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.

In search of ‘the wild chicken’: ILRI and other geneticists unravel the past to help secure the future

Susan von Struensee, Art and Agriculture Series - poultry

ILRI and other geneticists are closing in on ‘the wild chicken’ that became the world’s favoured barnyard (all illustrations on this page on Flickr by Susan von Struensee, Art and Agriculture Series using Tagxedo).

The journal Science reports that ‘Researchers are melding genetics and archaeology to close in on the origin of the world’s most common bird—and potentially help protect a major source of animal protein.’

The article quotes Olivier Hanotte, a livestock geneticist now at the University of Nottingham who formerly spent 13 years at the Nairobi-based International Livestock Research Institute (ILRI) helping to unravel the origins of a second domestication of cattle, in Africa. And it was in Nairobi that Hanotte first got interested in chickens. (Watch the 3.5-minute ILRI Film Chickens: The world’s most numerous livestock.)

‘. . . A key thrust of research in the past decade has been to track the genetic changes that turned a remarkably shy creature into today’s meat-and-eggs dynamo, with an eye to protecting and improving breeds. But this research has also given scientists the opportunity to unravel a long-standing mystery that fascinated Charles Darwin: Where, when, and how was the chicken domesticated? . . .

‘Researchers agree that the red jungle fowl gave rise to the barnyard chicken somewhere in South Asia. But they agree on little else. . . .

‘Identifying the chicken’s wild cousins and preserving their genetic diversity may one day prove critical for improving the stock, some researchers say. Genes from wild birds may help breed birds resistant to avian influenza and other illnesses, for example.

‘The red jungle fowl—Gallus gallus—ranges from the western foothills of the Himalaya Mountains to the tip of Sumatra. . . . . Unlike modern-day chickens, all roosters sport elaborate plumage, the females lack a comb, and both genders have thin, dark legs and can fly considerable distances. The fowl is also generally half the size of a White Leghorn domesticated chicken, but it can produce fertile offspring with domestic chickens.

Susan von Struensee, Art and Agriculture Series - poultry

‘Humans carried the easily portable bird around the world. How this began remains controversial. . . .

‘“We need to reconcile all the data,” says Olivier Hanotte, a geneticist at the University of Nottingham. He favors a single origin in northern Southeast Asia, based on the enormous diversity of chicken breeds there. . . .

‘Ultimately, researchers hope to get ancient DNA from well-dated bones. But “replicable DNA has been as rare as hen’s teeth,” Zeder says, thanks to contamination issues and tropical climes that degrade DNA. One team recently claimed to have mtDNA from an ancient Polynesian chicken bone in Chile—a dramatic find that would prove Polynesians reached the Americas before Columbus—but the find has been questioned as possibly contaminated (Science, 11 June 2010, p. 1344). Techniques are improving, however. . . .

[T]he genetic information in truly wild fowl could kill two birds with one stone, unraveling the chicken’s past while potentially ensuring its future. . . .

Susan von Struensee, Art and Agriculture Series - poultry

‘On a tidy farm in the mountains of northwest Vietnam, Chinese biologist Jianlin Han expertly grabs a nervous red jungle fowl recently captured in this region’s quickly disappearing forest. The bird—which sports a long and dangerously sharp spur—is part of Han’s hands-on effort to breed better animals to benefit the rural poor, while at the same time gathering a massive data set to understand the genetic underpinnings of the domestic chicken. Han, who grew up raising chickens in rural China, is as comfortable in the lab as in the barnyard. . . .

‘The chicken, which grows quickly and is the most intensely bred of domestic animals, provides an intriguing model for understanding those issues, says Han, who works for the International Livestock Research Institute based in Nairobi but spends most of his time in his Beijing lab and in the field across South Asia. . . . The goal is to produce a domes-ticated chicken that caters to local tastes while providing more meat and eggs. Han is also investigating the unusually high number of local varieties found in surrounding villages—many more than elsewhere in South Asia—which may be a hint that the chicken was originally domesticated in this rugged area. Han has an ambitious plan to catalog the genetic makeup of today’s jungle fowl, charting its diversity in different regions and also revealing whether it includes genes from domestic chickens. . . .

‘“Jianlin’s brute-force approach definitely has its merits,” says archaeologist Greger Larson of Durham University in the United Kingdom. “I suspect we can’t possibly know what all the variation is out there unless you go and sequence a ton of stuff.” Geneticist Olivier Hanotte of the University of Nottingham in the United Kingdom agrees . . . .

‘Han is also curious about what happens when chickens go feral. Natural selection reasserts itself when humans no longer make breeding deci-sions or provide regular food and protection. “This will help us understand how the genome works, and how plastic it is,” Han says. “This is the most fundamental biological question.” The lowly chicken may one day provide humans with more than just a cheap joke or a fast meal.’

Read the whole articles in Science: In search of the wild chicken and the accompanying feature article on Han Jianlin, From farmyard to the lab (News Focus, Animal Domestication), both by Andrew Lawler, 23 November 2012: 1020–1024.

Read related earlier articles on this blog: Research paper casts doubt on claims for pre-Colombian Chilean chickens, 13 Oct 2008, and Award-winning ILRI geneticist takes up prestigious UK appointment, 17 Dec 2008.

Livestock in the city: New study of ‘farm animals’ raised in African cities yields surprising results

Urban zoonoses and food safety: Nairobi

Leonard Gitau, a small-scale livestock farmer in Dagoretti, Nairobi, speaks to journalists during a media tour by ILRI of urban farmers in Nairobi on 21 Sep 2012 (photo credit: ILRI/Paul Karaimu).

For the first time in history, more people are living in cities than rural areas. Many of them still keep livestock. At least 800 million people in cities in developing countries practice urban agriculture, from growing vegetables to keeping camels—often in close confinement in densely populated areas.

The benefits of urban livestock keeping are many: from improved food security, nutrition and health from livestock products, creation of jobs and protection from food price volatility. But the risks in urban livestock are also large: unsanitary conditions and weak infrastructure mean that livestock can be a source of pollution and disease.

‘Zoonoses’, diseases transmitted between animals and people, are a global health problem that particularly affects the poor in developing countries. A new study by the International Livestock Research Institute (ILRI) and partners finds that zoonoses and diseases recently emerged from animals make up 26% of the infectious disease burden in low-income countries, but just 0.7% of the infectious disease burden in high-income countries.

The study, published in the journal Tropical Animal Health and Production, which was led by University of Nairobi and ILRI, is part of a series of papers that examine the facts and fiction of urban livestock keeping. The researchers note the need for evidence in the planning and practice of urban food systems and the danger of relying on perceptions or models taken from different contexts.

Here are some of the results of the study.

LOTS OF URBAN LIVESTOCK
Much more livestock is being raised in the urban areas of developing countries than most people (and policymakers) think.

THE DISEASE RISK
Domestic as well as wild animals can spread many, and some very serious, diseases to people and it is a reasonable assumption that as the population of urban areas of these and other developing countries continues to increase, the risk of zoonoses also increases.

THE GOOD NEWS
This recent in-depth study of urban zoonoses in urban environments in Nigeria and Kenya suggests that the human disease risk posed by raising, processing, marketing and/or consuming livestock in cities, city suburbs and big towns in developing countries is less than we might think.

SUPPORT INFORMAL MARKETS
Rather than bar poor people from livestock enterprises in urban areas in an attempt to protect public health, which could do the poor more harm than good, this study suggests that a more practical and equitable course is to work to enhance practices in small-scale urban livestock raising and informal livestock marketing by encouraging poor livestock producers, processors and sellers to upgrade some of their practices.

PROVIDE INCENTIVES FOR GOOD BEHAVIOUR
This study included participatory work with the local communities, and an important outcome has been the success achieved by creating incentives for the poor to improve their livestock practices rather than trying to strictly regulate these informal livestock markets, or harass the people involved, or bar them from operating altogether.

DISEASE RISKS ARE NOT WHAT WE THINK
Another important finding is that people are not the good judges of risks that they think they are; most people, including food safety officials, think that livestock foods, being so perishable, carry the greatest risk of disease in informal urban markets, but studies have shown that, for example, city vegetables are often a greater cause of disease concern than milk and meat.

TRACKING PATHOGENS AND RELATED ILRI RESEARCH
This research project was conducted jointly with the University of Nairobi, whose Professor Erastus Kang’ethe led the data collection and participatory work within Kenya, with the support of the Kenyan government and health officials. This project also expands ILRI’s long-standing research on informal dairy markets in East Africa and South Asia, led by ILRI scientist Amos Omore and others, which helped to refine dairy policies to support rather than harass sellers of ‘raw’ (unpasteurized) milk. And a new ILRI research project led by ILRI scientist Eric Fevre will investigate zoonoses further by tracking disease pathogens as they move among farms, processors and markets in Nairobi.

Urban zoonoses and food safety: Nairobi

ILRI scientist Delia Grace is interviewed by BBC and AllAfrica.com before the start of a journalist tour of urban livestock farmers in Nairobi that ILRI organized on 21 Sep 2012 (photo credit: ILRI/Paul Karaimu).

Delia Grace, an ILRI veterinary epidemiologist and leader of a component of the CGIAR Research Program on Agriculture for Nutrition and Health, was the principal investigator in the Ibadan-Nairobi zoonoses study and editor of this special edition of Tropical Animal Health and Production. Grace says that regulations that work for rich countries do not always work for poor countries, and that policies should follow a risk-based approach where decision-makers’ focus is not the bugs present in food but the likely effects on human health. ‘The risks of food-borne diseases’, she says, ‘need also be weighed against the economic benefits and nutrition abundantly supplied by animal products.’

In the absence of evidence, policies are based on the prejudice that urban livestock keeping is unsafe and unmodern, and it is often banned outright. Of course it continues behind hedges and in back alleys, but the imposed illegality drives a rush to the bottom in hygienic practices and investments. When farmers are harassed by authorities and operate in a legal grey area, they have little access to the support they need and little incentive to invest in business improvements.

Thanks in part to previous research on the benefits of urban agriculture, the Government of Kenya has been proactive in posting veterinary, animal production, and crop personnel in major urban centers to lead from the front in championing the development of urban agriculture. The government has also led in the development of the urban agriculture and livestock policy. Involving these civil servants has been key in enabling our research in urban agriculture. This is a good example of government changing its policy to better meet the needs of citizens.

Rapid urbanization, and along with it the urbanization of poverty and food insecurity, raises urgent challenges for the global research and development community. Among them is the need to manage the growing risks of zoonosis associated with urban farming and to improve food safety for the one billion of the world’s poor living in cities, most of whom depend on informal markets instead of more formal government-organized markets or grocery stores.

Informal, or wet markets, exist in many different forms across Africa and Asia but have common characteristics: food escapes effective health and safety regulation; many retailers do not pay tax and some are not licensed; traditional processing, products and retail practices predominate; infrastructure such as water, electricity, sanitation, and refrigeration is lacking; and little support is provided from the public or non-governmental sector. Unsurprisingly, women and the poor are involved most in informal markets.

Applying an innovative research approach known as ‘ecohealth’, the findings of this research contradict some basic assumptions about zoonoses and urban farming and show how livestock keepers in one of Africa’s biggest cities, Nairobi, Kenya, are transforming their livestock and public health practices to combat disease and help feed a city where 60% of the population lives in slums.

But what does it mean in practice? A special edition of 11 papers sets out how ecohealth approaches can make a difference to city health. The researchers base their findings from two case studies. One is in Dagoretti, a Nairobi district of some 240,000 residents, and analyzes the emerging zoonoses cryptosporidiosis, a diarrhoeal disease that is passed from cattle to humans.

For further information

See a Factsheet on Urban Agriculture and Zoonoses in Nairobi, which provides key facts about urbanization, urban livestock keeping and the study in Dagoretti, where most residents are poor and many raise livestock inside city limits.

Read the special supplement of the August 2012 issue of the journal Tropical Animal Health and Production on assessing and managing urban zoonoses and food-borne disease in Nairobi and Ibadan.

Featured in the special supplement are the following 10 research articles by scientists from the International Livestock Research Institute (ILRI) and partners from the Kenya Agricultural Research Institute (KARI), the Kenya Ministry of Agriculture, the Federal University of Agriculture, Abeokuta, the University of Ibadan and the University of Nairobi.

Click on the links below to read the abstracts of the articles (ILRI authors in burgundy; journal subscription required for access to full text).

Roots and tubers to the fore: Cassava and sweet potato may improve dairy goat production in Tanzania’s drylands, but will women benefit?

Tanzania Dairy Goats and Root Crops Project: M&E training

Harrison Rware, an ILRI researcher, listens to Sinayo Taigo, a farmer in Mvomero District, Tanzania during a review of 3-year work plans developed by women in a program that is setting up community-managed breeding programs for dairy goats and introducing improved varieties of cassava and sweet potato in the country (photo credit: ILRI/Deo Gratias Shayo).

Researchers in Tanzania are exploring how small-scale farmers might better integrate production of root and tuber crops, such as cassava and sweet potatoes, with rearing dairy goats to improve the food and nutritional security of their households.

Surprisingly, few programs in Tanzania have yet focused on integrating these crops with small ruminants, such as goats. This is despite the fact that sweet potato and cassava are among the most important root and tuber crops grown by the country’s farmers, most of whom keep goats. Cassava and sweet potato provide human food in periods of hunger, provide feed for ruminant animals (leaf meal from cassava and vines from the sweet potato plant), and can be grown in semi-arid areas.

With farmers, the scientists are setting up community-managed breeding programs for dairy goats and introducing improved varieties of cassava and sweet potato. Both dairy goats and root crops are new to the study region, the Mvomero and Kongwa districts of Morogoro and Dodoma regions, respectively, where project staff distributed Toggenburg and Norwegian improved breeds of dairy goats to 107 farmers in February 2012.

Drought-tolerant varieties of cassava and sweet potato have never before been farmed at large scale in the region and dairy goat keeping has previously been restricted to the wetter areas of the districts. ‘This is changing now,’ says Faustin Lekule, a professor with Sokoine University of Agriculture, ‘because with the use of these crops, we can now introduce dairy goats in dry agro-pastoral areas.’

Led by Tanzania’s Sokoine University of Agriculture and the University of Alberta, in Canada, the project also involves collaboration with the agricultural research institute in Kibaha, the Kongwa and Mvomero district councils and the Foundation for Sustainable Rural Development, a non-governmental organization. The International Livestock Research Institute (ILRI) is serving as knowledge-support partner for the project and is providing expertise on goat production, gender integration, monitoring and evaluation, and assessing food and nutritional security.

‘We’re combining project- and community-based indicators to ensure that farmer decisions guide the project’s implementation,’ said Pamela Pali, a scientist at ILRI who is leading the monitoring and evaluation component of the project. The project is using a web-based monitoring and evaluation system, set up by ILRI’s Research Methods Group, to collect and share information on how farmers are responding to the project’s interventions.

A gender analysis has been applied from the start of the project, including in its research design. ‘We analyzed gender roles, time use, labour allocation and other gender-related factors associated with raising dairy goats and cultivating root crops,’ said Pali. This information was used to refine the distribution of goats and planting materials to households.

Tanzania Dairy Goats and Root Crops Project: M&E Training

ILRI scientist Pamela Pali leads a session on community-based monitoring and evaluation to train farmers in Kongwa District, Tanzania on creating project objectives and indicators (photo credit: ILRI/Deo Gratias Shayo). 

Results from the study sites show that few women own goats or have control over the milk produced and sold from dairy goats. As the demand for milk and milk products increases in cities and milk points, men’s role in milk marketing has taken centre stage. ‘But we also know that livestock activities for women in Africa increase with intensification of production’, says Pali. ‘Seasonal and gender differences in livestock activities such as feeding, watering and milking must be well understood so that we avoid the extra work load on women but ensure that their control over the benefits is increased.’

A key input of the project has been capacity building. Both Sokoine University of Agriculture and the agricultural research institute in Kibaha are training farmers how to raise dairy goats.

‘I received a goat in February this year. As a result of the training, I now understand how to feed the animal, construct a better goat house and identify signs of diseases for my goat. This project has improved my farming skills,’ said Subeida Zaidi, a woman farmer in Kongwa District.

Farmers like Zaidi, who keep goats and grow root crops on small plots typically about one-quarter of an acre, both consume the milk produced by their animals at home and will start to sell it to meet their cash needs. Sustainability is built into this project: once a goat produces offspring, its owner gives a female kid to another farmer, thus ‘passing on the gift’, to use the term made popular by the American non-governmental organization Heifer International.

The project’s monitoring and evaluation trainings have helped farmers clarify their objectives, which include increasing the number of goats they keep, the amount of milk their goats produce and the amount of dual-purpose food-fodder root crops they cultivate. The farmers keep records of their milk production, and this information is supposed to be regularly fed into the web-based monitoring and evaluation system. The researchers are using the information generated to put checks against interventions that are likely to impact women and men, especially those that will narrow the gender, nutrition, income and asset gaps between men and women. The information is also helping project staff and the community members to better understand, and make better use of, the informal markets and ‘value chains’ in the region that the farmers use.

In particular, the University of Alberta is using the project to assess the economic impacts of informal markets, trading and gift giving between households at the village level. Knowing how these informal markets for root crops and goats work will broaden understanding of, and inform, ongoing initiatives in the project.

This project, ‘Integrating Dairy Goats and Root Crops Production for Increasing Food, Nutrition and Income Security of Smallholder Farmers in Tanzania’, is funded by Canada’s International Development Research Centre, and Canadian International Development Agency (CIDA).

Read more about the project http://ilri.org/node/1177 and https://sites.google.com/a/ualberta.ca/diary-goats-and-root-crops-tanzania/home

For more information, read a working paper about this project published earlier this year: Integrating improved goat breeds with new varieties of sweet potatoes and cassava in the agro-pastoral systems in Tanzania: A gendered analysis, by Petra Saghir, Jemimah Njuki, Elizabeth Waithanji, Juliet Kariuki and Anna Sikira, 2012, ILRI Discussion Paper No. 21, International Livestock Research Institute.

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

Milestones in the eradication of rinderpest

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Journalist Fred Pearce gives more details.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Afar community animal health worker

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Changing the fortunes of farmers in Ethiopia through better livestock feed

This very brief photofilm (1:23 minutes) shares the memorable and powerful story of Gebremichael Desta, an Ethiopian farmer whose life has changed by the use of improved livestock feed. 

If you climb up the rickety ladder on to the roof of the stone dwelling where Gebremichael Desta lives with his family and livestock—he keeps his hay on the roof—you can gaze across a world which looks much as it must have done many centuries ago. Ploughmen shout encouragement to their oxen, women urge pack animals over the stony ground and buzzards wheel above the terraced fields. There is not a machine in sight; nothing to indicate that this is the 21st century.

But appearances can deceive. ‘The difference between the past and present?’ muses Desta. ‘It’s like the distance between the sky and the earth.’ Today, the families living in these remote highlands—much of Tigray, in northern Ethiopia, is over 2000 metres above sea level—learn about the importance of family planning and good nutrition. Older generations never did. ‘When I was young, we were entirely dependent on traditional medicines if we fell sick, but now we have access to modern health care,’ says Desta.

Recent years have also witnessed dramatic changes in the way he and his neighbours manage their land and livestock. A few years ago, at this time of day, his animals—two oxen, a dairy cow and calf, a donkey, 10 sheep—would have been grazing in the valley below, watched over by one of his five children. Now they remain at the homestead, and the fodder is brought to them, rather than the other way around.

These changes have been inspired by a five-year project, Improving Productivity and Market Success of Ethiopian Farmers or IPMS, in short, which is funded by the Canadian International Development Agency and managed by the International Livestock Research Institute (ILRI) on behalf of the Ministry of Agriculture and Rural Development.  In 10 districts across Ethiopia, the project has helped to improve the value chains—the links between producers, the suppliers of farm inputs and markets—for a range of crops and livestock products.

The project began with a lengthy series of consultations with farmers and local government staff. Together, they identified which farm commodities had the potential to improve local incomes and livelihoods. ‘The main candidates were milk and butter, sheep for fattening and beekeeping,’ recalls Gebremedhin Woldewahid, the project’s research and development officer in Atsbi-Wenberta District. ‘But the more we talked, the more we realised there was a major limiting factor for all these commodities—a lack of nutritious fodder.’ Much of the district suffered from overgrazing and heavily degraded soils. Tackling this was to be a priority.

A fairer, greener world

‘In 2006, before the project really got under way, this valley would have been parched and dusty and full of livestock at this time of year,’ explains Kidan Kindeya, a young woman who works as a development agent for Habes Peasant Association, of which Desta is vice-chairman. Today, there is not a grazing animal in sight and the vegetation is green and lush. Here and there, the grass has been harvested with a scythe; elsewhere it is almost knee-high, despite the fact that there has been little rain recently.

It is now three years since the peasant association agreed to ban grazing in the valley bottom, an area of some 280 hectares, and allow the land to regenerate naturally. ‘Before we enclosed the area, the ground was very compacted, especially by horses, and the grass was sparse and unpalatable for our sheep and cows,’ recalls Desta. ‘Now we can harvest our plots three times a year, and the quality of the fodder is excellent.’

There are numerous benefits to the ‘cut and carry’ system now operating in many valleys in Atsbi-Wenberta District. ‘My milk yields have risen and my animals are much healthier,’ says Desta. He also believes that by keeping animals at the homesteads, there is less risk of infectious diseases passing from one to another. The restoration of grazing lands has also led to an increase in flowers, providing a rich supply of pollen for honey bees. As a result, farmers practicing apiculture have benefited greatly from the new methods of pasture management.

In the past, children used to watch over the grazing livestock, which meant they did not go to school. Now they are attending classes. Farmers also used to spend a lot of time travelling long distances to buy fresh grass and hay. Now many have a surplus. This has proved especially important for the poorer households without livestock, which are often headed by widows. ‘They received no benefit in the past from areas like this, before the enclosures,’ explains Kidan Kindeya. ‘They had no livestock to graze, and there was nothing for them to harvest.’ Now, every family is allocated the same amount of land in the valley and those without livestock can harvest their grass and sell it. Two harvests a year yield fodder worth around 10,000 Ethiopian birr (USD740) per hectare.

Besides helping farmers to improve the supply of natural fodder, the local offices of the Ministry of Agriculture and Rural Development and the peasant associations have encouraged farmers to grow their own supplies. Training centres, many with colourful murals depicting the new ways of farming, have provided the know-how and materials to establish Napier grass, tree lucerne and other fodder crops. Now you see them growing around almost every homestead, besides plots of fruit and vegetables.

Spreading the word

‘When I was young,’ says an old priest outside the Orthodox church in Cherkos Haremere, ‘there was thick forest all over this hillside.’ All that remains is a fine stand of African olive trees around the church, the site’s sanctity protecting them from axe and fire. Over the years, a rapidly rising population and the ever-increasing demand for fuelwood, cropland and pasture transformed the rest of the landscape, much of which suffers from erosion and overgrazing.  It is a scene repeated across the district, but gradually, thanks to the efforts of the peasant associations and the introduction of new management techniques, degraded land is being brought back to life.

Four years ago, farmers in Baati-ero agreed to establish enclosures on the sloping land between the valley bottom and the village itself. They kept their animals out, planted fast-growing grasses and leguminous trees, and dug long ditches to harvest and retain rainwater. ‘We hardly used to get any fodder here at all,’ says a local farmer, Tadele Teklay, ‘but this year I’ve been able to get about five donkey loads.’

The farmers are so impressed by what they have achieved that they recently decided to establish enclosures in the valley bottom – something they originally resisted. Many, like Teklay, have also decided to reduce the number of livestock they keep.  ‘Now, we don’t talk about how many animals we have, but how much money we can make from each of them,’ he says.  ‘It’s the quality that matters, not the quantity, and the better the feed, as well as the breed, the more money we’ll make.’

Much of the technical advice that has enabled farmers to improve their productivity and gain access to better markets has been provided by Gebremedhin Woldewahid and the IPMS project, but most of the training has been carried out by the local offices of the Ministry of Agriculture Rural Development and by development agents like Kidan Kindeya. ‘That means that when the project comes to an end, hardly anybody will notice we’ve left,’ says Woldewahid with satisfaction.

One of the reasons why many of the activities encouraged by IPMS are spreading swiftly is because they make good financial, as well as environmental, sense. ‘You can see that with the fodder enclosures,’ says Berhe Fiseha, who chairs the project’s regional advisory and learning committee in Tigray. ‘They began establishing them in one peasant association, then they spread to four others, and now you’ll see enclosures being used to restore grassland all over the district.’

When asked what he has gained in recent years, Gebremichael Desta responds with one word: knowledge. He still regrets that he left school at the age of 17. He was a bright child, but his parents, traditional peasant farmers, had little appreciation of the value of education. Desta is justly proud that his eldest son has a diploma in agriculture and now works as a development agent, and his eldest daughter is studying at university.

‘If you want to survive, and you want to improve your life, then you must take advantage of the opportunities that come your way,’ he says. ‘There are many things which we now do differently, and we have many technologies that our parents never had or knew about. For me, knowledge is the key to everything.’

Story by Charlie Pye-Smith.

Download publications from the Improving Productivity and Market Success of Ethiopian Farmers project: http://cgspace.cgiar.org/handle/10568/262

 

New reports explore reliability of climate models at predicting impacts on agriculture

Washing harvested potatoes in a village in central Malawi

A farmer washing newly-harvested potatoes in Malawi. New studies in Africa and Asia offer insights into the reliablity of climate projections for agriculture (photo credit: ILRI/Stevie Mann).

Findings from a series of studies that assessed the reliability of climate models in predicting the impact of climate change on agriculture were released today.

The reports, which are based on studies that tested General Circulation Models in West Africa, East Africa and the Indo-Gangetic plains were produced by the Climate Change, Agriculture and Food Security (CCAFS) research program of the Consultative Group on International Agricultural Research (CGIAR) and Oxford University. The studies reviewed impacts of different climate change scenarios on crop farming in these regions.

The reports show that though individual models have a number of severe weaknesses in predicting agricultural impacts of climate change, they can be used together to produce useful climate change projections. The reports give details on the specific strengths and weaknesses of each of the models used and how they can be used together to predict possible shifts in farming practices.

‘Ensemble model predictions can overcome many of the individual model weaknesses to help decision makers plan future agricultural activities,’ said Philip Thornton, a scientist with the International Livestock Research Institute (ILRI), who coordinated the research for the CGIAR Climate Change program. ‘This information can guide investments in risk management, adaptation and mitigation research, as well as infrastructural development.  These actions are crucial if agriculture is to adapt to a changing climate.’

Read full story on the CCAFS news blog: http://ccafs.cgiar.org/blog

 

Researchers strengthen their partnerships in the fight against Rift Valley fever

Typical mixed crop-livestock farming of western Kenya

A mixed crop-livestock farm in Western Kenya. Livestock researchers are working towards joint efforts of preventing and controlling Rift Valley fever in eastern Africa (photo credit: ILRI/Charlie Pye-Smith).

A new effort to align the work of partners in eastern Africa and implement more synergetic research on Rift Valley fever was the focus of a recent multi-stakeholder workshop that reviewed research strategies and approaches used by veterinarians, epidemiologists, economists and public health experts in projects across Kenya.

The meeting, which was held at the International Livestock Research Institute (ILRI) on 2 February 2012, discussed ILRI’s Rift Valley fever research program, potential collaborations with partners and options of controlling the mosquito-borne viral disease that affects cattle herds in eastern and southern Africa. Epidemics of the disease, which can also infect humans, emerge after above-average and widespread rainfall and lead to death and abortion in livestock.

Participating organizations, which are conducting research on Rift Valley fever, included Kenya’s ministries in charge of livestock development and public health, the universities of Nairobi and Egerton, Kenya Agricultural Research Institute and Kenya Medical Research Institute. Also attending the workshop were staff of the African Union Interafrican Bureau for Animal Resources (AU-IBAR), Swiss Tropical and Public Health Institute, the Nairobi office of the US Centres for Disease Control and Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations (FAO).

‘Our research in Rift Valley fever is benefitting from increasing collaboration,’ said Bernard Bett, an epidemiologist with ILRI. ‘These “joined up” efforts, are supporting joint assessments of the prevalence of zoonotic diseases in both animals and humans and are helping to increase the relevance of the research leading to more effective interventions.’

This strategy should lead to lower costs of doing research and implementing human and animal health interventions and a reduced burden of Rift Valley fever on the region’s livestock, people, wildlife and markets.

Esther Schelling, a epidemiologist with the Swiss Tropical and Public Health Institute, and formerly a researcher with ILRI, said: ‘Collaborative efforts in addressing the challenge of Rift Valley fever can support “one health” initiatives that seek to raise the research profile of neglected zoonotic diseases in Africa and improve the effectiveness of interventions through joint surveillance, preparedness and contingency planning to reduce the amount of time it takes to control outbreaks of these diseases.’

During the meeting, ILRI shared findings from a collaborative project known as ‘Enhancing prevention and control of Rift Valley fever in East Africa by inter-sectorial assessment of control options.’ For example, an analysis, by the project, of the public health burden of Rift Valley fever outbreaks measured in disability adjusted live years (DALYs) – the first of its kind in Kenya – shows that the 2006 and 2007 outbreak resulted in 3.4 DALYs per 1000 people and household costs of about Ksh 10,000 (USD120) for every human case reported. In 2008, ILRI estimated the disease cost the Kenyan economy USD30 million. Findings from the project also included a dynamic herd model developed for pastoral systems for simulating herd dynamics during normal and drought periods and in Rift Valley fever outbreaks. This model will be used to simulate the impacts of prevention and control options for the disease.

The Nairobi meeting discussed gaps in current research practice including the absence of climate models, sampling tools and methods to support decision support tools. Participants highlighted the need for a vector profile of the disease to enable mapping of most affected and high-risk areas and the need to understand how Rift Valley fever interacts between livestock and wildlife.

The prevention and control options discussed at the meeting will be further simulated using the herd dynamic model, which will be followed by an economic analysis using a process that was agreed on in an earlier (September 2011) workshop that discussed Rift Valley fever surveillance. A cost-benefit analysis of vaccination, vector control, surveillance, and sanitary measures is now scheduled. Results from the analysis will give much-needed evidence to support creation of policies and strategies for appropriate surveillance, prevention and control of Rift Valley fever in eastern Africa.

According to Tabitha Kimani, an agricultural economist with ILRI, ‘preliminary cost benefit analysis is already showing that it is beneficial to control Rift Valley fever through vaccination.’

 

Read more on Rift Valley fever research at ILRI and the region:

ILRI news archive

http://www.ilri.org/ilrinews/index.php?s=%22Rift+Valley+fever%22&submit=Search

ILRI clippings archive

http://ilriclippings.wordpress.com/2012/02/12/could-rift-valley-fever-be-a-weapon-of-mass-destruction-an-insidious-insect-animal-people-infection-loop-explored/

 

 

 

Market incentives–not top-down regulation–needed to help poor farmers take advantage of East Africa’s burgeoning pig industry

Uganda railways assessment 2010

A family of pigs are at home on a section of overgrown railway track near Kumi, Uganda, September 2010 (photo on Flickr by John Hanson/US Army).

Editor’s Correction of 18 Jan 2012
Today we have corrected parts of this story to reflect the following comment from CRP 3.7 director Tom Randolph:

Lessons learned in other smallholder livestock systems—especially smallholder dairying in East Africa and India—is that a typical policy reaction to animal and public health challenges is to seek more regulation. The problem is that such regulation often proves to be toothless (i.e. cannot be effectively enforced by veterinary services) and ultimately anti-poor. We are pursuing alternative approaches that encourage farmers and other value chain actors to improve animal and public health-related practices by creating or exploiting market incentives rather than relying on top-down regulation. This will certainly be our approach as we engage in the Uganda smallholder pig value chain.’ — Tom Randolph, director of CGIAR Research Program on Livestock and Fish (CRP 3.7)

East Africa’s growing human population and rapid urbanization are creating new opportunities for small-scale farmers to make money from pig farming. According to Tom Randolph, an agricultural economist with the International Livestock Research Institute (ILRI), ‘pig production [in East Africa] is taking off and growing rapidly and there is a rising demand for pork and related products, particularly in Uganda.’ Uganda has more than 3 million pigs and over 1.1 million people across the country (17 per cent of households) are involved in pig rearing and trade in pork products.

Randolph was speaking at the ILRI Nairobi campus during a recent workshop to find ways of diagnosing and controlling the spread of cysticercosis, a disease caused by tapeworms that can cause seizures and epilepsy in people when they consume undercooked pork infected with the tapeworms. Inadequate disease control is one of the biggest challenges facing the informal pig industry in East Africa.

Most of the pork sold in this region is produced by small-scale farmers who keep 1 to 3 animals in ‘backyard systems’, and the rapid growth of urban areas is opening up new opportunities for small-scale producers to intensify their pork production to meet growing demand.

For farmers in the region, pigs are ‘a cash crop of livestock’ because they do not carry cultural and social values like cows and chickens. This means that pig farming, because of its nature as a commercial activity and the shorter production cycles of pigs, can offer significant economic benefits to smallholders. ‘By supporting pig farming, we will be helping women, who are the ones who typically tend to the pigs on these small farms, and families to improve their income and their nutrition,’ said Randolph.

Despite the great potential offered by poor farmers from pig farming, Randolph said ‘the sector remains largely “invisible” and poorly regulated because the region’s governments have not focused on developing it.’

Improvements needed in the sector include providing better breeds and improving marketing systems to capture the ‘value that is currently being leaked out of the system’. Dealing with diseases such as African swine fever and cysticercosis is also critical. ‘Early diagnosis of diseases,’ said Randolph, ‘will give confidence to consumers that the pork they buy is safe.’

See workshop presentation:

US-Kenyan team developing vaccine to protect African cattle against deadly East Coast fever

Dissecting ticks to extract parasites at ILRI

Staff of ILRI’s Tick Unit dissect ticks to extract the parasite Theileria parva, which causes East Coast fever in cattle (photo credit: Brad Collis).

