Keepers of the flame: Women livestock keepers

Livestock is a considerable but often overlooked economic driver in poor countries

Kenyan farmer Alica Waithira shares the responsibility for managing her farm with her family. Her brothers take on the lion’s share of growing food for the family and fodder for the livestock. Alica takes care of the livestock—six cows, five sheep and countless ‘free range’ chickens. Making sure her animals are healthy and productive is critical to her success (photo credit: Gates Foundation).

Women livestock keepers are key to global food security. Those working to support women in livestock development have just received some support of their own.

Small livestock are particularly important to women as they contribute to household food security and provide much-needed funds for school fees and other family-related expenses. — Kathleen Colverson, ILRI Program Leader for Livelihoods, Gender, Impact and Innovation

About 752 million of the world’s poor keep livestock to produce food, generate income, manage risks and build up assets. In rural livestock-based economies, women represent two-thirds (some 400 million people) of low-income livestock keepers. In the Gambia 52% of sheep owners and 67% of goat owners are women. In the mountains of Chiapas, Mexico, sheep husbandry is mainly women’s responsibility, providing 36% of household income through wool processing and sale. In Afghanistan, traditional backyard poultry activities are carried out entirely by women, who manage an average of 10 hens that produce some 60 eggs a year, sufficient for household consumption. And across the world’s regions and cultures, milking and milk processing are mainly undertaken by women.

Women perform up to 70% of agricultural work in many parts of the world but rarely receive either credit or access to the benefits of their work. — Kathleen Colverson, ILRI Program Leader for Livelihoods, Gender, Impact and Innovation

In spite of their heavy involvement in livestock farming, customary gender roles are often biased, hindering women’s access to resources and extension services and their participation in decision-making. One result is that women get less household income than their menfolk do from livestock farming.

To help redress this, staff of the United Nations Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) have worked with the International Livestock Research Institute (ILRI) other organizations to support gender analysis in livestock projects and programs worldwide.

This group has just produced a booklet—Understanding and integrating gender issues into livestock projects and programmes—A checklist for practitioners—that identifies the main challenges faced by women in managing small stock, particularly poultry, sheep and goats, and in dairy farming. The booklet is an outcome of a consultative training workshop held in November 2011 in Addis Ababa, Ethiopia, involving four East African countries. The workshop participants shared and critically analysed country-specific experiences from a gender perspective. The booklet compiles this knowledge with the aim of helping livestock experts in the field to identify and address the main constraints faced by women and men both in managing small livestock and dairy farming.

The booklet includes a set of tips and gender analysis tools and a checklist that, through all the stages of a project cycle, offers gender-sensitive guidance.

Without women’s contributions to livestock systems, much of what is accomplished today in increasing food security would be lost. — Kathleen Colverson, ILRI Program Leader for Livelihoods, Gender, Impact and Innovation

Kathleen  Colverson (ILRI) group discussion to identify the L&F CRP purpose, form and function over the next 9 years

Kathleen Colverson, ILRI Program Leader for Livelihoods, Gender, Impact and Innovation.

The Addis Ababa workshop was such a success that FAO is holding another regional training workshop this week (4–6 June 2013) in Bangkok attended by representatives from eight countries from Southeast Asia and Bangladesh; a second booklet, generated by the Bangkok workshop, is planned.

Significant inputs to the Addis Ababa workshop and subsequent booklet were made by gender experts from the International Livestock Research Institute (ILRI), including Jemimah Njuki, who facilitated the workshop. Njuki has since left ILRI and is now based in Dar-Es-Salaam, where she leads a 6-country ‘Women in Agriculture (Pathways)’ program for CARE. Other inputs were provided by staff of the International Fund for Agricultural Development (IFAD), the Global Alliance for Livestock Veterinary Medicines (GALVmed) and representatives of ministries of livestock, agriculture and fisheries in Kenya, Uganda and Tanzania.

Kathleen Colverson, who succeeded Jemimah Njuki as program leader at ILRI, is facilitating the livestock and gender workshop being held this week in Bangkok this week.

Read the booklet: Understanding and integrating gender issues into livestock projects and programmes: A checklist for practitioners, FAO, 2013.

View the playlist below of recent ILRI posters and slide presentations related to gender issues in livestock research for development. for more information about ILRI’s gender program, contact Kathleen Colverson at k.colverson [at] cgiar.org

More meat, milk and fish by and for the poor: CGIAR research initiative boosts livestock and fish production and food security in eight developing countries

Livestock and Fish research program: Focus value chains and countries

A map showing the focus value chains and countries that are part of a CGIAR Program on Livestock and Fish (photo credit: ILRI). 

In the face of rising global demand for animal-source foods, leading livestock and agricultural researchers from CGIAR are meeting this week (20–22 May 2013) in Ethiopia to explore ways to help poor people play a bigger role in feeding the planet’s growing populations by producing more livestock-based foods.

These researchers are part of a CGIAR Research Program on Livestock and Fish, an initiative of four international research centres working with many other partners, which are all taking a new approach to tackle old problems. The International Center for Agricultural Research in the Dry Areas (ICARDA), the International Center for Tropical Agriculture (CIAT), the International Livestock Research Institute (ILRI) and WorldFish are collaborating on research into sustainable ways of increasing smallholder production of meat, milk and fish by and for poor people in developing countries. This collaborative research-for-development team is also working to help small-scale farmers sell more of their animal products in markets so they can improve their incomes and livelihoods.

‘We’re hoping that through this program smallholders and medium-sized livestock enterprises can do more than just escape poverty’, said Jimmy Smith, director general of ILRI. ‘We can do this by helping them to become better food producers and suppliers and by building partnerships that get this research used at scale’, he said.

Started in January 2012, this Livestock and Fish Research Program focuses on eight value chains (processes through which commodities are produced, marketed and accessed by consumers): dairy, pigs, aquaculture, sheep and goats. Program staff members are currently working with farmer groups and other partners in Egypt, Ethiopia, India, Mali, Nicaragua, Tanzania, Uganda and Vietnam.

Most of the program’s work to date has been to establish the institutional and scientific frameworks within which program staff will operate, work that is highlighted in the program’s annual report, published this past April.

According to Tom Randolph, an ILRI agricultural economist who directs this multi-disciplinary and multi-institutional research program, in the past year and a half the program has succeeded (through some legacy as well as new projects) in helping to improve tilapia fish strains in Egypt, developing a thermostable vaccine for a highly contagious disease of goats and sheep (peste des petits ruminants, or PPR) in Kenya, improving varieties of a popular grass fodder (Brachiaria) for dissemination to farmers, and promoting pro-poor dairy development in Tanzania.

‘This program enables us to do agricultural research differently’, says Randolph. ‘It provides a novel, value chain framework, clear goals, and a 12–15 year timeframe in which to meet those goals—things we’ve not had in the past.’

Participants in this meeting, drawn from the four CGIAR research centres and other institutions based in Ethiopia that are participating in this Livestock and Fish Research Program, this week are devising the strategies, targets and action plans for the next phase of the program.

