Dryland agriculture program launched for developing countries: Hot topic for a hot climate

Coping with Disaster: Sandstorm in Kenya

A sandstorm on the western shore of Lake Baringo (photo on Flickr by UN/Ray Witlin).

A new science program launched in Jordan last week—the CGIAR Research Program on Dryland Systems—is setting itself a huge ambition: To help many of the 2.5 billion people living in the vast drylands of the developing world raise their levels of both food production and security. A CGIAR Fund is supporting the program’s first three years of work to the tune of 120 million dollars.

This is the latest ‘research for development’ program of CGIAR, a global enterprise conducting ‘agricultural research for a food-secure future’. Some ten thousand scientific and support staff in the CGIAR community are at work with hundreds of organizations worldwide to design enduring food systems, via new means for healthy and productive lives and lands, across the whole of the developing world.

More than 60 research and development organizations, including the International Livestock Research Institute (ILRI), are part of this new drylands program. It is targeting dryland farmers, livestock keepers and pastoral herders in some of the hottest dryland hotspots of both Africa (West Africa’s Sahel and dry savannas as well as the extensive arid and semi-arid lands of North, East and Southern Africa) and Asia (West and Central Asia, including the Caucasus, and South Asia).

ILRI scientist Polly Ericksen leads the CGIAR Research Program on Drylands Systems in East and Southern Africa, where, in the coming years, the program aims to assist 20 million people and mitigate land degradation over some 600,000 square kilometres.

The program as a whole is led by the International Center for Agricultural Research in the Dry Areas (ICARDA), which, like ILRI, is a member of the CGIAR Consortium. Scientific, development, agri-business and local experts are joining forces to find new ways to help communities living in the harshest drylands to become more resilient and to help those in better-endowed drylands to increase their agricultural yields and incomes without degrading their natural resource base.

The dry areas of the developing world are likely to experience increasing poverty, out-migration and food insecurity’, says Frank Rijsberman, CEO of the CGIAR Consortium, adding that climate change is worsening agricultural and related livelihood prospects in many dry regions of the developing world.

The many scientists and partners in this program will investigate all options and combinations of options, including dryland cropping, livestock raising, mixed (agro-pastoral) crop-and-livestock production, integrating trees or shrubs in cropping and animal husbandry practices (agroforestry), and making diverse and sustainable use of different kinds of rangeland and aquatic resources. Among options to be developed are more sustainable farming techniques and management of water, land and other natural resources; genetically improved crop varieties and livestock breeds tailored for dryland environments; more enabling policy environments and infrastructure; and user-friendly ‘climate smart’ strategies and technologies.

Given the importance of agriculture to dryland developing countries, where farming remains the backbone of the economy but land is degraded, water scarce, rainfall and temperatures increasingly unpredictable, and civil strife (uncommonly) common, it will profit all of us to make sure that the world’s dryland communities can in future earn a decent living and produce food securely.

Note
The kinds of research, investment and policy support this sector needs to move forward in the face of climate change are outlined in a press release and report on Strategies for combating climate change in drylands agriculture, published in 2012 by the CGIAR Research Program on Climate Change, Agriculture and Food Security (CCAFS), ICARDA and the CGIAR Research Program on Dryland Systems. The report examined the problem of changing climate patterns in dryland areas and its effects on rural populations and offered practical solutions as input to the Conference of the Parties (COP18) United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC). The information came from discussions at the International Conference on Food Security in Dry Lands, held in Doha, Qatar, 14–15 Nov 2012.

Read a recent book, Pastoralism and Development in Africa: Dynamic Change at the Margins, edited by Andy Catley, Jeremy Lind and Ian Scoones. Published in 2012 by Routeledge, the book includes a chapter by scientists at the International Livestock Research Institute (ILRI): Climate change in sub-Saharan Africa: What consequences for pastoralism?, written by ILRI’s Polly Ericksen and colleagues. Parts of the book are available on Google books here.

Other related articles
ILRI News Blog: Pastoral livestock development in the Horn: Where the centre cannot (should not) hold, 31 Dec 2012.
ILRI News Blog: Africa’s vast eastern and southern drylands get new attention–and support–from agricultural researchers, 6 Jun 2012.
ILRI News Blog: Experts comment on new drylands research program for eastern and southern Africa, 25 Jun 2012.

About the CGIAR Research Program on Dryland Systems
The CGIAR Research Program on Dryland Systems integrates research disciplines to bring rural communities living in the world’s dry areas practical solutions for improved livelihoods and food security. The program develops and refines strategies and tools that minimize risk and reduce vulnerability in low-potential drylands while helping farmers and herders in higher potential drylands to intensify their food production in sustainable ways.

Experts meet to share tactics in fight against ‘goat plague’: Filmed highlights

 

Watch this short (3:50 minutes) film on the views of participants at a recent meeting to coordinate research strategies for a disease of small ruminants known as peste des petits ruminants, or PPR. This second meeting of the Global Peste de Petits Ruminants (PPR) Research Alliance, held 29–30 April 2013 in Nairobi, Kenya, brought together over 60 livestock experts from across the world.

The harm caused by PPR, also known as ‘goat plague’ because it is closely related to ‘cattle plague’, or rinderpest, has been increasing in recent years, especially across Africa and Asia. This infectious viral disease of sheep and goats poses a major threat to the livelihoods of smallholder farmers. The disease is highly contagious, with roughly an 80 per cent mortality rate in acute cases.

‘We’re bringing together the relevant animal health experts so that we can find ways to better coordinate the diverse research on PPR, and determine the fastest and most effective and efficient ways to better control it in different developing-country regions and circumstances’, said Geoff Tooth, the Australian High Commissioner to Kenya.

The meeting was co-hosted by four institutions: the African Union-Interafrican Bureau for Animal Resources (AU-IBAR), the Australian Agency for International Development (AusAID), the Biosciences eastern and central Africa-ILRI Hub (BecA-ILRI Hub) and the International Livestock Research Institute (ILRI).

A current AusAID-funded project being conducted by the BecA-ILRI Hub and Australia’s Commonwealth Scientific, Industrial and Research Organisation (CSIRO) has supported development of a thermostable vaccine that is now being piloted in vaccination campaigns in Sudan and Uganda, with similar work proposed for Ethiopia.

Read more about efforts to develop a pan-African strategy to fight goat plague: http://www.ilri.org/node/1344

New advances in the battle against a major disease threat to cattle and people in Africa

ILRI research on biotechnology to fight a major disease threat to cattle and people in Africa

An 8-month old cloned Boran calf named Tumaini (meaning ‘hope’ in Kiswahili), on the left, is part of a long-term ILRI research project to develop cattle for Africa that are genetically resistant to trypanosomiasis (photo credit: ILRI/Paul Karaimu).

The International Livestock Research Institute (ILRI), a member of the CGIAR Consortium, is a non-profit organization based in Africa. ILRI’s mission is to use the best and safest livestock science available to confront poverty, hunger, and disease in the developing world, where livestock provide livelihoods and food for hundreds of millions of people.

One of ILRI’s most important priorities today is to help poor livestock keepers in Africa deal with the constant threat of a devastating disease called trypanosomiasis. This disease is arguably Africa’s most important livestock disease, wasting and killing cattle, commonly the most important asset of poor households. The human form of the disease is called sleeping sickness, which afflicts tens of thousands of people every year, killing many of them, and putting tens of millions more people at risk.

As part of ILRI’s comprehensive fight against trypanosomiasis, the institute is now in the very early stages of a project to develop disease-resistant cattle, which could save the lives of livestock and people both. Thus far, ILRI and its partners have taken a preliminary step in the process, which involved successfully cloning a male calf from one of East Africa’s most important cattle breeds, the Boran. The calf is healthy and is being raised at ILRI’s research facilities in Kenya.

A next step is to develop a new Boran clone modified with a gene that naturally confers resistance to the disease. This involves using a synthetic copy of a gene sequence originally identified in baboons that should protect cattle against this devastating disease.

A final step will be to use these disease-resistant cattle in breeding schemes that will provide African countries with another option in their fight against trypanosomiasis.

This research potentially offers a reliable, self-sustaining and cost-effective way of protecting tens of millions of African cattle against disease and untimely death, as well as dramatically reducing poverty across Africa. By reducing the reservoir of pathogens, this should also help to save thousands of human lives each year.

It could take up to two decades to develop disease-resistant cattle herds for Africa. ILRI and its partners are also continuing to pursue other options for fighting trypanosomiasis, such as rationale drug treatment and integrated disease control methods.

For ILRI, public safety and animal welfare are paramount; this means working with all the relevant Kenyan and international regulatory authorities to ensure that the highest bio-safety standards are always employed. In line with its commitment to transparency, ILRI places all of its research results in the public domain.

ILRI is working with a team that includes scientists from New York University, along with experts from the Roslin Institute in Scotland, and Michigan State University in the USA. The fundamental research aspects of this project are being funded by the US National Science Foundation.

For further information, see:
ILRI website:
http://www.ilri.org/breadtrypanosome

National Science Foundation:
www.nsf.gov/news/news_summ.jsp?cntn_id=116932

2009 paper published in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences (USA) on original breakthrough in this research project:
http://dx.doi.org/10.1073%2Fpnas.0905669106

Or contact one of the following people:

Jimmy Smith
ILRI Director General
j.smith@cgiar.org

Suzanne Bertrand
ILRI Deputy Director General for Biosciences
s.bertrand@cgiar.org

Steve Kemp
Leader of ILRI’s research on this topic
s.kemp@cgiar.org

About ILRI: better lives through livestock
www.ilri.org
The International Livestock Research Institute (ILRI) works with partners worldwide to enhance the roles that livestock play in food security and poverty alleviation, principally in Africa and Asia. The outcomes of these research partnerships help people in developing countries keep their farm animals alive and productive, increase and sustain their livestock and farm productivity, find profitable markets for their animal products, and reduce the risk of livestock-related diseases. ILRI is a not-for-profit institution with a staff of about 600 and, in 2012, an operating budget of about USD 60 million. A member of the CGIAR Consortium working for a food-secure future, ILRI has its headquarters in Nairobi, Kenya, a principal campus in Addis Ababa, Ethiopia, and offices in other countries in East, West and Southern Africa and in South, Southeast and East Asia.

About CGIAR: working for a food-secure future
www.cgiar.org
CGIAR is a global partnership that unites organizations engaged in research for a food-secure future. It is carried out by 15 centres that are members of the CGIAR Consortium and conducted in close collaboration with hundreds of partner organizations, including national and regional research institutes, civil society organizations, academia and the private sector. The CGIAR’s 8,000 scientists and staff work in the developing world to reduce rural poverty, increase food security, improve human health and nutrition, and ensure more sustainable management of natural resources. With unparalleled research infrastructure and dynamic networks across the globe, and maintaining the world’s most comprehensive collections of genetic resources, CGIAR is the only institution with a clear mandate on science and technology development for the eradication of hunger and poverty at the global level.

Alliance meeting this week to battle global ‘goat plague’

Northern Kenya August 2008

The PPR virus, commonly known as goat plague, swept across southern Ethiopia and northern Kenya in 2008; Mohammed Noor lost 20 goats in the just one week and wondered how he would provide for his family (photo on Flickr by EC/ECHO/Daniel Dickinson).

Assembling for two days this week (29–30 Apr 2013) in Nairobi, Kenya, are members of a global alliance against ‘peste des petits ruminants’, abbreviated as ‘PPR’ and also known as ‘goat plague’ and ‘ovine rinderpest’.

Co-hosting this second meeting of the Global Peste de Petits Ruminants (PPR) Research Alliance (hereafter referred to as GPRA) are the International Livestock Research Institute (ILRI), which is headquartered in Nairobi; the Biosciences eastern and central Africa-iLRI hub (BecA-ILRI Hub), hosted and managed by ILRI; the African Union-Interafrican Bureau for Animal Resources (AU-IBAR), also based in Nairobi; and the Australian Agency for International Development (AusAID).

Among the 70 or so people attending are representatives from the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation (BMGFYi Cao), the Global Alliance for Livestock Veterinary Medicines (GALVMedBapti Dungu), the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEAAdama Diallo), the Pan African Veterinary Vaccine Centre (PANVAC), the Royal Veterinary College of the University of London Vet School (RVC), the United Nations Food and Agriculture Organization (FAOVincent Martin and Robert Allport, among others), the World Organisation for Animal Health (OIEJemi Domenech and Walter Masiga) and a range of national research institutions from developing countries where the disease is endemic.

What’s this alliance all about?
The GPRA is a participant-owned network of researchers and development professionals with an interest in the progressive control of PPR. The GPRA was inaugurated in 2012 at a meeting in London. GPRA aims to provide scientific and technical knowledge towards methods for the detection, control and eradication of PPR that are economically viable, socially practical and environmentally friendly.

Why, and how much, does PPR matter?
Infectious diseases remain the major limitation to livestock production globally and are a particular scourge in the developing world, where most of the world’s livestock are raised. Diseases not only kill farm animals but also cause production losses and hinder access to potentially high-value international livestock markets.

PPR, an infectious viral disease of sheep and goats, poses a major threat to the livelihoods of smallholder farmers in Africa as well as the Middle East and India. The disease is highly contagious, and has roughly an 80 per cent mortality rate in acute cases.

The impacts of PPR, which is closely related to rinderpest in cattle, have been expanding in recent years. At least 15 million sheep and goats are at risk of death from the disease in Kenya alone and the estimated economic impact of current PPR outbreaks—including production losses and disease control costs for Africa—is more than US$147 million per year. A recent outbreak of PPR in the Marakwet and Baringo districts of Kenya destroyed more than 2000 herds, with the disease spreading in days and farmers losing some KShs6 million (about US$70,000)  to the disease over about three months.

PPR is probably the most important killer of small ruminant populations in affected areas and some 65 per cent of the global small ruminant population is at risk from PPR.

Increasing interest in tackling PPR
Over the last several years, international experts and national authorities have both been increasingly prioritizing the progressive control of PPR, with the first phase designed to contribute to the long-term goal of eradication. Donor interest in this research and development area quickly ramped up over the past year. A current AusAID-funded project being conducted under a partnership between the BecA-ILRI Hub and Australia’s Commonwealth Scientific, Industrial and Research Organisation (CSIRO) has supported development of a thermostable vaccine now being piloted in vaccination campaigns in Sudan and Uganda, with similar work proposed for Ethiopia.

Collins Owino, ILRI research technician

Collins Owino, an ILRI research technician working on vaccines and diagnostics in the peste des petits ruminants (PPR) project (photo credit: ILRI/Evelyn Katingi).

Need for coordinated and progressive control of PPR
There is a growing recognition of the need for, and potential benefits of, a coordinated approach to the progressive control of PPR. The disease is now one of the high priorities of AU-IBAR, FAO and OIE, all of which have strong networks and expertise to offer the alliance. The role of the Global PPR Research Alliance as a network of research and development organizations is to develop a coordinated strategy to contribute to the progressive control of PPR.

The Australian Government, together with AU-IBAR and ILRI, is supporting the second meeting of the GPRA to advance with many other stakeholders progressive global control of PPR, particularly through collaborative research. The GPRA supports the sharing of relevant information and results, the establishment of productive working relationships among stakeholders, the establishment of research and development projects of interest to some or all members, and the closer linking of strategic plans of all stakeholders in better control of this disease.

Is progressive eradication of PPR possible?
Wide calls for PPR’s progressive global eradication cite the following factors supporting this goal:

  • The close relationship of PPR/’goat plague’ with the recently eradicated ‘cattle plague’ known as ‘rinderpest’ (rinderpest was only the second infectious disease, and the first veterinary disease, to be eradicated from the globe)
  • The availability of effective vaccines against PPR
  • The development of heat-stable PPR vaccines, following the same procedures that were so effective in developing a heat-stable rinderpest vaccine
  • The opportunity to increase focus on Africa and Asia’s small ruminants, which are of critical importance to the livelihoods of rural smallholder and pastoralist communities in many of the world’s poorest countries
  • The existence of vaccines and diagnostics considered sufficient to initiate the program; the current vaccines (based on the strain Nigeria 75/1) are safe, efficacious and provide life-long immunity.

More about the AusAID-funded PPR project at the BecA-ILRI Hub
The Australian Government via AusAID has funded development at ILRI of thermostable formulations of the PPR vaccine that provide a level of stability in the field as high as that demonstrated in the vaccine used to eradicate rinderpest. The project team has demonstrated that the PPR vaccine can be stored without refrigeration for extended periods of time without significant loss in viability. This is a crucial and significant success. Under the guidance of ILRI senior scientist Jeff Mariner and with the assistance of Australia’s CSIRO and BecA-ILRI Hub staff, the project team have developed strong links with AU-IBAR’s Henry Wamwayi, a senior member of his organization seconded to the PPR project.

ILRI veterinary epidemiologist Jeff Mariner at OIE meeting

ILRI veterinary epidemiologist Jeff Mariner presenting lessons learned from work to eradicate rinderpest at a meeting of the World Animal Health Organisation (OIE) (photo credit: OIE).

Next steps
The project has built on lessons learned from the recent global eradication of rinderpest, which depended on two equally important breakthroughs for its success: development of an effective thermostable vaccine and effective vaccine delivery networks in remote as well as other regions. The next 12 months of the PPR research project will focus on testing the vaccine and delivery strategies in South Sudan and Uganda. Staff will assess in the field just how effective the vaccine is in controlling PPR infections. They’ll also investigate some practical incentives for encouraging livestock owners and livestock service delivery personnel to participation in PPR control programs. And they’ll look into ways to build and enhance public-private community partnerships to deliver the PPR vaccine.

Read more in the ILRI News Blog and science journals about the close connections between the eradication of rinderpest and this new battle against PPR—and the role of ILRI’s Jeff Mariner in development of thermostable vaccines necessary to win the battle against both diseases.

Rinderpest: Scourge of pastoralists defeated, at long last, by pastoralists, 18 Sep 2012.

New analysis in ‘Science’ tells how the world eradicated deadliest cattle plague from the face of the earth, 13 Sep 2012.

Goat plague next target of veterinary authorities now that cattle plague has been eradicated, 4 Jul 2011.

Deadly rinderpest virus today declared eradicated from the earth—’greatest achievement in veterinary medicine’, 28 Jun 2011.

 

 

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.

 

 

Ethiopian farmers to get market boost: New project to help livestock and irrigated agriculture farmers improve their livelihoods through value chain improvement

LIVES project logo

A new research for development project was launched today by the International Livestock Research Institute (ILRI) and the International Water Management Institute (IWMI), both members of the CGIAR Consortium. Entitled ‘Livestock and Irrigation Value chains for Ethiopian Smallholders – LIVES’, it will directly support of the Government of Ethiopia’s effort to transform smallholder agriculture to be more market-oriented.

Supported by the Canadian International Development Agency (CIDA), the LIVES project is jointly implemented by ILRI, IWMI, the Ethiopian Institute of Agricultural research (EIAR), the Ethiopian Ministry of Agriculture and regional Bureaus of Agriculture, Livestock Development Agencies, Agricultural Research Institutes and other development projects.

LIVES project manager, Azage Tegegne emphasized that this project is unique in that it integrates livestock with irrigated agriculture development. The project is designed to support the commercialization of smallholder agriculture by testing and scaling lessons to other parts of Ethiopia. “It is also excellent opportunity for CGIAR centres to work hand in hand with Ethiopian research and development institutions.”

Ethiopian State Minister of Agriculture H.E. Wondirad Mandefro welcomed the project, asserting that it will directly contribute to both the Growth Transformation Plan (GTP) and the Agricultural Growth Program (AGP) of the Ethiopian Government. Canadian Head of Aid, Amy Baker expects this investment to generate technologies, practices and results that can be implemented at larger scales and ultimately benefit millions of Ethiopian smallholder producers as well as the consumers of their products. Canadian Ambassador David Usher noted that the project will contribute to Ethiopia’s efforts to drive agricultural transformation, improve nutritional status and unlock sustainable economic growth. LIVES is also a reflection of Canada’s commitment to the 2012 G-8 New Alliance for Food and Nutrition Security which will allow Ethiopia, donors and the private sector create new and innovative partnerships that will drive agricultural growth.

LIVES actions will take place over six years in 31 districts of ten zones in Amhara, Oromia, Southern Nations, Nationalities, and Peoples and Tigray regions, where 8% of the country’s human population resides. LIVES will improve the incomes of smallholder farmers through value chains development in livestock (dairy, beef, sheep and goats, poultry and apiculture) and irrigated agriculture (fruits, vegetables and fodder).

The project, with a total investment of CAD 19.26 million, aims to directly and indirectly benefit more than 200,000 households engaged in livestock and irrigated agriculture, improve the skills of over 5,000 public service staff, and work with 2,100 value chain input and service suppliers at district, zone and federal levels.

“Projects that support local farmers can help a community in so many ways; not only by providing food and the most appropriate crops, but also by teaching long term skills that can have an impact for years to come,” said Canada Minister of International Cooperation the Honourable Julian Fantino. “The Livestock and Irrigation Value Chains project teaches smallholder farmers new agricultural techniques and provides technical assistance, training, and mentoring to government specialists. They in turn will provide production and marketing assistance to local farmers. This is a project that helps all areas of farming and agriculture development.”

The project will focus on clusters of districts, developing and improving livestock production systems and technologies in animal breeding, feed resources, animal nutrition and management, sustainable forage seed systems, sanitation and animal health, and higher market competitiveness. Potential irrigated agriculture interventions include provision of new genetic materials, development of private seedling nurseries, work on seed systems, irrigation management, water use efficiency, water management options, crop cycle management, and pump repair and maintenance.

The main components of the project are capacity development, knowledge management, promotion, commodity value chain development, and documentation of tested and successful interventions. Gender and the environment will be integrated and mainstreamed in all components of the project.

Participatory radio’s power in driving adoption of farming technologies: Lessons from Farm Radio International

The African Farm Radio Research Initiative

A Ghanaian radio presenter talks with farmers during a broadcast. Participatory radio can hasten adoption of new technologies by smallholder farmers in Africa (photo from Flickr, Gates Foundation).

A recent study by Farm Radio International shows participatory radio campaigns that use local languages, allow farmer participation and that highlight tested and available technologies are particularly useful in hastening the adoption of new technologies by small-scale farmers in Africa.

In an experiment carried out between 2007 and 2011 under the African Farm Radio Research Initiative, Farm Radio International tested a participatory radio campaign in in Ghana, Malawi, Mali, Tanzania and Uganda. The campaign carried out 49 participatory radio campaigns through 25 state, community and religious radio stations across the 5 countries.

Nearly 80 percent of small-scale farmers in Africa have access to radio and farm radio broadcasts have existed in the continent for a long time but most have not inspired large-scale change.

The African Farm Radio Research Initiative wanted to see how radio could be used to reach farmers at a larger scale. Using radio broadcasts that explained available and tested farming improvements, the initiatives focused on what farmers in the target communities said they wanted. Broadcasts were then scheduled at times that were most convenient to the farmers in each region. The programs featured interviews and content from members of participating ‘active communities’ and each week a successful farmer’s experience was featured in the shows. Listeners were asked to decide if they would try the improvement they had heard about and they were given a chance to comment and be heard through live calls and short message service (SMS).

The study compared the reach and impact of 14 participatory radio campaigns in a participating community and a control community which never received the signals. The experiment also assessed the impact of the broadcasts in the larger community that was reached by the broadcasts.

‘The results were compelling,’ says David Mowbray, the manager in charge of training and standards at Farm Radio. ‘We found that 39 percent of the active listeners and 22 percent of the passive listeners had started new practices to improve their farming since the start of the broadcasts,’ he said. Mowbray, who presented the findings of the survey at the International Livestock Research Institute (ILRI) on 17 September 2012, said that as a result of the initiative, nearly 1 million small-scale farm households tried what they heard on radio in the 5 countries.

‘The participatory radio campaign approach worked because radio programs were broadcast in local languages and allowed farmers to learn from each other,’ said Mowbray.

Farm Radio is now carrying out a follow-up survey to investigate how the adoptions spread after the end of the campaign and if the early adopters have continued using the methods they learnt. The organization hopes to scale out the methodology used in this study to other parts of Africa.

View David Mowbray’s presentation here: http://www.slideshare.net/cgiarclimate/david-14357710

To find out more about the approach visit www.farmradio.org

Addressing the issue of our time: Experts meet in Nairobi to shape new nutrition program for Africa by new Australian food security centre


 
This 10-minute film shares the views of 10 nutrition, food policy and food safety experts who discussed gaps between research on food security, agriculture and nutrition in Africa at a meeting in Nairobi on 10–11 Sept 2012. Interviewed are: Mellissa Wood, Australian International Food Security Centre (AIFSC); Delia Grace, International Livestock Research Institute (ILRI); Bruce Cogill, Bioversity International; John McDermott, CGIAR Research Program on Agriculture for Nutrition and Health (A4NH); Robyn Alders, University of Sydney; Juliet Ssentubwe, Uganda Ministry of Agriculture; CJ Jones, Global Alliance for Improved Nutrition (GAIN); Ruth Oniang’o, member of the policy and advisory council of the Australian Centre for International Agricultural Research (ACIAR); Mateete Bekunda, International Institute for Tropical Agriculture (IITA); and Cyprian Ouma, World Vision.
 

A new program to help deliver improved nutrition to Africa was recently designed at a workshop in Nairobi on 10–11 September 2012. The expert panel defined research priorities for Australian investments in the sphere of food and nutritional security in sub-Saharan Africa.

The workshop helped advance progress on what Hilary Clinton and others argue is the issue of our time—food security.

More than one billion people remain malnourished, and another billion suffer from hidden hunger due to lack of essential vitamins and minerals in their diets—this while another 1.5 billion people are overweight or obese.

A key to achieving lasting food security is meeting the challenge of providing food and adequate daily nutrition to all.

The agricultural sector rarely has ‘enhancing nutrition’ as an articulated objective. Delia Grace, a veterinary epidemiologist and food safety expert at the International Livestock Research Institute (ILRI), in Nairobi, Kenya, says: ‘A consensus is growing that the disconnect between agriculture, health and nutrition is at least partly responsible for the disease burden associated with food and farming’. The Australian International Food Security Centre (AIFSC), a new Australian Government initiative announced in October 2011, and ILRI hosted the 1.5-day workshop to help address this disconnect.

Experts in nutrition, national and subregional food policy, food safety, agricultural production and value chains from across Africa and the world participated.

Participants in the meeting discussed gaps between research on food security, agriculture and nutrition, in line with African priorities and how the  Australian International Food Security Centre can best complement work being undertaken by other organizations. The centre will use the outcomes of the workshop to shape its nutrition program by identifying where to make its initial investments in African food security.

The Australian centre aims to help bridge existing gaps between agricultural innovations and development so as to speed adoption of those innovations for better food and nutritional security of poor people.

Mellissa Wood, director of the Australian International Food Security Centre, says Australia has a role to play in this area. ‘Australia has many similar environments and challenges common to African agriculture. Our expertise in agriculture can help play a role in achieving food security in Africa, including developing more nutritious food,’ Wood said.

Australian agricultural science has experience with climatic variability and extreme climatic events that affect farming, forestry, fisheries and livestock. While eventually working in developing countries across Africa, Asia and the Pacific, the Australian International Food Security Centre is focusing its first efforts in sub-Saharan Africa.

The new Australian centre will work specifically to:

  • increase the nutritional quality, safety and diversity of food
  • reduce food losses after harvest
  • improve access by the poor to markets and other business opportunities
  • build the capacity of local institutions and individuals
  • promote gender equality

For more information, please read this brochure, http://aciar.gov.au/files/node/14087/aifsc_june_update_62995.pdf, or visit this website: aciar.gov.au/aifsc

 

Rinderpest: Scourge of pastoralists defeated, at long last, by pastoralists

Milestones in the eradication of rinderpest

A timeline of major events in the history of rinderpest in Africa from its introduction in 1887, in military cattle brought to Eritrea to feed troops, to the declaration of rinderpest’s eradication in 2011. RP, rinderpest. (Illustration credit: Figure 1 in ‘Rinderpest eradication: Appropriate technology and social innovations’, 2010, by Jeffrey Mariner et al. Science 337, 1309.)

The invention of sex and death, evolutionary biologists tell us, allowed organisms to escape wholesale extermination by parasitic infections. The invention of antibiotics and other miracles of modern medicine allows many of us, particularly in rich countries, to think we can escape most disease, if not death. This of course is over-optimistic and flies in the face of all of human history. Disease has altered those histories, stamped whole continents with its imprint, shaped global affairs—bubonic plague in 14th-century Europe, smallpox in the Americas in the 16th century following European invasion, potato blight in 19th-century Ireland, the Spanish flu pandemic that circled the world in 1918, malaria and HIV/AIDS in Africa today.

Some of the most important diseases have killed human populations indirectly, by annihilating the crops and animals that sustained us. This happened when late blight affected the potato crop in Ireland in the 1840s, killing some 1 million people and causing another 1.5 million to emigrate in The Great Hunger, and when brown spot of rice ruined crops in Bangladesh and eastern India in 1943, leading to the deaths of 2 million or more people in The Bengal Famine.

Among the latter ‘food plagues’ is a remarkably little-known viral disease of cattle and other ungulates that ‘has been blamed for speeding the fall of the Roman Empire, aiding the conquests of Genghis Khan and hindering those of Charlemagne, opening the way for the French and Russian revolutions, and subjugating East Africa to colonization (Rinderpest, scourge of cattle, is vanquishedNew York Times, 27 Jun 2011).

Rinderpest, a German term meaning ‘cattle plague’, is a viral disease related to measles (recent evidence suggests the measles virus may have diverged from the rinderpest virus during the Middle Ages). It is arguably the most important animal disease historically. It entered the Horn of Africa from the port of Massawa, in what is now Eritrea, in 1887 with an invading Italian army that was importing Indian cattle for food and draft power.

The virus exploded so fast that it reached South Africa within a decade (and is considered one of the factors that impoverished Boer farmers as war with the English approached). It doomed East Africa’s wandering herders, subsisting on milk mixed with cow blood. Historians believe a third of them or more starved to death—Rinderpest, scourge of cattle, is vanquished, New York Times, 27 Jun 2011.

Killing animals within days of infection, the rinderpest epidemic emptied East Africa of most of its large grazing animal populations, wiping out 80–90 per cent of the region’s cattle, which, it is argued, left the remaining population too weak from hunger to oppose European colonialism.

Rinderpest struck East Africa in 1890, and in two years 95 percent of the buffalo and wildebeest there had died. So began a series of events of such profound ecological importance that the repercussions are still being felt today.—A R E Sinclair and M Norton-Griffiths, editors, Serengeti: Dynamics of an Ecosystem, 1979.

Journalist Fred Pearce gives more details.

Great pastoral civilizations across the continent were shattered. Central African cattle-rearing tribes like the Tutsi and Karamajong starved, along with Sudanese nations like the Dinka and Bari, West Africans like the Fulani, and southern Africans like the Nama and Herero. The folklore of the Maasai of East Africa tells of the enkidaaroto, the “destruction,” of 1891. They lost most of their cattle, and two-thirds of the Maasai died. One elder later recalled that the corpses were “so many and so close together that the vultures had forgotten how to fly.”

Many of these societies never recovered their numbers, let alone their wealth and power. Rinderpest served up the continent on a plate for European colonialists. In its wake, the Germans and British secured control of Tanzania and Kenya with barely a fight. In southern Africa, the hungry and destitute Zulus migrated to the gold mines of Witwatersrand, helping to create the brutal social divide between black and white from which apartheid sprang.

It is an extraordinary story, rarely told. . . .

Fred Pearce: Why Africa’s national parks are failing to save wildlife, Yale Environment 360, 19 Jan 2010.

Dan Charles, of National Public Radio, in the USA, reports on an article published in Science this month demonstrating that it was African cattle herders that wiped this ancient plague from the face of the Earth.

‘Twice in all of history, humans have managed to eradicate a devastating disease. You’ve heard of the first one, I suspect: smallpox. But rinderpest? . . .

‘In this week’s issue of the journal Science, several of the architects of rinderpest’s elimination lay out the reasons for their success. The key innovation wasn’t technological, they say. It was social and cultural.

‘Technology certainly played a part. Half a century ago, a British veterinarian named Walter Plowright, working in Kenya, created the first truly effective and safe vaccine for rinderpest. . . .

‘Later, Jeffrey Mariner of the Tufts Cummings School of Veterinary Medicine, developed a version of the vaccine that didn’t need to be refrigerated, allowing veterinarians to use it far from roads and electricity.

‘Yet the disease persisted in Africa, surviving in remote areas plagued by weak government and chronic conflict, such as southern Sudan and parts of Uganda, Ethiopia, and Somalia. Veterinarians rarely ventured into those areas, and it was hard to know where vaccinations were even needed because government officials were reluctant to report outbreaks.

Mariner, who now works at the International Livestock Research Institute in Kenya, says that ultimately, the skills and knowledge of nomadic cattle herders who lived in those hard-to-reach areas were the keys to cracking the rinderpest puzzle.

“Those farmers could tell us where outbreaks were occurring,” Mariner tells The Salt, speaking by phone from Nairobi. In addition, some nomadic farmers got training as “community animal health workers” and were able to carry out vaccinations themselves. They proved better at the job than veterinarians, in part because they knew their animals. . . .

Community animal health worker vaccinating animals against rinderpest in Karamajong, Uganda

Tom Olaka, a community animal health worker in Karamajong, northern Uganda, was part of a vaccination campaign in remote areas of the Horn of Africa that drove the cattle plague rinderpest to extinction in 2010 (photo credit Christine Jost).

‘Tom Olaka, a community animal health worker in the border region between Uganda, Sudan, and Kenya, identified and reported the last outbreak of rinderpest in 2000. The virus was officially declared extinct last year. Around the world, cattle farmers can breathe just a little easier.’

Read the whole article by Dan Charles at NPR: How African Cattle Herders Wiped Out An Ancient Plague, 14 Sep 2012.

Read the ILRI News Blog about this: New analysis in ‘Science’ tells how world eradicated deadliest cattle plague from the face of the Earth, 13 Sep 2012.

Read the paper in Science (subscription required to read full text): Rinderpest eradication: Appropriate technology and social innovations, by Jeffrey Mariner, James House, Charles Mebus, Albert Sollod, Dickens Chibeu, Bryony Jones, Peter Roeder, Berhanu Admassu, Gijs van ’t Klooster, 14 September 2012, Vol. 337 no. 6100 pp. 1309–1312, DOI: 10.1126/science.1223805.

Read previous articles on the ILRI News and Clippings blogs about the eradication of rinderpest:

ILRI’s Jeff Mariner speaks on what he learned from the eradication of rinderpest–and his new fight against ‘goat plague’, 15 Sep 2012.

Goat plague next target of veterinary authorities now that cattle plague has been eradicated, 4 Jul 2011.

Deadly rinderpest virus today declared eradicated from the earth–’greatest achievement in veterinary medicine’, 28 Jun 2011.

After successful eradication of rinderpest, African researchers now focus on peste des petits ruminants, the most urgent threat to African livestock, 22 Nov 2010.

Why technical breakthroughs matter: They helped drive a cattle plague to extinction, 28 Oct 2010.

New analysis in ‘Science’ tells how world eradicated deadliest cattle plague from the face of the Earth

Afar community animal health worker

In a new analysis in Science, ILRI researcher Jeffrey Mariner describes how the world eradicated deadliest cattle plague, the second such success after smallpox. The authors of the paper reveal the essential role of Africa’s nomadic herders in ridding the world of rinderpest. Above, an Afar community animal health worker in 1993 describes the appearance and characteristics of rinderpest in cattle (photo by Jeff Mariner).

A new analysis published today in Science traces the recent global eradication of the deadliest of cattle diseases, crediting not only the development of a new, heat-resistant vaccine, but also the insight of local African herders, who guided scientists in deciding which animals to immunize and when. The study provides new insights into how the successful battle against rinderpest in Africa, the last stronghold of the disease, might be applied to similar diseases that today ravage the livestock populations on which the livelihoods of one billion of the world’s poor depend.

Capable of wiping out a family’s cattle in just a few days, rinderpest was declared vanquished in May 2011. After smallpox, it is only the second disease (and first livestock disease) ever to be eradicated from the earth.

‘The elimination of rinderpest is an enormous triumph against a disease that has plagued animals and humankind for centuries’, said Jimmy Smith, director general of the International Livestock Research Institute (ILRI). ‘Science succeeded despite limited resources, and we now know how. We are committed to applying the lessons in this study to making progress against other similarly destructive livestock diseases.’

According to the analysis, which was conducted by international scientists coordinated by ILRI, and published this week in Science, the eradication of rinderpest happened thanks to the development of an effective temperature-stable vaccine, collaborations between veterinary health officials and cattle farmers to deliver those vaccines, and reliance on the knowledge and expertise of the local herders to determine the location and movement of outbreaks.

The cattle plague and its path of destruction
Rinderpest, known as ‘cattle plague’ in English, is thought to have had its origin in the dense cattle herds of Central Eurasia more than two millennia ago and subsequently spread through warfare and trade to cattle in Europe, Asia and eventually Africa. Caused by a virus related to the one that causes measles and canine distemper, rinderpest could infect cows, water buffalos and other cloven-hoofed animals, leading to a high fever, severe diarrhea, then dehydration and emaciation. The pathogen could kill 90 per cent of a herd, wiping out an entire farm’s livestock in just a matter of days. There was no treatment.

While rinderpest is not dangerous to human health, its impact on humanity has been significant. Its path of destruction has been linked to many history-changing events such as the fall of the Roman Empire, the French Revolution and famines throughout Africa since the 19th century. Indeed, nearly three-quarters of the rural poor and some one-third of the urban poor depend on livestock for their food, income, traction, manure or other services. Livestock provide poor households with up to half their income and between 6 and 35 per cent of their protein consumption. The loss of a single milking animal can affect a family’s economic health, while depriving it of a primary source of nutrition.

Road to eradication
The first major contributing factor to eradication, as identified by the analysis, was a major improvement made to an existing rinderpest vaccine. While the original vaccine was safe, effective, affordable, and easy to produce, it needed to be refrigerated—making it nearly impossible to transport it to remote rural villages. With the development of a new heat-resistant vaccine formulation in 1990 that could be stored at 37 °C for eight months, and in the field without refrigeration for 30 days, scientists had a tool that would become the cornerstone of the eradication effort in remote pastoral areas of Africa.

But according to ILRI’s Jeffrey Mariner, the analysis’ lead author and inventor of the temperature-stable rinderpest vaccine, it was the role played by pastoralists that really turned rinderpest on its head.

As part of a public-private-community partnership, Mariner and colleagues trained what they called community-based animal health workers, or CAHWs—local pastoralists who were willing to travel on foot and able to work in remote areas—on how to deliver the new vaccine. These CAHWs carried the vaccine from herd to herd, immunizing all the cattle in their communities.

The local herders performed as well, if not better, than did veterinarians at vaccinating the herds—in fact often achieving higher than 80 per cent herd immunity in a short time—remarkable for a disease that had plagued most of the world for millennia. Indeed, it turned out that the pastoralists were not only very, very good at delivering the vaccine, but that they also knew more about the disease and how to stop it than many of the experts.

‘We soon discovered that the livestock owners knew more than anyone—including government officials, researchers or veterinarians—where outbreaks were occurring’, Mariner said. ‘It was their expertise about the sizes of cattle herds, their location, seasonal movement patterns and optimal time for vaccination that made it possible for us to eradicate rinderpest.’

Based on their immense expertise about migratory patterns and in recognizing early signs of infection, the herders were able to pinpoint, well before scientists ever could, where some of the final outbreaks were occurring—often where conventional surveillance activities had failed to disclose disease. Harnessing this knowledge of rinderpest through ‘participatory surveillance’ of outbreaks to CAHW delivery of vaccination proved to be the most successful approach to monitoring and controlling the disease. It effectively removed the disease from some of the hardest-to-reach, but also most disease-ridden, communities.

Applying rinderpest lessons to other diseases
While livestock and those who depend on them for food, transportation and economic stability are now safe from one major pathogen, they continue to be plagued by a number of other dangerous and debilitating diseases—some as deadly as rinderpest.

The international animal health community is now gearing up to address the next major constraint to livestock livelihoods in Africa and Asia. In their analysis, Mariner and colleagues consider how the lessons learned from battling rinderpest can be applied to protect livestock from other infectious agents—particularly peste des petits ruminants (PPR), also known as ‘goat plague’. Strategies to address PPR using the lessons from rinderpest have been developed and action is under way to mobilize international support for a coordinated program to tackle PPR. As a next step, ILRI and the Africa Union/Interafrican Bureau for Animal Resources are planning to host the next meeting of the PPR Alliance, a partnership of research and development organizations who prioritize PPR, in Nairobi in early 2013.

A dangerous virus that can destroy whole flocks of sheep and goats, PPR threatens livestock owners in Africa, Asia and the Middle East, in particular. As with rinderpest, a sheep or goat infected with PPR will come down with a high fever and will stop eating, leading to severe diarrhea and death. Eventually, it will take down the entire herd of the animals, which are equal to cattle in their importance to the poor. And controlling PPR is made challenging by the short life span and heavy trading of sheep and goats—making it difficult to keep the disease in check and preventing its spread to new areas.

Nonetheless, the lessons of rinderpest eradication have begun to have an impact on the toll exacted by goat plague. Participatory surveillance methods are now applied in many countries, CAHWs are now frequently involved in vaccination campaigns and ILRI has developed a temperature-stable vaccine that can be transported to rural farms and has started to put into place training programs for shepherds and farmers in Uganda and Sudan to deliver it.

Eventually, these same lessons could be applied to other livestock diseases such as foot-and-mouth disease—even some that have recently jumped to humans, like avian flu. Such ‘zoonotic’ diseases are responsible for 2.4 billion cases of human illness and 2.2 million deaths per year, primarily in low- and middle-income countries.

Read the paper in Science (subscription required to read full text): Rinderpest eradication: Appropriate technology and social innovations, by Jeffrey Mariner, James House, Charles Mebus, Albert Sollod, Dickens Chibeu, Bryony Jones, Peter Roeder, Berhanu Admassu, Gijs van ’t Klooster, 14 September 2012, Vol. 337 no. 6100 pp. 1309–1312, DOI: 10.1126/science.1223805.

Read previous articles on this blog about the eradication of rinderpest: Goat plague next target of veterinary authorities now that cattle plague has been eradicated, 4 Jul 2011.

Deadly rinderpest virus today declared eradicated from the earth–’greatest achievement in veterinary medicine’, 28 Jun 2011.

After successful eradication of rinderpest, African researchers now focus on peste des petits ruminants, the most urgent threat to African livestock, 22 Nov 2010.

Why technical breakthroughs matter: They helped drive a cattle plague to extinction, 28 Oct 2010.

Cattle pneumonia pathogen arose with domestication of ruminants ten thousand years ago, researchers say

In this short (3:45 min) video interview, Joerg Jores, a molecular biologist at the International Livestock Research Institute (ILRI), shares new insights from his research on contagious bovine pleuropneumonia, a killer livestock disease endemic in Africa.

Jores describes a recent study by researchers from ILRI, the International Centre of Insect Physiology and Ecology and partners in Germany, Sweden, Switzerland and the USA that evaluated the history and relationships of pathogens that cause both cattle (contagious bovine pleuropneumonia) and goat (contagious caprine pleuropneumonia) pneumonia.

The study, ‘The origin of the “Mycoplasma mycoides cluster” coincides with domestication of ruminants,’ was published in the April 2012 edition of the Public Library of Science (PLoS, 27 Apr 2012). The researchers found that the bacterium Mycoplasma mycoides, which causes contagious bovine pleuropneumonia, arose at the same time as humans first started to domesticate wild ruminants.

The onset of domestication of livestock about 10,000 years ago, which established large ruminant populations and the herding of mixed species, is thought to have contributed to creating the conditions favouring the spread and diversification of the pathogens by allowing them to adapt to different hosts.

Contagious bovine pleuropneumonia can kill up to 80 per cent of animals in infected herds, and the surviving animals often carry the disease for long periods and can introduce it to uninfected herds.

‘This research was the largest comparative study of Mycoplasma mycoides cluster to date,’ says Jores. ‘Our findings are shedding light into the history of contagious bovine pleuropneumonia and this new knowledge is expected to guide future research into the disease.’

Read a related ILRI clippings article on the paper: Lethal family tree: ILRI research shows livestock bacterium is as old as the livestock it kills.

Download the paper: The origin of the Mycoplasma mycoides cluster coincides with domestication of ruminants, by Anne Fischer (ICIPE and ILRI), Beth Shapiro (Pennsylvania State University), Cecilia Muriuki (ILRI), Martin Heller (Friedrich-Loeffler-Institute), Christiane Schnee (Friedrich-Loeffler-Institute), Erik Bongcam-Rudloff (Swedish University of Agricultural Sciences), Joachim Frey (University of Bern) and Joerg Jores (ILRI), 2012, PLoS ONE 7(4): e36150.

 

Scientists say farmers must be linked to markets to combat Africa’s food woes

Poultry seller in Mozambique

Poultry seller at the morning market in Chokwe, Gurue, Mozambique (photo credit: ILRI/Stevie Mann).

From dairy cooperatives, text messaging and grain storage to improved credit, transport and trade initiatives, a new book presents ‘high-payoff, low-cost’ solutions to Africa’s underdeveloped agricultural markets and chronic food insecurity.

As a food crisis unfolds in West Africa’s Sahel region, some of the world’s leading experts in agriculture markets say the time is ripe to confront the ‘substantial inefficiencies’ in trade policy, transportation, information services, credit, crop storage and other market challenges that leave Africans particularly vulnerable to food-related problems.

‘We can’t control the weather or international commodities speculators, but there are many things we can do to improve market conditions in Africa that will increase food availability and help stabilize food prices across the continent,’ said Anne Mbaabu, director of the Market Access Program at the Alliance for a Green Revolution in Africa (AGRA), which has invested US$30 million over the last four years to improve market opportunities for Africa’s smallholder farmers.

AGRA and the Nairobi-based International Livestock Research Institute (ILRI) have just released a book that features a range of studies that collectively make a compelling argument for embracing agriculture-oriented market improvements as crucial to not only avoiding future food crises but also for establishing a firm foundation for rural development and economic growth. The research was originally prepared for a conference in Nairobi in which 150 experts from around the world discussed how to ‘leverage the untapped capacity of agricultural markets in Africa to increase food security and incomes.’

Its publication comes as international aid groups are rushing assistance to Niger and other nations of the African Sahel—a narrow but long belt of arid land south of the Sahara that stretches across the continent—where a combination of high food prices and poor weather has left some 14 million people without enough to eat. The food problems in the Sahel are emerging just as African governments and aid groups say they have stabilized a food crisis in the Horn of Africa that at its peak in Somalia had left 58 percent of children under the age of five acutely malnourished.

But while volatility in international commodities markets is being widely cited as a major cause of the food shortages in the Sahel, there is growing evidence that at least some of the food price fluctuation in Africa is caused by domestic factors.

Recent research—led by Joseph Karugia, Coordinator of the Regional Strategic Analysis and Knowledge Support System for Eastern and Central Africa (ReSAKSS-ECA) at ILRI, and colleagues at the Association for Strengthening Agricultural Research in Eastern and Central Africa (ASARECA)—examining food price volatility in Eastern Africa suggests domestic factors are playing a role as well. The researchers found that over the last few years, even when global prices have receded, domestic prices in the region have remained high. For example, while global maize prices declined by 12 percent in the last quarter of 2008, in Kenya, Tanzania, Ethiopia, Zambia and Rwanda, they increased.

The study finds food price volatility in these countries is at least partly due to barriers and policies impeding the flow of food among markets in the region and between the region and global markets.

‘We need to consider what can be done within Africa to reduce our vulnerability to food-related problems,’ said ILRI’s interim deputy director general for research Steve Staal, an agricultural economist with expertise in smallholder farming systems. ‘Improving regional and sub-regional agriculture markets is one way we can increase food security and the impact of even minor improvements could be impressive. Just as it doesn’t take a big rise in food prices to tip millions of Africans into poverty, it does not require a sharp move in the other direction to generate huge benefits.’

The book from the markets conference outlines a number of ‘high-payoff, low cost’ initiatives that combine ‘innovative thinking’ and ‘new technology’ along with policy reforms to give farmers an incentive to boost production—and the means to make their surplus harvests more widely available and at an affordable cost.

For example, the Smallholder Dairy Project, a collaborative project between ILRI and research and development partners in Kenya, catalyzed some 40,000 small-scale milk vendors to generate an extra US$16 million across the Kenya dairy industry by seeking policy changes and providing practical training that made it easier for them to comply with national milk safety and quality standards. Prior to the initiative, smallholder dairy farmers were not realizing either their production or income potential because complex and costly food safety standards reduced participation in formal milk markets.

‘Smallholder farmers and herders in Africa need a combination of investment in infrastructure and services, along with regulatory changes to take full advantage of growing agriculture market opportunities,’ said Staal. ‘And since smallholders produce most of the milk, meat, vegetables and grains consumed in Africa, improving their participation in agriculture markets—particularly as populations gravitate away from rural areas to urban centers—is key to the continent’s food security.’

For example, a warehouse receipt program operated by the Eastern Africa Grain Council and Kenya’s Maize Development program is offering farmers two things they previously lacked: a place to safely store surplus harvests and easier access to credit. Research has shown that on average, 25 to 50 per cent of crops produced on African farms spoil in the fields and in East Africa alone up to USD90 million worth of milk is lost per year due to spoilage.

Lack of credit is also limiting the ability of African farmers to produce and sell more food. One important aspect of the warehouse receipt program is that it allows farmers to get credit using the deposited grain as collateral. They can use the credit to purchase such things as farm inputs for the next planting or meet immediate cash requirements.

‘We understand that credit is crucial for expanding production on African farms—as it is everywhere in the world—which is why AGRA is working with commercial banks to unlock millions of dollars in loans for smallholder farmers across Africa,’ said Mbaabu.

AGRA’s partnerships with Standard Bank, NMB Bank (Tanzania), and Equity Bank (Kenya) were modeled on an initiative by the Rockefeller Foundation in Uganda that had only a 2 per cent default rate. ‘This shows that investing in African farmers makes good business sense,’ said Mbaabu.

The book also discusses initiatives that are using post-harvest processing facilities and information technology to improve market opportunities. An analysis of processing facilities in Tanzania that make chips and flour from cassava—a crop many smallholder farmers can produce in abundance—found that they were profitable even when dealing at 50 per cent of capacity. Research in Northern Ghana found farmers were getting 68 per cent more for their harvests after using a service that provides a steady stream of pricing, market, transportation and weather information via text message.

On the policy front, the market experts see an urgent need to confront the ‘hodge-podge of tariffs’ and the numerous export restrictions and customs requirements that make it hard for areas of Africa where there are food surpluses to serve those in food deficit. Critically, they recognize that private investors are in many cases playing the lead role in new investments for market development and services.

Policy-makers need to shift emphasis from a traditional regulatory approach to one of co-investment to leverage private sector activity, supporting appropriate infrastructure and information systems,’ says Staal.

A recent report from the World Bank on trade barriers in Africa recounted how in Zambia, the grocery store Shoprite spends USD20,000 per week securing import permits for meat, milk and vegetables. And its trucks carry up to 1,600 documents to meet border requirements. Overall, the Bank report estimates African countries are forfeiting billions of dollars per year in potential earnings by failing to address barriers to the flow of goods and services.

‘When many people think of a food crisis in Africa, they picture crops withering in the field or dead or dying livestock, but rarely do they think about the market issues that are part of the problem as well,’ said Namanga Ngongi, president of AGRA. ‘African farmers face many challenges in the field and pasture but they will continue to lack the means and the incentive to boost crop and livestock yields if we continue to neglect our underdeveloped agriculture markets.’

The book, African agricultural markets: Towards priority actions for market development for African farmers, and synthesis document are available for download here.

The Alliance for a Green Revolution in Africa (AGRA)
is a dynamic partnership working across the African continent to help millions of small-scale farmers and their families lift themselves out of poverty and hunger. AGRA programmes develop practical solutions to significantly boost farm productivity and incomes for the poor while safeguarding the environment. AGRA advocates for policies that support its work across all key aspects of the African agricultural value chain—from seeds, soil health and water to markets and agricultural education.

The International Livestock Research Institute (ILRI)
works with partners worldwide to help poor people keep their farm animals alive and productive, increase and sustain their livestock and farm productivity, and find profitable markets for their animal products. ILRI’s headquarters are in Nairobi, Kenya; we have a principal campus in Addis Ababa, Ethiopia, and 13 offices in other regions of Africa and Asia. ILRI is part of the CGIAR (www.cgiar.org), which works to reduce hunger, poverty, illness and environmental degradation in developing countries by generating and sharing relevant agricultural knowledge, technologies and policies. This research is focused on development, conducted by a Consortium of 15 CGIAR centres working with hundreds of partners worldwide, and supported by a multi-donor Fund.

 More on the book

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