Reducing aflatoxins in Kenya’s food chains: Filmed highlights from an ILRI media briefing

Last month (14 Nov 2013), the International Livestock Research Institute (ILRI) held a roundtable briefing/discussion for science journalists in Nairobi to highlight on-going multi-institutional efforts to combat aflatoxins in the food chains of Kenya.

Aflatoxins are a naturally occurring carcinogenic by-product of common fungi that grow on grains and other food crops, particularly maize and groundnuts. Researchers from across East Africa are joining up efforts to address the significant human and animal health challenges posed by these food toxins in the region.

Watch this 6-minute film, which highlights some of the interventions being used to tackle aflatoxins in Kenya. The film features interviews with the five panelists at the media briefing, who came from the University of Nairobi, the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) in Kenya, the International Institute of Tropical Agriculture (IITA), the Biosciences eastern and central Africa (BecA)-ILRI Hub, and ILRI.

‘Even though the presence of aflatoxins in Kenya dates back to the 1960s, the first recorded outbreak of aflatoxins that affected humans was recorded in the early 1980s,’ says Erastus Kang’ethe, a professor in the Department of Public Health at the University of Nairobi.

‘The biggest risk of aflatoxins comes from long-term exposure to these toxins, which leads to chronic aflatoxicosis,’ says Abigael Obura, of CDC. ‘The CDC in Kenya is working closely with the Ministry of Health to improve aflatoxin surveillance measures in Kenya’s districts through better sample collection and analysis.’

At the same time, Johanna Lindahl and other scientists at ILRI are assessing the risks posed by aflatoxins in Kenya’s dairy value chain; cows that consume aflatoxin-contaminated feeds produce milk that is also contaminated with the toxins.

According to Charity Mutegi, from the International Institute of Tropical Agriculture, one of the key strategies in managing aflatoxins in Kenya is by using a ‘biological control technology that targets the fungus that produces the aflatoxins while the crop is still in the field.’ Known more popularly as ‘aflasafe,’ this technology, which is expected to be available in the country soon, is in use in other parts of Africa where ‘farm trials have yielded aflatoxin reduction of over 70 percent,’ says Mutegi.

Jagger Harvey, a scientist with the BecA-ILRI Hub, says the hub has established a capacity building platform for aflatoxin research that is being used by maize breeders from Kenya and Tanzania to, among other control efforts, come up with maize varieties that are more resistance to the aflatoxin-causing fungus.

Read a related ILRI news article about a filmed interview of two scientists leading work of the CGIAR Research Program on Agriculture for Nutrition and Health, Delia Grace, of ILRI, and John McDermott, of the International Food Policy Research Institute, who describe some of the risks aflatoxins pose, new options for their better control and why research to combat these toxins matters so much.

View an ILRI infographic of the impact of aflatoxins in the food chain.

Read more on biological control to reduce aflatoxins.

Read more on strengthening regional research capacity to deal with aflatoxins.

World’s largest agricultural research partnership, serving 1 billion poor, marks $1 billion funding milestone–CGIAR

Tanzanian Maasai helping to treat cattle against East Coast fever

Tanzanian Maasai help vaccinate their calves against lethal East Coast fever (photo credit: ILRI/Stevie Mann).

CGIAR has doubled its funding in the last five years, from $500 million (in 2008) to $1 billion (in 2013).

Officials say harvesting the fruits of this historic commitment could, among other benefits, lift 150 million people in Asia out of poverty by boosting rice production, provide 12 million African households with sustainable irrigation, save 1.7 million hectares of forest from destruction, give 50 million poor people access to highly nutritious food crops, and save up to 1 million cattle from dying untimely deaths each year due to a lethal disease.

The International Livestock Research Institute (ILRI) is one of 15 global research centres belonging to CGIAR, which works with hundreds of partners to develop innovative solutions, tools, and technologies for the benefit of the world’s poorest people. It seeks to bring cutting edge science to bear on a wide range of issues facing millions of farmers and other poor smallholders in developing countries who collectively generate nearly 70 percent of the world’s food production.

‘The $1 billion in funding will help finance CGIAR’s 16 global research programs and accelerate the development of scientific, policy and technological advances needed to overcome complex challenges—such as climate change, water scarcity, land degradation, and chronic malnutrition, greatly improving the well-being of millions of poor families across the developing world’, said Frank Rijsberman, CEO of the CGIAR Consortium.