A vaccine that protects cattle against East Coast fever, a deadly disease in eastern and central Africa, is being developed by scientists in Kenya working for the International Livestock Research Institute (ILRI) jointly with scientists at the Agricultural Research Service (ARS) Animal Disease Research Unit in Pullman, Washington, which is part of the United States Department of Agriculture (USDA). ARS is the USDA’s chief intramural scientific research agency. This research, which looks at combination vaccines for tick-borne diseases, supports USDA’s priority of promoting international food security.

Scientists are focusing on the tick that transmits the parasite responsible for East Coast fever. Because this host tick and its parasite are similar to the tick and parasite that cause babesiosis, commonly called Texas cattle fever, in the United States, developing a vaccine for East Coast fever could lead to a vaccine for Texas cattle fever, which is a serious illness for wild and domesticated animals, especially cattle.

In an initial study, scientists developed a polymerase chain reaction test that detects parasite DNA in ticks. They used tick populations that were produced at ILRI to have different susceptibilities to infection with the parasite. Two different strains of ticks—Muguga and Kiambu—were compared. The Muguga ticks had a low level of parasitic infection, whereas the Kiambu ticks were highly susceptible.

Understanding genetic differences between these two tick populations could lead to the identification of proteins that might be good targets for a vaccine to help control East Coast fever.

This international partnership is part of a global community effort to control diseases that limit food and fiber production. Although East Coast fever isn’t currently a problem in the United States, this collaborative research aids in keeping the US and other countries free of the disease. Results of this collaborative research may be applied to help control similar parasitic diseases.

Findings from this research were published in Gene and in the Journal of Medical Entomology.

Read more at the United States Department of Agriculture Agricultural Research Service: Partnership focuses on developing East Coast fever vaccine, 4 Oct 2011.

Read more about this research in the October 2011 issue of Agricultural Research Magazine.

Read more about this project on ILRI’s website.

Small-scale farmers remain crucial to Vietnamese pork industry

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Pigs feeding at a farm in Vietnam: Small-scale farmers remain crucial to the growth of Vietnam’s pork industry (photo from Flickr by Stephen McGrath, Rock Portrait Photography).

A project that evaluated pig production and marketing in Vietnam shows that supply shortages could be responsible for the current high prices of pork in the country. Supporting small-scale farmers to produce more pigs and improving pork distribution and marketing chains could hold the key to keeping rising prices of pork in the country in check.

Between December 2010 and June 2011, Vietnam experienced a 22 per cent rise in the food price index (a measure of the monthly change in international prices of a basket of food commodities). A spike in the prices of pork, a key part of the Vietnamese diet, was largely responsible for this rise in food costs. Government and pork industry players in the country have blamed the rise in pork prices on both unregulated pork exports to China through cross-border trade and a rise in global food prices generally.

Even though industry stakeholders, including the government, say importing more meat and supporting large commercial producers will stabilize the pork market in Vietnam, research suggests that developing large farms to address supply constraints will not solve the price problem over the long-term. According to the project, which was carried out between 2007 and 2010 in Ha Noi, Ho Chi Minh and six of Vietnam’s provinces, large farms will provide ‘only a small share over the next decade, offering only up to 12 per cent of [the country’s] total pork supply.’ The project, titled ‘Improving competitiveness of smallholder pig producers in an adjusting Vietnam market’, was funded by the Australian Centre for International Agricultural Research (ACIAR) and the Consultative Group on International Agricultural Research (CGIAR).

Many pressing challenges face the Vietnamese pork industry, including increasing feed prices and demand for pork, poor management of the pork value chain, concerns about pig diseases, difficulty finding piglets and other inputs and poor veterinary and credit services.

‘Demand for pork in Vietnam is growing faster than its domestic supply,’ said Lucy Lapar, an economist with ILRI in Vietnam. ‘What our research found was that the recent steep rise in the pork price is most likely a result of inefficiencies along the value chain rather than a critical shortage in pork supply. Normally, high pork prices might encourage pig farmers to expand their production, but in this case, despite the high prices, farmers seem hesitant to raise their pork production,’ said Lapar.

Small-scale farmers in particular worry about pig diseases and the difficulty they face in getting hold of piglets and support services. ‘We need to find ways to address these constraints and bring about substantial improvement to the pig production system,’ said Lapar. ‘Even though efforts by those involved in the pig industry are focusing on increasing large-scale farming of pigs, they must not neglect smallholders who will almost certainly continue to play a significant role in meeting the growing demands for pork in Vietnam in the near future.’

Vietnam’s smallholder pig producers will remain viable because they are able to produce pork at lower costs than large-scale farms by using household scraps and other feeds that would otherwise be unused and thus do not need to rely on feed imports. These practices make small-scale pork production efficient in the long term, translating to better pries for consumers.

‘A combination of small household producers and large pig producers is most efficient for Vietnam at this stage of its pork industry’s development,’ says Lapar. The implications from this project’s findings suggest that the Vietnamese Government and pork industry players should put in place systems and practices that make the pork value chain more efficient and support markets for both small and large producers in the country.

To read more about the project and its findings, visit: http://www.ilri.org/PigProducers and http://mahider.ilri.org/handle/10568/606/browse