A tribute to the heroes of small-scale food production

Watch ILRI’s new 4-minute photofilm, A tribute to the unsung heroes of small-scale food production.

A hitherto disregarded vast group of farmers—those who farm both crops and livestock—hold the key to feeding the world in coming years. Most of the world’s ‘mixed’ farmers are smallholders tending rice paddies or cultivating maize and beans while raising a few animals. A research report led by the International Livestock Research Institute (ILRI) indicates that this group is likely to play the biggest role in global food security over the next several decades (see ILRI Corporate Report 2009-2010, ‘Back to the Future: Revisiting mixed crop-livestock systems’). This photofilm celebrates these ‘unsung heroes’—both the mixed farmers themselves and their farm animals.

 

Some of our readers will remember that last year a perspective piece by ILRI was published in a special February 2010 issue of Science on food security, “Smart Investments in Sustainable Food Production: Revisiting Mixed Crop-Livestock Systems”, focused on the importance of the same smallholder mixed farmers.

This article was based on results of a study by the Systemwide Livestock Programme of the CGIAR Consortium.

Small farms that combine crop and livestock production supply much of the food staples (41 percent of maize, 86 percent of rice, and 74 percent of millet), as well as most of the meat and dairy products consumed in these countries.

The billions of dollars promised by the international donor community to fund small-scale agriculture farming are likely to fail unless policies are reoriented towards these ‘mixed’ farmers.

The pressures of climate change and finite resources, as well as the increasing demand for milk, meat and eggs across the developing world, will require proper planning, looking beyond ‘business as usual investments,’ and a greater ‘intellectual commitment’ to understanding food systems in the developing world.

Read more on this topic in ILRI’s Corporate Report 2009–2010: Back to the Future: Revisiting Mixed Crop-Livestock Systems, 2009.

Or visit the CGIAR Systemwide Livestock Programme website.

In the crosshairs of hunger and climate change: New ILRI-CCAFS study maps the global hotspots

Please find a corrected and revised statement below, along with a link to download revised maps here: http://ccafs.cgiar.org/resources/climate_hotspots. All edits to the original article posted on this blog are reflected in RED and BOLDFACE below.

Five per cent reduction in crop season sensitivity to change capacity to cope: Corrected version

Five per cent reduction in crop season sensitivity to change capacity to cope: Corrected 13 Jul 2011 (map credit ILRI/CCAFS/Notenbaert).

A new study out today reveals future ‘hotspots’ of risk for hundreds of millions whose food problems are on a collision course with climate change. The scientists conducting the study warn that disaster looms for parts of Africa and all of India if chronic food insecurity converges with crop-wilting weather. They went on to say that Latin America is also vulnerable.

The red areas in the map above are food-insecure and intensively farmed regions that are highly exposed to a potential five per cent or greater reduction in the length of the growing season. Such a change over the next 40 years could significantly affect food yields and food access for 369 million people—many of them smallholder farmers—already living on the edge. This category includes almost all of India and significant parts of West Africa. While Latin America in general is viewed as having a ‘high capacity’ to cope with such shifts, there are millions of poor people living in this region who very dependent on local crop production to meet their nutritional needs (map credit: ILRI-CCAFS/Notenbaert).

This study matches future climate change ‘hotspots’ with regions already suffering chronic food problems to identify highly-vulnerable populations, chiefly in Africa and South Asia, but potentially in China and Latin America as well, where in fewer than 40 years, the prospect of shorter, hotter or drier growing seasons could imperil hundreds of millions of already-impoverished people.

The report, Mapping Hotspots of Climate Change and Food Insecurity in the Global Tropics, was produced by the CGIAR Research Program on Climate Change, Agriculture and Food Security (CCAFS). The work was led by a team of scientists at the International Livestock Research Institute (ILRI) responding to an urgent need to focus climate change adaptation efforts on people and places where the potential for harsher growing conditions poses the gravest threat to food production and food security.

The researchers pinpointed areas of intense vulnerability by examining a variety of climate models and indicators of food problems to create a series of detailed maps. One shows regions around the world at risk of crossing certain ‘climate thresholds’—such as temperatures too hot for maize or beans—that over the next 40 years could diminish food production. Another shows regions that may be sensitive to such climate shifts because in general they have large areas of land devoted to crop and livestock production. And finally, scientists produced maps of regions with a long history of food insecurity.

Future of Pastoralism in Africa Conference

ILRI scientist Polly Ericksen, lead author of the hotspots study (photo credit: ILRI/MacMillan).

‘When you put these maps together they reveal places around the world where the arrival of stressful growing conditions could be especially disastrous,’ said Polly Ericksen, a senior scientist at ILRI, in Nairobi, Kenya and the study’s lead author. ‘These are areas highly exposed to climate shifts, where survival is strongly linked to the fate of regional crop and livestock yields, and where chronic food problems indicate that farmers are already struggling and they lack the capacity to adapt to new weather patterns.’

‘This is a very troubling combination,’ she added.

For example, in large parts of South Asia, including almost all of India, and parts of sub-Saharan Africa—chiefly West Africa—there are 265 million food-insecure people living in agriculture-intensive areas that are highly exposed to a potential five per cent decrease in the length of the growing period. Such a change over the next 40 years could significantly affect food yields and food access for people—many of them farmers themselves—already living on the edge.