For more than 40 years, CGIAR and its partners have transformed the lives of hundreds of millions of people with the tangible outcomes of agriculture research, including improved crop varieties, sustainable farming methods, new fish strains, novel livestock vaccines, climate-smart solutions, and incisive policy analysis.

For example:

In eastern Africa, a ‘live’ vaccine against the deadly cattle disease East Coast fever developed by ILRI with the Kenya Agricultural Research Institute and other partners and now being distributed by GALVmed, has saved 620,000 calves, benefiting up to 50,000 poor households that rely on cattle for food and income. The vaccine could benefit 20 million more people in the region, with annual benefits of $270 million.

  • Drought tolerant maize has increased farmers’ yields by 20-30%, benefiting 20 million people in 13 African countries.
  • ‘Scuba rice’, which can survive under water for two weeks, is protecting the harvests, incomes, and food security of poor farmers and consumers across monsoon Asia.
  • Newly developed potato varieties that withstand late blight disease and yielded eight times more than native varieties in the region have made the difference between having enough to eat or not in the Paucartambo province of Peru, where late blight threatened to devastate staple food supplies.
  • By integrating food crops with trees that draw nitrogen from the air and transfer it to the soil, an innovative agroforestry practice captures carbon and reduces greenhouse gas emissions, while improving soil fertility, rainwater use efficiency, and yields by up to 400% for maize in the Sahel region.
  • Across Afghanistan, Bangladesh, Ethiopia, Egypt, Nepal, and Pakistan, high-yielding wheat varieties resistant to Ug99, a highly virulent disease, have protected the livelihoods and food security of 500,000 farming families.

Read the CGIAR press release: CGIAR doubles funding to $1 billion in five years, 17 Dec 2013.

Short filmed interviews of researchers and practitioners in livestock and fish ‘value chains’ in Uganda

Watch two short video interviews made on the sidelines of a recent three-day AgriFood Chain Toolkit Conference-Livestock and Fish Value Chains in East Africa, held 9–11 Sep 2013 in Kampala, Uganda.

Researchers and practitioners in livestock and fish value chains came together in this meeting, which ambitiously set itself the tasks not only of refining a research-developed value chain toolkit but also of supporting a community of practice established to review, assess and improve value chain approaches in research-for-development projects.

Fifty-seven participants from across Africa attended the conference, which was hosted by two multi-centre CGIAR research programs—‘Livestock and Fish’, led by the International Livestock Research Institute (ILRI) in Nairobi, and ‘Policies, Institutions and Markets’, led by the International Food Policy Research Institute (IFPRI), based in Washington, DC.

In this first, 3-minute, film, the meeting’s CGIAR research hosts share their views on what they hope to get out of the meeting and why their research matters.

‘We’re looking at ways research can help speed development of both the livestock and the aquaculture sub-sectors,’ said Iheanacho Okike, who leads ‘value chain development’ research in the Livestock and Fish program. ‘The value chain approach is helping us assess these commodities right from the dealers of inputs to livestock and aquaculture farmers to the production, marketing and consumption of the farmers’ food products, whether milk, meat and eggs, or fish, crustaceans and molluscs.’

Derek Baker, an ILRI agricultural economist who works with the Policies, Institutions and Markets program, said feedback from this meeting will help his research team assess if and how markets can be make to work better for small-scale food producers.

‘We wanted to capture the personal experiences of value chain practitioners and stakeholders in their use of our value chain toolkit. And we wanted to better understand the opportunities these livestock entrepreneurs would like to take advantage of if they could find the means to do so,’ said Baker.

In this second, 4-minute, film, a few value chain agents/practitioners share their experiences in using the CGIAR toolkit for dairy, fish and crop farming in eastern Africa.

‘Using this toolkit has helped me to improve my livestock production and to find new, better, ways to run my business’, said Lovin Kobusingye, a fish processor from Uganda.

‘Understanding how these value chain tools are used is critical in helping us know if and how the value chain approach works in the smallholder context’, said Elijah Rusike, from the Swedish Cooperative Centre in Zimbabwe. ‘We want information that can help us establish benchmarks and enables us to trace all the different actors within particular food value chains’, said Rusike.

The Kampala conference is one of several planned review workshops that will collate, synthesize and share good practices of value chain tool users, practitioners and researchers. This information supports ongoing CGIAR agriculture ‘value chains’ research in eastern Africa.

Read a related story from the CGIAR Research Program on Livestock and Fish blog

Read a related story from ILRI’s Livestock Markets Digest blog

Read notes from the event

View pictures of the event

View posters featured at the conference

Read a report on the workshop storytelling process

CGIAR on the recent tragic events in Nairobi

Social media symbol of sympathy for Kenya after terrorist attack Sep 2013

Symbol of concern, sympathy, community spirit that quickly spread on Facebook and other social media sites during the 4-day terrorist attack on Westgate Shopping Mall in Nairobi, Kenya, which began just after noon on Sat 21 Sep and ended the evening of Tue 24 Sep 2013, at which time Kenya’s President Uhuru Kenyatta declared three days of national mourning, beginning today, Wed 25 Sep 2013 (photo / graphic credit: unknown).

We are all shocked by the tragic events that unfolded in Nairobi’s Westgate Mall in recent days. We stand together with the people of Kenya during these three days of national mourning called for by Kenya’s President Uhuru Kenyatta. We offer our deepest condolences to the many people who have lost loved ones or were hurt or traumatized as a result of this 4-day siege.

We thank everyone who has expressed concern for CGIAR staff members and their families during this time; while several were directly touched by this, we are thankful that we know of no staff member or member of their immediate families who have lost their lives or sustained major injury.

This, the worst terrorist attack in Kenya since the 1998 US embassy bombing, has touched every life in the nation and many beyond. We share the grief and sorrow that has resulted. We are committed to working with our partners in Kenya and many other countries to fulfill the CGIAR mission to help create a future more secure for all.

Frank Rijsberman, CEO, CGIAR Consortium
Tony Simons, Director General, World Agroforestry Centre, Nairobi, Kenya
Jimmy Smith, Director General, International Livestock Research Institute, Nairobi, Kenya

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

Livestock live talk: Klaus Butterbach-Bahl

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Livestock live talk: Klaus Butterbach-Bahl

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

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

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

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

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

View the slide presentation made by Butterbach-Bahl.

Index-based livestock insurance pilot launches today in drought-prone northern Kenya’s Wajir County

Kenya: drought leaves dead and dying animals in northen Kenya

Kenya: dead and dying animals in previous drought in Arbajahan, in northern Kenya’s Wajir County (photo credit: Brendan Cox / Oxfam).

Today (Sat 10 Aug 2013), Takaful Insurance of Africa is launching a pilot project providing satellite date-based livestock insurance cover for pastoral livestock herders in the drought-prone drylands of northern Kenya’s Wajir County.

The Takaful Livestock cover will provide livestock keepers in the county with covers against livestock deaths resulting from shortage of fodder due to prolonged dry weather.

Those who subscribe to this insurance policy will receive payments if the forage available for their insured cattle, camels, sheep or goats falls below a given threshold, with assessment of the state of vegetative cover in the county determined by satellite data.

Takaful Insurance is partnering in this project with the International Livestock Research Institute (ILRI) and MercyCorps. ILRI, under the leadership of Andrew Mude, is providing the satellite data and MercyCorps is coordinating public awareness campaigns.

Among those who will be in attendance are:

  • Jimmy Smith, director general of ILRI
  • Andrew Mude, leader of ILRI’s Index-Based Livestock Insurance Project
  • Abdihafith Maalim, deputy governor of Wajir County
  • Liesbeth Zonnoveld, country director of Mercy Corps
  • Hassan Bashir, chief executive officer of Takaful Insurance of Africa

The launch of this new livestock insurance scheme, the first ever provided in this county, begins at 12 noon at the Wajir Guest House in Wajir town.

About Takaful Insurance of Africa
Founded in 2008 and licensed in Mar 2011 by the Insurance Regulatory Authority (IRA), Takaful Insurance of Africa Limited (TIA) is pioneering an ethical approach to insurance in Kenya and the region based on the Shariah principles of togetherness, cooperation and mutual solidarity. Each participant contributes a given premium, which is pooled in a general fund managed by TIA on behalf of the members. Through the principle of Tabarru’, or donation, members allow the company to pay any loses suffered by participants contributing to the pool, while any surplus left from the pooled funds after payment of claims and other expenses is either used to grow the reserves or is distributed among members.

About ILRI
The International Livestock Research Institute (ILRI) 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. 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.

Read more about ILRI’s Index-Based Livestock Insurance Project

Index-Based Livestock Insurance Blog

ILRI Clippings Blog
Livestock keepers in Kenya’s northern Isiolo District to get livestock-drought insurance for first time, 30 Jul 2013

ILRI News Blog
‘Livestock insurance project an excellent example of innovative risk management in Kenya’s arid lands’ Kenyan minister, 10 Sep 2012
Options to enhance resilience in pastoral systems: The case for novel livestock insurance, 22 Feb 2012
Short films document first index-based livestock insurance for African herders, 26 Oct 2011
Livestock director and partners launch first-ever index-based livestock insurance payments in Africa, 25 Oct 2011
Herders in drought-stricken northern Kenya get first livestock insurance payments, 21 Oct 2011

Recycling Africa’s agro-industrial wastewaters: Innovative system is piloted for Kampala City Abattoir

A holding tank for recycling wastewater at the city abattoir in Kampala.

A holding tank for recycling wastewater at Kampala City Abattoir (photo credit: ILRI/Albert Mwangi).

Note: This post was developed by Bio-Innovate communications officer Albert Mwangi.

A clamor to improve Africa’s agricultural value chains by greater industrialization of many of Africa’s agricultural processes was heard often at the just-completed sixth Africa Agricultural Science Week (AASW6), held in Accra 15–20 Jul 2013 and organized by the Forum for Agricultural Research in Africa. Most African nations are already pushing to add value to their primary agricultural commodities by supporting the establishment of relevant production and manufacturing processes and industries. Their aim is to transform their role as producers of primary agricultural commodities, such as whole raw coffee beans, into exporters of near-finished agricultural products, such as finely graded and ground coffees, thus earning more from their agriculture sectors.

Several of Africa’s livestock-based economies are working to add value to their production of leather. Rather than drying the skins and hides of slaughtered domestic animals and selling these as is, the skins and hides in addition are softened, graded and cut for various products, and in some cases used to produce finished leather products for export. While economically desirable, the production and manufacturing processes employed in this kind of industrialization can pose significant environmental risks, in this case, for example, by contaminating and/or polluting riverine eco-systems, water bodies and groundwater sources with heavy metals and other toxic substances.

Last week, Nigerian blogger Bunmi Ajilore, an advocate of sustainable agriculture and environmental justice, gave a succinct description of the public health hazards as well as benefits of using wastewater in agricultural activities (The use of wastewater in agriculture: The nagging dilemma, posted on his EcoAgriculturist Blog and reposted on the FARA–AASW Blog).

A research-for-development program based in eastern Africa known as ‘Bio-resources Innovations Network for Eastern Africa Development’, or Bio-Innovate for short, is working to deliver innovations in the recycling of agro-wastewater from industrial processes. A pilot project being implemented in Ethiopia, Uganda and Tanzania, for example, is working to develop safe and sustainable agro-processes for waste treatment and these will soon be scaled out to other agro-industries in the eastern Africa region.

The city abattoir in Kampala, Uganda, a partner in this Bio-Innovate project, illustrates ways in which the project is helping to make recycling processes both safe and sustainable. These processes are being integrated in ways to, simultaneously, reduce pollution, generate energy and recover nutrients from agro-process wastewaters.

Wastewater recycling at the city abattoir in Kampala
A 2005 publication by Joseph Kyambadde (Integrated Process for Sustainable Agro-process Waste Treatment and Climate Change Mitigation in Eastern Africa) showed that a good number of industrial activities in this region release inadequately treated wastewaters into the environment. The study further indicated that effluent from Kampala City Abattoir significantly harms the ecology and water quality of Lake Victoria’s Inner Murchison Bay, source of Kampala’s drinking water.

The abattoir has a slaughter capacity of 500–600 cattle and 200–300 goats/sheep per day, with an estimated wastewater production of 200-400 m3 per day. This wastewater effluent generated by the abattoir is a major factor in nutrient enrichment and oxygen depletion in Lake Victoria.

Researchers at Uganda’s Makerere University, who are implementing this project, are working with staff of Kampala City Abattoir to create a ‘value-addition chain’ that involves bioconversion of slaughter wastes to produce biogas and production of nutrient-rich slurry for use in hydroponic systems, where plants are grown without soil, and as bio-fertilizer. In a pilot plant that has been set up, effluent from the abattoir is first treated in anaerobic and aerobic sequencing batch reactor (SBRs) digesters; the resulting digestate is separated into two components: a nutrient-rich sludge that will be converted to bio-fertilizer and treated effluent that has a reduced organic load. This effluent can then be used to cultivate vegetables, flowers and animal fodder in a hydroponic system constructed in an artificial wetland. The treated wastewaters have great potential also for industrial use in cleaning the slaughtering areas, animal storage facilities and public toilets. This system combines bio-digestion of waste to reduce the organic load and generate biogas and electricity; utilization of nutrient-rich effluent for hydroponics; and artificial wetlands to further clean the effluent before release into the environment. This integrated system not only is an innovative way to manage and recycle wastewater sustainably but also provides people with sufficient incentives for such recycling.

The biogas and electricity generated by this integrated wastewater management / recycling system can be used as an alternative energy source, and so help reduce deforestation, which generates the greenhouse gases causing climate change. As noted, other products generated by the system can be used as affordable bio-fertilizer. And of course a further benefit is better protection of freshwater resources.

By treating agro-process waste in such an integrated way, this project is helping Kampala City Abbattoir to protect Uganda’s environment and livestock livelihoods alike. It is the aim of Bio-Innovate and its Ugandan colleagues to replicate this pilot system in suitable places elsewhere on the continent to help Africa’s expanding agro-industries make safer and better use of their wastewater.

About Bio-Innovate
Bio-Innovate makes use of advanced biosciences both to increase efficiencies in agro-processing and to make more sustainable use of local bio-resources. The program is based at the Nairobi, Kenya, headquarters of the International Livestock Research Institute (ILRI website). For further information, contact Albert Mwangi, Bio-Innovate communications officer, at a.mwangi [at] cigar.org

About AASW6
FARA website’s 6th Africa Agriculture Science Week (AASW6), in Accra, Ghana, included marketplace exhibitions (15–20 Jul 2013), side events on sub-themes (15–16), a ministerial roundtable alongside a Ghana Day (17 Jul), plenary sessions (18–19) and a FARA Business Meeting (20 Jul). The discussions were followed on Twitter (search for #AASW6) and blogged about on the FARA-AASW6 blog.

Dairy farming = ‘dairy education’: The sector that is educating Kenya’s children – filmed story

This 3:25-minute film shares how keeping cows has enabled Margaret Muchina, a dairy farmer from central Kenya, to support and educate her four children, who include Edward Kimani, who sat for his high school exam in 2010 and emerged as one of the country’s best students.

This single mother from Kenya’s Kiambu District started keeping dairy cows on her 2-acre farm in 1985. Her regular dairy income, mostly through daily milk sales, has been critical in enabling her to support her family, including the schooling of her children. Her dairy income is now supporting Kimani’s education at the University of Nairobi, where he is studying for a bachelor’s degree in geology.

Between 1997 and 2005, Margaret was one of many Kenyan farmers who participated in an award-winning Smallholder Dairy Project that carried out research to help improve the country’s smallholder, and largely informal, dairy sector, which trades mostly in ‘raw ‘ (unpasteurized) milk and was then being more harassed than supported by regulatory authorities.

The Smallholder Dairy Project supported a move towards towards a more favourable policy environment that paved the way for significant increases in the number of raw milk traders in the country, which helped milk producers like Margaret sell more milk leading to wider economy wide benefits for small-scale farmers.

Like many other Kenyans keeping one or two dairy cows to help them feed their families and send their children to school, Margaret Muchina is grateful to the Smallholder Dairy Project for information on best farm management and milk handling practices. Mrs Muchina now operates her small dairying with greater freedom and with new support from her government.

The Smallholder Dairy Project was led by Kenya’s Ministry of Livestock and implemented by the Kenya Agricultural Research Institute and the International Livestock Research Institute (ILRI).

Find out more about the Smallholder Dairy Project

ILRI’s current work in dairying focuses on value chain development in Tanzania. Read more here.

Staff of the International Livestock Research Institute (ILRI) and many other CGIAR centres and research programs will be discussing the successes of Africa’s agriculture, including how its livestock sector can help achieve food security in the continent, at the 6th Africa Agriculture Science Week (AASW6) in Accra, Ghana. This event is being hosted by the Forum for Agricultural Research in Africa (FARA) and the Government of Ghana and runs from Monday–Saturday, 15–20 Jul 2013.

Check out this blog next week for more stories from the 6th Africa Agriculture Science Week.

Kenya livestock ‘on show’: A thriving dairy farm, a breeders show and a national resource for improved genetics

Participants at last week’s (26-28 June 2013) Africa Livestock Conference and Exhibition (ALiCE2013) were offered field visits to Kenyan livestock farmers, producers and industry experts in and around Nairobi. Staff of the International Livestock Research Institute (ILRI) took this opportunity to visit a dairy farm, a livestock breeders’ show and a livestock genetics resource centre.

Tassells Farm

ALiCE2013: Dairy cows

Dairy cows in Tassells Farm in Ruiru, near Nairobi (photo credit: ILRI/Alexandra Jorge).

One of the visits was to Tassells Farm, a dairy smallholding owned by husband and wife Kenyan farmers Moses Muturi and Susan Kasinga in Ruiru, just north of Kenya’s capital, Nairobi. Muturi and Kasinga started dairy farming, separately, when they were young, after seeing the many benefits of selling milk from other farmers who were able to take their children to good schools and live comfortably from dairy incomes.

When they married and joined their assets (16 animals), they were determined to succeed as dairy farmers and committing themselves to learning all they could about the dairy business. Today, some 16 years later, what began as a fairly small-scale dairy farm is now a thriving dairy business, with nearly 400 cows kept on five farms across Kenya. On their three-quarter-acre farm in Ruiru that ILRI visited, this couple’s visible passion for their family, their community and their dairy cows is an inspiration.

On this farm, the couple manages 70 Holstein-Friesian cows in a ‘zero-grazing’ system with the help of four farm workers. Apart from daily milking, the farm also breeds and sells high-grade dairy cattle.

‘We had little knowledge of dairy farming when we started’, says Kasinga, ‘but we gained experience by observing successful farmers, what they do and how they do it; we learned how to make the right decisions’, she says.

Their 5 farms produce about 3000 litres of milk each day.

‘On this farm, we produce 15 to 25 litres of milk per cow, about 1000 litres in total. We sell this milk to the Brookside Dairy, says Muturi, who says the following factors have been critical for their success.

Choosing and improving breeds: This is the first step towards getting cows that are well adapted to the farm environment, which guarantees high milk yields.

High-quality feeds: These should be affordable but also of good quality. The couple maintain a barn full of hay. They also grow forage and buy hay cheaply during the rainy season (sometimes by offering to cut the grass in their neighbours fields). Muturi says it’s important for dairy farmers to buy high-quality feeds and not store them for too long, which lowers their nutritional value. Their cows consume 30-32 kilos of hay each day in addition to molasses, concentrate feeds and mineral supplements. It’s crucial also, he says, to have an adequate supply of water and to collect grasses from areas free of parasites.

Managing diseases: This includes ensuring appropriate veterinary support and learning about animal diseases (they have lost 40 cows to foot-and-mouth disease). The farm now has in place a strict and regular de-worming regime, which, they say, seems to control 70% of diseases. Access to the farm is also restricted to prevent contamination.

Capacity development: Ensuring farm workers are educated about animal management and farm operations has also been key to their success. Workers from other farms now regularly visit their farm to learn with and from them.

‘Taking advantage of economies of scale is very important in the dairy business’, says Muturi. He suggests a minimum of 10 cows as a starting point for small-scale dairy farmers who want to move into wider-scale milk production and sales. ‘The more animals a farmer has’, he says, ‘the better their chance of negotiating better prices for feeds and veterinary services, increasing their profit margins.’

In future, the couple hopes to expand their business through some ‘added value’ ventures and to join like-minded farmers in setting up a milk processing facility.

Kenya Livestock Breeders Show & Sale

ALiCE2013: Field visit to Livestock Breeders Show

Dairy cows at the Kenya Livestock Breeders Show & Sale (photo credit: ILRI/Paul Karaimu).

