAFS and the lead author of the study.

‘Even when our knowledge is incomplete, we often have robust grounds for choosing best-bet adaptation actions and pathways, by building pragmatically on current capacities in agriculture and environmental management, and using projections to add detail and to test promising options against a range of scenarios.’

The CCAFS analysis shows how decision-makers can sift through the different gradients of scientific uncertainty to understand where there is, in fact, a general degree of consensus and then move to take action. Moreover, it encourages a broader approach to agriculture adaptation that looks beyond climate models to consider the socioeconomic conditions on the ground. These conditions, such as a particular farmer’s or community’s capacity to make the necessary farming changes, will determine whether a particular adaptation strategy is likely to succeed.

Getting farmers, communities, governments, donors and other stakeholders to embrace various adaptation strategies can end up being equally or more important than seeking higher levels of scientific certainty from a climate model’, said Andy Challinor, a professor at the Institute for Climate and Atmosphere Science, School of Earth and Environment at the University of Leeds, who co-leads research on climate adaptation at CCAFS and was also an author of the study.

‘There is no question that climate science is constantly improving’, he added. ‘But scientists also need to understand the broader processes involved in agriculture adaptation and consider how we can better communicate what we do know in ways that are relevant to a diverse audience.’

The CCAFS study uses examples from the program’s recent work in the developing world to illustrate how some countries have pursued climate change adaptation strategies that will that help them prepare for shifts in growing conditions in the near-term and long-term.

Some of the strategies involve relatively straightforward efforts to accommodate changes in the near-term that will present growing conditions that are not significantly different from what farmers have experienced in the past.

The authors also explore how in some parts of the world adaptation planning must consider long-term changes that exceed historical experience and require ‘wholesale reconfigurations of livelihoods, diets, and the geography of farming and food systems’.

As short-term and long-range agriculture forecasts reveal disturbing trends, especially in developing countries, many decision-makers acknowledge the critical importance of moving forward with climate adaptation.

For example, in Kenya, rain-fed agriculture contributes more than one-quarter of the GDP. Recent droughts have left millions without access to adequate food and slowed the nation’s economic growth by an annual average of 2.8 per cent between 2008 and 2011. In March 2013, after an extensive consultation process engaged most sectors of society, Kenya formally launched its national climate change action plan.

In Kenya, as well as in many countries in Africa and elsewhere in the developing world, climate change is a critical policy priority’, said James Kinyangi, of the International Livestock Research Institute (ILRI) and a regional program leader for CCAFS in East Africa. ‘It is imperative for developing nations to embrace the adaptation planning process and for industrialized countries to unlock much-needed funding support so that this planning fast tracks climate adaptation actions.’

‘Some farmers and countries are going to need to make big transitions in what food they produce’, concluded Vermeulen. ‘Science is now reaching a point where it will be able to provide advice on when—not just whether—major climatic shifts relevant to agriculture will happen. Helping governments and farmers plan ahead will make all the difference in avoiding the food insecurity and suffering that climate change threatens.’

About CCAFS
The CGIAR Research Program on Climate Change, Agriculture and Food Security (CCAFS) is a strategic partnership of CGIAR and Future Earth, led by the International Center for Tropical Agriculture (CIAT). The International Livestock Research Institute (ILRI) partners CCAFS in its work. Two of the authors of this study, Philip Thornton and James Kinyangi, are ILRI scientists.

Read the journal article
Addressing uncertainty in adaptation planning for agriculture, by Sonja Vermeulen, Andrew Challinor, Philip Thornton, Bruce Campbell, Nishadi Eriyagama, Joost Vervoort, James Kinyangi, Andy Jarvis, Peter Läderach, Julian Ramirez-Villegas, Kathryn Nicklin, Ed Hawkins and Daniel Smith. 2013. Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences (PNAS) vol. 110 no. 21. http://dx.doi.org/10.1073/pnas.1219441110

 

Livestock, climate and poverty: A short history of work begun to unravel the complexity, and set useful priorities

RTB East Africa1-94

Farming in eastern Africa (photo on Flickr by CIAT/Neil Palmer).

The story of human settlement and human evolution is very much tied to the fact that the earth’s climate has always been changing, and will continue to do so.

So begins a new brief developed by agricultural systems and climate change scientist Philip Thornton and his colleagues at the International Livestock Research Institute (ILRI), based in Nairobi, Kenya.

The brief goes on to say the following.

What is known about the likely impacts of climate change on resource-poor livestock keepers in the developing world? Relatively little, and the International Livestock Research Institute (ILRI) and the CGIAR Research Program on Climate Change, Agriculture and Food Security (CCAFS) are working to improve this knowledge.

‘This Brief outlines how a group of scientists at ILRI reviewed some elements of the complex relationship between livestock and climate change in developing countries with a forward-looking approach. The objective was to help set research priorities: to inform the debate as to what research for development organizations such as ILRI could and should be doing in the area of climate change work that could add value to the large amounts of work already being carried out by the Global Change community on cropping systems and natural resources management. . . .

Resource-poor livestock keepers: Mitigate and adapt
‘Changes in climate and climate variability will affect livestock production systems in all parts of the world, and will inevitably impact the 1.3 billion poor people whose livelihoods are wholly or partially dependent on livestock. At the same time, livestock production is a major contributor to greenhouse gas emissions.

Therefore, livestock keepers will have to mitigate emissions as well as adapt to change.

‘The adaptation and mitigation that are necessary may require significant changes in production technology and livestock production systems, which could affect productivity, incomes and livelihoods. Livestock production systems are highly heterogeneous, however, and different production systems have different capacities to adapt or to take on board the policy and regulatory changes that may be required in the future.

‘In developed countries, livestock systems are generally adaptable and resilient. In developing countries, in contrast, households that are dependent on livestock keeping may be much more vulnerable to changes in climate and climate variability, with the potential for increased poverty and decreased food security. At the same time, there may be considerable growth potential in the smallholder livestock sector, given projected increases in demand for livestock products globally and for biofuels and the land-use changes these may bring about. . . .

‘No formal evaluation has been undertaken, but this work certainly had some impact in addressing the lack of information on livestock in several integrated global assessments, despite livestock’s being recognized as one of the major drivers of global change. New partnerships have been forged with others working in the realm of global assessment. . . .

Way forward
‘[T]here is a need for improvement in the kind of indicators that are produced to gauge changes in social factors. Currently, impacts are usually expressed in terms of available calories and prices, for example, but there may be many other critical factors to assess future changes beyond food availability and commodity prices. Second . . . [is] the need to undertake priority-setting analyses on a regular basis, linked with other types of foresight and scenario processes . . . [and] explicitly linking priority setting with monitoring and evaluation, to provide more coordinated planning and implementation of research for development to improve its influence and to better demonstrate its value to the resource-poor of the developing world.’

Read the whole brief: Climate change: Do we know how it will affect smallholder livestock farmers? by Philip Thornton, Jeannette van de Steeg, An Notenbaert and Mario Herrero, a GFAR ‘The Futures of Agriculture’ Brief No. 43, May 2013.

This brief is based on two publications by ILRI scientists:
(1) Thornton P K, Notenbaert A, van de Steeg J and Herrero M, 2008, The livestock-climate-poverty nexus: A discussion paper on ILRI research in relation to climate change, published by ILRI, Nairobi, Kenya, 80 pp.

(2) Thornton P K, van de Steeg J, Notenbaert A and Herrero M, 2009. The impacts of climate change on livestock and livestock systems in developing countries: A review of what we know and what we need to know, Agricultural Systems 101: 113–127.

