Gender equity + capacity development: Marriage proposal in the CGIAR Research Program on Livestock and Fish

Close up: Oromo jewelerys

If discussions at a recent research for development meeting in Addis Ababa, Ethiopia, are to be believed, transformations are afoot at the intersection of gender equity and capacity development work in the strategies and approaches, if not (fully) yet on the ground, of the CGIAR Research Program on Livestock and Fish.

By Dorine Odongo and Diana Brandes-van Dorresteijn

Development experts these days will, to a man and woman, insist that we need to do more to empower (poor) women in developing countries. A particularly popular target are the women who grow most of the food their families and communities, and their cities and nations, are consuming. Such ‘gender focus’ is all the rage in agricultural research for development circles.

So far, so good, but just what does a ‘gender focus’ look like that actually makes a difference in the lives of some half a billion women producing food in the face of severe material and resource poverty?

Scientists working on gender issues in a new(ish) research program aiming to make more milk, meat and fish available to the poor and to improve food safety in informal markets think they may have a handle on this.

They call their approach ‘gender transformative’. Basically, that means they’re ambitious to increase women’s income from, and employment in, livestock and fish ‘value chains’ in ways that transform, rather than merely incrementally improve, those livelihoods.

Can that work?
The gender experts working with the CGIAR Research Program on Livestock and Fish think so. They met in Addis Ababa, Ethiopia, from 14–18 Oct 2013 to look at how much their ‘transformative’ strategy has succeeded and to define new strategies and entry points for interventions for 2014–2015. They’re looking in particular at how far they’ve managed to do four things:

(1) develop capacity (in individuals, groups, organizations, institutions) to do productive research and development work in relevant livestock-, fish- and gender-related fields

(2) empower women in their work in livestock and fish ‘value chains’ (these involve all the steps and processes from on-farm production of livestock and fish through the marketing, processing, selling and final consumption of livestock and fish products)

(3) improve the nutrition of poor households in selected communities targeted by the Livestock and Fish research program

(4) encourage others to apply gender transformative approaches to this research-for-development work

At the Addis meeting, presentations were made and discussions held on results made so far by gender scientists and country partners from Africa (Egypt, Ethiopia, Kenya, Tanzania, Uganda), Southeast Asia (Malaysia) and Central America (Nicaragua) involved in the Livestock and Fish research program. Participants heard about an extensive ‘in-depth women-retailer only analysis’ conducted in five Egyptian governorates that support the formation of women retailer committees. The Livestock and Fish program helped members of these committees improve their links to markets and supported them in engaging in public-private partnerships with local governments to construct marketplaces tailored for small- to medium-sized fish sellers.

In another example, members of a project on Livestock and Irrigation Value Chains for Ethiopian Smallholders (LIVES) developed guidelines for mainstreaming gendered approaches to development for the project’s partners at both national and local levels and in both the public and private sectors. In addition, research on food safety and health in Ethiopia led to a research summary report of gender-related consumption practices, as presented here. The issue of food safety and health is crucial in livestock products and as described in this ILRI Livestock Exchange issue brief, safer food can generate both health and wealth for the poor. If women are supported in this area, they have better chances of competing in the markets with higher quality products.

The field trip
On one day, the workshop participants travelled to central Ethiopia’s West Shoa Zone to visit the Biruh Tesfa Dairy Cooperative, the Hunde Hajebatu Small-scale Irrigation Women’s Group, the LIVES Knowledge Centre in the Zonal Office of Agriculture and a model farmer engaging in a traditional mix of livestock keeping, crop farming and beekeeping. The field trip gave the workshop participants an opportunity to observe at firsthand issues affecting small-scale Ethiopian food producers regarding capacity development, ‘gender transformative’ approaches in that capacity development work, agricultural value chains, and gender-related impacts on household nutrition. These field visits served to underscore a need to apply a gender focus to capacity development work.