Higher temperatures also could exact a heavy toll. Today, there are 170 million food-insecure and crop-dependent people in parts of West Africa, India and China who live in areas where, by the mid-2050s, maximum daily temperatures during the growing season could exceed 30 degrees Celsius (86 degrees Fahrenheit). This is close to the maximum temperature that beans can tolerate, while maize and rice yields may suffer when temperatures exceed this level. For example, a study last year in Nature found that even with optimal amounts of rain, African maize yields could decline by one percent for each day spent above 30ºC.

Regional predictions for shifts in temperatures and precipitation going out to 2050 were developed by analyzing the outputs of climate models rooted in the extensive data amassed by the Fourth Assessment Report (AR4) from the United Nations Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC). Researchers identified populations as chronically food-insecure if more than 40 per cent of children under the age of five were ‘stunted’—that is, they fall well below the World Health Organization’s height-for-age standards.

CCAFS poverty and climate change hotspots presentation: Wiebke Foerch and Patti Kristjanson of CCAFS

CCAFS staff members Wiebke Foerch, based at ILRI, and Patti Kristjanson, based at the World Agroforestry Centre, hold discussions after ILRI’s Polly Ericksen presents her findings on poverty and climate change hotspots at the World Agroforestry Centre in May 2011 (photo credit: ILRI/MacMillan).

‘We are starting to see much more clearly where the effect of climate change on agriculture could intensify hunger and poverty, but only if we fail to pursue appropriate adaptation strategies,’ said Patti Kristjanson, a research theme leader at CCAFS and former agricultural economist at ILRI. ‘Farmers already adapt to variable weather patterns by changing their planting schedules or moving animals to different grazing areas. What this study suggests is that the speed of climate shifts and the magnitude of the changes required to adapt could be much greater. In some places, farmers might need to consider entirely new crops or new farming systems.’

Crop breeders at CGIAR centres around the world already are focused on developing so-called ‘climate ready’ crop varieties able to produce high yields in more stressful conditions. For some regions, however, that might not be a viable option—in parts of East and Southern Africa, for example, temperatures may become too hot to maintain maize as the staple crop, requiring a shift to other food crops, such as sorghum or cassava, to meet nutrition needs. In addition, farmers who now focus mainly on crop cultivation might need to integrate livestock and agroforestry as a way to maintain and increase food production.

CCAFS Bruce Campbell following Andy Jarvis' seminar on CCAFS

Bruce Campbell, coordinator of the CGIAR program ‘Climate Change, Agriculture and Food Security (CCAFS)’, based in Copenhagen, talks with guests at a seminar given about CCAFS by Andy Jarvis at ILRI’s Nairobi campus on 13 May 2011 (photo credit: ILRI/MacMillan).

‘International trade in agriculture commodities is also likely to assume even more importance for all regions as climate change intensifies the existing limits of national agriculture systems to satisfy domestic food needs,’ said Bruce Campbell, director of CCAFS. ‘We have already seen with the food price spikes of 2008 and 2010 that food security is an international phenomenon and climate change is almost certainly going to intensify that interdependence.’

Ericksen and her colleagues note that regions of concern extend beyond those found to be most at risk. For example, in many parts of Latin America, food security is relatively stable at the moment—suggesting that a certain amount of ‘coping capacity’ could be available to deal with future climate stresses that affect agriculture production. Yet there is cause for concern because millions of people in the region are highly dependent on local agricultural production to meet their food needs and they are living in the very crosshairs of climate change.

The researchers found, for example, that by 2050, prime growing conditions are likely to drop below 120 days per season in intensively-farmed regions of northeast Brazil and Mexico.

Growing seasons of at least 120 days are considered critical not only for the maturation of maize and several other staple food crops, but also for vegetation crucial to feeding livestock.

In addition, parts of Latin America are likely to experience temperatures too hot for bean production, a major food staple in the region.

Mario Herrero, Polly Ericksen and Wiebke Foerch prepare to listen to Andy Jarvis' seminar on CCAFS

Mario Herrero, another ILRI author of the study, with climate Polly Ericksen and CCAFS staff member Wiebke Forech, all based at ILRI’s Nairobi headquarters, wait to hear a presentation from visiting CCAFS scientist Andy Jarvis at ILRI on 13 May 2011 (photo credit: ILRI/MacMillan).

The study also shows that some areas today have a ‘low sensitivity’ to the effects of climate change only because there is not a lot of land devoted to crop and livestock production. But agriculture intensification would render them more vulnerable, adding a wrinkle, for example, to the massive effort under way to rapidly expand crop cultivation in the so-called ‘bread-basket’ areas of sub-Saharan Africa.

Philip Thornton at Andy Jarvis' CCAFS Seminar

Philip Thornton (white shirt, facing camera), of ILRI and CCAFS, and other ILRI staff following a seminar on CCAFS given by Andy Jarvis at ILRI Nairobi on 13 May 2011 (photo credit: ILRI/MacMillan).

‘Evidence suggests that these specific regions in the tropics may be severely affected by 2050 in terms of their crop production and livestock capacity. The window of opportunity to develop innovative solutions that can effectively overcome these challenges is limited,’ said Philip Thornton, a CCAFS research theme leader and ILRI scientist and one of the paper’s co-authors. ‘Major adaptation efforts are needed now if we are to avoid serious food security and livelihood problems later.’
Five per cent reduction in crop season sensitivity to change capacity to cope: Corrected version

Areas where average maximum temperatures are expected to exceed 30⁰C by 2050, corrected version (map credit: ILRI-CCAFS/Notenbaert).