Note
This brief series was developed in preparation for the Foresight Breakout Session of the Global Conference on Agricultural Research for Development (GCARD 2012) and the Global Foresight Hub. The briefs were written to communicate to a wider audience, such as policy makers, civil society organizations, researchers, and funders.

Livestock ‘goods’ and ‘bads’: What are the published facts?

Study for Composition VIII (The Cow), by Theo van Doesburg, c. 1918

‘Study for Composition VIII (The Cow)’, by Theo van Doesburg, c.1918, via WikiPaintings.

Yesterday’s post on this ILRI News Blog, Livestock, poverty and the environment: A balancing act and a balanced account, highlighted the overviews and conclusions provided in a new science paper on the roles of livestock in developing countries.

The paper, written by scientists at the International Livestock Research Institute (ILRI), also provides a wealth of research-based livestock facts little known (and less cited) in current global debates on the roles farm animals play in reducing or promoting global poverty, hunger, malnutrition, gender inequality, ill health, infectious disease and environmental harm.

The authors of the paper argue that no single, or simple, way exists to view, approach or resolve issues at the interface of livestock and these big global problems.

Consider the following facts / complicating factors cited in the new paper.

LIVESTOCK AND POVERTY
Up to 1.3 billion people globally are employed in different livestock product value chains globally (Herrero et al. 2009). Milk and meat rank as some of the agricultural commodities with the highest gross value of production (VOP) in the developing world (FAOSTAT 2011). Nearly 1 billion people living on less than 2 dollars a day in South Asia and sub-Saharan Africa keep livestock (FAO 2009). More than 80% of poor Africans keep livestock and 40–66% of poor people in India and Bangladesh keep livestock (FAO 2009). Some 68% of households in the developing world earn income from livestock (Davis et al. 2007). Across the developing world, livestock contribute, on average, 33% of household income in mixed crop-livestock systems and 55% of pastoral incomes (Staal et al. 2009). The growth in demand for milk and meat, mainly driven by urban consumers in developing countries, has been increasing in the last few decades and is projected to double by 2050 (Delgado et al. 1999, Rosegrant et al. 2009).

LIVESTOCK AND HUNGER
‘Livestock contribute greatly to global food security: they directly provide highly nourishing animal-source foods; they provide scarce cash income from sales of livestock and livestock products used to purchase food; their manure and traction increase household cereal supplies; and increases in livestock production can increase access by the poor to livestock foods through lower prices of livestock products.’

  • Livestock systems in developing countries now produce about 50% of the world’s beef, as well as 41% of our milk, 72% of our lamb, 59% of our pork and 53% of our poultry future (Herrero et al. 2009); all these shares are expected to increase in future (Bruinsma 2003, Rosegrant et al. 2009).
  • Most meat and milk in the developing world comes from so-called ‘mixed’ crop-and-livestock systems [which] . . . are central to global food security, as they also produce close to 50% of the global cereal output (Herrero et al. 2009 and 2010).

LIVESTOCK AND MALNUTRITION
‘Although livestock and fish clearly make important contributions to overall food security, there is an even more important role of animal source foods in achieving nutrition, as opposed to food, security. Animal source foods are dense and palatable sources of energy and high-quality protein, important for vulnerable groups, such as infants, children, pregnant and nursing women and people living with human immunodeficiency virus with high nutritional needs. They also provide a variety of essential micronutrients, some of which, such as vitamin A, vitamin B12, riboflavin, calcium, iron, zinc and various essential fatty acids, are difficult to obtain in adequate amounts from plant-based foods alone (Murphy and Allen 2003). Animal source foods provide multiple micronutrients simultaneously, which can be important in diets that are lacking in more than one nutrient: for example, vitamin A and riboflavin are both needed for iron mobilisation and haemoglobin synthesis, and supplementation with iron alone may not successfully treat anaemia if these other nutrients are deficient (Allen 2002). Micronutrients in animal source foods are also often more readily absorbed and bioavailable than those in plant-based foods (Murphy and Allen 2003).’

LIVESTOCK AND GENDER INEQUALITY
‘Almost two-thirds of the world’s billion poor livestock keepers are rural women (Staal et al. 2009). . . . Livestock are an important asset for women because it is often easier for women in developing countries to acquire livestock assets . . . than it is for them to purchase land or other physical assets or to control other financial assets (Rubin et al. 2010). . . . Livestock assets are generally more equitably distributed between men and women than are other assets like land (Flintan 2008). . . . Women generally play a major role in managing and caring for animals, even when they are not the owners. . . . Despite the role of women in livestock production, women have lower access to technologies and inputs than men and there are gender disparities in access to extension services, information and training throughout the developing world due to women’s long workdays, a neglect of women’s needs and circumstances when targeting extension work, and widespread female illiteracy.’

LIVESTOCK AND ILL HEALTH
‘In developing countries, human health is inextricably linked to the livestock, which underpin the livelihoods of almost a billion people . . . . Livestock have an essential role in contributing to good health through providing animal source food, manure and draft power for plant source food, as well as income to buy food and health care. At the same time, livestock can lead to poor health if animal source foods contribute to poor diet and through providing a reservoir for diseases infectious to people (zoonoses). The relationship between livestock, human nutrition and human health are complex, with multiple synergistic and antagonistic links . . . . For example, poor livestock keepers worldwide face daily trade-offs between selling their (relatively expensive) milk, meat and eggs to increase their household income and consuming the same (high-quality) foods to increase their household nutrition. Because animal source foods are so dense in nutrients, including micronutrients that help prevent ‘hidden hunger’, decisions in these matters have potentially large implications for the nutritional and economic health of households. Livestock contributes to food security and nutrition in various ways.’

LIVESTOCK AND INFECTIOUS DISEASE
‘In poor countries, infectious disease still accounts for around 40% of the health burden in terms of years lost through sickness and death (WHO 2008). Livestock directly contribute to this through the foodborne diseases transmitted through animal source foods, the zoonoses transmissible between livestock and people, and human diseases emerging from livestock. A recent estimate suggests that 12% of the infectious disease burden in least developed countries is due to zoonoses, and the majority of this is transmitted to people from livestock hosts through consumption of animal source foods, vectors or direct contact (Grace et al. 2012). More indirectly, keeping of livestock affects agro-ecosystems in ways that influence their ability to provide health-provisioning services. This may be positive or negative. In some circumstances, livestock act as a buffer, for example, between trypanosomosis-carrying tsetse or malaria-carrying mosquitoes and people; in this case, livestock act as alternative hosts, effectively protecting people. In other cases, livestock are an amplifying host, for example pigs harbouring and multiplying Japanese encephalitis and thus increasing the risk it poses to people.’

  • Food-borne disease is the world’s most common illness and is most commonly manifested as gastrointestinal disease; diarrhoea is one of the top three infectious diseases in most developing countries, killing an estimated 1.4 million children a year (Black et al. 2010).
  • In countries where good data exist, zoonotic pathogens are among the most important causes of food-borne disease (Thorns 2000, Schlundt et al. 2004).
  • Animal-source food is the most risky of food commodities (Lynch et al. 2006), with meat and milk providing excellent mediums for microbial growth.
  • Most human diseases come from animals, with some 61% being ‘zoonotic’, or transmissible between animals and humans, including many of the most important causes of sickness and death.
  • Endemic zoonoses that prevail in poor countries are among the most neglected diseases.
  • Zoonoses (diseases transmissible between animals and man) and diseases recently emerged from animals (mostly human immunodeficiency virus [HIV]-acquired immunodeficiency syndrome) make up 25% of the infectious disease burden in the least developed countries (Gilbert et al. 2010).
  • Currently, one new disease is emerging every four months, and 75% of these originate in animals (Jones et al. 2008).