Reality checks
The Biruh Tesfa Dairy Cooperative was established in 2004. Of 40 founding members, 15 were women. While the membership has grown to 70 in the last 9 years, the number of women remains unchanged at 15, and no woman yet serves on the cooperative’s board. The cooperative has just two basic kinds of equipment for value addition and they do not have information on how to maintain milk quality and safety standards. Despite being registered as a cooperative, the representatives we spoke to appeared to have no knowledge of how to set up a savings scheme from the profits earned by the cooperative. The members of this cooperative are thus not taking full advantage of the benefits accruing to membership in a co-operative, such as access to loans, which they could use to buy equipment and further upgrade their dairy operations. These observations triggered questions from the gender working group on the constraints these farmers face in accessing:

  • credit facilities
  • dairy information, e.g., via agricultural extension and advisory services
  • technical support
  • dairy markets
  • government support

A similar lack of knowledge about technological options available for Ethiopia’s many small-scale farmers was observed in the gender group’s visit to the Hunde Hajebatu Small-scale Irrigation Women’s Group, which is growing and selling potatoes. After receiving a government loan, this group had a hard time identifying technological options they could use to improve their irrigated potato production. They have not been able to improve their production levels over the three years they have been in existence. Although various options exist for improving small-scale irrigation technologies such as those used by this group, Abebeu Gutema, the group’s leader, says the women do not know where to get hold of this information.

The chicken or the egg?
Later in the tour, the gender group visited Gadisa Gobena, a farmer active in dairy production, livestock rearing, beekeeping and crop farming. Over 50 and well past retirement age, this former schoolteacher is now pursuing his passion for agriculture. Gobena keeps more than one hundred dairy cows on his farm. And though he is at times challenged to market all of his milk, he plans both to increase his stock and to invest in improved dairy technologies for making greater efficiencies and profits. Gobena now employs some 40 people.

Accessing knowledge, getting exposure
While the previous groups visited had little information about, or exposure to, latest technologies that could boost their production and diversify their products, Gobena is looking to acquire milking machines and other technologies to enhance his operations. One likely reason for his outward-looking approach is his travel to other countries, where he saw and learned about emerging trends and technologies in small-scale agriculture and its potential. He recently successfully applied for a business loan. Understanding the importance of sharing his knowledge with other farmers and exposing them to new ideas, Gobena gives back to his community through a farmer extension training centre that he has established. His centre provides 50 to 70 farmers with free training, agricultural information, and seeds, insecticides, livestock drugs and other farm inputs at minimal cost. The centre includes demonstration plots where the farmers can observe different farming practices.

Gobena is clearly a ‘change maker’ for his farm community. The LIVES project and gender visitors have a job now to try to determine what has most encouraged Gobena in his development of his own capacity and that of his community. What came first? Did his confidence push him to take the first step in farm improvements? Or did his farm success build his confidence? Was it business sense that set him apart? Or did he acquire that along the way?

At the end of the field tour, the gender group concluded that three major issues were key to capacity development:

  • leadership
  • access to knowledge
  • exposure to emerging trends and technological advances

While effectiveness of the previous groups in maximizing their agricultural production is limited by lack of access to knowledge about the available technological options and leadership ability, Gobena’ s success in his farming activities can be attributed to having been influenced by these three issues.

The time is now
Following the gender workshop in Addis Ababa, ILRI’s Capacity Development Unit hosted a CGIAR capacity development workshop in Nairobi 21–25 Oct 2013. Participants were experts in organizational development, training design and facilitation, social learning, institutional change, ICT innovations and related fields. ILRI’s Capacity Development Unit is looking to influence change at the following three levels.

  • Institutional change: The policies, legislations and power relations that govern the mandates, priorities, modes of operation and civic engagement across different parts of society
  • Organizational change: Formal and informal arrangements, internal policies, procedures and frameworks that encourage and enable individuals and organizations to work together towards mutual goals
  • Individual change: Developing leadership, experience, knowledge and technical skills in people

ILRI’s lead scientist for gender research, Kathleen Colverson, who organized the ‘transformative gender’ workshop in Addis Ababa, participated in the CGIAR-wide capacity development workshop in Nairobi, which was organized by Iddo Dror, head of capacity development at ILRI. At this second workshop, Colverson again emphasized the central role of capacity development in addressing gender issues, an example of which is her recently produced training manual for use in facilitating gender workshops and closing the gender gap in agriculture.

Will these transformative gender and capacity development strategies turn out to be truly transformative? Watch this (ILRI, CGIAR) space. . . .

Gender workshop posters and presentations

Dorine Odongo is a communications consultant with ILRI’s Livelihoods, Gender, Impacts and Innovation Program; Diana Brandes-van Dorresteijn is a new staff member in ILRI’s Capacity Development Unit.