Read the whole report: Mapping hotspots of climate change and food insecurity in the global tropics, by Polly Ericksen, Philip Thornton, An Notenbaert, L Cramer, Peter Jones and Mario Herrero 2011. CCAFS Report no. 5 (final version). CGIAR Research Program on Climate Change, Agriculture and Food Security (CCAFS). Copenhagen, Denmark. Also available online at: www.ccafs.cgiar.org.

Click here for the CCAFS online media room with more materials, including corrected versions of the news release in English, Spanish, French and Chinese, and also versions of the two maps shown here in high resolution suitable for print media.

All the maps will be made available online later this year; for more information on the maps, please contact ILRI’s Polly Ericksen at p.ericksen [at] cgiar.org or CCAFS’ Vanessa Meadu at ccafs.comms [at] gmail.com.

Note: This study was led by scientists at the International Livestock Research Institute (ILRI) for the CGIAR Research Program on Climate Change, Agriculture and Food Security (CCAFS). CCAFS is a strategic partnership of the CGIAR and the Earth System Science Partnership (ESSP). CCAFS brings together the world’s best researchers in agricultural science, development research, climate science and Earth System science, to identify and address the most important interactions, synergies and tradeoffs between climate change, agriculture and food security. The CGIAR’s Lead Centre for the program is the International Center for Tropical Agriculture (CIAT) in Cali, Colombia. For more information, visit www.ccafs.cgiar.org.

Research proposal for ‘More meat, milk and fish by and for the poor’ submitted for funding

CGIAR Research Program 3.7 on livestock and fish

CGIAR Research Program 3.7 on livestock and fish: Opening slide in a series of 16 slides presented by ILRI director general Carlos Seré to the CGIAR Fund Council 6 April 2011 (credit: ILRI).

Carlos Pérez del Castillo, on behalf of the Consultative Group on International Agricultural Research (CGIAR) Consortium Board, which he chairs, wrote the following earlier this year in a cover letter to submission of a research proposal for consideration and approval by the CGIAR Fund Council.

‘The Consortium Board (CB) of the CGIAR has the pleasure to submit to the Fund Council (FC), for its consideration and approval, the CGIAR Research Program (CRP) 3.7, entitled “More Meat, Milk and Fish by and for the Poor.”

‘This proposal, submitted by ILRI (lead center), CIAT, ICARDA and WorldFish, focuses on improving productivity and profitability of meat, milk and fish for poor producers. This CRP constitutes a key link in the overall chain of impacts of the Strategy and Results Framework of the CGIAR. The CB considers that this research area, which has received relatively low attention from donors up to now, is of strategic importance for the livelihoods of the poor in developing countries. The challenge in this CRP is to set up market chains that fully address the special needs and circumstances of the poor smallholders and fishermen.

‘An additional challenge, fully in line with the spirit of the reform, is to create new research synergies by working on productivity improvement for livestock and fish in a more integrated manner than before the reform. The Board particularly appreciates the genuine integration of activities across the participating CGIAR centers that are proposed, and the overall quality of this proposal. We think that the proponents of this CRP have laid the ground for very innovative breakthroughs in research for development. . . .

‘The CB considers that the impact pathways described in the various log frames presented in the proposal are convincing. The identification of the eight target value chains is likewise a good mechanism for clearly focusing the work on addressing development challenges. The CB concurs with the referee who states that this is a very innovative dimension of the proposal, and a very effective one as well. ‘Concerning quality of science, the Board concurs with the referees that it is sound. The Board appreciates the explanation of the value addition of ILRI and WorldFish working alongside on genetic issues, as well as the description of the value chain development work. For the CGIAR, these are novel, and much needed, approaches.’

Read the full proposal: ILRI: CGIAR Research Program 3.7: More meat, milk and fish by and for the poor—Proposal  submitted to the CGIAR Consortium Board by ILRI on behalf of CIAT, ICARDA and the WorldFish Center, 5 March 2011.

CGIAR Research Program 3.7 on livestock and fish

CGIAR Research Program 3.7 on livestock and fish: First in a series of 16 slides presented by ILRI director general Carlos Seré to the CGIAR Fund Council 6 April 2011 (credit: ILRI).

View the whole slide presentation on this proposal made by ILRI director general Carlos Seré to the CGIAR Fund Council on 6 April 2011 in Montpellier, France.

More on the CRP and its development process

Pathways of the evolution of livestock production systems

Pathways of evolution to increase the sustainability of livestock production

Graphic showing pathways of livestock systems evolution to increase the sustainability of livestock production in selected systems, published in a paper by John McDermott et al, ‘Sustaining intensification of smallholder livestock systems in the tropics, Livestock Science (2010) (illustration credit: ILRI/McDermott).

John McDermott, who serves as deputy director general-research at the International Livestock Research Institute (ILRI), and some of his ILRI colleagues published a paper in Livestock Science that sets out what will be needed to make livestock production a sustainable system for smallholders in the developing world, enhancing both the livelihoods and environmental resources of the poor. The abstract of this ILRI paper follows.

‘Smallholder livestock keepers represent almost 20% of the world population and steward most of the agricultural land in the tropics. Observed and expected increases in future demand for livestock products in developing countries provide unique opportunities for improving livelihoods and linked to that, improving stewardship of the environment.