For more information, visit the CGIAR Livestock and Fish Research Program blog:

http://livestockfish.cgiar.org/

ILRI PhotoBlog — ‘Livestock Portraits’: Sheko cattle in Ethiopia

Sheko calf kept in the Ghibe Valley of Southern Ethiopia (photo credit: Jim Richardson)

The above photo, taken by National Geographic photographer Jim Richardson, is of a Sheko calf kept in the Ghibe Valley of southern Ethiopia. The Sheko cattle breed is endangered, with only about 2,500 in existence today. They are a valuable breed because of their ability to resist diseases (African animal trypanosomiasis, related to human sleeping sickness) transmitted by Africa’s tsetse fly. The International Livestock Research Institute (ILRI) is protecting, studying, and breeding Sheko cattle in Ethiopia.

Read more here about ILRI’s work to conserve animal genetic resources of developing countries.

 

 

Action learning, systemic change and sustainability, desired legacy of an Ethiopian R4D project (IPMS)

Kemeria Hussien at Ethiopian milk market

Kemeria Hussien, a young woman at a milk market in Meisso District, West Hararghe Zone, Ethiopia, 2011 (photo credit: ILRI/Apollo Habtamu).

On 28 March 2013, a team from the project ‘Improving Productivity and Market Success of Ethiopian farmers (or IPMS project) gave a ‘livestock live talk’ seminar at the Addis Ababa, Ethiopia, campus of the International Livestock Research Institute (ILRI). This seminar, given for 70 people physically present and a few more connected virtually via WebEx, happened in the middle of the research planning workshop for a project that is a ‘sequel’ to IPMS, called ‘LIVES’: Livestock and Irrigated Value chains for Ethiopian Smallholders.

ILRI staff members Dirk Hoekstra, Berhanu Gebremedhin and Azage Tegegne have been managing IPMS, and learning from it, since its inception in 2004. The legacy as well as the learning from the IPMS project will be applied in the LIVES project, as well as other initiatives led by ILRI and other parties involved in IPMS.

What choices?
This project to ‘improve the productivity and market success of Ethiopian farmers’ was nothing if not ambitious, and, for a research organization, opted for some relatively daring choices:

  • IPMS relied on developmental (uncontrolled) as well as experimental (controlled) research activities, which ranged along the spectrum of diagnostic, action-research and ‘impact research’ activities (so-called for the expected development impact they would have).
  • Some activities were outsourced to development partners rather than undertaken by the research team.
  • The project worked along entire value chains, from crop and livestock farmers and other food producers to rural and urban consumers, with the team restricting itself to introducing and facilitating the implementation of interventions validated by local stakeholders.
  • Rather than focus on value chain interventions exclusively, the IPMS researchers investigated farming production systems as a whole and focused on the role of agricultural extension in the uptake of research results and their integration in interventions.
  • The IPMS workers used ‘action learning’ methods, which appears to have enabled an on-going evolution in the development of their targeted value chains. This kind of learning approach also sped the adoption of new technologies and the implementation of interventions and encouraged the team to use failures as fuel to modify the project’s trajectory.

. . . Led to what insights?
Insights from the project team were at the core of this ‘live talk’, with the lessons IPMS learned simple and straightforward; some examples follow.

Technology generation by itself is not enough to achieve developmental outcomes and impacts – Several interventions in the value chain development approach need to be implemented together to achieve impact.

Research for development can be implemented well in a research environment, i.e., it is possible to combine rigorous research with development processes without sacrificing the quality of scientific research or the generation of robust evidence.

Knowledge management and capacity development—using, among other methods, innovative information and communication technologies and approaches such as farming radio programs, local information portals connected to local knowledge centres and e-extension—are key to development of responsive extension systems as well as women and men farmers working to transform subsistence agriculture into sustainable economic enterprises.

Gathering those lessons was itself far from straightforward. The IPMS team experienced difficulties in negotiating value chain developments and the specific interventions that were felt as necessary, and in making choices among all actors involved in the value chain (e.g., a failed experiment to market sunflowers) because of market failures and insufficient returns on investments. The team also realized that working in an adaptive manner across a broad value chain and extension framework implies letting go of control and of tight deadlines, but can improve relations among value chain actors and their joint interventions.

As ILRI’s new LIVES project is now in full swing, and as a new long-term ILRI strategy demands that ILRI take a more coherent approach to making development impacts, these insights from  IPMS can help guide those undertaking new initiatives of ILRI and of its partners.

Watch and listen to this seminar here: http://www.ilri.org/livestream.

View the slide presentation here: Agriculture research for crop and livestock value chains development: the IPMS experience, presentation by Dirk Hoekstra, Berhanu Gebremedhin and Azage Tegegne on 28 Mar 2013.

You can contact the IPMS/LIVES team at lives-ethiopia [at] cgiar.org.


Note:Livestock live talks’ 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.

All ILRI staff, partners and donors, and interested outsiders are invited. Those non-staff who would want to come, please contact Angeline Nekesa at a.nekesa[at]cgiar.org (or via ILRI switchboard 020 422 3000) to let her know. If you would like to give one of these seminars, or have someone you would like to recommend, please contact Silvia Silvestri at s.silvestri[at]cgiar.org (or via ILRI switchboard 020 422 3000).

The spatial ecology of pigs: Where free-range doesn’t come free

IMG_0080

A report on the economic as well as health risks of keeping free-range pigs in western Kenya has been published by scientists in the animal health laboratories at ILRI’s Nairobi, Kenya, campus; here, two of the authors, lead author Lian Thomas (left) and principal investigator Eric Fèvre (right), inspect a household pig in their project site, in Busia, in western Kenya (photo credit: ILRI/Charlie Pye-Smith).

Like your livestock products to come from free-range systems? Consider that a healthy alternative to the factory farming of livestock? Consider the lowly pig, and what serious pathogens it can pick up, and transmit to other animals and people, in the course of its daily outdoor scavenging for food. Consider also the scavenging pig’s coprophagic habits (consumption of faeces) and you may change your mind.

A recent study has brought those habits to light. The study was conducted in an area surrounding Busia town, in western Kenya (Busia lies near Kenya’s western border with Uganda; Lake Victoria lies to the south). The study was conducted by scientists at the International Livestock Research Institute (ILRI) and the University of Edinburgh to better understand the transmission of several pathogenic organisms. This is the first study to investigate the ecology of domestic pigs kept under a free-range system, utilizing GPS technology.

Most people in Busia farm for a living, raising livestock and growing maize and other staple food crops on small plots of land (the average farm size here is 0.5 ha). More than 66,000 pigs are estimated to be kept within a 45-km radius of Busia town.

ILRI's Lian Thomas with pig in western Kenya

ILRI’s Lian Thomas with a household pig in western Kenya (photo credit: ILRI/Charlie Pye-Smith).

A GPS collar was put on 10 pigs, each nearly 7 months old, that were recruited for this study. A handheld GPS unit was used to obtain the coordinates of the homesteads to which the selected pigs belonged; the perimeters of the homesteads and their main features, including human dwellings, cooking points, rubbish disposal areas and latrines, were all mapped. The pig collars recorded the coordinates of the pigs every 3 minutes during the course of one week.