Radio still reaches most Kenyan farmers—but agricultural information still not useful enough

INTERNEWS_NAIROBI

Most Kenyan farmers listen to the radio to learn how to farm better but are not receiving the information they need (photo credit: Flickr/Internews Network).

Radio is still the dominant media channel used by Kenya’s small-scale farmers wanting to learn new techniques to improve their farming methods. But farmers say they’re still not receiving most of the agricultural information they badly need.

Findings of a 2012 study of over 600 small-scale farm households spread across high- to low-yield agricultural regions of Kenya in Nakuru, Nyanza, Nyeri, Machakos, Makueni and Webuye show that farmers receive mostly basic ‘how to’ and technical information; despite its modest usefulness, this kind of information is not enough to enable these Kenyan farmers to improve their food production levels or practices.

Selected findings from this study were shared in a presentation, ‘Shortcomings in communications on agricultural knowledge transfer’, made by Christoph Spurk, a media researcher, at a seminar on 17 Oct 2013 at the International Livestock Research Institute (ILRI), in Nairobi, Kenya.

‘Over 75 per cent of the households we reviewed practised mixed crop-and-livestock farming, with an average of 4–6 people in each household occupying 1–3 acres of land. Over half of those we interviewed were women’, said Spurk, who is also an agricultural economist and a professor at the Zurich University of Applied Sciences, Institute of Applied Media Studies.

‘One of our key findings’, says Spurk, ‘was that government extension services are still the “most trusted source” of agricultural information for most farmers, even though many of these services are “difficult to reach and less available than expected”.’

At the same time, the study found significant gaps between the agricultural information farmers would like to receive and what they actually get through different communication channels.

‘The farmers are receiving mostly technical agricultural information even though they prefer information on markets, improving incomes and fighting farm-related diseases’, said Spurk. ‘They also said most of the information they get is presented in simplified top-down “how-to” formats rather than in detailed formats that lay out the different options available to them.’

According to the study’s findings, radio is used by 95% of the households. Even though two-thirds of the households also have access to mobile phones, only 11% of mobile phone owners use these devices to access to agricultural applications such as ‘iCow’, which registered farmers use to receive information on, for example, optimal feeding regimes and gestation cycles for their particular cows.

Although most of the farmers interviewed reported that they regularly listen to vernacular radio stations, nearly all them said their favourite source of information is other farmers and family members. Just under half of the farmers (44%) said government extension services were their most trusted source of information. In terms of sources of detailed farming information, farmers reported preferring first to listen to other farmers, second to take part in field visits and only third to listen to radio programs.

Spurk believes findings from this study highlight a need for greater integration between radio and extension services to better reach small-scale farmers and a need to provide farmers with the kind of information that empowers them in their own decision-making.

Note: In October 2012, this blog reported on a study by Farm Radio International in Africa, which showed that participatory radio campaigns that use local languages, allow farmer participation and highlight tested and available technologies help in hastening the adoption of new technologies by small-scale farmers in Africa.

Download a PDF version of the study report:
http://www.zhaw.ch/fileadmin/user_upload/linguistik/_Institute_und_Zentren/IAM/PDFS/News/final_report_Kenya_agri_communication_IAM_MMU_01.pdf

 

Capacity development is ‘back’: Reframing and repositioning an ‘orphaned’ CGIAR function for an expanded future

CGIAR CapDev Workshop: Javier Ekboir (ILAC at Bioversity) and Nicole Lefore (IWMI)

Javier Ekboir, of the Institutional Learning and Change (ILAC) initiative, hosted by Bioversity International, and Nicole Lefore, of the International Water Management Institute IWMI), listen to proceedings of a CGIAR Consortium Workshop, ‘Towards a CGIAR Strategy on Capacity Development’, hosted by ILRI, in Nairobi this week (21–25 Oct 2013); most of the participants are responsible for capacity development or are researchers working in the areas of social learning, innovation or partnership (photo credit: ILRI/Susan MacMillan).

Most of those in or around CGIAR institutions for any length of time will have heard, likely absorbed and sometimes themselves promulgated two hoary notions. The first is that CGIAR work is among the world’s ‘best kept secrets’. The second is that a well-trained cadre of developing-country agricultural scientists is among CGIAR’s biggest, if inadequately assessed, impacts. (These views are occasionally conflated, as in ‘The amount and quality of CGIAR training in agricultural sciences over the last four decades is among its best-kept secrets’.)