LIVESTOCK AND ENVIRONMENTAL HARM
‘The impacts of livestock on the environment have received considerable attention as the publication of the Livestock’s Long Shadow study (Steinfeld et al. 2006). This study helped draw attention to the magnitude and scale of livestock’s impact on land use, greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions and pollution among others, and it created a thrust for the sector’s stakeholders to develop research agendas geared towards generating better data for the environmental assessment of global livestock systems, and to develop solutions for mitigating environmental livestock problems, and policy agendas more conducive to a greening of the sector by promoting regulation, increases in efficiency and others.’

Land: For grazing or fodder?

  • Livestock systems are one of the main users of land; livestock use some 3.4 billion ha for grazing and 0.5 million ha of cropland for the production of feeds (33% of arable land), globally (Steinfeld et al. 2006).
  • Of the world’s 3.4 billion ha of grazing lands, 2.3 million ha (67%) are in the developing world, with expansion of pastureland at the expense of natural habitats in the developing world in the order of 330 million ha in the last 40 years (FAO 2009).
  • The world will require an additional 450 million tonnes of grain to meet demand for animal products by 2050 (Rosegrant et al. 2009).

Climate change: Decrease livestock numbers or increase livestock efficiencies? (or both?)

  • Livestock are an important contributor to global greenhouse gas emissions causing global warming; current estimates range from 8.5% to 18% of global anthropogenic greenhouse gas emissions (O’Mara 2011), with the range reflecting methodological differences (inventories v. life cycle assessment), attribution of emissions to land use (Herrero et al. 2011, O’Mara 2011) and uncertainty in parameter values (FAO 2010).
  • Livestock in the developing world contribute 50% to 65% of the total emissions from livestock in the world. (Herrero et al. 2013).
  • The higher the productivity of farm animals, the lower the emissions per unit of their products (FAO 2010).
  • While livestock systems in general terms generate significantly more greenhouse gas emissions per kilocalorie than crops, the potential for the livestock sector to mitigate such emissions is very large (1.74 Gt CO2-eq per year, Smith et al. 2007), with land-use management practices representing over 80% of this potential (Smith et al. 2007) and with most of the mitigation potential (70%) lying in the developing world (Smith et al. 2007).

Livestock manure: Waste or resource?

  • Livestock wastes—considered a serious problem in the developed world—are a critical agricultural resource in large parts of Africa, where soils are inherently poor (Petersen et al. 2007, Rufino et al. 2007).
  • Manure contributes between 12% and 24% of the nitrogen input in nitrogen cycles in cropland in the developing world (Liu et al. 2010).
  • Recycling of animal manures is practiced in most mixed crop-livestock systems, although efficiencies are rarely close to those of the developed world (Rufino et al. 2006).
  • Synthetic fertilizers are unaffordable for most small-scale farmers, who depend on the (poor) fertility of their soils to produce food crops, or on livestock to concentrate nutrients from the relatively large grazing lands (Herrero et al. 2013).
  • In many farming systems, the production of food crops directly relies on animal manures to increase effectiveness of fertilizers applied to cropland (Vanlauwe and Giller 2006).
  • Although animal manure can be a very effective soil amendment, its availability at the farm level is often very limited, so designing technologies for soil fertility restoration only around the use of animal manure is unrealistic.

Payments for environmental services: Exclude or include livestock keepers?

  • Despite the fact that livestock is widely distributed in virtually all agro-ecosystems of the developing world, few ‘payment for environmental services’ schemes have targeted livestock keepers; most have focused on such services as climate, water and wildlife (Landell-Mills and Porras 2002, Wunder 2005).
  • Enhancing the role that rangelands play in maintaining ecosystem services through improved rangeland management could be of essential importance for enhancing global green water cycles (Rockström et al. 2007).
  • In Africa, where close to half of the pastoralists earn less than US$1/day, it’s estimated that even modest improvements in natural resource management in the drylands may yield gains of 0.5 t C/ha per year, which translates into US$50/year, bringing about a 14% increase in income for the pastoralist (Reid et al. 2004).

Read the whole paper
The roles of livestock in developing countries, by ILRI authors Mario Herrero, Delia Grace, Jemimah Njuki, Nancy Johnson, Dolapo Enahoro, Silvi Silvestri and Mariana Rufino, Animal (2013), 7:s1, pp 3–18 & The Animal Consortium 2012, doi:10.1017/S1751731112001954

Read related articles
Livestock, poverty and the environment: A balancing act—and a balanced account, 3 Apr 2012
Taking the long livestock view, 23 Jan 2013
Greening the livestock sector, 22 Jan 2013
Livestock livelihoods for the poor: Beyond meat, milk and eggs, 8 Jan 2013
A fine balancing act will be needed for livestock development in a changing world, 7 Dec 2012
Fewer, better fed, animals good for the world’s climate and the world’s poor, 22 Nov 2012
Scientific assessments needed by a global livestock sector facing increasingly hard trade-offs, 12 Jul 2013.
A new global alliance for a safer, fairer and more sustainable livestock sector, 13 Apr 2012
Sharing the space: Seven livestock leaders speak out on a global agenda, 20 Mar 2012
Towards a more coherent narrative for the global livestock sector, 15 Mar 2012
Developing an enabling global livestock agenda for our lives, health and lands, 13 Mar 2012

Acknowledgements
This paper is an ILRI output of two CGIAR Research Programs: Livestock and Fish and Climate Change, Agriculture and Food Security.

Livestock, poverty and the environment: A balancing act–and a balanced account

Worldmapper: Meat consumed

Territory size shows the proportion of worldwide meat consumption that occurs there (map by Worldmapper). Meat consumption per person is highest in Western Europe, with nine of the top ten meat-consuming populations living in Western Europe (the tenth in this ranking is New Zealand). The most meat is consumed in China, where a fifth of the world population lives.

Authors of a new paper setting out the roles of livestock in developing countries argue that although providing a ‘balanced account’ of livestock’s roles entails something of a ‘balancing act’, we had better get on with it if we want to build global food, economic and environmental security.

‘The importance of this paper lies in providing a balanced account [for] . . .  the often, ill-informed or generalized discussion on the . . .  roles of livestock. Only by understanding the nuances in these roles will we be able to design more sustainable solutions for the sector.

‘We are at a moment in time where our actions could be decisive for the resilience of the world food system, the environment and a billion poor people in the developing world . . . . At the same time, . . . the demand for livestock products is increasing, . . . adding additional pressures on the world natural resources.

Not surprisingly, the world is asking a big question: what should we do about livestock?

The paper, by scientists at the International Livestock Research Institute (ILRI), provides ‘a sophisticated and disaggregated answer’.

‘The sector is large. There are 17 billion animals in the world eating, excreting and using substantial amounts of natural resources, mostly in the developing world, where most of the growth of the sector will occur. The roles of livestock in the developing world are many . . . . [L]ivestock can be polluters in one place, whereas in another they provide vital nutrients for supporting crop production.’

The picture is complex. Whether for its positive or negative roles, livestock are in the spotlight. . . . [M]aking broad generalizations about the livestock sector [is] useless (and dangerous) for informing the current global debates on food security and the environment.