‘This cannot be a passive process and needs to be supported by enabling policies and pro-poor investments in institutional capacities and technologies. Sustaining intensification of smallholder livestock systems must take into account both social and environmental welfare and be targeted to sectors and areas of most probable positive social welfare returns and where natural resource conditions allow for intensification.

‘Smallholders are competitive in ruminant systems, particularly dairy, because of the availability of family labour and the ability of ruminants to exploit lower quality available roughage. Smallholders compete well in local markets which are important in agriculturally-based or transforming developing countries.

‘However, as production and marketing systems evolve, support to smallholders to provide efficient input services, links to output markets and risk mitigation measures will be important if they are to provide higher value products. Innovative public support and links to the private sector will be required for the poor to adapt and benefit as systems evolve. Likewise targeting is critical to choosing which systems with livestock can be intensified. Some intensive river basin systems have little scope for intensification. More extensive rain-fed systems, particularly in Africa, could intensify with enabling policies and appropriate investments. In more fragile environments, de-intensification is required to avoid irreversible damage to ecosystems.

‘Attention to both social and environmental sustainability are critical to understanding tradeoffs and incentives and to bridging important gaps in the perspectives on livestock production between rich and poor countries and peoples. Two specific examples in which important elements of sustainable intensification can be illustrated, smallholder dairy systems in East Africa and South Asia and small ruminant meat systems in Sub-Saharan Africa, are discussed.’

Read the whole paper, J.J. McDermott, S.J. Staal, H.A. Freeman, M. Herrero and J.A. Van de Steeg, Sustaining intensification of smallholder livestock systems in the tropics, published in Livestock Science, 2010: doi:10.1016/j.livsci.2010.02.014

New director general of global livestock research institute appointed: World Bank livestock advisor Jimmy Smith

Jimmy Smith

New director general designate of the International Livestock Research Institute (ILRI) Jimmy Smith (photo credit: ILRI/Paul Karaimu).

Jimmy Smith has been appointed the new director general designate of the International Livestock Research Institute (ILRI).

ILRI board chair Knut Hove made the announcement at the 35th meeting of the ILRI Board of Trustees, on 13 April 2011, to an afternoon gathering of ILRI staff, management and board.

In his announcement, Hove said, ‘We are facing challenges to make livestock more beneficial to the poor and less harmful to the environments of the poor. We think Jimmy Smith is a strong leader for ILRI, one who will open up new partnerships for pro-poor livestock research.’

Born in Guyana, in the Caribbean, where he was raised on a small mixed crop-and-livestock farm, Smith holds dual nationalities with Canada. He is a graduate of the University of Illinois, at Urban-Champaign, USA, where he completed hid PhD in animal sciences. Now based at the headquarters of the World Bank, in Washington, DC, he currently leads the Bank’s Global Livestock Portfolio.

Earlier in his career, Smith served for ten years at ILRI and its predecessor, the International Livestock Centre for Africa (ILCA) (1991–2001). At ILCA and then ILRI, Smith was the institute’s regional representative for West Africa, where he led development of integrated research promoting smallholder livelihoods through animal agriculture and built effective partnerships among stakeholders in the region. At ILRI, Smith spent three years leading the ILRI-led Systemwide Livestock Programme of the Consultative Group on International Agricultural Research (CGIAR), an association of 10 CGIAR centres working on issues at the crop-livestock interface. Since leaving his decade of work at ILCA/ILRI and the CGIAR, Smith has continued playing a major role in supporting international livestock for development in terms of both funding and strategizing.

Before joining the World Bank, where he has served for five years, Smith held senior positions at the Canadian International Development Agency (CIDA) (2001-2006) and the Caribbean Agricultural Research and Development Institute (CARDI) (1986–1991).

Smith will take over from Carlos Seré, ILRI’s current director general. The actual date of change-over will be announced in the near future and is expected to take place in the next 6 months.

Smith said, ‘I congratulate Carlos Seré, John McDermott [ILRI deputy director geneneral-research] and all ILRI staff for their work in making this institute such a strong player in livestock for development. Every member of staff has a contribution to make. My commitment is to take ILRI to even higher heights. I am excited about coming here and look forward to working with all of you. I hope I can demonstrate that I earn your trust and hard work.’

Seré commented, ‘I have known Jimmy for ten years and have learned to appreciate his many talents. He is familiar with important constituencies of livestock research and understands our partners well. We appreciate how strongly he has promoted the global livestock agenda in his work for CIDA and the World Bank and we believe he brings a number of important assets to the family. We will support him completely.’

ILRI Board Chair Hove said: ‘Jimmy Smith has an impeccable track record in developing extensive networks in the livestock sector globally and with development partners around the world. He is familiar with the CGIAR reform process and the international agricultural research agenda. We have full confidence that Jimmy Smith will build upon the strong ILRI foundation and provide the leadership and vision to propel ILRI to greater heights.’

Click on the slide presentation below to watch Smith’s presentation to the ILRI community.

Getting gender issues into people’s heads and hearts–An expert assessment for agricultural development

The gender-specific disadvantages and inequities faced by rural women in poor countries create challenges for the research and development specialists working to help them empower themselves. Political, social and cultural environments all need to change before most women will be able to take a larger role in generating incomes. Men and women both need to be involved for that to happen. And when that does happen, men and women both will benefit from women’s empowerment.