Held 26-28 Jun 2013 at Nairobi’s Jamhuri Park, the Kenya Livestock Breeders Show & Sale is an annual event in Kenya’s livestock sector calendar that brings together livestock breeders and industry players from across the country to exchange information in seminars, presentations and demonstrations. The event also doubles as an animal auction. This year’s exhibits included breeds from well-known ranches in Kenya, such as Ol Pejeta and Solio, north of Mt Kenya, and an association of goat breeders from Meru, east of the mountain.

Kenya Animal Genetic Resources Centre

ALiCE2013: Field visit to Kenya Animal Genetic Research Centre

One of the bulls at the Kenya Animal Genetic Resources Centre (photo credit: ILRI/Paul Karaimu)

The Kenya Animal Genetic Resources Centre is located on a 200-acre piece of land in Nairobi’s lower Kabete area. Started in 1946 by the Kenya Government, the centre produces and distributes bull semen for use by the country’s livestock farmers. With time, the centre’s mandate has grown to include providing artificial insemination (AI) training to farmers and supplying equipment for AI services in the country.

‘We also serve as a genebank for livestock tissues, semen and DNA of all the important livestock and emerging livestock breeds in Kenya,’ said Henry Wamukuru, the centre’s CEO.

Currently, more than 120 Ayrshire, Guernsey, Holstein-Friesian, Sahiwal and Boran bulls are reared at the centre to supply semen for the country’s AI needs and for export to other countries in Africa and the Middle East. The centre works closely with Kenya’s livestock ministry and the Department of Veterinary Services to improve national herds and productivity.

About the conference
ALiCE is the largest convergence of stakeholders in the livestock sector in Africa. This is a platform specifically aimed at stimulating trade in livestock and livestock products in Africa and beyond and facilitating technology and knowledge transfer and sharing. The event brings together producers, processors and traders of livestock and livestock products and suppliers of technology, solutions and services in the entire value chain.

This post was written by Alexandra Jorge and Paul Karaimu.

Read other ILRI news stories from the ALiCE2013 conference.

Livestock present Africa with huge – ‘right now!’ – opportunities for food, prosperity, environment

Attention entrepreneurs: Your livestock business is growing–but only in Africa and other developing regions

Taking stock: East Africa Dairy Development project reflects on its achievements and lessons learned

EADD Annual Review and Planning Meeting 2011

A young East African feeds his family’s dairy cows (photo credit: EADD).

From 2008, the East Africa Dairy Development (EADD) project has been working in Kenya, Rwanda and Uganda with the aim of transforming the lives of 179,000 families (about 1 million people) by doubling household dairy income in 10 years through integrated interventions in dairy production, market access and knowledge application.

The project is funded by the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation and implemented by Heifer International, African Breeders Services—Total Cattle Management, the International Livestock Research Institute (ILRI), TechnoServe and the World Agroforestry Centre.

With the first phase of the project ending in June 2013, two members of the project team—Isabelle Baltenweck, agricultural economist at ILRI, and Gerald Mutinda, the EADD regional manager in charge of dairy productivity, gender and youth—recently had the opportunity to take stock of some of the project’s key achievements during a ‘livestock live talk’ held 26 Jun 2013 at ILRI’s Nairobi campus.

Livestock live talk is a seminar series at ILRI that aims to address livestock-related issues, mobilize external as well as in-house expertise and audiences and engage the livestock community around interdisciplinary conversations that ask hard questions and seek to refine current research concepts and practices.

The talk began with a description of the project, its value chain approach, vision and objectives, and followed by an overview of its achievements and lessons learned.

The speakers then highlighted the project’s innovative ‘hub approach’ which was adopted to help overcome the challenges small-scale dairy farmers often face in accessing farm inputs such as feeds as well as animal breeding and health services.

The hub approach takes advantages of economies of scale and enables service providers to have a wider customer base, thereby making it more efficient for them to operate. Through the hub approach, farmers organize themselves into dairy farmer business associations that make it easier for individual farmers to access inputs and services as well as facilities for bulking and cooling of raw milk.

It was noted that the hubs should not be viewed as a ‘model’ per se, but rather as an approach that can be tailored and adapted to suit different regions and countries. For example, the project found that many hubs can be successful by providing milk bulking services alone while others can offer both milk bulking and cooling. For the second phase of the project, the hub approach planned for Tanzania is centred around the provision of inputs and services.