All the 10 pigs were kept under free-range conditions, but also regularly fed supplementary crop and (mostly raw) household waste. All the pigs recruited were found to be infected with at least one parasite, with most in addition also having gastrointestinal parasites, and all carried ticks and head lice.

The pigs, which scavenge both day and night, were found to spend almost half their time outside the homestead, travelling an average of more than 4 km in a 12-hour period (both day and night), with a mean home range of 10,343 square meters. One implication of this is that a community approach to better controlling infectious diseases in pigs will be better suited to this farming area than an approach that targets individual household families.

Three of the ten pigs were found to be infected with Taenia solium, a pig tapeworm whose larva when ingested by humans in undercooked pork causes the human disease known as cysticercosis, which can cause seizures, epilepsy and other disorders, and can be fatal if not treated. T solium infection in pigs is acquired by their ingestion of infective eggs in human faecal material, which is commonly found in the pigs environments in rural parts of Africa as well as Mexico, South America and other developing regions.

This study found no correlation between the time a pig spent interacting with a latrine at its homestead and the T solium status of the pig. The paper’s authors conclude that ‘the presence or absence of a latrine in an individual homestead is of less relevance to parasite transmission than overall provision of sanitation for the wider community in which the pig roams’. With a quarter of the homesteads in the study area having no access to a latrine, forcing people to engage in open defecation, and with less than a third of the latrines properly enclosed, there are plenty of opportunties for scavenging pigs to find human faeces.

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A typical household scavenging pig and pit latrine in the project site in Busia, Kenya (photo credit: ILRI/Charlie Pye-Smith).

Improved husbandry practices, including the use of effective anthelmintics at correct dosages, would enhance pig health and production in this study area.

One of the interesting findings of the study is that all this pig roaming is likely to be helping to reduce the weight of the pigs at slaughter. Mean live weights at the abattoir in the Busia area are 30 kg, giving a dressed weight of only 22.5 kg and earning the farmer only KShs.2000–2500 (USD24–29) per animal.

Encouraging the confinement of pigs is likely to improve feed conversion and weight gain, by both reducing un-necessary energy expenditure as well as limiting parasite burden through environmental exposure.

‘Confinement of pigs would also reduce the risk of contact with other domestic or wild pigs: pig to pig contact is a driver of African swine fever (ASF) virus transmission. ASF regularly causes outbreaks in this region . . . . Confining pigs within correctly constructed pig stys would also reduce the chances of contact between pigs and tsetse flies.’ That matters because this western part of Kenya is a trypanosomiasis-endemic area and pigs are known to be important hosts and reservoirs of protozoan parasites that cause both human sleeping sickness, which eventually is fatal for all those who don’t get treatment, and African animal trypanosomiasis, a wasting disease of cattle and other livestock that is arguably Africa’s most devastating livestock disease.

In addition, both trichinellosis (caused by eating undercooked pork infected by the larva of a roundworm) and toxoplasmosis (caused by a protozoan pathogen through ingestion of cat faeces or undercooked meat) are ‘very real threats to these free-ranging pigs, with access to kitchen waste, in particular meat products, being a risk factor for infection. Such swill is also implicated in ASF transmission’.

While confining pigs would clearly be advantageous for all of these reasons, the practice of free range will likely be hard to displace, not least because this low-input system is within the scarce means of this region’s severely resource-poor farmers. Local extension services, therefore, will be wise to use carrots as well as sticks to persuade farmers to start ‘zero-scavenging’ pig husbandry, Fortunately, as this study indicates, they can do this by demonstrating to farmers the economic as well as health benefits they will accrue by penning, and pen-feeding, their free-ranging pigs.

Scavenging pigs in Busia, western Kenay

Scavenging pigs in Busia, western Kenya (photo credit: ILRI/Charlie Pye-Smith).

Project funders
This research was supported by the Wellcome Trust, BBSRC (Biotechnology and Biological Sciences Research Council) and MRC (Medical Research Council), all of Great Britain. It is also an output of a component of the CGIAR Research Program on Agriculture for Nutrition and Health investigating Agriculture-Associated Diseases.

Read the whole paper
The spatial ecology of free-ranging domestic pigs (Sus scrofa) in western Kenya, by Lian Thomas, William de Glanville, Elizabeth Cook and Eric Fèvre, BMC Veterinary Research 2013, 9:46. doi: 10.1186/1746-6148-9-46

Article URL
http://www.biomedcentral.com/1746-6148/9/47  The publication date of this article is 7 Mar 2013; you will find here a provisional PDF; fully formatted PDF and full text (HTML) versions of the paper will be available soon.

About the project
Begun in 2009 and funded by the Wellcome Trust, with other support from ILRI, this project has studied neglected zoonotic diseases and their epidemiology to raise levels of health in poor rural communities. The project, People, Animals and their Zoonoses (PAZ), is based in western Kenya’s Busia District and is led by Eric Fèvre, who is on joint appointment at ILRI and the University of Edinburgh. More information can be found at the University of Edinburgh’s Zoonotic and Emerging Diseases webpage or on ILRI’s PAZ project blog site.

The May 2010 issue of the Veterinary Record gives an excellent account of this ambitious human-animal health project: One medicine: Focusing on neglected zoonoses.

Related stories on ILRI’s AgHealth, Clippings and News blogs
Tracking of free range domestic pigs in western Kenya provides new insights into dynamics of disease transmission, 22 Mar 2013.
Aliens in human brains: Pig tapeworm is an alarming, and important, human disease worldwide, 23 May 2012.
Forestalling the next plague: Building a first picture of all diseases afflicting people and animals in Africa, 11 Apr 2011. This blog describes an episode about this project broadcast by the Australian science television program ‘Catalyst’; you can download the episode here: ABC website (click open the year ‘2011’ and scroll down to click on the link to ‘Episode 4’; the story starts at 00.18.25).
Edinburgh-Wellcome-ILRI project addresses neglected zoonotic diseases in western Kenya, 28 Jul 2010.

Better grass for better smallholder dairying in East Africa

The tuft of grass minor, by Albrecht Durer (via Wikipaintings).

The Tuft of Grass Minor, watercolour by Albrecht Dürer (1471–1521) (image via Wikipaintings).

An impact case study on Getting superior Napier grass to dairy farmers in East Africa was published on 1 Mar 2013 by the European Initiative for Agricultural Research for Development (EIARD), the International Livestock Research Institute (ILRI) and the Kenya Agricultural Research institute (KARI). Excerpts follow.

To meet demand for high-yielding, disease resistant fodder from smallholder dairy farmers in East Africa, scientists from the Kenya Agricultural Research Institute (KARI) and the International Livestock Research Institute (ILRI) worked together to select and distribute smut-resistant varieties of Napier grass.

‘Napier grass has become the most important fodder crop in Kenya, but 20 years ago head smut disease began to have a devastating impact, turning valuable fodder into thin, shrivelled stems. With the cost of disease control using systemic fungicide beyond the means of most smallholder dairy farmers, KARI began work to select smut-resistant varieties.

‘With access to Napier grass germplasm from ILRI’s genebank, KARI developed two resistant varieties — Kakamega I and Kakamega II. Favourable laboratory results were confirmed in farmer’s fields and work began to multiply planting material. Within a year, cuttings were distributed to over 10,000 smallholder farmers. The new varieties are not quite as productive as the best of Kenya’s local Napier grass varieties, but have still proven popular in smut-affected areas. By 2007, 13 per cent of farmers were using Kakamega I for zero grazing systems in smut prone areas.

‘The chance of head smut resistance breaking down in the new varieties is high, so KARI is screening more materials from ILRI, which is continuing to build its Napier grass collection to have germplasm available to screen for new resistant varieties. In 2012, ILRI provided the Brazilian Agricultural Research Corporation, Embrapa, with Kakamega I and II to enable researchers to use them to develop higher yielding and more nutritious resistant varieties. . . .

Background
‘Dairy farming, Kenya’s leading livestock sector activity, is vital for the livelihoods and food security of millions of Kenyans. More than 80 per cent of milk produced and sold in Kenya comes from smallholder farmers, typically raising just one or two dairy cows on small plots of land. Women perform half of all dairy related activities in Kenya, which improves household welfare, primarily through increased household income and milk consumption.

‘With a growing population and shrinking areas for pasture, cattle are increasingly being fed on crop residues, cultivated fodder and some concentrates. Ninety per cent of farmers now produce on-farm feeds. Being able to provide enough good quality fodder is by far the most important factor in achieving high milk quality and yield, with a well fed animal producing two or three times more milk than an averagely fed one.

‘The high yielding fodder, Napier grass — Pennisetum purpureum — has become by far the most important due to its wide adaptation to different regions, high yield and ease of propagation and management. Napier grass constitutes between 40–80 per cent of the forage for more than 0.6 million smallholder dairy farms. With fodder in high demand, selling Napier grass as a business has good potential for improving smallholder livelihoods. According to a recent survey, up to 58 per cent of Kenyan smallholder farmers already sell fodder, including crop residues, straw or grass.

‘However, in the early 1990s, head smut disease, caused by the fungus Ustilago kamerunensis, began to have a devastating impact on Napier grass. Spread rapidly by wind and infected plant material, smut turned valuable Napier grass into thin, shrivelled stems and reduced yields by 25–46 per cent. For smallholder farmers, the threat was very serious.

‘Disease control using systemic fungicide in fodder crops is very expensive and therefore beyond the means of most smallholders. Using tolerant high yielding varieties is a cost effective solution and avoids the additional costs of moving to a different feeding system. ILRI maintains an international collection of forage germplasm under the auspices of the International Treaty on Plant Genetic Resources for Food and Agriculture. The state of the art genebank, based in Ethiopia, holds over 19,000 forage accessions, including 60 genotypes of Napier grass. . . .’

Funding
ILRI received direct funding from the European Union, Germany, Switzerland and the United Kingdom to support their forage diversity work and forage genebank in addition to funding from CGIAR.

For further information
Getting superior Napier grass to dairy farmers in East Africa, impacts case study by EIARD, ILRI and KARI, Mar 2013
Visit ILRI’s forage diversity website
Visit the project site: Napier Grass Stunt and Smut Project
Saving animal feed plants to preserve livelihoods, 2007 (ILRI film, run-time: 11 minutes)
Putting ILRI’s genebank to work, 2007 (ILRI film: run-time: 14 minutes)
Contact: Alexandra Jorge, ILRI Genebank Manager: a.jorge [at] cgiar.org

The ‘cream’ from more efficient dairying: Kenya to pilot scheme to pay smallholders for their environmental services

Global Agenda: 1 of 3 objectives

One of three objectives of the Global Agenda of Action in Support of Sustainable Livestock Sector Development. Its Third Multi-Stakeholder Platform Meeting was co-hosted in Nairobi, Kenya, by ILRI, FAO and AU-IBAR, 22-24 Jan 2013 (photo credit: ILRI/Susan MacMillan).

Guest blog post by ILRI’s Simon Fraval

In collaboration with the Food and Agricultural Organization of the United Nations (FAO) and the Kenya Ministry of Livestock Development, researchers at the International Livestock Research Institute (ILRI) are assessing the feasibility of the Kenyan dairy industry obtaining payment for its environmental services through productivity gains. (See this ILRI position paper for more information on ‘payment for environmental services’ schemes).

Reducing the level of greenhouse gases generated per unit of milk produced by smallholder farmers could be attractive to environmental markets. While this project will not provide direct money transfers to Kenya’s dairy farmers, it will support agricultural extension for better cow nutrition and other interventions made to increase milk production while also reducing emissions of greenhouse gases per unit of milk.

The concept gained momentum at an interim preparatory committee meeting of the Global Agenda of Action in Support of Sustainable Livestock Sector Development held in Rome in September 2012.

The Global Agenda is committed to broad-based, voluntary and informal stakeholder actions improving the performance of the livestock sector. It ambitiously aims to protect natural resources as well as to reduce poverty and protect public health. The Agenda’s stakeholders have agreed initially to focus on the following three objectives: Close the efficiency gap in livestock production systems, restore value to grasslands’ environmental services and sustainable livelihoods, and recover and recycle nutrients and energy contained in animal manure. The Agenda is working to achieve these objectives largely through consulting and networking, analyzing and informing, and guiding and piloting.

Progress on the Kenya dairy pilot ‘payment for environmental services’ project was presented at the third multi-stakeholder platform meeting of the Global Agenda, held in Nairobi, Kenya, 22–24 January 2013. This project provided a practical example of the Agenda’s core activity in piloting novel approaches to ‘close the efficiency gap’. The presentation to the Global Agenda meeting can be found on its Livestock Dialogue website.

Pilot workshop on payment for environmental services for Kenya's dairy sector

A stakeholders’ workshop on a pilot ‘payment for environmental services’ project for Kenya’s dairy industry was held in Jan 2013. Pictured left to right: Luke Kessei, Kenya Ministry of Livestock Development; Julius Kiptarus, Director of Livestock Production in Kenya’s Ministry of Livestock Development; Pierre Gerber, Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations; and Isabelle Baltenweck, ILRI (photo credit: MLD/Henry Ngeno).

Following the progress update provided at the mid-January 2013 Global Agenda meeting, a stakeholder workshop was held later in the month (29 Jan 2013) engaging representatives from the Kenya Dairy Board, the Kenya Agricultural Research Institute, the Kenya Dairy Processors Association, Kenyan livestock and cooperation ministries, development organizations and ILRI. The workshop was attended by Julius Kiptarus, Director of Livestock Production in Kenya’s Ministry of Livestock Development.

Stakeholders of the pilot ‘payment for environmental services’ project for Kenya’s dairy industry discussed the intricacies of such schemes, particularly carbon markets; site selection; potential greenhouse gas mitigation activities; and the design of a feasibility study. View slide presentations from this workshop here.

Technical mitigation options in dairy from ILRI: By Caroline Opiyo, of FAO.

This pilot project is the first to access markets for payment for environmental services schemes through productivity gains in smallholder livestock enterprises. With the setting of this precedent and development of an internationally recognized methodology, development organizations will be able to replicate this pilot project and draw funding from the carbon market and other providers of ‘payment for environmental services’ schemes.

For more information, please contact Simon Fraval, a volunteer with AusAID’s Australian Youth Ambassadors for Development program placed at ILRI’s Nairobi headquarters, where he supports CGIAR research programs on ‘Climate Change, Agriculture, and Food Security’ and ‘Livestock and Fish: More meat, milk and fish by and for the poor’. Fraval brings to ILRI expertise in livestock value-chain development and life-cycle assessment. Contact him at s.fraval [at] cigar.org

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

LIVES project logo

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

BecA-ILRI biosciences Hub in Nairobi receives grant from global life science tools company

Merkel visits ILRI Nairobi: ILRI technician Cecilia Muriuki

ILRI technician Cecilia Muriuki prepares protein samples in one of ILRI’s animal health laboratories (photo credit: ILRI/Susan MacMillan).

Global life science tools company Illumina (NASDAQ: ILMN) has announced the recipients of grants from its ‘Agricultural Greater Good Initiative’. One of these is the BecA-ILRI Hub, a state-of-the-art biosciences laboratory and facility platform located in Nairobi, Kenya.

The Biosciences eastern and central Africa-International Livestock Research Institute Hub (BecA-ILRI Hub), says the news release from Illumina, is ‘pioneering applications of Illumina technologies to increase crop yields and reduce poverty and hunger. . . .

BecA-ILRI Hub will use the grant to expand its study of genetic resistance to cassava brown streak disease and cassava mosaic disease, both of which have infected large percentages of crops across East Africa where cassava is a major source of nutrition.

‘”There is nothing more foundationally important to health than food, and Illumina is excited to be involved with organizations working at the forefront of food security,” said Jay Flatley, President and CEO of Illumina. “Collaboration will enable the power of genomics to impact more people and on a global scale.”. . .

“Collaborations like these between Illumina and the BecA-ILRI Hub are very welcome as they are key contributors towards strengthening agricultural research and capacity development in Africa,” said Dr. Appolinaire Djikeng, interim Director of the BecA-ILRI Hub. “If we are to bring Africa out from the shadow of poverty and food insecurity, then African scientists must have the tools to conduct research at the same level as other scientists around the world.”

‘In 2012, Illumina broadened the scope of the Agricultural Greater Good Initiative through engagement with the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation and Dow AgroSciences, as well as with the Feed the Future Initiative of the United States Agency for International Development (USAID).

‘”We’re excited about the opportunity to connect advances in sequencing technologies with the needs of millions of families farming small plots of land in sub-Saharan Africa and South Asia,” said Katherine Kahn, Senior Program Officer at the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation. “Increasing the productivity and resilience of staple crops including cassava and legumes is key to helping small farmers lift themselves out of poverty.”. . .’

Read the whole news release at Illumina: Illumina announces recipients of Agricultural Great Good Initiative grants: Expanded program focuses on improving food security and furthering agricultural sustainability, 15 Jan 2013.

About Illumina
Illumina is a leading developer, manufacturer, and marketer of life science tools and integrated systems for the analysis of genetic variation and function. It provides innovative sequencing and array-based solutions for genotyping, copy number variation analysis, methylation studies, gene expression profiling, and low-multiplex analysis of DNA, RNA, and protein. It also provides tools and services that are fueling advances in consumer genomics and diagnostics. Illumina technology and products accelerate genetic analysis research and its application, paving the way for molecular medicine and ultimately transforming healthcare. Illumina’s Agricultural Greater Good Initiative, launched in 2011, helps to spur critically needed research that will increase the sustainability, productivity and nutritional density of agriculturally important crop and livestock species. Grant recipients receive donations of Illumina reagents to support their projects.

About the BecA-ILRI Hub
The Biosciences eastern and central Africa-International Livestock Research Institute (BecA-ILRI) Hub is a world-class agricultural research and biosciences facility located at and managed by ILRI in Nairobi, Kenya. It provides support to African and international scientists conducting research on African agricultural challenges and acts as a focal point for learning, interaction and strategic research — enabling collaborations in the scientific community to benefit African farmers and markets within the region. The Hub was established as part of an African Union/New Partnership for Africa’s Development (NEPAD) African Biosciences Initiative, which employs modern biotechnology to improve agriculture, livelihoods and food security in eastern and central Africa. ILRI is a member of the CGIAR Consortium. CGIAR is a global agriculture research partnership for a food-secure future. Its science is carried out by the 15 research centres that are members of the CGIAR Consortium in collaboration with hundreds of partner organizations.

Pastoral livestock development in the Horn: Where the centre cannot (should not) hold

Pastoralism and Development in Africa

Who eats better, pastoral children in mobile herding or settled communities? (answer: mobile). Which kind of tropical lands are among those most at risk of being grabbed by outsiders for development? (rangelands). Are pastoral women benefitting at all from recent changes in pastoral livelihoods? (yes). Which region in the world has the largest concentration of camel herds in the the world? (Horn of Africa). Where are camel export opportunities the greatest? (Kenya/Ethiopa borderlands). Is the growth of ‘town camels and milk villages’ in the Somali region of Ethiopia largely the result of one man’s (desperate) innovation? (yes). Which is the more productive dryland livestock system, ranching or pastoralism? (pastoralism). Is irrigation involving pastoralists new? (no). Are we missing opportunities to make irrigated agriculture a valuable alternative or additional livelihoods to pastoralism? (perhaps).

The answers to these and other fascinating questions most of us will never have thought to even ask are found in a new book, Pastoralism and Development in Africa: Dynamic Change at the Margins, edited by Andy Catley, of the Feinstein International Center, at Tufts University; Jeremy Lind, of the Institute of Development Studies at the University of Sussex and Future Agricultures Consortium; and Ian Scoones, of the Institute of Development Studies, the STEPS Centre and the Future Agricultures Consortium. Published in 2012, it includes a chapter by scientists at the International Livestock Research Institute (ILRI): Climate change in sub-Saharan Africa: What consequences for pastoralism?

Thirty-six experts in pastoral development update us on what’s so in pastoral development in the Greater Horn of Africa, highlighting innovation and entrepreneurialism, cooperation and networking and diverse approaches rarely in line with standard development prescriptions. The book highlights diverse pathways of development, going beyond the standard ‘aid’ and ‘disaster’ narratives. The book’s editors argue that ‘by making the margins the centre of our thinking, a different view of future pathways emerges’. Contributions to the book were originally presented at an international conference on The Future of Pastoralism in Africa, held at ILRI’s campus in Addis Ababa, Ethiopia, in Mar 2011.

Here are a few of the book’s ‘unstandard’ ways of looking at pastoralism.

‘Overall, mainstream pastoral development is a litany of failure. . . . Pastoral borderlands are . . . beyond the reach of the state, and so the development industry.  ·  Perhaps no other livelihood system has suffered more from biased language and narratives than pastoralism. . . . Hidden in these narratives also are political agendas that perceive mobile pastoralism as a security and political threat to the state, and, therefore, in need of controlling or eliminating.  ·  To avoid the Malthusian label, or simply out of ignorance, many social scientists have neglected the important implications of demographic trends in pastoral areas. . . . Some of the fastest growing towns in Kenya are in pastoralist districts.  ·  Local demand for education is consistently high among pastoralists, a pattern that was not the case even 10–15 years ago.  ·   It seems feasible . . . to propose a pastoral livestock and meat trade value approaching US$1 billion for the Horn in 2010.  ·  The past dominant livestock practice characterized as traditional mobile pastoralism” is increasingly rare. . . . The creation of a relatively elite commercial class within pastoral societies is occurring at a rapid pace in some areas.  ·  . . . [P]astoral lands are vulnerable to being grabbed. On a scale never before envisioned, the most valued pastoral lands are being acquired through state allocation or purchase . . . . The Tana Delta sits at the precipice of an unprecedented transformation as a range of investors seek to acquire large tracts of land to produce food and biofuels and extract minerals, often at the expense of pastoralists’ access to key resources. . . . A notable facet of changing livelihoods in the Tana Delta is the increasingly important role of women in the diversifying economy, a trend seen elsewhere in the region. . . . Until now, pastoralists have been mostly unsuccessful at challenging proposed land deals through the Kenyan courts.  ·  The shift from a breeding herd to a trading herd is perhaps the biggest shift in Maasai pastoralism.  ·  Although drought is a perennial risk to pastoralist livelihoods, an emerging concern is securing access to high value fodder and other resources to support herds, in areas where rangelands are becoming increasingly fragmented due to capture of key resource sites.  ·  During the 2009–2011 drought in the Horn of Africa, several hundred pastoralists who participated in an Index-Based Livestock Insurance (IBLI) scheme in northern Kenya received cash payments.  ·  Despite its many challenges, mobile pastoralism will continue in low-rainfall rangelands throughout the Horn for the simple reason that a more viable, alternative land use system for these areas has not been found. . . . But the nature of pastoralism in 2030 will be very different than today in 2012. . . .’

One of the book’s chapters is on Climate change in sub-Saharan Africa: What consequences for pastoralism? It was written by ILRI’s Polly Ericksen (USA), whose broad expertise includes food systems, ecosystem services and adaptations to climate change by poor agricultural and pastoral societies; and her ILRI colleagues Jan de Leeuw (Netherlands), an ecologist specializing in rangelands (who has since moved to ILRI’s sister Nairobi CGIAR centre, the World Agroforestry Centre); Mohammed Said (Kenyan), an ecologist specializing in remote sensing and community mapping; Philip Thornton (UK) and Mario Herrero (Costa Rica), agricultural systems analysts who focus on the impacts of climate and other changes on the world’s poor countries and communities; and An Notenbaert (Belgium), a land use planner and spatial analyst.

The ILRI scientists argue that if we’re going to find ways to adapt to climate change, we’re going to need to learn from pastoralists — who, after all, are demonstrably supreme managers of highly variable climates in addition to rapidly changing social, economic and political contexts — about how to make sustainable and profitable, if cyclical and opportunistic, use of increasingly scarce, temporally erratic and spatially scattered water, land, forage and other natural resources.

In important respects, pastoral people are at the forefront of responses to climate change, given their experience managing high climate variability over the centuries. Insights from pastoral systems are critical for generating wider lessons for climate adaptation responses.’

What scientists don’t know about climate change in these and other drylands, they warn, is much, much greater than what we do know. So:

The key question is how to make choices today given uncertainties of the future.’

Because ‘the more arid a pastoral environment, the less predictable the rainfall’, and because ‘vegetation growth closely follows rainfall amount, frequency and duration, . . . the primary production of rangelands is variable in time and space’, with the primary driver of this variability in livestock production in pastoral areas being the availability or scarcity of forages for feeding herds of ruminant animals (e.g., cattle, sheep, goats, camels). In severe or prolonged droughts, forage and water scarcity become a lethal combination, killing animals en masse. The authors quote former ILRI scientist David Ndedianye, a Maasai from the Kitengela rangelands in Nairobi’s backyard, and other ILRI colleagues who report in a 2011 paper on pastoral mobility that pastoral livestock losses in a 2005 drought in the Horn were between 14 and 43% in southern Kenya and as high as 80% in a drought devastating the same region in 2009. It may take four or five years for a herd to recover after a major drought.

Map of flip in temperatures above and below 30 degrees C
Maps of a flip in temperatures above 30 degrees C. Left: Threshold 4 — maximum temperature flips to greater than 30°C. Right: Threshold 5 — maximum temperature in the growing season flips to greater than 30°C. Map credit: Polly Ericksen et al., Mapping hotspots of climate change and food insecurity in the global tropics, CGIAR Research Program on Climate Change, Agriculture and Food Security (CCAFS), 2011.

Evidence from a range of modelling efforts was used by the authors to calculate places in the global tropics where maximum temperatures are predicted to flip from less than 30 degrees C to greater than 30 degrees C by 2050. This temperature threshold is a limit for a number of staple crops, including maize beans and groundnut. Heat stress also affects grass and livestock productivity. Large areas in East African may undergo this flip, according to these models, although the authors warn that these predictions remain highly uncertain.

Thornton and Herrero in a background paper to the World Bank’s 2010 World Development Report investigated the impacts of increased drought frequency on livestock herd dynamics in Kenya’s Kajiado District. ‘Their results indicate that drought every five years keeps the herds stable as it allows sufficient time for the herds to re-establish. A once in three year drought interval by contrast drives livestock density to lower levels . . . . Hence, if there is a greater frequency of drought under climate change, this might have a lasting impact on stocking density, and the productivity of pastoral livestock systems.

The results were extrapolated to all arid and semi-arid districts in Kenya and estimated that 1.8 million animals could be lost by 2030 due to increased drought frequency, with a combined value of US$630 million due to losses in animals, milk and meat production. . . .’

In the face of changes in climate (historical and current), many pastoralists will change the species of animals they keep, or change the composition of the species in their herds. In the space of three decades (between 1997/8 and 2005–10) in Kenya, for example, the ratio of shoats (sheep and goats) to cattle kept increased significantly. Goats, as well as camels, are more drought tolerant than cattle, and also prefer browse to grasses.

Such changes in species mix and distribution will have important implications for overall livestock productivity and nutrition, as well as milk production.’

While change is and always has been fundamental to pastoralist livelihood strategies, much more—and much more rapid and diverse—change is now sweeping the Horn and many of the other drylands of the world, with local population explosions and increasing rangeland fragmentation and civil conflicts coming on top of climate and other global changes whose nature remains highly uncertain. New threats are appearing, as well as new opportunities.