So what are these ‘nuanced, scientifically informed messages about livestock’s roles’ that the authors say are essential? Well, here are a few, but it is recommended that interested readers read the paper itself to get a sense of the whole, complicated, picture.

In a nutshell (taken from the paper’s conclusion), the authors say that ‘weighing the roles that livestock play in the developing world’ is a ‘complex balancing act’.

On the one hand, we acknowledge that livestock is an important contributor to the economies of developing nations, to the incomes and livelihoods of millions of poor and vulnerable producers and consumers, and it is an important source of nourishment. On the other side of the equation, the sector [is a] . . . large user of land and water, [a] notorious GHG [greenhouse gas] emitter, a reservoir of disease, [and a] source of nutrients at times, polluter at others . . . .

‘Against this dichotomy, [this] is a sector that could improve its environmental performance significantly . . . .’

This paper argues that we will help ensure poor decision-making in the livestock sector if we do the following.

Continue to ignore the inequities inherent
in the debate on whether or not to eat meat
‘This debate translates into poor food choices v. the food choices of the poor [and remains] dominated by the concerns of the developed world, [whose over-consumers of livestock and other foods] . . . should reduce the consumption of animal products as a health measure. However, the debate needs to increase in sophistication so that the poor and undernourished are not the victims of generalisations that may translate into policies or reduced support for the livestock sector in parts of the world where the multiple benefits of livestock outweigh the problems it causes.’

Take as given the projected trajectories of animal
consumption proposed by the ‘livestock revolution’
These trajectories ‘are not inevitable. Part of our responsibility is to challenge these future trajectories, and ensure that we identify levels of consumption and nutritional diversity for different parts of the world that will achieve the best compromise between a healthy diet that includes livestock products (or not), economic growth, livelihoods and livestock’s impacts on the environment. No mean feat, but certainly a crucial area of research.’

Continue to promote large-scale consolidated farms over efficient
and market-oriented smallholders as engines for feeding the world
‘Advocates of large-scale farming argue in favour of the higher efficiencies of resource use often found in these systems and how simple it is to disseminate technology and effect technological change. True, when the market economy is working.’ Not true when the market economy is not working. Investment in developing efficient value chains is essential ‘to create incentives for smallholders to integrate in the market economy, formal or informal.’

Continue to hurt the competitiveness
of the smallholder livestock sector
‘Formal and informal markets will need to ensure the supply of cheaper, locally produced, safe livestock products to adequately compete. This implies a significant reduction in transaction costs for the provision of inputs, increased resource use efficiencies, and very responsive, innovative and supporting institutions for the livestock sector in developing countries (FAO, 2009).

Continue to give lip service to paying for environmental services—
and continue to ignore livestock keepers as targets of these services
‘Proofs of concept that test how these schemes could operate in very fragmented systems, with multiple users of the land or in communal pastoral areas, are necessary. Research on fair, equitable and robust monitoring and evaluation frameworks and mechanisms for effecting payments schemes that work under these conditions is necessary. The promise of PES [payment for environmental services] schemes as a means to . . . produce food while protecting the world’s ecosystems is yet to be seen on a large scale.’

Don’t help small-scale livestock farmers and herders
adapt to climate change or help mitigate global warming
In a low carbon economy, and as the global food system prepares to become part of the climate change negotiations, ‘it will be essential that the livestock sector mitigate GHG [greenhouse gas emissions] effectively in relation to other sectors. Demonstrating that these options are real, with tangible examples, is essential . . . .’

Don’t modify institutions and markets to reach smallholders—
and continue to ignore women livestock producers
‘Underinvestment in extension systems and other support services has rendered poor producers disenfranchised to access support systems necessary for increasing productivity and efficiency’ or safety nets. Increased public investment in innovation and support platforms to link the poor, and especially women, to markets is essential.

Continue to protect global environmental goods
at the expense of local livelihoods of the poor
‘. . . [S]tern public opinion in favour of protecting global environmental goods, instead of local livelihoods, could create an investment climate’ that hurts smallholder farmers. The informal and formal retail sectors must ‘gain consumers trust as safe providers of livestock products for urban and rural consumers’.

Bottom line: Need for nuanced information / narratives / approaches
The authors conclude their paper with a plea for greater tolerance for ambiguity and diversity rather than fixed ideas, and a greater appetite for accurate and location-specific information rather than simplistic generalities.

Balancing the multiple roles of livestock in the developing world and contrasting them with those in the developed world is not simple.

‘The disaggregated evidence by region, species, production system, value chain, etc. needs to be generated. Messages need to be well distilled, backed by scientific evidence and well articulated to avoid making generalisations that more often than not confuse the picture and ill-inform policy. Livestock’s roles are simply not the same everywhere.

The roles, whether good or bad, need to be accepted by the scientific community.

‘Research agendas need to use the livestock bads as opportunities for improvement, while continuing to foster the positive aspects. These are essential ingredients for society to make better-informed choices about the future roles of livestock in sustainable food production, economic growth and poverty alleviation.’

Access the full paper
The roles of livestock in developing countries, by ILRI authors Mario Herrero, Delia Grace, Jemimah Njuki, Nancy Johnson, Dolapo Enahoro, Silvi Silvestri and Mariana Rufino, Animal (2013), 7:s1, pp 3–18.

Read related articles
Taking the long livestock view, 23 Jan 2013
Greening the livestock sector, 22 Jan 2013
Livestock livelihoods for the poor: Beyond meat, milk and eggs, 8 Jan 2013
A fine balancing act will be needed for livestock development in a changing world, 7 Dec 2012
Fewer, better fed, animals good for the world’s climate and the world’s poor, 22 Nov 2012
Scientific assessments needed by a global livestock sector facing increasingly hard trade-offs, 12 Jul 2013.
A new global alliance for a safer, fairer and more sustainable livestock sector, 13 Apr 2012
Sharing the space: Seven livestock leaders speak out on a global agenda, 20 Mar 2012
Towards a more coherent narrative for the global livestock sector, 15 Mar 2012
Developing an enabling global livestock agenda for our lives, health and lands, 13 Mar 2012

Acknowledgements
This paper is an ILRI output of two CGIAR Research Programs: Livestock and Fish and Climate Change, Agriculture and Food Security.

Cultivate the future! How learning together can mean learning better and faster–speeding research into use

If you missed it earlier this month, watch this animated 5-min video on what can help agricultural research by CGIAR and others ‘go to scale’.

Below is the full transcript of the video, which public awareness staff of the International Livestock Research Institute (ILRI) helped to create with Patti Kristjanson and others working in and with the CGIAR Research Program on Climate Change, Agriculture and Food Security (CCAFS). The narrator is Zimbabwean food policy expert Lindiwe Sibanda, who is chief executive officer and chief of mission of the Food, Agriculture and Natural Resources Policy Analysis Network (FANRPAN) and chairs ILRI’s board of trustees. The developers are  artist/illustrator James Durno and videographer Dale Ballantine, both of South Africa (Indie Village Creative).

‘The world is changing fast. We don’t know how we’re going to produce enough food to feed nine billion people and not destroy the environment in the process. So many more people to feed, escalating food and energy crises, water shortages, a changing climate, and the list goes on . . . .

‘So here we are, a group of scientists working for a food-secure future, meeting in sunny California. We’re here to rethink how we do science to make a bigger difference. We want to help transform the developing world’s agriculture and food systems. (We’re nothing if not ambitious!)

‘People are adaptable. Farmers are adaptable. So are scientists. We’re changing how we work and trying new approaches to solve the big, so-called ‘wicked problems’: e.g., poverty, climate change, environmental destruction and loss of species.

‘This is good, but it’s not good enough.

We’re running out of time; our wicked problems are likely to overrun our solutions unless we learn together, better and faster.

‘Here is the good news: We have evidence that we can speed things up, bring real benefits to people and bring these to scale. (Well, maybe the latter is more of a hypothesis, one that this group wants to test.)

‘Here are some examples of what we’re doing differently.

  • Crowd-sourcing is now being tested to understand what seeds and seedlings different people want, and how to best serve those diverse needs.
  • Learning alliances are bringing private-sector executives to farmers’ fields to learn first-hand from farmers struggling to feed their families; they then work with the farmers and scientists to develop and release varieties that make a difference on those small farms.
  • Innovative mentoring programs are speeding women’s advancement in agricultural sciences and their institutions in the developing world.
  • Farmer-business hubs are bringing together farmers, agri-businesses, NGOs. Farmers get training, seeds, credit and market information. They sell their milk, share their knowledge and earn money.
  • Participatory selection and breeding of crops is addressing women’s needs for foods that use less wood and take less time to prepare.
  • Farmer-to-farmer learning videos, radio and tv programs are spreading the word of best practices based on science and speeding adoption of new technologies.

‘And I’m sure all of us can think of many other examples. Whatever fancy terms we use, at the end of the day, it’s all about people, people from different backgrounds, people with different perspectives and expertise forming partnerships to learn from each other and solve complex problems.

But here’s the rub. We’ve all experienced how messy and time-consuming partnerships can be and how hard it is to take successes to scale.

‘What we may not always appreciate is just how beneficial this joint learning can be. These approaches tend to level the playing field, empower individuals and communities, create benefits that endure, and truly build local capacity.

‘So we can see that shifting how we do science in this way really works. What we can’t see yet is how to involve more people and speed it all up so that our solutions appear to us as to be big as our problems.

‘Let’s focus less on the present and instead view the present through the future we want to create. Just recall the skepticism around the sequencing of the human genome, and yet now, we are in that world.

Our research suggests that what’s going to be critical in the future is creating and nurturing spaces to innovate. This doesn’t have to take a lot of time. What it will take is being strategic and intentional about spanning boundaries.

‘Imagine a fertile safe space where diversity is embraced and where we can together grow, spread and harvest our best ideas and successes.

‘We have the pieces; we don’t yet have all the people. But we can create these environments that attract more people and allow us to learn together, better and faster.

Learning together transforms agriculture and lives.

‘Cultivate the future!’

Note: This animated 5-minute video was produced by and for the CGIAR Research Program on Climate Change, Agriculture and Food Security (CCAFS) and launched at CCAFS’ annual science meeting, held in Bodega Bay, California 18–19 Mar 2013.

For more information:
Go to CCAFS 2013 Science Meeting programme. Updates from the event were shared on the CCAFS website and on Twitter (search for #2013CCSL).

For more on the value of social learning and the March CCAFS science meeting, see these earlier posts on the ILRI News Blog:
Agricultural research, climate change and ‘social learning’: How did we get here? 19 Mar 2013.
The world’s ‘wicked problems’ need wickedly good solutions: Social learning could speed their spread, 18 Mar 2013.
Climate change and agricultural experts gather in California this week to search for the holy grail of global food security, 17 Mar 2013.

And on the CCAFS Blog:
Farmers and scientists: better together in the fight against climate change, 19 Mar 2013.
Transformative partnerships for a food-secure world, 19 Mar 2013.

Read Alain de Janvry’s whole paper: Agriculture for development: New paradigm and options for success, International Association of Agricultural Economists, 2010.

For more on the use of ‘social learning’ and related methods by the CCAFS, see the CCSL wiki and these posts on ILRI’s maarifa blog.

Agricultural research, climate change and ‘social learning’: How did we get here?

'Southern Gardens' by Paul Klee, 1921 (via WikiPaintings)

‘Southern Gardens’ by Paul Klee, 1921 (via WikiPaintings).

An ongoing CGIAR group meeting in Bodega Bay, California, (18–19 Mar 2013) is looking at untapped potential in CGIAR and beyond for actors of diverse kinds to join forces in improving global food security in the light of climate change. Updates from the event are being shared on the CCAFS website and on Twitter (follow #2013CCSL). For more information, go to CCAFS 2013 Science Meeting programmeMore information about the meeting is here.

The following opinion piece was drafted by Patti Kristjanson, of the CGIAR Research Program on Climate Change, Agriculture and Food Security (CCAFS) and based at the World Agroforestry Centre (ICRAF), in Nairobi, Kenya, with inputs from other ‘climate change and social media champions’, including Sophie Alverez (International Center for Tropical Agriculture [CIAT]), Liz Carlile (International Institute for Environment and Development [IIED]), Pete Cranston (Euforic Services), Boru Douthwaite (WorldFish), Wiebke Foerch (CCAFS), Blane Harvey (International Development Research Centre [IDRC]), Carl Jackson (Westhill Knowledge Group), Ewen Le Borgne (International Livestock Research Institute [ILRI]), Susan MacMillan (ILRI), Philip Thornton (CCAFS/ILRI) and Jacob van Etten (Bioversity International). (Go here for a list of those participating at the CCAFS Annual Science Meeting in California).

Untapped potential
All humans possess the fundamental capacity to anticipate and adapt to change. And of course experts argue that it is change — whether the end of the last Ice Age or the rise of cities or the drying of a once-green Sahel — that has driven our evolution as a species. If we’ve progressed, they say, it’s because we had to. And we can see in the modern world that, with supportive and encouraging environments, both individuals and communities can be highly resourceful and innovative, serving as agents of transformation. The agricultural, industrial and information revolutions were the products of both individual inventiveness (think of Steve Jobs) and social support (Silicon Valley).

Some of the major changes today are occurring fastest in some of the world’s slowest economies. The two billion or so people in the world’s developing countries who grow and sell food for a living, for example, are adjusting to huge changes — to their countries’ exploding populations and diminishing natural resources, to a rural exodus and rush to the cities, to higher food prices, to new lethal diseases, to a single global economy, and, on top of all of that, to a changing climate causing unpredictable seasons and more extreme and frequent ‘big weather’ in the form of droughts, floods and storms.

PETE CRANSTON
The problems generated by climate change requires larger scale, collaborative responses — that is, social learning, requiring collaborative reflection and learning, at scale, and engaging community decision-making processes. 
Collective action, at scale, to systemic problems caused by climate change is the area of interest that came out of a workshop on climate change and social learning held in May 2012.

[The workshop Cranston refers to, held on ILRI’s campus in Addis Ababa, Ethiopia, was organized by CCAFS; go here for more information.]

When it comes to the food systems that support all of us, that enable human life itself, we’re squandering our innate potential to innovate. What will it take to unleash the potential within all of us — consumers and farmers and farm suppliers, food sellers and agri-business players, agricultural scientists, policymakers, thought leaders, government officials, development experts, humanitarian agents — to make the changes we need to make to feed the world? And what will it take to do so in ways that don’t destroy the natural resource base on which agriculture depends? In ways that don’t leave a legacy of ruined landscapes for our children and children’s children to inherit?