The views of four women experts in the area, shown in this short (3 minute: 40 second) film, were recorded at a February 28–2 March workshop held at the International Livestock Research Institute (ILRI), in Addis Ababa, Ethiopia, where a group of experts assessed the current state of gender-related agricultural research in Africa, particularly the experiences of a 5-year joint ILRI-Ethiopian government project called ‘Improving Productivity and Market Success of Ethiopian farmers (IPMS).

The following is a transcript

Ranjitha Puskur, Indian, agricultural economist at International Livestock Research Institute (ILRI)
One of the major constraints that we saw that came in the way of helping women to take part in market-oriented agricultural activities is their lack of technical skills and knowledge.

Seblewongel Deneke, Ethiopian, sociologist at the Canadian International Development Agency (CIDA)–Ethiopia Canada Cooperation Office
The project that we are looking at now from IPMS with ILRI has done a lot of experimenting on how to target women, how to target the household, how to get them engaged and how in some ways make people see the other side of things.

Ranjitha Puskur
One of the things that we tried to do was to make sure the women have more access to knowledge and skill development through a number of trainings—and also bringing actually both the husband and wife together for the training so that they have a shared knowledge. We have demonstrated that this is a good way of approaching knowledge and skill sharing with women and men.

Jemimah Njuki, Kenyan, sociologist
What we have recently done in ILRI in terms of women and livestock is tried to put together what is it that we know at the moment on women and livestock and how to use livestock as a pathway out of poverty for women.

Seblewongel Deneke
That I think is one of the gaps in this country—there isn’t much research happening. And on gender specifically, I think we look to ILRI for some of the research it’s done. And I think the approach that they are using, working with their development partners in getting those research works done, is excellent and it should be strengthened.

Anne Waters-Bayer, Canadian/Dutch, Ecology, Technology and Culture Foundation
I’m a bit surprised, I must say, to come to a workshop now in 2011 and to hear actually many of the same things being said that were said back in the early 1980s. We published this 30 years ago but publishing wasn’t enough. We obviously didn’t manage to get into people’s heads, into their hearts and into the materials that they are dealing with day to day our messages about the important role of women in agricultural development.

Jemimah Njuki
We are hoping that this then becomes a starting point from which development partners can then start saying this has worked before, this has not worked and research organizations can then say, these are the further questions that we need to address in terms of generating evidence.

Seblewongel Deneke
Education is important. The more educated the women are, the more they will have control over the number of family members they can have. Reproductive health, the population pressure, all those things—there are many factors out there: it’s not just agriculture in isolation. For the research side of things that interlink—inter-linkages between sectors may be looked at, and then, maybe the answers would come from different angles.

Ranjitha Puskur
There have been a number of projects, often localized—projects working on specific issues in specific areas and at specific times. So there’s all these pieces of the puzzle scattered everywhere, and this workshop is an attempt to bring all this together.

Seblewongel Deneke
Yes, IPMS has done quite a bit of work on making research linked with the development aspect, and we have other projects that are doing similar approaches, where research and the development partners have come together to actually do the work together. And I think that is the best way to go forward.

Jemimah Njuki
We have made a lot of progress in terms of at least understanding what the gender issues in agriculture are, of even identifying some of the strategies that could be used to address these gender inequalities. I think what remains to be done is to see how those strategies, how those interventions, can be done at a scale that’s large enough to reach millions of women—which we need to do!

8 films, 4 women, a 30-year-old problem: Where we are in gender research for agricultural development

ILRI Film Page on the web

Selection of filmed interviews of women on gender research for agricultural development, available on the ILRI Film page n the web (blip.tv screen capture).

To celebrate the centenary of International Women’s Day, 8 March 2011, ILRI produced and web-posted on 8 March the following eight very short filmed interviews of four women on where we are in gender-related research for agricultural development in poor countries.

The interviews were made at a recent conference, ‘Gender and Market-Oriented Agriculture: From Research to Practice’ (31 January–2 February 2011), held at the Addis Ababa, Ethiopia, campus of the International Livestock Research Institute (ILRI) and organized by ILRI and a project conducted by ILRI on behalf of the Ethiopian government: Improving Productivity and Market Success of Ethiopian Farmers (IPMS).

Can complex gender issues be translated into enabling policies for women?
Susan MacMillan (ILRI) says that if we do not manage to find ways to place our understanding of gender issues in the context of environment, economy, agriculture, education and health, our well-meaning research might end up doing more harm than good. While gender is now on the agenda of every government and every big development project in the world, we don’t yet know what policies manage to empower women or how to implement them.

Evidence is needed to improve women’s development
Seblewongel Deneke (Canadian International Development Agency [CIDA]) says there are still misconceptions about rural women in developing countries, such as the idea that most farmers are men. The evidence that ILRI is providing will help to address these misconceptions.

Gender mainstreaming is just beginning
Seblewongel Deneke (CIDA) says that although many people are now talking about mainstreaming gender by including gender issues in research and policymaking, new laws around gender in Ethiopia are rarely enforced and research projects find it hard to expand capacity within extension workers and trainers and so meet the complex needs of women.

Rural women miss opportunities due to heavy household duties
Anne Waters-Bayer (Ecology, Technology, Culture Foundation (ETC) Netherlands) argues that gender research still struggles to help women manage their household and childraising work. Without targeting training in these areas, women will continue to miss out.

Women farmers held back by traditions
Jemimah Njuki (ILRI) explains that two facts have hindered women’s development in agriculture: lack of ability to inherit land and other rules stemming from traditional cultures and the fact that most policymakers are men; changes are now occurring in both areas.