While the ILRI team argues that we can and should look to pastoralist cultures, strategies and innovations for insights into how the wider world can adapt better to climate change, they also say that ‘development at the margins’ is going to be successful only where pastoralists, climate modellers and other scientists  work together:

. . . [A]daptation and response strategies in increasingly variable environments must emerge from grounded local experience and knowledge, as well as be informed by increasingly sophisticated [climate] modeling efforts.’

Support for the conference and book came from the UK Department for International Development, the United States Agency for International Development in Ethiopia, and CORDAID. Purchase the book from Routledge (USD44.96 for the paperback edition): Pastoralism and Development in Africa: Dynamic Change at the Margins, first issued in paperback 2012, edited by Andy Catley, Jeremy Lind and Ian Scoones, Oxon, UK, and New York: Routledge and Earthscan, 328 pages. You’ll find parts of the book available on Google books here.

To read the ILRI chapter—Climate change in sub-Saharan Africa: What consequences for pastoralism?, by Polly Ericksen, Jan de Leeuw, Philip Thornton, Mohammed Said, Mario Herrero and An Notenbaert—contact ILRI communications officer Jane Gitau at j.w.gitau [at] cgiar.org.

Cows in the cloud: Kenyans are registering their cows, and increasing their milk yields, on their mobile phones

Su Kahumbu

Award-winning Kenyan agricultural entrepreneur Su Kahumbu (photo on Flickr by afromusing).

On Tue, 11 Dec 2012, Kenyan social entrepreneur Su Kahumbu gave ILRI’s fourth ‘livestock live talk’ seminar, titled ‘Livestock and mobile technology’, at the International Livestock Research Institute (ILRI), in Nairobi, Kenya.

Kahumbu founded Green Dreams Ltd and Green Dreams Tech Ltd companies, which are focused on creating solutions for small-scale organic farmers in Africa. She has 14 years experience across the whole of the organic value chains in Kenya, from production to consumption and policy to advocacy. Kahumbu is a TED Fellow and is spreading her passion through the TED network; her ambition is to help ‘Build a better Africa from the ground up’.

Kahumbu is also the creator of an Apps4Africa Award-winning app known as iCow, a mobile application officially launched in June 2011 that she developed to help small-scale dairy farmers track their cow’s fertility cycle. It prompts  farmers on vital days of cow gestation period, helps  farmers find the nearest vet and all service providers, collects and stores farmer milk and breeding records, and sends farmers best dairy practices.

A mother of three, Kahumbu started her presentation by confessing to her largely scientific audience that she knew little cows when she started and know little about technology . “What I feel I do know about is what smallholder farmers need to help them mitigate the big risks of farming. My presentation will take you through the development of iCow.

What keeps her up at night
‘There are a few things that keep me up at night. One billion people on the planet suffering from malnutrition. And climbing. Largely due to unsustainable agriculture and ecological practices. . . . We do produce enough food for the planet, but we only consume half of what we produce. Millions of tonnes are lost in post-harvest, transport, processing and retail.

‘That’s worrying. More worrying is that more than one in four Africans—218 million people—on this continent are suffering from undernourishment.

‘The current solutions I feel that we’ve been delivering to small-scale farmers and to farmers in general have been at the expense of our ecosystem and is resulting in dependence on very heavy, expensive inputs: fertilizers, adapted and modified seeds that generally the farmers cannot afford.

‘In working with farmers over the last few years, I’ve seen this continual vicious cycle, with farmers being pushed to adopt new technologies, and to spend more, and to get money from banks. And I don’t see this as sustainable, especially when the core problem is that we’re not focusing on the fertility of our soils.

‘On top of that, who is it that we call a farmer? Farmers in industrialized countries are mechanized, industiralized, subsidized, compared to farmers here who are, literally, unsupported, yet, in our case in Kenya, supply 80% of the national food. It’s quite shocking.

‘Farmers risks [here] are enormous. If I were to say to you, “Let’s all of us get out there and go get a job where we’re going to have weather on our doorsteps, poor storage, poor infrastructure, high inputs”, how many of us would actually say “That’s great, let’s go do it”? Yet we depend on these same smallholder farmers to feed us.

Going forward, one of the things I think we really need to focus on is what I’m largely doing with iCow, and that is focusing on reducing the risks of the smallholder farmer. . . .

It became quite evident that what farmers needed was knowledge, markets and finance. . . .

Mobiles in Kenya: A ‘huge, huge, huge opportunity’
‘We have today 80% mobile phone penetration across the country, with 100% penetration among 20 to 29 year olds. On the African continent, we have 700 million mobile phones. That is a huge, huge, huge opportunity to get information out to farmers.

‘And that leads me to iCow. iCow is an agricultural information platform accessed primarily via mobile phones, although we do do some stuff on the web. You don’t have to have a smart phone. We started out using sms [short message service]. The objectives were to increase farmer productivity through increased knowledge.

The iCow ‘pipe’
‘I describe iCow as a pipe, with one end the farmers. . . . Farmers register their cow on the date the animal is served and we start to push sms’s to them along the gestation period of that animal, reminding the farmer when she’ll come into heat again. We continue to drip-feed information on best practices right up until the animal gives birth. If it’s a lactating animal, when tell them when and how to dry the cow off without it getting mastitis, etc.

‘To get a vet or AI, farmers simply send the word “vet” or “AI” plus the short code—the short code is 50-24—over one of the three largest networks in the country. When they send the word “vet”; they get a response asking them where they’re located, and they receive the telephone numbers and the names of the vets in their locality. Same with AI. This service is offered 24/7.  The system is automated so they can receive the information whenever they like. Both these features are quite popular.

‘As we took the product to market, we had to build in a customer care centre . . . . We found that many farmers knowing that there is a voice at the end of the system helps them adopt new technologies.

‘As we started to roll out the platform, on 3 June 2011, . . . we had to build another feature quite quickly, and that is what we call Mashauri. That is where farmers register to receive three sms messages a week, at this point in time across the value proposition of the cow. And so they get information on feeding, on vaccinations, on calf care, etc. But they don’t have to have registered their cow.

‘Soon after that, farmers started saying “I want to buy a cow”, “Where do I get  a heifer calf”. Or “I want to buy a dairy goat”. So we built a marketplace [called Soko]. Very, very easy. Just like Craig’sList [an online classified ad service in many cities and countries throughout the world], but on a mobile phone [rather than the internet]. Through a series of steps, a farmer posts what it is he wants to sell, and through a series a steps whoever is looking for that will simply get his telephone number. So if you’re selling a Toggenburg goat, you will put in “Toggenburg goat” and farmers looking for Toggenburg goats will get your number. . . .

‘As our database started to grow—today our database is 42,000 farmers—we put on a feature called Sauti. Again, farmers register for it, and if anything critical comes up, we can send them that information on their authority. . . .

‘And then Videos. An sms is only 160 characters long; you cannot put too much information in an sms. So we’ve put up 2-3-minute videos on our website and we’ve shown farmers who are registered what to do when they get to the nearest cybercafe; we send them short links where they’ll find short videos about  the information they’re looking for. . . .