PATTI KRISTJANSON
You don’t hear much about what can be done about it. We need to see major changes in how food is grown and distributed. In Africa and Asia, where millions of families live on one to five hectares of land, we need to see improved farming systems. We  need to see transformative changes, not small changes. But to transform food systems, we also need to transform how the research that supports these transformations is done. We need to think more about partnerships. And learning.

Remembrance of a Garden, by Paul Klee, 1914 (via WikiPaintings)

‘Remembrance of a Garden’ by Paul Klee, 1914 (via WikiPaintings).

How did we get here?
Before attempting to answer those questions, it might profit us to take a look at how agricultural development got to where it is now. Alain de Janvry, a professor of agricultural and resource economics at the University of California at Berkeley, and others argue as follows.

For decades, development agencies put agriculture at the forefront of their priorities, believing it to be the precursor to industrialization. Then, starting in the 1970s and early 1980s, the bias for agriculture began to be seriously eroded, with huge economic, social, and environmental costs.

The good news, de Janvry says, is that ‘In recent years, a number of economic, social, and environmental crises have attracted renewed attention to agriculture as both a contributor to these problems and a potential instrument for solutions. . . . A new paradigm has started to emerge where agriculture is seen as having the capacity to help achieve several of the major dimensions of development, most particularly accelerating GDP growth at early stages of development, reducing poverty and vulnerability, narrowing rural-urban income disparities, releasing scarce resources such as water and land for use by other sectors, and delivering a multiplicity of environmental services.’

The bad news, he says, is that ‘renewed use of agriculture for development remains highly incomplete, falling short of political statements.’

Let’s now return to our questions about what’s missing in agricultural development today, and what that has to do with ‘social learning’, or lack of it.

Apparatus for the Magnetic Treatment of Plants, by Paul Klee, 1908 (via WikiPaintings)

‘Apparatus for the Magnetic Treatment of Plants’ by Paul Klee, 1908 (via WikiPaintings).

Unlocking the human potential for innovating solutions
Agricultural scientists are important actors both in instigating change and in helping people anticipate and adapt to climate and other agriculturally important changes. They have played a key role so far in spearheading major agricultural movements such as the Green Revolution in Asia. Yet one billion poor people have been left behind by the Green Revolution, largely because they live in highly diverse agro-ecological regions that are relatively inaccessible and where they cannot access the research-based information, technologies and support they need to improve, or ‘intensify’, their farming systems.

The complex agriculturally related challenges of today require going way beyond ‘business as usual’. And they offer agricultural scientists unprecedented opportunities to play major roles in some of the major issues of our time, including reducing our greenhouse gas emissions and adapting to climate change. But we’re not going to make good use of these opportunities if we don’t recognize and jump on opportunities for joint societal learning and actions.

POTATOES IN THE ANDES
Take this example from Latin America, where agricultural researchers set about documenting the biodiversity of potato varieties in the high-elevation Andes. An unanticipated consequence of this activity was learning from local farmers about numerous varieties previously unknown to science. And the scientists realized that traditional knowledge of these hardy varieties and other adaptive mechanisms are helping many households deal with climate variability at very high elevations. Further learning in this project showed that women and the elderly tended to have much better knowledge of traditional varieties and their use than the owners of the land. This kind of knowledge is now being shared widely in an innovative Andean regional network.

RICE IN VIETNAM
Here’s another example. Rice is now being grown by over a million farmers in Vietnam using a new management system that reduces water use and methane gas emissions while generating higher incomes for farm families. This happened through farmers — both men and women — experimenting and sharing experiences in ‘farmer field schools’ that had strong government support. It turns out that the women farmers are better trainers than men. After participating in a farmer field school, each woman helped 5–8 other farmers adopt the new approach, while every male participant helped only 1–3 additional farmers. So making sure women were a key part of this effort led to much greater success in reducing poverty and environmental damage.

Ravaged Land, by Paul Klee, 1921, Galarie Beyeler (via WikiPaintings)

‘Ravaged Land’ by Paul Klee, 1921, Galarie Beyeler (via WikiPaintings).

New opportunities for doing research differently
Back to de Janvry for a moment. ‘Crises and opportunities’, he says, ‘combine in putting agriculture back on the development agenda, as both a need and a possibility. This second chance in using agriculture for development calls for a new paradigm, which is still largely to be consistently formulated and massively implemented. . . [A] Green Revolution for Sub-Saharan Africa is still hardly in the making.’

ALAIN DE JANVRY
In the new paradigm, process thus matters along with product if the multiple dimensions of development are to be achieved. . . . As opposed to what is often said in activist donor circles, it is a serious mistake to believe that we know what should be done, and all that is left to do is doing it. . . . Because objectives and contexts are novel, we are entering un-chartered territory that needs to be researched and experimented with. Extraordinary new opportunities exist to successfully invest in agriculture for development, but they must be carefully identified. . . . Innovation, experimentation, evaluation, and learning must thus be central to devising new approaches to the use agriculture for development. This requires putting into place strategies to identify impacts as we proceed with new options.

The biggest mistake one could make about using agriculture for development is believe that it is easy to do and that we already know all we need to do it. It is not and we don’t. . . . Lessons must be derived from past mistakes, and new approaches devised and evaluated.

So how do we derive lessons from past mistakes? How do we devise new approaches and evaluate them on-goingly?

LIVESTOCK IN EAST AFRICA
One way is to take a proactive social learning approach — learning together through action and reflection, which leads to changes in behaviour. Researchers from ILRI, for example, learned by interacting closely with pastoral groups in East Africa that intermittent engagement is not as powerful a force of social change as is continual engagement, which they achieved by instituting ‘community facilitators-cum-researchers’. This led to transformative changes in land policy and management, with long-lasting benefits for wildlife populations, pastoral communities and rangelands alike.

Public-private partnerships that include researchers can also help. Through active learning together we can reach more people, more efficiently and effectively than before — this approach is further supported through widespread access to the internet and smartphones that allow greater engagement from communities and individuals spread far and wide. We can map the soils and water resources needed to grow food, and try new ‘crowdsourced’ approaches to identify needs for different types of seeds and seedlings. We can democratize research, and make scientists much more responsive to the needs of different groups of people.

Rising Sun, by Paul Klee, 1907 (via WikiPaintings)

‘Rising Sun’ by Paul Klee, 1907 (via WikiPaintings).

Why bother?
What’s the incentive for researchers to do things differently? For all of us, it lies in the opportunity to sharpen our edge, to become better solvers of bigger, more complex problems, or at least to ask better questions about ‘wicked problems’. For scientists in particular, the opportunity to make our research, including fundamental and lab-based research, more relevant and targeted to meeting demand — user-inspired rather than supply-driven research — is tremendous.

RICE IN AFRICA
When researchers at two international rice research institutes, IRRI and AfricaRice, started to include women in participatory varietal selection, different preferences emerged. Women focused more on food security than yields. Through working directly with women as well as men, the nature of research challenges and questions changed to accommodate different needs, values and norms. The use of farmer-to-farmer learning videos accelerated the transfer of different types of learning. Evaluations show that this approach has led to an 80% greater adoption rate of different technologies and practices than previous dissemination techniques.

In these ways, socially differentiated and participatory research approaches hold the promise of making our research more central to the major agricultural problems we’re facing — and to anticipate future problems, issues and questions by sharpening our critical questioning through ongoing learning.

Reconstructing by Paul Klee, 1926 (via WikiPaintings)

‘Reconstructing’ by Paul Klee, 1926 (via WikiPaintings).