Another key learning point was the importance of ensuring that the due attention is given to gender aspects during the design and implementation of the project. The speakers admitted that key aspect was overlooked during the design of the first phase of the project. As a result, some key gender-based indicators were not properly tracked.

However, this oversight has been corrected and the team now has a comprehensive gender strategy in place to guide the project design for the second phase to ensure that gender mainstreaming is incorporated through gender analysis at various levels of the value chain as well as monitoring and evaluation of thematic gender-based studies.

Roots and tubers to the fore: How a Tanzanian crop and goat project is helping farmers

Integrated Dairy Goat and Root Crop in Tanzania workshop

A meeting to review research results from a dairy goat and root crop project in Tanzania was held in Nairobi last week (photo credit: ILRI/Paul Karaimu).

Last week (18-20 Jun 2013) the Nairobi campus of the International Livestock Research Institute (ILRI) hosted partners in a crop and goat project working to improve food security in Tanzania. The meeting reviewed research results from the two-year-old project.

This project is helping Tanzanian farmers integrate their dairy goat production with growing root crops. It’s raising incomes by improving the milk production potential of dairy goats, introducing improved sweet potato and cassava varieties and improving marketing options for goats and crops in Tanzania’s Kongwa and Mvomero districts.

Led by Tanzania’s Sokoine University of Agriculture and the University of Alberta in Canada, the project also involves collaboration with an agricultural research institute in Kibaha, the Kongwa and Mvomero district councils and the Foundation for Sustainable Rural Development, a non-governmental organization in the country. ILRI is serving as knowledge-support partner for the project and is providing expertise on goat production, gender issues and monitoring and evaluation.

Started in March 2011, the project is funded by the Canadian International Development Research Centre (IDRC) and the Canadian International Development Agency. The project brings together farmers and scientists in setting up community-managed breeding programs for dairy goats and introducing improved varieties of cassava and sweet potato in agro-pastoral area of the two districts. Previously, dairy goat keeping was restricted to wetter areas of the districts.

‘This is one of few projects whose achievements so far the IDRC is proud of and it stands a good chance for being considered for funding for scaling-up under the Food Security Research Fund,’ said Pascal Sanginga, of IDRC.

The program’s interventions have focused on understanding women’s roles in livestock activities such as feeding and milking, getting more women involved in livestock keeping and increasing women’s access to, and control over, benefits from livestock rearing and farming.

‘This project highlights the central role of partnerships in ILRI’s work in Tanzania, which is a focus country for the CGIAR Research Program on Livestock and Fish,’ says Amos Omore, the project’s coordinator at ILRI.

ILRI's Okeyo Mwai and Amos Omore with Immaculate Maina (KARI)

Participants in the meeting, who included graduate students and faculty from Sokoine and Alberta universities and researchers from ILRI, shared 16 research presentations, which will now be reworked as papers for submission to scientific journals. Feedback from these presentations guided a project evaluation and planning session that followed the workshop.

‘We’re learning about the challenges in establishing root crops and dairy goat production in marginal environments where there is a high variability in rainfall and stiff competition from pastoralism,’ said John Parkins, of Alberta University.

The project, which is reaching more than 100 farmers, has conducted a baseline study and has developed gender and monitoring & evaluation strategies.

Findings from this workshop, which included determination of specific environmental constraints and the costs and benefits of adopting new varieties of sweet potatoes and cassava, guided preparation of a proposal to scale up the project’s interventions. This proposal will be used to implement the final phase of the project, which ends in August 2014.

‘This meeting revealed a need to focus on doing a few things well—like facilitating fodder production, animal health and disease control,’ said Parkins.

View presentations from the meeting:

Read more about the project, ‘Integrating dairy goats and root crop production for increasing food, nutrition and income security of smallholder farmers in Tanzania’, http://ilri.org/node/1177 and https://sites.google.com/a/ualberta.ca/diary-goats-and-root-crops-tanzania/home. Download a project brochure

Read an ILRI news article about the project: Cassava and sweet potato may improve dairy goat production in Tanzania’s drylands, but will women benefit?

 

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

Field photos from Lower Nyando, Kenya

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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