TEDx Nairobi 2010: Su Kahumbu

Su Kahumbu is a TEDX Fellow (picture on Flickr by Wa-J, Joshua Wanyama).

Both ends of the iCow pipe are working
‘What we found was that as we were dealing with farmers, other people started getting interested—the other end of the pipe—the NGOs, government, practitioners on the ground, etc. We started getting requests from them to help reach farmers, in some cases just to do surveys, so that they could see very quickly how their programs were impacting on the ground. So both ends of the pipe are now actually working.

Virtual vets
‘We also found that sometimes farmers were requesting things from us that we couldn’t answer. And they weren’t very happy about the vets on the ground. So we thought, “What can we do about that?”. So we started looking at using vets in the virtual sense.

‘We formed a very simple system using Google Docs. We upload any question that we can’t deal with or that the farmer didn’t get an answer to on the ground to a few vets, and the vets send the messages among themselves and come up with the best answer that they send to us, that we then forward to the farmer.

‘It’s really interesting because we have vets in Uganda answering questions from farmers in Kenya. And we’ve had requests from Senegal, where they had only four vets on the ground, asking whether they can use the same system.

‘Long-term, it makes it very interesting how expertise and skills using the cloud can actually network and reach out across borders quite easily, if it is planned right and there is political support.

iCow snapshot

  • 42,000 farmers in the iCow database.
  • iCow is becoming an educational tool.
  • Profile of iCow farmer: 1–2 acres land, 2–3 cows, 20% women.
  • After 7 months, iCow farmers are getting 2–3 extra litres of milk per cow per day.
  • Other gains:
    Reduced calf mortality
    Fee conservation
    Fodder production
    Reduced veterinary costs
    Healthier animals

Amazing maize story
‘An interesting thing happened on April 10th, when the first information started coming out about maize disease in the country. Farmers were up in arms—they weren’t getting any responses from government. They wanted to know “What is the solution? What can we do?” Government was being quite, everybody was being quiet, because nobody knew what to do.

‘But we heard from some farmers on Facebook that one of the seed multiplication centres of KARI [the Kenya Agricultural Research Institute] had some good-quality disease-free seed. So we took that information, put it on our system and sent it to 11,000 farmers, using iCow. And literally, within minutes, the phone in that centre was ringing off the hook and farmers started to buy the seed using MPESA [Kenyan mobile phone financial service] and having it sent by matatu [Kenyan taxi]. Within three days, there was no seed left in that centre.

‘We called KARI and asked “What was the reaction?”. They said, “How did that happen? We now have to bulk up three times as much seed as we thought we needed. They expected to sell the seed over a six-month period and they sold it, literally, within days. So again, using technology to make those links, make those connections work. It was 6 weeks later that the seed problem hit the headlines in Kenya. I was so happy that at least we could do something that much earlier for farmers.

East Coast fever vaccine: 99% of Kenyan farmers want it
‘Many of you know, especially here in ILRI, that the ECF [East Coast fever] vaccination has just been launched  in Kitale. We worked with GALVmed to do a survey using iCow to find out what farmers felt about the vaccination. And 99% of those surveyed said they want the vaccination and said “When can we have it? Let us know straight away.”

‘We were invited to the launch and I’m happy to say that this is going to be a huge thing for the farmers in Africa. This is an awful disease killing up to 1.1. million livestock a year on the continent.

‘That brings me to the end of my presentation.

What iCow is doing, I believe, is turning our farmers, our survivors, our people on the land, whatever you want to call them, into knowledgable farmers. We currently have farmers in 42 different counties; we have 42,000 farmers in our database using different features of the platform.

Thank you.’

Watch and listen to this Part 1 of ILRI’s ‘livestock live talk’ seminar here: http://www.ilri.org/livestream. Part 2 of this talk, in which Kahumbu tells us more about herself and answer questions, will be posted here soon.

Or view her slide presentation here: Livestock and mobile technology, presentation by Su Kahumbu at ILRI on 11 Dec 2012.

You can contact Su Kahumbu at su [at] greendreams.co.ke

 


 

Livestock live talks’ 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.

All ILRI staff, partners and donors, and interested outsiders are invited. Those non-staff who would want to come, please contact Angeline Nekesa at a.nekesa[at]cgiar.org (or via ILRI switchboard 020 422 3000) to let her know. If you would like to give one of these seminars, or have someone you would like to recommend, please contact Silvia Silvestri at s.silvestri[at]cgiar.org (or via ILRI switchboard 020 422 3000).

New vaccine launched today to protect Kenyan cattle against East Coast fever

Mrs Kivuti and Cow

Mrs Kivuti and her dairy cow in Kenya (on Flickr by Jeff Haskins).

Today is a red-letter day for livestock keepers in Kenya. A vaccine is being launched by the  Kenya Department of Veterinary Services that will help Kenyan farmers protect their dairy and other cattle against East Cost fever. The launch is being held in Kenya’s Kitale town.

For four decades, the Nairobi-based International Livestock Research Institute (ILRI) and its predecessor (the International Laboratory for Research on Animal Diseases, ILRAD) have conducted research on the lethal tick-borne cattle disease known as East Coast fever. ILRI’s work has focused on developing a new-generation ‘subunit’ vaccine, comprising molecular components of the causative parasite, while also developing molecular tools to enhance the quality of an infection-and-treatment (ITM) immunization method, consisting of whole live parasites.

The ITM vaccine was developed first by the former East African Veterinary Research Organisation, at Muguga, Kenya, between 1967 and 1977, now known as the Veterinary Research Centre, which is part of the Kenya Agricultural Research Institute (KARI) and which has continued to refine the vaccine.

ILRI produced the first commercial batch of the ITM vaccine in the late 1990s, at the request of the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations. A decade later, on request from regional stakeholders, ILRI produced a second batch, which is now being used in East Africa. ILRI and KARI also supported Kenya’s Director of Veterinary Services (DVS) in his department’s successful trials that have confirmed the safety and effectiveness of the ITM vaccine, thus making way for the launch of its national distribution today.

Two ILRI scientists, Phil Toye and Henry Kiara, that have been involved in this research for many years are attending the launch. They say that East Coast fever continues to cause major economic and social losses to families in eastern, central and southern Africa.

Of the 46 million cattle in this region almost half are at risk from this disease, say Toye and Kiara.

‘ILRI’s work has focused on better understanding of the biology of the parasite that causes the disease and the host immune responses to infection. While the ITM vaccine was developed in the early 1970s at Muguga, Kenya, the vaccine was not readily taken up due to inadequate understanding of the biology and epidemiology of the diseases at the time.’

Scientists in KARI and ILRI continued to refine the technology to the point where it was deemed safe and effective to distribute the vaccine on a commercial basis to farmers. ILRI will continue working with Directors of Veterinary Services in the region to address any research questions that may arise as we continue to use this technology.

It gives me great pleasure today to congratulate the Kenya Department of Veterinary Services on this great occasion of the launch of the East Coast fever vaccine. ILRI is proud to have played a role in this and will continue to offer any research support needed to keep Kenya’s cattle safe from this deadly disease.—Phil Toye