How do we learn and make this happen?
We learn by using, by doing, by trying, by failing, by modeling, through engagement, dialogue and reflection. Knowledge links to action more effectively when the users are involved from the problem definition stage onwards, when they ‘co-own’ the problem and questions that could lead to solving it. So a shift towards joint observation, trials, modeling and experimentation is key. CGIAR and its partners have used learning approaches to catalyze transformative change in the ways in which food is grown, distributed and consumed.

LEARNING ALLIANCES IN LATIN AMERICA
CIAT has been taking a ‘learning alliance’ approach, partnering with intermediaries such as the Sustainable Food Lab, global food and commodity corporations, local farmer associations and international development-oriented non-governmental organizations. Innovative networks have been formed that link local producers (rural poor) with global buyers. Executives from global food companies have gone on learning journeys where they hear first-hand from small farmers about 3-month periods of food insecurity; they responded by supplying alternate seed varieties for food security over this period. Global companies have reoriented their buying patterns to accommodate local producer needs. These new alliances are generating longer-term networks that are building the adaptive capacity of both food sellers and producers.

Refuge by Paul Klee, 1930 (via WikiPaintings)

‘Refuge’ by Paul Klee, 1930 (via WikiPaintings).

What are we asking people to do?
We want to see more people embracing the idea of joint, transformative learning, the co-creation of knowledge. This is not a new idea. But the imperatives we’re facing now demand a more conscious articulation, promotion and facilitation of this approach by a wide range of people, especially scientists from all disciplines. More relevant science leads to social credibility and legitimacy, which in turn should lead to the ability to mobilize support — a win-win for researchers.

PATTI KRISTJANSON
To enable social learning, incentives and institutions — the rules of the game — have to change also. This includes our changing how research is planned, evaluated and funded. We need much longer time horizons than those currently in play (with 2–3 year projects the norm). And we need to share this critical lesson with governments and other investors in agricultural research for development.

Our vision of success includes many more scientists engaged in broad partnerships; producing more relevant, useful and used information; doing less paperwork and more mentoring of young people and more interactive science; and more generously sharing their knowledge. This helps us to see — much more clearly than before — our scientific contributions to improved agricultural landscapes, sustainable food systems, profitable and productive livelihoods, and improved food security globally.

EWEN LE BORGNE
For more on social learning, consult these ‘social learning gurus’ cited by Ewen Le Borgne:
•  Mark Reed, author of the definition that a few of us have been quoting — see his What is social learning? response to a paper published in Ecology and Society in 2010.
•  Harold Jarche or Jane Hart, both write well on social learning in an enterprise — see Social Learning Centre website and Jarche’s blog.
•  Sebastiao Ferreira Mendonca — see the Mundus maris website (Sciences and Arts for Sustainability International Initiative)
•  Valerie BrownAustralian academic who worked a lot on multiple knowledges in IKM-Emergent, a five-year research program in ’emergent issues in information and knowledge management and international development’ (blog here)

For more information:
Go to CCAFS 2013 Science Meeting programme. Updates from the event are being shared on the CCAFS website and on Twitter (follow #2013CCSL).

For more on this week’s meeting, see these earlier posts on the ILRI News Blog:
The world’s ‘wicked problems’ need wickedly good solutions: Social learning could speed their spread, 18 May 2013.
Climate change and agricultural experts gather in California this week to search for the holy grail of global food security, 17 Mar 2013.

And on the CCAFS Blog:
Farmers and scientists: better together in the fight against climate change, 19 Mar 2013.
Transformative partnerships for a food-secure world, 19 Mar 2013.

Read Alain de Janvry’s whole paper: Agriculture for development: New paradigm and options for success, International Association of Agricultural Economists, 2010.

For more on the use of ‘social learning’ and related methods by the CCAFS, see the CCSL wiki and these posts on ILRI’s maarifa blog.

The world’s ‘wicked problems’ need wickedly good solutions: Social learning could speed their spread

Five-minute animated video produced for a Climate Change and Social Learning (CCSL) initiative of the CGIAR Research Program on Climate Change, Agriculture and Food Security (CCAFS). CCAFS scientists and partners are meeting this week to share their best ideas on how to work better together, and with many others, for a climate-safe future.

Patti Kristjanson, an agricultural economist working out of Nairobi, Kenya (World Agroforestry Centre), for the CGIAR Research Program on Climate Change, Agriculture and Food Security (CCAFS), opened the latter’s annual science meeting in California yesterday (18 Mar) with a little animated video on ways to combat the world’s ‘wicked problems’. The 70-odd researchers at this meeting are looking for ways to make bigger and faster impacts on increasing global food security while reducing global warming.

The short (5-minute) animated video is worth a look. It sets out the need for speed in scaling up our agricultural successes and encourages us to make more conscious use of something called ‘social learning’.

What’s that? Well, it’s what most of us do most of the time—learn from each other in social gatherings of one kind or another. What Kristjanson and her climate change researchers are advocating, however, is applying social learning methods intentionally and systematically, that is to say, doing research that pays as much attention to the social processes of science and its communication as to the scientific methods it employs and the evidence it generates.

That may not be rocket science for most of us, but it’s still a tall order for most scientists. Kristjanson’s short engaging video, narrated by Zimbabwean food policy expert (and ILRI board chair) Lindiwe Sibanda and produced by two South Africans, artist/illustrator James Durno and videographer Dale Ballantine, chips away at such academic fustiness and scientific exceptionalism, arguing for greater scientist engagement with a greater diversity of people for greater impacts.

The video encourages its viewers to create ‘safe spaces’ for social learning (picture tree nurseries protecting seedlings — seedlings that will grow into trees of knowledge!). In such protected places, scientists and their many new partners can together tackle the wickedly complex problems of today, such as finding ways to grow enough food to feed the world’s increasing population in the face of an increasingly unpredictable climate.

Cultivate the future’, the video exhorts us. ‘Focus on the future, not the past — on our solutions, not our problems.’

The Tree of Life by Gustav Klimt, 1909 (via Wikipaintings)

‘The Tree of Life’ by Gustav Klimt, about 1909, Austrian Museum of Applied Arts (via WikiPaintings). 

More information
Read more on the ILRI News Blog about the CCAFS annual science meeting here and here.

For more information on the CCSL initiative, go to CCAFS 2013 Science Meeting programme. Updates from the event are being shared on the CCAFS website and on Twitter (follow #2013CCSL).

For more on the use of ‘social learning’ and related methods by the CCAFS, see the CCSL wiki and these posts on ILRI’s maarifa blog. See also this document by Blane Harvey (Institute for Development Studies [IDS], at the University of Sussex), Jonathan Ensor (University of York), Liz Carlile (International Institute for Environment and Development [IIED]), Ben Garside (IIED), Zachary Patterson (IDS), Lars Otto Naess (IDS): Climate change communication and social learning — Review and strategy development for CCAFS, Oct 2012.