Training men and women farmers together could help both make more money
Susan MacMillan (ILRI) says that when businesses become profitable, they tend to be taken over by men. This is one reason why women find it hard to make money from agriculture. Training male and female household members together may allow both to see that it’s in everyone’s interest to reduce gender inequities so that households can improve their income and nutrition.

30 Years of gender research—Are the conversations still the same?
Anne Waters-Bayer (Ecology, Technology, Culture Foundation [ETC] Netherlands) says the gender challenges faced by agricultural scientists in the 1980s are, unfortunately, similar to those we face today. Many women are still living in material want, struggling to send their children to school, to get good health care and to generate and control an income from their agricultural work.

For more information, visit ILRI’s Gender and Agriculture blog or IPMS blog.

AgriGender 2011 logo

Livestock one of three ways to feed the growing world–Economist special report

Dairy cow looks out from her stall in a village in central Malawi

A dairy cow looks out from her stall in central Malawi. Can such ubiquitous backyard livestock farming in the developing world feed the growing world? (picture credit: ILRI/Mann).

A special report on feeding the world, ‘The 9-billion people question,’ appears in this week’s issue of the Economist, as the world continues to grapple with a global food crisis. The author is the Economist‘s globalization editor, John Parker. In an article titled ‘Doing more with less’, Parker argues that ‘the only reliable way to produce more food is to use better technology.’

The world has three main ways to produce more food for our growing populations, he states, and we’ll need new technology for each. The three ways are better seeds, more productive livestock systems and advanced use of plant genetics, including genetic modification.

Parker gives examples of how ‘it is possible to grow more food, more efficiently, on both a regional and a national scale.’ ‘But,’ he asks, ‘can it be done on a global scale . . . to feed 9 billion people? If so, how?’

‘The main gains will have to come in three ways,’ Parker writes: ‘from narrowing the gap between the worst and best producers; from spreading the so-called “livestock revolution”; and—above all—from taking advantage of new plant technologies.’

(1) Regarding the first way, Parker says better technology is already closing the gap between best and worst producers in comparable environments.

(2) Regarding the second way, Parker writes: ‘The second main source of growth will consist of spreading a tried and tested success: the “livestock revolution”. This consists of switching from traditional, open-air methods of animal husbandry, in which chickens and pigs scratch and root around the farm, eating insects, scraps and all sorts of organic waste, to closed “battery” systems, in which animals are confined to cages and have their diet, health and movement rigorously controlled. This entails huge losses in animal welfare, and European consumers are reacting against the system. But there are also gains in productivity and sometimes even in welfare, by reducing losses from diseases and predators that in traditional systems can be distressingly high.

‘Improving livestock farming is important because of meat’s growing share in the world’s diet. Meat consumption in China more than doubled in 1980-2005, to 50kg a year per person. Between now and 2050, meat’s share of calories will rise from 7% to 9%, says the FAO; the share of dairy produce and eggs will rise more.

‘Livestock matters for many reasons. It provides financial security in poor countries, where herds are often a family’s savings. It can affect people’s health: new infectious diseases are appearing at the rate of three or four a year, and three-quarters of them can be traced to animals, domestic and wild. Avian flu is just one example. Livestock also plays a part in global warming. Much of the methane in the atmosphere—one of the worst greenhouse gases—comes from cattle belching.

‘Since the 1980s livestock production has far outstripped that of cereals. World meat output more than doubled between 1980 and 2007. Production of eggs rose from 27m tonnes to 68m over the same period. Some countries have done better still. India has the world’s largest dairy herd. Its milk production trebled, to 103m tonnes, over a period when global milk output increased by half. Brazil increased its production of chickens fivefold in 1987-2007 to become the world’s largest exporter. Most spectacularly, China raised its output of both eggs and milk tenfold.

‘For sheer efficiency, there is little question that battery systems do a better job than traditional methods. A free-range hen scratching around might lay one or two eggs a week. Feeding her costs nothing, giving a net gain of 50-100 eggs a year. A battery chicken will lay six eggs a week. She might cost the equivalent of 150 eggs to feed, producing an annual net gain of 150 eggs. And selective breeding has made her more economic to keep. Battery chickens used to need 4kg of feed for 1kg of eggs; now they need only 2kg.

‘Moreover, it is almost impossible to scale up a farmyard operation: there are only so many insects to eat, and so many hens one family can look after. And to breed the most productive hens which convert their feed most efficiently into eggs and are most resistant to disease, you need large flocks.

‘So there are two reasons for thinking that the livestock revolution will continue. One is that some countries still lag behind. An example, surprisingly, is Brazil, which has just one head of cattle per hectare—an unusually low number even for a country with so much land. Roberto Giannetti da Fonseca, of the São Paulo industry federation, says Brazil should be able at least to double that number—which could mean either doubling beef production or using half the area to produce the same amount.

‘Carlos Sere of the International Livestock Research Institute thinks traditional systems could borrow some of the methods of closed battery-farm systems—notably better feeding (giving a small amount of animal feed makes a big difference to the weight of range-land cattle) and the introduction of new breeds for better yields (as Kabiyet did by switching from longhorn to Holstein cattle).