A group of CGIAR staff meeting in Nairobi this week is dusting off these views (convictions?) in an attempt to reframe what was once known as ‘training’, later transformed into ‘institutional learning’ or ‘capacity development’ (or one of its several [elegant] variations such as ‘capacity strengthening’ or ‘capacity building’), and reposition it at the centre rather than the periphery of CGIAR business.

The goal of the workshop is for CGIAR research centres, programs and partners to identify optimal ways to increase capacity in agricultural research for development work, particularly in achieving the four CGIAR system-level (and development-oriented) outcomes:

  • reduced rural poverty
  • increased food security
  • improved nutrition and health
  • more sustainable management of natural resources

CGIAR CapDev Workshop: Panel

Left to right: Zoumana Bamba (IITA), Joyce Maru (ILRI), Suresh Babu (IFPRI), Iddo Dror (ILRI), Per Rudebjer (Bioversity), Simone Staiger-Rivas (CIAT), Luis Solórzano (Consortium Office) are members of a panel at the CGIAR Capacity Development Workshop in 2013 (photo credit: ILRI/Susan MacMillan).

How this work has found itself off-centre (and how far off-centre) in CGIAR institutions and research programs was briefly reviewed in a panel discussion Monday (21 Oct 2013), the first of five days of a workshop on CGIAR Capacity Development organized and hosted by the International Livestock Research Institute (ILRI) at its Nairobi headquarters.

The panel session, led by Simone Staiger-Rivas, head of knowledge management and capacity development at the Colombia-based International Center for Tropical Agriculture (CIAT), comprised seven members who had contributed to a recently published discussion paper, Understanding capacity development experiences and lessons from the past, commissioned by Louis Solórzano, director of staff at the CGIAR Consortium, in France, for the purpose of helping to establish a new CGIAR strategy for capacity development.

Although capacity development at each of the 15 agricultural research centres that are members of CGIAR has had a distinctive trajectory, the following are some of the commonalities, as noted by Staiger-Rivas.

Throughout the 1970s and 1980s, when CGIAR centres had substantial core funding for training as well as research, many centres built strong training units. Those were among the ‘research support services’ that suffered most from reductions in CGIAR core funding beginning in the 1990s and the restructuring that followed in the next decade. Increasingly in this period, training was embedded directly into research programs.

Starting in the 1990s, a major shift in the amount and type of donor funding to CGIAR had a massive impact on how training was organized, funded and implemented across the system. The decline of core funding led to a reduction or elimination in most Centers of training as a stand-alone activity. The Centers relied on the ability of their scientists to attract funding for training within their research projects. Training units were weakened, with few staff qualified in training, pedagogy or adult education. The responsibility for training itself was often passed on to national or regional partners, with mixed results. On the positive side, this decentralization connected the Centers more directly with field activities, which allowed the Centers to involve extension, farmer, and market capacities (Staiger-Rivas et al. 2013).

In the following decade, as CGIAR centres grew into ‘middle age’ (most are now between 40 and 50 years old), what is now generally called ‘capacity development’ work widened its ambitions to train individuals and groups to include making impacts at the level of institutions and innovations.

The trend towards results-based management in CGIAR includes a perception of [capacity development] as means to enable social learning and innovation and promote sustainable development as a collective achievement (Staiger-Rivas et al. 2013).

Here is how this evolution is described by a group at a former CGIAR centre, the International Service for National Agricultural Research (ISNAR), which first brought ‘innovation systems thinking’ to the CGIAR table in the early 2000s.

‘If agricultural research organizations are to be more successful in reducing poverty and increasing the sustainability of agricultural production systems, they must become less isolated, more interconnected and more responsive. In so doing, they must transform themselves into learning organizations, more in touch with field realities and better able to learn and to change. . . .

‘[I]f agricultural research centers are to cope with growing complexity and seize opportunities as they arise, they need not merely new approaches to research organization or practice, but more flexible and adaptive institutional arrangements. . . . [T]he CGIAR must change from a supply-led model of centers of excellence to a more responsive mode of operation in which partnership and client orientation are core principles. . . .

‘If scientists and CGIAR Centers are to contribute meaningfully to innovation, they must become continuous learners, evolving and adapting all the time. . . .

‘CG Centers must attempt to become “learning organizations”—organizations that are open and flexible, that identify and recognize both successes and failures as opportunities to learn and improve, and that build relationships with the many and varied participants involved in agricultural development’ (Watts et al. 2007).

The next panel member to speak, Per Rudebjer, of Bioversity International, in Rome, said that training is essential mechanism for partnership. ‘CGIAR has trained some 80,000 people, in formal as well as informal ways. With the funding reductions in the 1990s, centres started training fewer people and offering shorter training courses. In the next decade, we began to take on organizational as well as individual learning. Now we are seeing another change: training in support of outcome delivery.

Training is necessary but not sufficient for capacity development.

Iddo Dror (ILRI), head of ILRI’s capacity development unit, in Nairobi, spoke on the current state of capacity development in CGIAR. The capacity development strategy is not as mature as some of the other cross-cutting work in CGIAR research programs, Dror said.

Although lots of the things we’re grappling with were foreseen, Dror said, they still have little ‘meat’ on them. While CGIAR’s Strategic Results Framework anticipates an expansion in capacity development activities, the role and modalities of capacity development in the new CGIAR structure has not yet been fully fleshed out.

What’s needed now, said Dror, is capacity for applied or downstream agricultural research for development.

We need a new framework, one that helps us move innovations from the lab to the farmers, one that changes what we do as well as how we do it.

Dror then briefly reviewed what Purvi Mehta-Bhatt and Jan Beniest found in their 2011 report as shortcomings in a comprehensive review of capacity development for the CGIAR research programs. These include the following.

  • Capacity development plans are extremely ambitious but have insufficient focus.
  • Most capacity development plans make explicit mention of other cross-cutting kinds of work and expertise—in gender, youth, communications—but it remains unclear as to how these various work agendas interact.
  • CGIAR research programs tend to provide ‘laundry lists’ of capacity development-related activities but are unclear about how these will be coordinated. Some community of practice or other ways of aligning this work is needed.

We’re also grappling with different views of capacity development, Dror said. We have 1960s views, 1980s views, 21st century views, all of them working alongside each other, but not in tandem.

As capacity development practitioners, we haven’t kept up the pace. Our new capacity development approaches have huge implications for how we do research; this is not yet understood by all of us.

We need to look at how we can better embed capacity development in agricultural research for development, at how we can help sharpen, deepen and widen the impact pathways from research products to intermediate development outcomes to system-level outcomes.

The outcome orientation of CGIAR puts new demands on capacity development for partners who will be instrumental in scaling up/out research outputs (Staiger-Rivas et al. 2013)

Zoumana Bamba, of the International Institute of Tropical Agriculture (IITA), spoke on institutional capacity development and the new need for new skill sets among researchers.

We need to research how to up-scale and out-scale our outputs, Bamba said. We don’t know enough about the mechanisms of those processes.

Suresh Babu, of the International Food Policy Research Institute (IFPRI), spoke on monitoring and evaluation.

We need quantitative and qualitative indicators, Babu said. IFPRI implemented a monitoring system just last year.

If CGIAR is going to be serious about capacity development, it has to be serious about putting in place a monitoring and evaluation system for capacity development.

Babu noted the long struggle in capacity development work to measure its impacts, reminding participants that what you cannot measure you cannot manage. The big changes and reduced funding for CGIAR in the 1990s led to piecemeal approaches, he said. The idea that capacity development was an ‘impact-making’ activity fell away. In some centres, capacity development work was put under the care of new knowledge management teams; in others, it became part of communications; in still others, it ceased as a discrete function altogether.

CGIAR CapDev Workshop: Dileepkumar Guntuku (ICRISAT)

Dileepkumar Guntuku, of the International Crops Research Institute for the Semi-Arid Tropics (ICRISAT) (photo credit: ILRI/Susan MacMillan).

Note on capacity development at the International Service for National Agricultural Research (ISNAR)
In their recent (2012) book Capacity Building for Agricultural Research for Development: Lessons from Practice in Papua New Guinea,”Adiel N. Mbabu and Andy Hall describe ISNAR as follows.

ISNAR was unique in the CGIAR system in that unlike all the other international centres it had an explicit capacity building agenda rather than research (although as will be related, this eroded over time). The institute was also unique in that it was staffed by an eclectic set of professionals: economists, sociologists, human resource specialists, organisational development specialists, research management specialists, evaluators and policy researchers. As a result of this, it drew on professional perspectives outside of agricultural research. Many of these perspectives were already using systems ideas, particularly in the fields of evaluation, and organisational development. So, for example, ISNAR’s capacity development activities were already making use of learning and evaluation as ways of upgrading organisational performance (see Horton et al., 2003). The organisation was also unique in that it was focusing on retooling professional skills of agricultural researchers and research managers to help them cope with the changing context of agricultural development. This led to the rolling development of a series of capacity development modules aimed at helping research staff learn their way into new roles and ways of working” (Staiger-Rivas et al. 2013).

ILRI’s capacity development priorities: Contribute your views

Graphic report of recent ILRI discussions on capacity development

The International Livestock Research Institute (ILRI) envisions a world where all people have access to enough food and livelihood options to fulfill their potential. ILRI’s strategy 2013–2022 defines capacity development at ILRI as both a strategic objective and a critical success factor, which involves the development of attitudes, skills, institutional set ups as well as knowledge in agricultural research and development.

As ILRI embarks on the implementation journey of its new strategy—including capacity development aspects—we seek feedback from our important stakeholders on their perception of our work in this area.

Please take 10 minutes to fill out this survey and provide us with your valuable inputs.

Thank you very much in advance!

If you have any queries, please contact Iddo Dror, head of capacity development at ILRI

KARI agricultural innovations big hit with young smart business farmers: ‘Those are OUR people’

13th Biennial Scientific Conference at the Kenya Agricultural Research Institute (KARI) in Nairobi

 A few of the tents on the exhibit grounds at the 13th Biennial Scientific Conference held at KARI in Nairobi from 22–26 Oct 2012 (photo by ILRI/Alexandra Jorge).

The 13th Biennial Scientific Conference and Exhibition at the Kenya Agricultural Research Institute (KARI) took place last week at KARI’s headquarters in Nairobi’s leafy suburb of Loresho.

This correspondent—enamoured of the sea of white tents erected across KARI’s rolling green lawns to showcase hundreds of exhibitors of ‘Agricultural Products, Technologies & Innovations’—never actually made it to the proceedings of the conference itself. But if the conference was anything like the exhibits, it must have been a great success.

My organization, the International Livestock Research Institute (ILRI), tried to distinguish its exhibit on livestock forage research and capacity building from the hundreds of other tents just like it with decorations of African artefacts—wooden bowls, woven baskets and traditional cloths and the like—as well as safari chairs inviting passersby to come inside for a conversation. So successful were we that many people upon entering the ILRI tent promptly asked to buy some of the display items (and were promptly disappointed when we told them they weren’t for sale.) The big cattle and camel bells were also a big hit, with the visitors having to explain to ILRI staff the difference between the bell sounds appropriate for cows and those for bulls!

We were at KARI to promote opportunities for young Kenyan scientists to train at ILRI, the headquarters of which are located just a 15-minute drive from KARI. And we showcased our collaborative research with KARI scientists, including Solomon Mwendia, on disease-resistant varieties of Napier grass, aka ‘elephant grass’, on which so many Kenyan smallholder farmers depend for feeding their milk cows.

ILRI forage seed display at KARI event

Forage seed display at the ILRI booth (photo by ILRI/Alexandra Jorge).

Visitors showed great interest in ILRI printed materials about improved forages and feeds (lab lab, oats, vetch), seed samples and Napier grass cuttings and leaves, and a research-based feed assessment tool for selecting appropriate feeds for different regions.

13th Biennial Scientific Conference at the Kenya Agricultural Research Institute (KARI) in Nairobi

Alexandra Jorge, head of ILRI’s Forage Genebank, in Addis Abba, Ethiopia, talks to a visitor in ILRI’s booth on the exhibit grounds at the week-long KARI scientific conference; in the basket are varieties of disease-resistant Napier from the genebank (photo by ILRI/Paul Karaimu).

‘The demand for information was huge’, says Alexandra Jorge, who heads ILRI’s Forage Genebank, in Addis Ababa, Ethiopia, and came down to Nairobi to answer questions and provide expertise at KARI’s week-long event. ‘We had questions about the best feeds for dairy goats, how to maximize forage production for feeding dairy cows, the best methods for raising pigs, the best breeds of chickens to keep, how to transition to stall-fed (‘zero grazed’) dairy animals, how to start hydroponic and screen-house forage production, and what climate change is likely to change in Kenyan agriculture—and what livestock farmers can do now to cope with it.’

‘I really enjoyed participating in this exhibit,’ Jorge says ‘having real contact with our users and clients and chatting about their challenges and projects. It made me think hard about what we researchers do and the impact and benefits we can bring to farmers. It also made me realize how little I know about the work that many colleagues are doing and that we should make this information much more available.’

‘It was amazing to see the amount of interesting and innovative work KARI and many Kenyan universities are doing. Many people had stories to share, or tasty food, like the amazing sorghum sausages that taste just like meat!’

Sausages for sale at KARI event

Sausages for sale at the KARI event (photo by ILRI/Alexandra Jorge).

ILRI research manager Sandra Rwese was most impressed with the number of young entrepreneurs at this event looking for agricultural innovations and good ideas. ‘Scores of youth finding few jobs in urban areas appear to be calling city life quits and heading to rural farming villages. The numbers of these young new farmers that I met at the KARI event are much larger than I’d expected. This young generation is clearly keen on taking agriculture and livestock farming to the next level.’

Jane Gitau, a communications officer at ILRI, agrees. ‘Many of the visitors to ILRI’s tent inquiring about better methods of livestock keeping appeared to be in their thirties and early forties. They wanted information to take away with them; they wanted to learn more efficient methods of farming. It was refreshing to witness this drive to make agriculture a knowledge-based business.’

KARI display of range grass seed at KARI event

KARI display of range grass seed at KARI event (photo by ILRI/Alexandra Jorge).

‘Walking from booth to booth’, Gitau said, ‘I was amazed to see all that KARI had to offer from its 22 centres countrywide, from Kibos to Kiboko, Muguga to Thika, each with a different mandate in agricultural research. Staff from KARI’s Kiboko Research Station, located about 150 km southeast of Nairobi and the institute’s drylands station, exhibited various imported and hybrid rangeland grasses they are trialing. KARI’s Muguga Station was exhibiting some of Kenya’s important plant and livestock genetic resources. And an improved rice variety grown under irrigation at Kibos, in western Kenya, was on display, along with rice flour, rice cakes, rice doughnuts and rice cookies!’

Selling traditional Kamba baskets at KARI event

Traditional Taita woven baskets for sale at the KARI event (photo by ILRI/Alexandra Jorge).

Finally, Gitau remarked on the close connections KARI has to its constituency. ‘Those of us manning the ILRI booth often directed visitors to the many KARI booths to get their specific farming and livestock keeping questions answered. These people sought practical help and region-specific recommendations we didn’t have’, Gitau said. ‘When I asked people if they knew where to find KARI, I several times got the reply, ‘Hao ni watu wetu’, colloquial Swahili for, “Those are our people”.

 

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

Purvi Mehta, Capacity Strengthening Officer

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Watch the presentation by Purvi Mehta-Bhatt here:

New participatory initiative to involve local communities in disease control

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

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

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

A tribute to the women in our world: ILRI celebrates International Women’s Day

Each year around the world, International Women's Day (IWD) is celebrated on 8th March. Hundreds of events occur not just on this day but throughout March to mark the economic, political and social achievements of women. Organizations, governments and women's groups around the world choose different themes each year that reflect global and local gender issues. The United Nations theme for IWD 2010 is: Equal rights, equal opportunities: Progress for all Celebrating Women ILRI organized numerous events throughout the day to create awareness of the importance of today's woman. 69 local school girls from Loreto Convent Limuru and Cardinal Otunga secondary schools, interested in pursuing a research career, visited ILRI's nairobi campus. ILRI WILDER women (Women in Livestock for Development – East Region) together with ILRI’s female graduate fellows gave inspiring advice to the aspiring female scientists. Through her eyes Set in rural Malawi, this 6-minute film follows the life of Mary, a widow with 8 children. Her struggles are struggles of millions of women throughout the world. A film from World Agroforestry Centre and ILRI for International Women's Day 2010 [blip.tv ?posts_id=3333721&dest=-1]