For a recent scientific review of social learning, see this paper: Towards systemic and adaptive governance: Exploring the revealing and concealing aspects of contemporary social-learning metaphors, by Ray Ison, Chris Blackmore and Benjamin Iaquinto, Ecological Economics 87 (2013) 34–42, http://dx.doi.org/doi:10.1016/j.ecolecon.2012.12.016

Here is an excerpt from the paper:
‘Concerns about the effective governance of situations such as river catchments, watersheds, climate change adaptation, biodiversity conservation and ecosystem service provision are widespread. A paucity of effective governance approaches in such situations seemingly exists despite the efforts made in the 40 years since Rittel and Webber (1973) coined the term ‘wicked problems’ to refer to situations that are contested, difficult to bound, involving many stakeholders with socio-technical features (APSC, 2007; Ison, 2008). There is clearly a need for governance innovation (Hajer and Wagenaar, 2003); fortunately recent research, as evidenced by Ostrom’s body of work (see Ostrom, 2007, 2010) demonstrates that commons-type situations are no longer irrevocably committed to tragedy as posited by Hardin (1968). Social learning research is also an innovative response to commons-like, or ‘wicked’, situations (Wals, 2007) but the potential of ‘social learning’ to contribute to the governance of socio-ecological systems is not widely appreciated.’

 

 

 

 

Climate change and agricultural experts gather in California this week to search for the holy grail of global food security

Silhouette of a woman, by Vincent van Gogh,

Silhouette of a peasant woman digging carrots, by Vincent van Gogh, 1885, Van Gogh Museum, Amsterdam, Netherlands (via WikiPaintings).

Experts working at the interface of climate change and agriculture are gathering at two venues in California this week to do the impossible: find ways to do ‘climate-smart agriculture’, specifically—use science to feed more of the world’s growing population and reduce world poverty while mitigating agriculture’s environmental harms the greenhouse gas emissions that are warming the Earth.

First up is a CGIAR group looking to work better, with faster impacts, through so-called ‘social learning’. On Mon and Tue, 18–19 Mar 2013, the CGIAR Research Program on Climate Change, Agriculture and Food Security (CCAFS) is holding its annual science meeting, in Bodega Bay. This group of 70 or so people is Rethinking Science, Learning and Partnerships to Meet Development Outcomes: Reducing Poverty and Improving Food Security in the Context of Climate Change.

This CCAFS meeting is looking for ways to achieve better, bigger and faster impacts through engagement with a wide variety of communities. The participants see untapped potential in CGIAR and beyond for actors of diverse kinds to join forces in improving global food security in the light of climate change. They’re looking at innovative ways to democratize and co-create science for practical use. They hope to build on a legacy of social learning approaches and participatory work within CGIAR and to find ways to adapt these to address the complex challenges faced by hundreds of millions of small-scale food producers and sellers in developing countries.

Updates from the event are being shared on the CCAFS website and on Twitter (follow #2013CCSL).
For more information, go to CCAFS 2013 Science Meeting programme.

Among the CCAFS participants coming from the International Livestock Research Institute (ILRI), in Nairobi, Kenya, are Philip Thornton, James Kinyangi, Mariana Rufino, Polly Ericksen, Wiebke Foerch, Maren Radeny and Ewen Le Borgne.

Three peasants at a meal, by Pablo Picasso (via WikiPaintings)

Three peasants at a meal, pencil sketch and study by Vincent van Gogh, 1890, Van Gogh Museum, Amsterdam, Netherlands (via WikiPaintings).

Following the Bodega Bay meeting, a larger group of climate change and agricultural experts will meet at the University of California at Davis from Wed through Fri, 20–22 Mar 2013, for a global science conference on Climate-Smart Agriculture (and here).

With climate change occurring more rapidly than anticipated, an increase in extreme weather events is threatening global agriculture and food supplies. Existing technologies and institutional structures will be insufficient to slow climate change while feeding the growing human population sustainably. Participants at this conference will work to identify useful actions that are science-based, to use knowledge systems in new ways and to help strengthen the resilience of agricultural communities facing an uncertain future. They’ll look at new ways of integrating science and policy to transform land management and community action for food security. The overall aim is to link agricultural sciences with policies and practices so as to ensure a triple bottom line: food security, poverty alleviation and ecosystem services.

Many CCAFS staff will be participating in, or organizing sessions at, this conference as well.
For more information, visit the UC Davis website.

Animal-to-human diseases: From panic to planning–new recommendations for policymakers

Greatest Burden of Zoonoses Falls on One Billion Poor Livestock Keepers

Map by ILRI, published in an ILRI report to the UK Department for International Development (DFID): Mapping of Poverty and Likely Zoonoses Hotspots, 2012.

The UK’s Institute for Development Studies (IDS) has published a 4-page Rapid Response Briefing titled ’Zoonoses: From panic to planning’.

Veterinary epidemiologist Delia Grace, who is based at the International Livestock Research Institute (ILRI), along with other members of a Dynamic Drivers of Disease in Africa Consortium, based at the STEPS Centre at IDS, c0-authored the document.

The briefing recommends that policymakers take a ‘One-Health’ approach to managing zoonotic diseases.

‘Over two thirds of all human infectious diseases have their origins in animals. The rate at which these zoonotic diseases have appeared in people has increased over the past 40 years, with at least 43 newly identified outbreaks since 2004. In 2012, outbreaks included Ebola in Uganda . . . , yellow fever in the Democratic Republic of Congo and Rift Valley fever (RVF) in Mauritania.

‘Zoonotic diseases have a huge impact – and a disproportionate one on the poorest people in the poorest countries. In low-income countries, 20% of human sickness and death is due to zoonoses. Poor people suffer further when development implications are not factored into disease planning and response strategies.

‘A new, integrated “One Health” approach to zoonoses that moves away from top-down disease-focused intervention is urgently needed. With this, we can put people first by factoring development implications into disease preparation and response strategies – and so move from panic to planning.

Read the Rapid Response Briefing: Zoonoses: From panic to planning, published Jan 2013 by the Dynamic Drivers of Disease in Africa Consortium and funded by the UK Department for International Development (DFID).

About the Dynamic Drivers of Disease in Africa
The Dynamic Drivers of Disease in Africa is a consortium of 30 researchers from 19 institutions in Africa, Europe and America. It conducts a major program to advance understanding of the connections between disease and environment in Africa. Its focus is animal-to-human disease transmission and its objective is to help move people out of poverty and promote social justice.

Over the past few decades, more than 60 per cent of emerging infectious diseases affecting humans have had their origin in wildlife or livestock. As well as presenting a threat of global disease outbreak, these zoonotic diseases are quietly devastating lives and livelihoods. At present, zoonoses are poorly understood and under-measured — and therefore under-prioritized in national and international health systems. There is great need for evidence and knowledge to inform effective, integrated One Health approaches to disease control. This Consortium is working to provide this evidence and knowledge.

Natural and social scientists in the Consortium are working to provide this evidence and knowledge for four zoonotic diseases, each affected in different ways by ecosystem changes and having different impacts on people’s health, wellbeing and livelihoods:

  • Henipavirus infection in Ghana
  • Rift Valley fever in Kenya
  • Lassa fever in Sierra Leone
  • Trypanosomiasis in Zambia and Zimbabwe

Of the 30 scientists working in the consortium, 4 are from ILRI: In addition to Delia Grace, these include Bernard Bett, a Kenyan veterinary epidemiologist with research interests in the transmission patterns of infectious diseases as well as the technical effectiveness of disease control measures; Steve Kemp, a British molecular geneticist particularly interested in the mechanisms of innate resistance to disease in livestock and mouse models, and Tom Randolph, an American agricultural economist whose research interests have included animal and human health issues and assessments of the impacts of disease control programs.

Delia Grace leads a program on Prevention and Control of Agriculture-associated Diseases, which is one of four components of a CGIAR Research Program on Agriculture for Nutrition and Health. Tom Randolph directs the CGIAR Research Program on Livestock and Fish. Steve Kemp is acting director of ILRI’s Biotechnology Theme.