‘The second reason for expecting further gains is that recent genetic analysis could improve breeding dramatically. About a third of the livestock revolution has come about through selecting and breeding the best animals. Another third comes from improved feeding and the remainder from better disease control. In the 1940s and 1950s breeding relied on the careful recording of every animal in the herd or flock; in the 1970s on artificial insemination by the best sires; and in the 1980s on embryo transfers from the best females into ordinary breeding animals.

‘New genetic analysis now promises to bring in another stage, says the FAO’s Henning Steinfeld. It allows breeders to select traits more precisely and thus speeds up breeding by reducing generational intervals: if you know which genetic traits an animal has, there is no need to wait several generations to see how things turn out.

‘This will not happen everywhere. Europeans and—to some extent—Americans are increasingly influenced by welfare concerns. They jib at confining animals. The European Union has banned certain kinds of cages, and California is following suit. But, so far, people in emerging markets, where demand for meat and animal products is growing fast, are less concerned about such things, so the next stage of the livestock revolution will mainly be concentrated there.’

(3) Regarding the third way—making better use of plant genetics, Parker argues that ‘the change likely to generate the biggest yield gains in the food business—perhaps 1.5-2% a year—is the development of “marker-assisted breeding”—in other words, genetic marking and selection in plants, which includes genetically modifying them but also involves a range of other techniques. This is the third and most important source of growth.’

Read the whole special report in the Economist: The 9 billion-people question, 24 February 2011.

Read the whole article in the Economist: Doing more with less, 24 February 2011.

Listen to John Parker interviewed on this subject: A special report on food, 24 February 2011.

Adapting agriculture to improve human health–new ILRI policy brief

A sleeping sickness patient in Soroti, Uganda

A child with sleeping sickness undergoes lengthy recovery treatment at a sleeping sickness clinic in Soroti, Uganda (photo credit: ILRI).

John McDermott, a Canadian deputy director general for research at the International Livestock Research Institute (ILRI) and a veterinary epidemiologist by training, and Delia Grace, an Irish veterinary epidemiologist working in food safety and many other areas of livestock health, have written a new policy brief on agriculture-associated diseases.

This policy brief has recently been disseminated by McDermott and Grace at an international conference on the agriculture, nutrition and health interface in New Delhi and a conference on the ‘One Health’ approach to tackling human and animal health, held in Melbourne.

McDermott and Grace argue that the way we approach agriculture does not serve human interests as a whole. ‘In the past, agricultural research and development largely focused on improving the production, productivity and profitability of agricultural enterprises. The nutritional and other benefits of agriculture were not always optimized, while the negative impacts on health, well-being and the environment were often ignored. This was especially problematic for livestock systems, with especially complex negative and positive impacts on human health and well-being.’

They give as an example a side effect of agricultural intensification: disease. ‘Highly pathogenic avian influenza (HPAI) is a notorious example of a disease that was fostered by intensified agricultural production and spread through lengthened poultry value chains and the global movement of people and animals. Large-scale irrigation projects, designed to increase agriculture productivity, have created ecosystems conducive to schistosomiasis and Rift Valley fever.’

And the reason we fail to foresee the negative effects of some agricultural practices, they say, is because the responses to disease threats are often compartmentalized. ‘Instead of analysing the tradeoffs between agricultural benefits and risks, the agriculture sector focuses on productivity, while the health sector focuses on managing disease. A careful look at the epidemiology of diseases associated with agriculture, and past experience of control efforts, shows that successful management must be systems-based rather than sectorally designed.’

‘At least 61% of all human pathogens are zoonotic (transmissible between animals and people),’ they write, ‘and zoonoses make up 75% of emerging infectious diseases. A new disease emerges every four months; many are trivial, but HIV, SARS, and avian influenza illustrate the huge potential impacts. Zoonoses and zoonotic diseases recently emerged from animals are responsible for 7% of the total disease burden in least-developed countries.

‘As well as sickening and killing billions of people each year, these diseases damage economies, societies and environments. While there is no metric that captures the full cost of disease, assessments of specific disease outbreaks suggest the scale of potential impacts. . . .

‘. . . There are two broad scenarios that characterize poor countries. At one extreme are neglected areas that lack even the most basic services; in these “cold spots,” diseases persist that are controlled elsewhere, with strong links to poverty, malnutrition and powerlessness. At the other extreme are areas of rapid intensification, where new and often unexpected disease threats emerge in response to rapidly changing practices and interactions between people, animals and ecosystems. These areas are hot spots for the emergence of new diseases (of which 75% are zoonotic). They also are more vulnerable to food-borne disease, as agricultural supply chains diversify and outpace workable regulatory mechanisms.

‘. . . What cannot be measured cannot be effectively and efficiently managed. Addressing agriculture-associated disease requires assessing and prioritizing its impacts, by measuring not only the multiple burdens of disease but also the multiple costs and benefits of potential interventions—across health, agriculture and other sectors. . . .

‘But these assessment tools and results have rarely been integrated to yield a comprehensive assessment of the health, economic and environmental costs of a particular disease. . . .

‘The complexities of agriculture-associated diseases call for more integrated and comprehensive approaches to analyse and address them, as envisioned in One Health and Eco- Health perspectives . . . . These integrated approaches offer a broad framework for understanding and addressing complex disease: they bring together key elements of human, animal and ecosystem health; and they explicitly address the social, economic and political determinants of health. Both of these global approaches recognize agriculture- and ecosystem-based interventions as a key component of multi-disciplinary approaches for managing diseases. For example, food-borne disease requires management throughout the field-to-fork risk pathway. Zoonoses in particular cannot be controlled, in most cases, while disease remains in the animal reservoir. Similarly, agriculture practices that create health risks require farm-level intervention.

‘Systemic One Health and EcoHealth approaches require development and testing of methods, tools and approaches to better support management of the diseases associated with agriculture. The potential impacts justify the substantial investment required. . . .

‘As a basis for framing sound policies, information is needed on the multiple (that is, cross-sectoral) burdens of disease and the multiple costs and benefits of control, as well as the sustainability, feasibility and acceptability of control options. An example of cross-disciplinary research that effectively influenced policy is the case of smallholder dairy in Kenya. In the light of research by ILRI and partners, assessing both public health risks and poverty impacts of regulation, the health regulations requiring pasteurization of milk were reversed; the economic benefits of the change were later estimated at USD26 million per year. This positive change required new collaboration between research, government and non-governmental organizations and the private sector, as well as new ways of working . . . .

‘Many agriculture-associated diseases are characterized by complexity, uncertainty and high-potential impact. They call for both analytic thinking, to break problems into manageable components that can be tackled over time, and holistic thinking, to recognize patterns and wider implications as well as potential benefits.

‘The analytic approach is illustrated in the new decision-support tool developed to address Rift Valley fever in Kenya. In savannah areas of East Africa, climate events trigger a cascade of changes in environment and vectors, causing outbreaks of Rift Valley fever among livestock and (ultimately) humans. Improving information on step-wise events can lead to better decisions about whether, when, where and how to institute control . . . .

‘An example of holistic thinking is pattern recognition applied to disease dynamics, recognizing that emerging diseases have multiple drivers. A synoptic view of apparently unrelated health threats—the unexpected establishment of chikungunya fever in northern Italy, the sudden appearance of West Nile virus in North America, the increasing frequency of Rift Valley fever epidemics in the Arabian Peninsula, and the emergence of bluetongue virus in northern Europe—strengthens the suspicion that a warming climate is driving disease expansion generally.

‘Complex problems often benefit from a synergy of various areas of expertise and approaches. . . . Complex problems also require a longer term view, informed by the understanding that short-term solutions can have unintended effects that lead to long-term problems—as in the case of agricultural intensification fostering health threats. . . .

‘New, integrative ways of working on complex problems, such as One Health and EcoHealth, require new institutional arrangements. The agriculture, environment and health sectors are not designed to promote integrated, multi-disciplinary approaches to complex, cross-sectoral problems. But many exciting initiatives provide examples of successful institutional collaboration. . . .

‘Agriculture and health are intimately linked. Many diseases have agricultural roots—food-borne diseases, water-associated diseases, many zoonoses, most emerging infectious diseases, and occupational diseases associated with agrifood chains. These diseases create an especially heavy burden for poor countries, with far-reaching impacts. This brief views agriculture-associated disease as the dimension of public health shaped by the interaction between humans, animals and agro- ecoystems. This conceptual approach presents new opportunities for shaping agriculture to improve health outcomes, in both the short and long terms.

‘Understanding the multiple burdens of disease is a first step in its rational management. As agriculture-associated diseases occur at the interface of human health, animal health, agriculture and ecosystems, addressing them often requires systems-based thinking and multi-disciplinary approaches. These approaches, in turn, require new ways of working and institutional arrangements. Several promising initiatives demonstrate convincing benefits of new ways of working across disciplines, despite the considerable barriers to cooperation.’

Read the whole ILRI policy brief by John McDermott and Delia Grace: Agriculture-associated diseases: Adapting agriculture to improve human health, February 2011.

India, Mozambique goat value chain project starts

This week, partners in the ‘imGoats’ project meet in India to finalize plans and outcomes for the project.

The project – official title ‘Small ruminant value chains to reduce poverty and increase food security in India and Mozambique’ – is funded by the International Fund for Agricultural Development (IFAD) and is implemented by the International Livestock Research Institute with CARE (Mozambique) and The BAIF Development Research Foundation (India).

The project aims to transform goat production and marketing in dryland India and Mozambique from an ad hoc, risky informal activity to a sound and profitable enterprise and model that taps into a growing market.

Download the project brochure

A new, converging, world–Hans Rosling on the good news of the world’s health and wealth

Swedish global health researcher Hans Rosling, of TedTalk ‘animated data’ fame, happens to have agriculture, health and nutrition in low-income countries as his life-long research focus.

It was thus inspired of the International Food Policy Research Institute (IFPRI) to video-tape him for their Delhi conference this week, Leveraging Agriculture for Improving Nutrition and Health, introducing his passionate presentation of animated data on the progress the world’s countries have made over the last 200 years in terms of the length of their lifespans.

Just six decades ago, in 1948, Rosling explains, today’s Asia giants were still sick and poor. The world today, he says, still has huge differences between ‘the best and worst countries’, as well as huge inequalities within countries: China’s rich Shanghai Province, he says (and shows), has a level of health and wealth on a par with Italy, while China’s rural parts are on a level similar to that of Ghana, in West Africa.

‘Despite the enormous disparities today,’ he says, ‘we have seen 200 years of remarkable progress. That huge and historical gap between the West and the rest is now closing. We have become an entirely new, converging, world.’

Rosling ends his presentation with optimism. ‘I see a clear trend into the future, with aid, trade, green technology and peace, it’s fully possible that everybody can make it to the healthy, wealthy corner.’

Who can argue with that? Watch the video below.

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: