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]

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]

Milk markets as ‘the great equalizer’ in East Africa?

Making agriculture profitable for poor farmers builds self-sufficiency

A dairy farmer in Kenya. Incorporating informal milk producers and traders into the country’s formal milk markets is improving the welfare of the poor (photo credit: Flickr/Gates Foundation).

Remarkably, more than 80 per cent of the milk produced and sold in Kenya comes from small-scale players, typically farmers raising one or two dairy cows on small plots of land and milk hawkers plying their trade on bicycles on streets and in villages.

The fast-growing dairy sector in this East African country could help tens of thousands of people climb out of poverty. But this will require supporting small-scale milk producers and traders in gradually entering the country’s formal milk markets.

Until recently, Kenya’s informal milk producers and traders were harassed rather than supported by officials because they were unregulated and were perceived to be a threat to public health.

A chapter in a new book, Towards priority actions for market development for African farmers, describes how Kenya’s small milk producers and sellers are being integrated into formal dairy markets. Authors Amos Omore and Derek Baker, from the International Livestock Research Institute (ILRI), say that what was needed was ‘recognizing and embracing’ the big contributions of dairy’s informal producers and traders and the potential role played by the informal milk markets in fighting poverty. According to the researchers, the removal of policy barriers to allow price-based competition to govern milk trade is enabling this informal dairy industry to significantly improve the welfare of the poor.

Using lessons and examples from a highly collaborative research and development Smallholder Dairy Project, the authors point out that training and certifying small-scale milk traders helps draw the informal milk producers and traders into a more ‘formal’ trading environment. This training also raises consumer confidence by improving and guaranteeing the quality of milk produced for market. With this training, which also teaches business and entrepreneurial skills, the small market players are increasing their incomes as well as milk consumption among poor communities.

‘This dairy project was instrumental in bringing about “mind-set and policy changes” and an impact on the profits made by milk producers in Kenya,’ say Omore and Baker. ‘It also provided a new model of incorporating these small producers into the formal sector.’

Carried out between 1997 and 2005, the Smallholder Dairy Project was led by Kenya’s Ministry of Livestock and Fisheries Development and implemented by ILRI and the Kenya Agricultural Research Institute. It was funded by the UK Department for International Development.

Kenya’s dairy industry, one of the largest in Africa, is supported by over 1.8 million mostly small-scale cattle producers who at the time of implementing the Smallholder Dairy Project supplied over 86 per cent of the country’s milk through direct milk sales from producers to consumers and from dairy farmer groups and over 40,000 small-scale farmers.

The chapter argues that small-scale milk traders trained and certified by the Kenya Dairy Board improved their hygienic practices in milk production and handling. These efforts have brought about ‘direct and sustainable benefits’ for dairy-dependent livelihoods, including making more milk available in the market and higher prices. More licensed small-scale vendors now to operate in the country contributing to more competitive prices that encourage farmers to produce more milk.

The success of the dairy project in mainstreaming Kenya’s the informal milk producers into Kenya’s dairy industry led to a revision of the country’s licensing processes, which then began to start recognizing these informal milk sellers. A 2004 dairy policy change paved the way for significant increases in the number of traders adopting milk testing methods, greater enforcement and compliance in milk quality control and an on-going regional harmonization of dairy policies and standards aiming to transform informal milk markets in Rwanda, Tanzania and Uganda along the lines of the Smallholder Dairy Project in Kenya.

For the tens of thousands of small milk producers in Kenya, these policy changes have made a great difference. Evidence suggest that without the Smallholder Dairy Project, these benefits would have taken another two decades to come to small-scale dairy sector players.

Read the full chapter (part of section 4):

Download the whole book:

For more information about the Smallholder Dairy Project visit:


Animal plagues: ‘The lethal gift of livestock’

List of reported bird flu outbreaks, May 11 through August 27, 2005

List of reported bird flu outbreaks from 11 May through 27 August 2005 (map on Flickr by Brooke Ganz/Asparagirl).

Two veterinary epidemiologists working at the International Livestock Research Institute (ILRI) recently published a fascinating look at the state of ‘livestock plagues’ that can, and regularly are, transmitted to human populations.

The two authors are John McDermott, who has since moved from ILRI to the International Food Policy Research Institute, where he leads a new CGIAR Research Program on ‘Agriculture for Better Nutrition and Health’, and Delia Grace, who remains at ILRI and leads the health components of this new program.

Introduction to this ILRI essay
‘Since the widespread domestication of animals in the Neolithic era, 10,000–15,000 years before the Common Era (CE), human livelihoods have been inextricably linked with the livestock they keep. Domesticated animals must have been among the most valued assets of ancient humans: walking factories that provided food, fertiliser, power, clothing, building materials, tools and utensils, fuel, power and adornments. Inevitably, the innovations of crop cultivation and food storage that allowed people to settle and live in high numbers and densities also increased the number of animals kept, density of livestock population and the intimacy of human-animal interactions. Pathogens responded, undergoing intense genomic change to seize these dramatically expanded opportunities.

Epidemics of highly contagious and lethal disease emerged, as livestock and people reached the critical population sizes needed for acute infections to persist. Diseases also jumped species from animal to humans: the lethal gift of livestock.

‘This chapter discusses which livestock epidemics are likely to constitute a disaster and why. . . .

Conclusion of the ILRI chapter
‘The struggle with epizootics continues and has even intensified in recent times. Population-decimating animal plagues, such as contagious bovine pleuropneumonia, peste des petits ruminants, swine fever, Newcastle disease and avian influenza, continue to have lethal and devastating impacts on livestock and livelihoods.

Livestock plagues are also shifting and emerging while climate change, urbanisation, migrations, genetically modified crops and rapid land use changes are examples of wild cards which could alter the present distribution for the disease dramatically for the worse.

The declaration of an era of epidemics, though, might be premature. In richer countries, dependence on livestock is low, resources exist to effectively control disease and non-communicable diseases associated with modern farming systems (such as lameness and reproductive problems) production pose the greatest problem to animal health.

‘In the developing world, the situation is different. Many people depend on animal agriculture: 700 million people keep livestock and up to 40 per cent of household income depends on livestock. Animal and human disease outbreaks are far more frequent, both for infections well controlled elsewhere and for emerging diseases.

In the poorest countries in Africa, livestock plagues that were better controlled in the past are regaining ground. Paradoxically, the fear of epizootics is much higher among the worried well in rich countries, who are highly concerned about the diseases they are very unlikely to fall sick or die of.

Thankfully this enlightened self-interest is providing more support for control of epizootics in poor countries. But it appears that while the centralised control of livestock plagues is effective (albeit, at high-cost) in richer countries, it struggles in the poorest. New approaches are not only needed but need to be rapidly tested and made available. What is required now is the vision and courage to transcend sectoral and conventional veterinary approaches and apply innovations to these urgent problems.’

Read the whole ILRI essay, which has been published as a chapter titled ‘Livestock epidemic’, freely available here on ILRI’s Mahider document repository, in a book by Routledge: Handbook of Hazards and Disaster Risk Reduction, edited by Ben Wisner, JC Gaillard , Ilan Kelman, published December 2011, 880 pages (hardback: 978-0-415-59065-5: USD240.00).


A pig from Western Kenya

A People, Animals and their Zoonoses (PAZ) project of the University of Edinburgh and ILRI is investigating the role played by pigs in transmitting zoonotic diseases and the risk factors for human infection in western Kenya (photo credit: ILRI/University of Edinburgh/Lian Doble).

Lorren Alumasa, ILRI clinical technician with the PAZ project collecting blood sample from a study participant

Lorren Alumasa, ILRI clinical technician with the People, Animals and their Zoonoses project (PAZ), collects blood sample from a study participant. The PAZ project investigates the role played by pigs in transmitting zoonotic diseases and the risk factors for human infection in western Kenya (photo credit: ILRI/Lorren Alumasa).

About the Handbook
The Handbook provides a comprehensive statement and reference point for hazard and disaster research, policy making, and practice in an international and multi-disciplinary context. It offers critical reviews and appraisals of current state of the art and future development of conceptual, theoretical and practical approaches as well as empirical knowledge and available tools. Organized into five inter-related sections, this Handbook contains sixty-five contributions from leading scholars. Section one situates hazards and disasters in their broad political, cultural, economic, and environmental context. Section two contains treatments of potentially damaging natural events/phenomena organized by major earth system. Section three critically reviews progress in responding to disasters including warning, relief and recovery. Section four addresses mitigation of potential loss and prevention of disasters under two sub-headings: governance, advocacy and self-help, and communication and participation. Section five ends with a concluding chapter by the editors.

New markets book showcases livestock insurance scheme that is helping Kenyan herders protect their marketable assets

NP Kenya 211011_36

Herders who took out livestock insurance under the Index-Based Livestock Insurance Project in a 2011 meeting in Marsabit, Kenya. A new markets book highlights the role of the insurance scheme in helping farmers protect their assets (photo credit: Neil Palmer/CIAT).

A new book on markets development for African smallholder farmers has highlighted a pioneering livestock insurance project as a key innovation that could enable African farmers reduce their losses in crop and livestock production.

The new publication: Towards priority actions for market development for African farmers, says lowering production and efficiency losses in agricultural production and improving agricultural markets will, among other actions, ‘level the playing field for smallholder farmers’ and support human and economic development in Africa. The books calls for the ‘right mix’ of policy and investments to not only ‘strengthen African policy expertise’ but also encourage ‘a more diverse array of investments and initiatives, including those initiated by the private sector.’

One such initiative that brings together private and public sector actors to support African agriculture is an Index-Based Livestock Insurance project in Kenya. The project is featured in a chapter in the new book.

Started in 2010 by the International Livestock Research Institute (ILRI) in partnership with UAP insurance, Equity Bank, Cornell University and the Index Insurance Innovation Initiative program at the University of California at Davis, the Index-Based Livestock Insurance project provides livestock insurance against forage losses to over 2500 households in Kenya’s Marsabit District. Freely available satellite imagery is used to assess conditions of pastures. When pasture vegetation is reduced to a level below a specified threshold, the insurance company pays herders who bought insurance. Yearly premiums cost USD100 for 6-8 animals.

Pastoral livestock sectors are at the heart of agricultural markets in Africa. Kenya’s livestock industry, for example, is estimated to be worth about USD800 million per year and produces most of the meat consumed in the country and is critical to the country’s food security. Research by ILRI shows that long-term solutions to food security in Kenya and other countries in the Horn of Africa need to support livestock herding. Pastoral systems are critical for the survival of livelihoods here and offer the most efficient way of managing the region’s large arid and semi-arid lands.

This insurance scheme is currently being piloted in other parts of Kenya and in Ethiopia. In late 2011, 600 livestock keepers insured through the project received insurance payments for vegetation losses arising from the drought that struck the Horn that year. The project is also now making use of mobile phones to widen its impact in remote communities.


The new book, which is published by ILRI and the Alliance for a Green Revolution in Africa (AGRA), warns that ‘it will not be enough to simply produce more food from the fields and grazing lands of Africa.’ More effort is needed to create better markets and improve access to these markets’ especially in remote regions.

The book describes the outcomes of an international conference held in Nairobi three years ago that examined the ‘priority actions’ that if taken could speed up the development of African agricultural markets.

Authors of the markets books recommend enhancing markets for poor people, improving market information, lowering transaction costs associated with trading and adding value to farm produce by upgrading value chains and processing mechanisms.

Read more about the book

Download the full book or different sections:

Read recent stories on the Index-Based Livestock Insurance Project from ILRI news:

View short films about the project




Five ways to enhance agricultural markets in hungry regions of East and West Africa


Causes of livestock deaths

Causes of livestock deaths, figure reproduced in ILRI-AGRA book: Towards priority actions for market development for African farmers: Proceedings of an international conference, Nairobi, Kenya,13-15 May 2009. Nairobi (Source of figure: J McPeak, PI Little and C Doss. 2010. Livelihoods in a Risky Environment: Development and Change among East African Pastoralists, Routledge Press, London.)

With food shortages being predicted for dryland communities in both East and West Africa this year, it seems an appropriate time to revisit a major way African experts see that the continent can feed itself: Get Africa’s markets working.

Three years ago, 150 of the world’s leading market experts gathered in Nairobi, Kenya, to document the best ways to drive agricultural market development in sub-Saharan Africa. Both the proceedings of this international conference, Towards Priority Actions for Market Development for African Farmers, held 13–15 May 2009, and a synthesis of its outcomes, Priority Actions for Developing African Agricultural Markets, were published last year by ILRI and the Alliance for a Green Revolution in Africa (AGRA).

The synthesis of this major African markets conference begins by referring to the sudden escalation in food costs that began in late 2010 and persisted into 2011—the second time in only three years that rapid food price rises, caused by a combination of production shortfalls and market failures causing dramatic gaps between supply and demand, rocked developing countries worldwide. With Africa’s long-term struggle with food insecurity, this continent and its economies and people are especially vulnerable to any sudden rise in food prices.

Even before the price shocks of 2008 and 2011, expert opinion had begun to coalesce on the centrality of agriculture in addressing African hunger and poverty. Much of the discussion has focused on increasing agricultural productivity through improved crop varieties and animal breeds, along with increased access to inputs and veterinary services, to boost farm yields. And, indeed, with crop and livestock yields on African farms typically a fraction of that in other regions, there appear to be big opportunities for new breadbaskets and milk sheds emerging across the continent.

But it will not be enough to simply produce more food from Africa’s fields and grazing lands. First, most Africans—including most smallholder, and even subsistence farmers—are net purchasers rather than growers of food.  Also, as more and more people migrate from rural to urban areas, more and more Africans are relying on markets to meet their food needs. And because most rural as well as urban Africans spend a significant proportion of their income on food, even modest increases in food prices can tip millions of them into poverty.

Efficient and vibrant agricultural markets would help. But Africa’s agricultural markets suffer from a dearth of processing and storage facilities, pricing information, smallholder credit, and transport. These create inefficiencies that both raise prices for consumers and restrict sales opportunities for farmers, who are stopped from selling their food surpluses in nearby food-deficit regions.

View or download the full proceedings of this international conference:
Towards Priority Actions for Market Development for African Farmers, 13–15 May 2009, published by ILRI and AGRA, 2011.

and a synthesis of the outcomes of the conference:
Priority Actions for Developing African Agricultural Marketspublished by ILRI and AGRA, 2011.

Five recommendations
The following five recommendations, highlighted here for their special pertinence to the drylands of East and West Africa, are presented in case studies published in the ILRI-AGRA markets book:
1 Support village seed trade in semi-arid areas
2 Manage pastoral risk with livestock insurance
3 Employ ICTs to raise smallholder income
4 Embrace informal agro-industry
5 Encourage intra-regional trade

Details of these recommendations follow.
1 Support village seed trade in semi-arid areas
Section 2 of the proceedings volume, Seed and Fertilizer Markets, includes a case study of the utility of Tapping the potential of village markets to supply seed in semi-arid Africa in Mali and Kenya. This paper, written by Melinda Smale, (Oxfam America), Latha Nagarajan, Lamissa Diakité, Patrick Audi (ICRISAT), Mikkel Grum (Bioversity International), Richard Jones (ICRISAT) and Eva Weltzien (ICRISAT), shows that village markets have the potential to supply high-quality pigeon pea and millet seed in semi-arid areas of Kenya and Mali, respectively.

The problem: Periods of seed insecurity occur in remote, semiarid areas when spatially covariate risk of drought is high and many farmers fall short of seed. In these remote environments, seed systems are typically informal, and farmers rely on each other for locally adapted varieties. They are not reliable clients for private seed companies because they purchase seed irregularly. Less improved germplasm has been developed for semiarid environments because of the high costs of breeding and supplying seed—a situation that has worsened with decreasing public funding for agricultural research. In the Mali study, village markets assure a supply of seed of identifiable, locally adapted, genetically diverse varieties as a final recourse in a risky environment where there are as yet no reliable formal channels, for which competitive varieties have not yet been bred, and the potential of agro-dealers to supply certified seed has not yet been exploited. In the Kenya study, well-adapted varieties have been bred, but no formalized channels of seed provision exist for pigeon pea and agro-dealers are active in selling improved varieties of maize and vegetables. In both studies, farm women are major seed trade actors. Interestingly, the characteristics of seed vendors and the locations of seed programs—not the price of seed—tend to determine the quantities of seed sold. The authors argue for strengthening and linking both formal and informal systems for non-hybrid dryland crops.

Some solutions: Several approaches piloted recently are potential candidates for improving the supply of good-quality seed on a large scale.

The West Africa Seed Alliance (WASA) and the Eastern and Southern Africa Seed Alliance (ESASA) work to help local entrepreneurs expand existing seed companies and create new ones.

Since private seed companies do not yet operate in the sorghum- and millet-based systems of the Sahel, where state agencies are underfunded, scientists at the International Crops Research Institute for the Semi-Arid Tropics (lCRISAT) have tested several models that draw on the comparative advantages of farmer organizations.

2 Manage pastoral risk with livestock insurance
Section 3 of the ILRI-AGRA markets proceedings, Strengthening Finance, Insurance and Market Information, has two case studies of particular relevance to the food problems facing the drylands of West and East Africa.

First is a report on Insuring against drought-related livestock mortality: Piloting index-based livestock insurance in northern Kenya, written by ILRI’s Andrew Mude and his partners Sommarat Chantarat, Christopher Barrett, Michael Carter, Munenobu Ikegami and John McPeak.

The problem: Climate extremities pose the greatest risks to agricultural production, with droughts and floods not only causing crop failures but also forage and water scarcity that harms and kills livestock. The number of droughts and floods has risen sharply worldwide in the last decade, with disaster incidence in low-income countries rising at twice the global rate. In much of rural Africa, where water harvesting, irrigation and other similar water management methods are under developed, the impacts of climate change are expected to be especially pernicious.

A solution: In the last several years, new ways to manage weather-related agricultural risk have been developed. Of these, index-based insurance products represent a promising and exciting market-based option for managing climate-related risks faced by poor and remote populations.

This paper describes research to design commercially viable index-based livestock insurance for pastoral populations of northern dryland Kenya, where the risk of drought and drought-related livestock deaths is high.

The analysis indicates a high likelihood of commercial sustainability in the target market and describes events leading up to the pilot launch in Marsabit District in early 2010. The paper concludes that this insurance tool has largely succeeded in helping Marsabit’s livestock herders better manage their risk of drought. Growing interest from both commercial and development partners is helping to take this instrument to other arid and semi-arid districts in Kenya and other countries and regions.

3 Employ ICTs to raise smallholder income
The same Section 3 of the ILRI-AGRA book offers a case study from West Africa, written by Kofi Debrah, coordinator of MISTOWA, supporting the Role of ICT-based management information systems in enhancing smallholder producers’ incomes.

The problem: Smallholder African farmers typically have little access to reliable marketing outlets in which to sell their surplus produce at remunerative prices. Furthermore, their ability to respond quickly to market opportunities is constrained by lack of labour, credit, market information and post-harvest facilities. As a result, West African farmer incomes from agriculture are low and variable and little agricultural produce is traded in the region.

A solution: A project funded by the United States Agency for International Development (USAID), ‘Strengthening Regional Networks of Market Information Systems for Traders’ Organizations in West Africa’ (MISTOWA), helped build a private-public partnership to develop and deploy an ICT-based market information system that improved farmers’ access to markets. Some 12,500 agricultural producers and traders from 15 West African countries benefited from the project, with the beneficiaries reporting USD4,080 in benefits, or USD4.33 per dollar of donor funds invested.

Evidence from the beneficiaries suggests that access to real-time market information provides smallholder farmers with incentives for investing in agriculture.


4 Embrace informal agro-industry
Section 4 of the markets book, High-Value Commodities and Agroprocessing, includes a paper by ILRI scientists Amos Omore and Derek Baker on Integrating informal actors into the formal dairy industry in Kenya through training and certification.

The problem:  Throughout the developing world, most food produced by smallholder farmers is delivered and processed by an ‘informal’ agro-industry, which is the principal source of food for most poor consumers and a major source of employment of poor people as traders and service providers. In spite of this, agro-industrial policy has historically tended to displace this informal sector with a formal one featuring relatively large-scale and capital-intensive production and marketing. Other policy concerns, such as public health and municipal planning, have further selected against informal agribusiness, particularly livestock’s informal agro-industry.

A solution: This paper presents a case study of interventions in the Kenyan informal milk industry that led to changes in dairy policy that in turn reduced poverty levels in the East African country. The paper identifies the informal agribusiness sector as fertile ground for alleviating poverty and supporting vulnerable groups.

Policies do well to embrace informal agro-industry, the research indicates, while helping it transform itself into a more formal industry.

The ILRI scientists show that the informal dairy industry can respond well to consumer demand for quality, particularly for safe food, and, when unjustified policy barriers are removed, can compete well when price alone becomes the basis of competition. These achievements support much conjecture in the development literature about the centrality of markets, and access to them, for pro-poor development and the idea that pro-poor markets rely heavily on policy and institutional change. The lessons of this project are being transferred to other informal commodity sectors (goats, beef cattle and pigs) in Africa and Asia and the policy changes seen in the Kenya dairy project have been adopted across the East African region.

5 Encourage intra-regional trade
Section 6 of the markets book, Encouraging Regional Trade, includes a paper on The impact of non-tariff barriers on maize and beef trade in East Africa. The paper is written by Joseph Karugia (ILRI and ReSAKSS-ECA), Julliet Wanjiku (ILRI and ReSAKSS-ECA), Jonathan Nzuma, Sika Gbegbelegbe, Eric Macharia, Stella Massawe, Ade Freeman, Michael Waithaka and Simeon Kaitibie.

The problem: In 2004, the East African Community member states established an East African Community Customs Union, committing them, among other things, to eliminate non-tariff barriers to facilitate increased trade and investment flows between member states and to create a large market for East African people. However, several such trade barriers are still applied by member states and there exists little reliable information about how, and how much, these non-tariff barriers are actually hurting regional trade. This study identified the existing non-tariff barriers on the trade of maize and beef in East Africa and quantified their impacts on trade and citizen welfare in the region. The study found that the main types of non-tariff barriers within the three founding members of the East African Community (Kenya, Tanzania and Uganda) are similar and include administrative requirements, taxes/duties, roadblocks, customs barriers, weighbridges, licensing, corruption and transiting.

Some solutions: The study recommends taking a regional approach to exploit economies of scale by eliminating non-tariff barriers, since they are similar across the member countries and across commodities. Specific policy recommendations include streamlining administrative procedures at border points to improve efficiency; speeding up implementation of procedures at point of origin and at the border points; and implementing monitoring systems to provide feedback to relevant authorities on progress in removing unnecessary barriers to trade within East and Central Africa. The welfare analysis of the study shows that abolishment or reduction of the existing non-tariff barriers in maize and beef trade increases trade flows of maize and beef within the East African Community, with Kenya importing more maize from both Uganda and Tanzania and Uganda exporting more beef to Kenya and Tanzania. As a result, positive net welfare gains are attained for the entire East African Community maize and beef sub-sectors.

These findings give compelling evidence in support of the elimination of non-tariff barriers within the East African Community Customs Union.

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

Poultry seller in Mozambique

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 More on the book

Download the full book or individual sections

Putting a price on water: From Mt Kenya forests to Laikipia savannas to Dadaab drylands

Ewaso Ng'iro Catchment A map of the Ewaso Ng’iro watershed catchment, taken from Mapping and Valuing Ecosystem Services in the Ewaso Ng’iro Watershed, published in 2011 by ILRI. The Ewaso Ng’iro watershed incorporates the forests of Mt Kenya, the second highest mountain in Africa; the wildlife-rich savannas of Laikipia; and the arid scrublands around Dadaab, the world’s largest refugee camp, located in Kenya’s Northeastern Province near the border with Somalia.

The International Livestock Research Institute (ILRI) published in 2011 a ground-breaking assessment of Kenya’s Ewaso Ng’iro watershed that maps its key ecosystem services—water, biomass, livestock, wildlife and  irrigated crops—and estimates their economic value. Based on the quantification of, and the demand for, these services, the ILRI scientists estimated their economic value and then obtained downscaled climate change projections for northern Kenya and assessed their impact on crop conditions and surface water hydrology.

Excerpts from the first chapter of the ILRI report
‘The Arid and Semi-Arid Lands (ASALs) cover 80% of Kenya’s land area, include over 36 districts, and are home to more than 10 million people (25% of the total population) (GoK 2004). A vast majority (74%) of ASAL constituents were poor in 2005/06; poverty rates in the ASALs have increased from 65% in 1994 (KIHBS 2005/6 cited in MDNKOAL 2008), which contrasts with the rest of Kenya — national poverty rates fell from 52% to 46% in the decade 1996–2006. Similar stark inequalities between the ASALs and other areas of Kenya are found in health and education as well as infrastructure development and services provisioning (MDNKOAL 2010a).

‘After decades of neglect, the government is committed to close the development gap between the ASALs and the rest of Kenya. To do so, it charged the Ministry of State for Development of Northern Kenya and other Arid Lands (MDNKOAL) to develop policies and interventions addressing the challenges specific to ASAL, mostly regarding their climate, pastoral and agro- pastoral livelihood strategies and low infrastructure, financial, and human capitals (MDNKOAL 2008). Unlike line ministries with sectoral development planning, MDNKOAL has a cross- sectoral mandate, which requires a holistic approach to development, weighting trade-offs and promoting synergies between sectoral objectives. . . .

‘ASALs, with 24 million hectares of land suitable for livestock production, are home to 80 percent of Kenya’s livestock, a resource valued at Ksh 173.4 billion. The current annual turnover of the livestock sector in the arid lands of Kenya of Ksh 10 billion could be increased with better support for livestock production and marketing. Since livestock is the main source of livelihood of ASAL constituents, any improvement in livestock value could substantially reduce poverty. While rainfed crop production is quite marginal and restricted to pockets of higher potential areas within ASAL districts, there is a sizeable area that could support crop production if there were a greater investment in irrigation (“Pulling apart” and ASAL Draft Policy 2007 cited in MDNKOAL 2008). Wildlife-based tourism, which contributed 10% to GDP in 2007/2008 (World Bank 2010) is largely generated in the ASALs (MDNKOAL 2010a). While tourism revenue has been constantly on the rise (21.5 Million Ksh in 2000 to 65.4 Million Ksh in 2007 (Ministry of Tourism 2007)), the sector would benefit, among others, from improved road and tourism infrastructure (World Bank 2010).

‘Reliance of the ASAL on their natural capital for their development: the importance of ecosystem services In most of Kenya’s arid and semi-arid areas, pastoral livelihood strategies dominate. This involves moving livestock periodically to follow the seasonal supply of water and pasture. Agro-pastoralism, combining cropping with pastoral livestock keeping, is a livelihood strategy in areas where rainfed agriculture is possible and around more permanent water sources. In areas with slightly more rainfall, there is mixed farming with sedentary livestock. These agricultural lands are typically dominated by a mix of food, livestock and increasingly cash crops, such as flowers and high value vegetables which are often destined for export. The cash crops often rely on irrigated agriculture. Wildlife conservation and tourism are also important land uses with an increase in the dryland area under a protected status.

All of these livelihood strategies are directly dependent on ecosystem services, the benefits people get from ecosystems. As described, dryland ecosystems supply food from livestock and crops, water for domestic use and irrigation, and wood for fuel and construction (provisioning services). Beyond contributing to people’s livelihood strategies, healthy dryland ecosystems contribute to their standard of living (health, physical security) by delivering regulating services such as mitigating the impacts of periodic flooding, preventing erosion, sequestering carbon, purifying water, and affecting the distribution of rainfall throughout the region. These, in turn, all depend on supporting services, such as soil fertility that underlies the productivity of dryland and crops in particular and the production of biomass (vegetation) that sustains livestock and wildlife grazing. Moreover, Kenya’s dryland ecosystems provide important cultural services that maintain pastoral identities and support wildlife tourism.

‘ASAL ecosystems must be managed effectively so that they continue to provide these services. In developing land use planning, decision-makers need to understand and holistically manage the complex linkages between ecosystems, ecosystem services and people. The ecosystem services approach will provide tools to integrate socio-economic and bio-physical aspects providing a holistic approach to look at synergies and trade-offs in terms of land and water between land uses across the catchment.

‘One of the challenges the Ministry faces in taking the most of ASAL’s ecosystem services is to manage the various uses of water and land, as both are and will increasingly be the major limiting factors in improving standards of living in ASAL. In this context, the Ministry needs tools to compare alternative land and water uses between livestock, crop production, and wildlife-based tourism to enable its future assessments of how and how much each use will improve standards of living and whose standard of living. . . .’

Download the whole publication, Mapping and Valuing Ecosystem Services in the Ewaso Ng’iro Watershed, by Ericksen, PJ; Said, MY; Leeuw, J de; Silvestri, S; Zaibet, L; Kifugo, SC; Sijmons, K; Kinoti, J; Ng’ang’a, L; Landsberg, F; and Stickler, M. 2011. Nairobi, Kenya: ILRI.

ILRI’s Polly Ericksen was the project leader and editor/compiler of the report. ILRI scientists Mohammed Said, Jan de Leeuw, Silvia Silvestri and Lokman Zaibet wrote much of the material for the chapters. Shem Kifugo, Mohammed Said, Kurt Sijmons (GEOMAPA) and Leah Ng’ang’a compiled the data and made the maps. World Resources Institute’s Florence Landsberg contributed ideas and material for chapters 1 and 2. World Resources Institute’s Mercedes Stickler contributed information from Rural Focus.

The following journal article is forthcoming: P Ericksen, J de Leeuw, M Said, S Silvestri and L Zaibet. In press. Mapping ecosystem services in the Ewaso N’giro Watershed. International Journal of Biodiversity Science, Ecosystem Services & Management.


Taking stock: Global livestock production systems are (finely and finally) differentiated

Mixed crop-livestock systems in the developing world produce significant amounts of milk and meat

Mixed crop-livestock systems in the developing world produce significant amounts of milk and meat (figure credit: ILRI/Herrero, 2010).

A new book years in the making on the seemingly abstruse topic of  ‘livestock system classifications’ has just been published by the United Nations Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) and the International Livestock Research Institute (ILRI).

To find out why classifying livestock systems is not an academic matter (hint: it can help fill the gap between the potential and actual yields of our food production systems), but rather matters rather urgently, particularly to the futures of more than 1 billion poor people who depend on livestock for their livelihoods, read on. And note that the book includes lots of new maps to pore over.

Global datasets are becoming increasingly important for priority setting and targeting by organizations with a global mandate for agriculture and agricultural research for development in developing countries. Until now, the best estimates of livestock production systems were those produced by ILRI in 2002. These have now been updated and improved upon by FAO and ILRI.

What’s the book about? From the blurb
‘Informed livestock sector policy development and priority setting is heavily dependent on a good understanding of livestock production systems. In a collaborative effort between the Food and Agriculture Organization and the International Livestock Research Institute, stock has been taken of where we have come from in agricultural systems classification and mapping; the current state of the art; and the directions in which research and data collection efforts need to take in the future.

‘The book also addresses issues relating to the intensity and scale of production, moving from what is done to how it is done. The intensification of production is an area of particular importance, for it is in the intensive systems that changes are occurring most rapidly and where most information is needed on the implications that intensification of production may have for livelihoods, poverty alleviation, animal diseases, public health and environmental outcomes.

‘A series of case studies is provided, linking livestock production systems to rural livelihoods and poverty and examples of the application of livestock production system maps are drawn from livestock production, now and in the future; livestock’s impact on the global environment; animal and public health; and livestock and livelihoods. . . .’

Why this book? From the Introduction
‘Many organizations are involved in assembling and disseminating global spatial datasets that can be used for a wide variety of purposes. Such datasets are becoming increasingly important for priority setting and targeting by organizations with a global mandate for agriculture and agricultural research for development, such as the United Nations (UN) Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO), the international centres of the Consultative Group on International Agricultural Research (CGIAR), regional and subregional research organizations, and donors who need to target their investments and measure their impacts on beneficiaries. The world in which we live is extremely dynamic, and this is reflected in the ways in which the world feeds itself and people meet their livelihood requirements. There can be considerable heterogeneity in the determinants of rural poverty (Snel and Henninger, 2002; Kristjanson et al., 2005). An implication of this is that poverty alleviation efforts increasingly need to be targeted at relatively small groups of people, and this calls for a finer grain in the definition of intervention domains than has perhaps been considered in the past.

‘Currently, one of the biggest gaps in the availability of global datasets is a spatial agricultural systems classification that provides appropriate detail on the distribution of crops and livestock in different places.

This publication addresses this gap by bringing together some recent developments in agricultural production system mapping and highlighting some of the difficult problems involved. The book also identifies further work that is required to develop a dynamic global agricultural production systems classification that can be mapped, ground-truthed, and refined through time. . . .

‘The outputs described here should find immediate application among development organizations, donors and research institutes, in targeting investment and technology or policy interventions that are effective in promoting sustainable livelihoods of the poor in developing countries.

Why map livestock production systems?
‘Farming of crops and livestock cannot be considered independently of one another nor should they be considered in isolation. Established links between livestock numbers, cultivation levels and human populations suggest that greater attention should be paid to quantifying and mapping these associations (Bourn and Wint, 1994). The interdependence of crops and livestock in mixed farms and the different contributions made to livelihoods (Powell et al., 1995) suggest that these two aspects of farming should be considered together. The nature of such interactions is heavily shaped by environmental factors and, increasingly, by economic forces.

‘A detailed knowledge of the distribution of livestock resources finds many applications, for example, in estimating production and off-take, the impacts of livestock on the environment, livestock disease risk and impact, and the role that livestock plays in people’s livelihoods (Robinson et al., 2007; FAO, 2007a). But livestock is not all equal. In different contexts it serves quite different functions, plays different roles in people’s livelihoods, varies in herd structure and breed composition, and is fed and managed in different ways. For most applications some sort of practical stratification is needed: milk yields are not the same from cows reared in extensive, low-input pastoral systems as they are from specifically-bred dairy cows raised intensively. In the same way, the risks posed by livestock diseases vary considerably depending on whether animals are kept in high-density housing or grazed over large areas of rangeland, for example. At its simplest, combining information on production systems with livestock statistics allows livestock numbers to be disaggregated by production system (see, for example, the appendices in FAO, 2007a). Compared with simple national totals, this gives a more meaningful breakdown of how livestock are distributed across the globe. . . .’

What are the new numbers? From the conclusions
‘In terms of the numbers of poor and our estimates of the numbers of poor livestock keepers, based on national, rural poverty lines for 2010, the critical regions are still South Asia and sub-Saharan Africa. Some 71 percent of the estimated 430 million poor livestock keepers live in these two regions, up from 66 percent a decade earlier. While the rangeland systems contain relatively few poor, most of these households are dependent on livestock for their livelihoods. Half of the poor livestock keepers in rangeland systems globally are located in sub-Saharan Africa: nearly 60 million, based on national, rural poverty lines. The mixed systems contain large numbers of poor (over one billion), and the number of poor people who depend to some extent on livestock is considerable: the mixed irrigated and mixed rainfed systems are estimated to host more than 300 million poor livestock keepers based on national and international US$1.25 per day poverty lines, and double that many based on the international US$2.00 per day poverty lines.

‘Despite their obvious limitations and coarseness, the data presented on locations and densities of poor livestock keepers can still provide information of considerable use. The current information continues to be used at ILRI to prioritize and focus livestock research, and to help identify ‘hotspots’ at the global and regional levels that can then be investigated in more detail at higher resolution. Such hotspots can be defined in various ways depending on the purpose: as areas of high population densities of poor livestock keepers, or areas of high densities of poor people coupled with high levels of biodiversity or natural resource degradation, for example. Such information is critical for informing action agendas concerning livestock, development, and global change. . . .’

How did the book come about? From the foreword
‘This book has grown out of a long-standing collaboration between the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations (FAO), and the International Livestock Research Institute (ILRI). It emerged from a meeting of international organizations held at the Earth Institute at Columbia University in 2004, at which FAO and the Consultative Group on International Agricultural Research were charged with closing a gap in our understanding of the distribution of agricultural production systems. The book took further shape following a workshop convened by FAO in Bangkok in 2006, during which the custodians of many of the key datasets needed to produce maps of global livestock production systems were brought together with experts and researchers in agricultural production systems. It brings together the results of several years’ of activity by FAO and ILRI, along with colleagues from the International Food Policy Research Institute, the International Institute for Applied Systems Analysis and many other organisations not explicitly linked to the production of the book.’

Download the whole publication here: Global livestock production systems, by TP Robinson, PK Thornton (ILRI), G Franceschini, RL Kruska (former ILRI), F Chiozza, A Notenbaert (ILRI), G Cecchi, M Herrero (ILRI), M Epprecht, S Fritz, L You, G Conchedda and L See, 2011, Rome: Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations (FAO) and International Livestock Research Institute (ILRI), 152 pp.

American researchers publish timely book on East African pastoralism: ‘Build on–don’t replace–the region’s livestock economies’

Peter Little

Peter Little, co-author of the timely new publication, Risk and Social Change in an African Rural Economy: Livelihoods in Pastoralist Communities, and  leader of a recent review of ILRI’s pastoral research (photo credit: Emory University).

Risk and Social Change in an African Rural Economy: Livelihoods in Pastoralist Communities is a new book published by research partners John McPeak and Peter Little, of a Livestock-Climate Change initiative of the Collaborative Research Support Program (Livestock-CC-CRSP).

The book summarizes the results of a multi-year interdisciplinary research project in pastoral areas of Kenya and Ethiopia. The authors describe the ecology and social context in which pastoralism takes place, with a particular focus on the risks that confront people living in these drylands, and how these risks are often triggered by highly variable rainfall conditions, a symptom of climate change.

The authors go on to describe the livelihood strategies employed by pastoralists in these areas, with a focus on how well-being is tied to access to livestock and the cash economy. They conclude that the future development activities need to be built on the foundation of the livestock economy, instead of seeking to replace it.

Those wanting expert advice on how to help pastoralists suffering from a great drought afflicting the Horn of Africa today either to rebuild their shattered lives when the next rains come or to help them prevent such a catastrophe from occurring again in this region will profit from reading this book, which concludes with how development activities ‘are assessed by people in the area and what activities they prioritize for the future.’

John McPeak is an associate professor and vice-chair in the Department of Public Administration in the Maxwell School of Syracuse University; he is a member of a Livestock-CC-CRSP project in Mali and leads another project in Senegal. Peter Little is professor of anthropology and director of a Program in Development Studies at Emory University and leads a Livestock-CC-CRSP project in Ethiopia and Kenya. This project is known as CHAINS, which stands for ‘Climate variability, pastoralism, and commodity chains in Ethiopia and Kenya.’ The CRSP initiatives are funded by the United States Agency for International Development.

Co-author Peter Little headed a recent review of pastoral research at the International Livestock Research Institute (ILRI), based in Nairobi, Kenya, and Addis ababa, Ethiopia, two countries whose dryland pastoralists are suffering from the current drought in the Horn of Africa. Little concurs with many others when he says that, ‘The famine in Somalia is an unfortunate intersection of failed rain, politics and conflict.’

The following is a description of the book from Routledge.

‘Pastoralists’ role in contemporary Africa typically goes underappreciated and misunderstood by development agencies, external observers, and policymakers.

Yet arid and semi-arid lands, which are used predominantly for extensive livestock grazing, comprise nearly half of the continent’s land mass, while a substantial proportion of national economies are based on pastoralist activities.

‘Pastoralists use these drylands to generate income for themselves through the use of livestock and for the coffers of national trade and revenue agencies. They are frequently among the continent’s most contested and lawless regions, providing sanctuary to armed rebel groups and exposing residents to widespread insecurity and destructive violence.

The continent’s millions of pastoralists thus inhabit some of Africa’s harshest and most remote, but also most ecologically, economically, and politically important regions.

‘This study summarizes the findings of a multi-year interdisciplinary research project in pastoral areas of Kenya and Ethiopia. The cultures and ecology of these areas are described, with a particular focus on the myriad risks that confront people living in these drylands, and how these risks are often triggered by highly variable rainfall conditions. The authors examine the markets used by residents of these areas to sell livestock and livestock products and purchase consumer goods before turning to an analysis of evolving livelihood strategies. Furthermore, they focus on how well-being is conditioned upon access to livestock and access to the cash economy, gender patterns within households and the history of development activities in the area. The book concludes with a report on how these activities are assessed by people in the area and what activities they prioritize for the future.

‘Policy in pastoral areas is often formulated on the basis of assumptions and stereotypes, without adequate empirical foundations. This book provides evidence on livelihood strategies being followed in pastoral areas, and investigates patterns in decision making and well being. It indicates the importance of livestock to the livelihoods of people in these areas, and identifies the critical and widespread importance of access to the cash economy, concluding that future development activities need to be built on the foundation of the livestock economy, instead of seeking to replace it.’

Get the book—Risk and Social Change in an African Rural Economy: Livelihoods in Pastoralist Communities, by John G McPeak, Peter D Little, Cheryl R Doss, published 28 Jul 2011, by Routledge, 206 pages—from Routledge online.

Pastoral mobility is not a problem to be eliminated–It’s a trump card to be strengthened–CAPRi

Managing mobility in African rangelands

Above and below: Illustrations from a chapter on ‘Managing Mobility in African Rangelands,’ in a book, Resources, Rights and Cooperation: A Sourcebook on Property Rights and Collective Action for Sustainable Development, published in 2010 by the International Food Policy Research Institute for the CGIAR Systemwide Program on Collective Action and Property Rights (CAPRi); ILRI scientist Nancy Johnson was one of four members of the production team for this book (illustration credit: IFPRI).

In a commentary in Today Online, the American economist Jeffrey Sachs, director of the Earth Institute at Columbia University and special adviser to United Nations Secretary-General on the Millennium Development Goals, argues for policies that support rather than hamper the movements of livestock herders in the drought- and hunger-stricken Horn of Africa.

‘The rains have failed for two years running in the dry regions of East Africa. These are places where water is so scarce year after year that crop production is marginal at best. Millions of households, with tens of millions of nomadic or semi-nomadic people, tend camels, sheep, goats and other livestock, which they move large distances to reach rain-fed pasturelands. . . . The location of life-supporting pasturelands is determined by the unstable and largely unpredictable rains, rather than by political boundaries. Yet we live in an era when political boundaries, not the lives of nomadic pastoralists, are sacrosanct. These boundaries, together with growing populations of sedentary farmers, have hemmed in pastoralist communities. . . .’

Nancy Johnson, a scientist with the International Livestock Research Institute (ILRI), Maryam Niamir-Fuller and other authors explore the merits of pastoral mobility in a chapter of a book, Resources, Rights and Cooperation, which is a sourcebook on property rights and collective action for sustainable development. The source for their material is a CAPRi research brief published in 2005 by Maryam Niamir-Fuller (see below).

Managing mobility in African rangelands

As this chapter reports:

‘In arid and semi-arid lands in Africa, pastoralists manage uncertainty and risk and access a range of markets through livestock mobility. Mobility enables opportunistic use of resources and helps minimize the effects of droughts. . . .

‘Undergrazing of remote pastures or in protected areas can lead to the invasion of unpalatable plants, lower vegetation cover, and lower diversity of plants, and can sometimes be a more serious problem than overgrazing. . . .

‘The scale and magnitude of persistent environmental decline in dryland Africa—and how livestock grazing has affected such changes—appear to have been overestimated. . . .

‘Mobile pastoral systems also appear to be more economically efficient than their sedentary counterparts or commercial ranching. . . .

Government policies have upset the economic balance between crops and livestock by favoring crops and agricultural encroachment onto rangelands. Governments have discouraged investments in the range and livestock sector and claimed “vacant” pastoral land for national parks and government-owned farms.

‘Projects in Africa have long sought to develop livestock productivity rather than enhance livelihoods. Drawing on the classical ranching model from the United States, interventions encouraged sedentarization, destocking, and water development. However, they did not increase livestock productivity, and some were very destructive. . . .

In the 1990s . . . mobility was still seen as a problem to be eliminated, not a trump card to be strengthened.

‘Livestock needs to be seen as an integral part of conservation and development in Africa, since transhumance may even be a necessary precondition to sustainable development in arid lands.


• Mobile pastoralism is not a “backward” means of livelihood—laws, policies and procedures should be considered backward, since they do not recognize the ecological and economic value of mobile pastoralism.

• A clearer understanding of common property regimes and a holistic analytical framework for pastoral development activities are also required . . . .

• The fundamental design principles related to managing institutions for mobility are nested property rights, fluid boundaries, inclusivity, flexibility, reciprocity, negotiation, and priority of use. . . .

• Resource holders need to retain authority to grant temporary use rights to secondary and tertiary users. . . .

• There has been strong momentum toward “co-management,” or systems of common property regimes that combine government decentralization with community participation. Though the approach is far better suited than any other to mobile pastoralism, it needs to deal with large-scale management of contiguous land.

• Management of livestock mobility also requires multiple institutions working at multiple spatial scales, authorities, and functions. To modify or create the institutional structure for a legitimate, locally controllable transhumance, the function—not just the structure—of new institutions must be addressed.’

Read the CAPRi policy brief on which this chapter is based: Niamir-Fuller, M. 2005. Managing Mobility in African Rangelands. In: Mwangi, E. (ed). Collective Action and Property Rights for Sustainable Rangeland Management. CAPRi Research Brief, International Food Policy Research Institute, Washington, D.C.

Read the whole CAPRi sourcebook: Resources, Rights and Cooperation: A Sourcebook on Property Rights and Collective Action for Sustainable Development, International Food Policy Research Institute for the CGIAR Systemwide Program on Collective Action and Property Rights (CAPRi), 2010.

Read the whole news commentary by Jeffrey Sachs in Today Online: Famine and hope in the Horn of Africa, 2 Aug 2011.

‘Virtual Kenya’ web platform launched today: User-friendly interactive maps for charting human and environmental health

Map of the Tana River Delta in Nature's Benefits in Kenya

Map of the the Upper Tana landforms and rivers published in Nature’s Benefits in Kenya Nature’s Benefits in Kenya: An Atlas of Ecosystems and Human Well-Being, published in 2007 by the World Resources Institute, the Department of Resource Surveys and Remote Sensing of the Kenya Ministry of Environment and Natural Resources, the Central Bureau of Statistics of the Kenya Ministry of Planning and National Development, and ILRI.

For the last nine months, the World Resources Institute (USA) and Upande Ltd, a Nairobi company offering web mapping technology to the African market, have been working to develop what has been coined ‘Virtual Kenya,’ an online interactive platform with related materials for those with no access to the internet.  The content was developed by the International Livestock Research Institute (ILRI), the Kenya Department of Resource Surveys and Remote Sensing (DRSRS) and the Kenya National Bureau of Statistics (previously the Central Bureau of Statistics). The Wildlife Clubs of Kenya and Jacaranda Designs Ltd developed offline educational materials. Technical support was provided by the Danish International Development Assistance (Danida) and the Swedish International Development Agency (Sida).

The Virtual Kenya platform was launched this morning at Nairobi’s ‘iHub’ (Innovation Hub), an open facility for the technology community focusing on young entrepreneurs and web and mobile phone programers, designers and researchers. Peter Kenneth, Kenya’s Minister of State for Planning, National Development and Vision 2030, was the guest of honour at the launch.

The minister remarked that:

Given that the government has facilitated the laying of fibre optic cabling across the country and is now in the process of establishing digital villages in all the constituencies, the Virtual Kenya initiative could not have come at a better time. I hope that it will accelerate the uptake of e-learning as an important tool in our school curriculum.

Virtual Kenya is designed to provide Kenyans with high-quality spatial data and cutting-edge mapping technology to further their educational and professional pursuits. The platform provides, in addition to online access to publicly available spatial datasets, interactive tools and learning resources for exploring these data.

Users both inside and outside of Kenya will be able to view, download, publish, share, and comment on various map-based products.

The ultimate goal of Virtual Kenya is to promote increased data sharing and spatial analysis for better decision-making, development planning and education in Kenya, while at the same time demonstrating the potential and use of web-based spatial planning tools.

The Atlas
At the moment, the Virtual Kenya platform features maps and information based on Nature’s Benefits in Kenya: An Atlas of Ecosystems and Human Well-Being, published jointly in 2007 by the World Resources Institute (USA), ILRI, DRSRS the National Bureau of Statistics. Publication of the Atlas was funded by Danida, ILRI, Irish Aid, the Netherlands Ministry of Foreign Affairs, Sida and the United States Agency for International Development.

The Atlas overlays geo-referenced statistical information on human well-being with spatial data on ecosystems and their services to yield a picture of how land, people, and prosperity are related in Kenya.

By combining the Atlas’s maps and data on ecosystem services and human well-being, analysts can create new ecosystem development indicators, each of them capturing a certain relationship between resources and residents that can shed light on development in these regions. This approach can be used to analyze ecosystem-development relationships among communities within a certain distance of rivers, lakes and reservoirs; or the relations between high poverty areas and access to intensively managed cropland; or relations among physical infrastructure, poverty and major ecosystem services.

Decision-makers can use the maps to examine the spatial relationships among different ecosystem services to shed light on their possible trade-offs and synergies or to examine the spatial relationships between poverty and combinations of ecosystem services.

Virtual Kenya Platform
The Virtual Kenya platform is designed to allow users with more limited mapping expertise, specifically in high schools and universities, to take full advantage of the wealth of data behind the Atlas. The website also introduces more advanced users to new web-based software applications for visualizing and analyzing spatial information and makes public spatial data sets freely available on the web to support improved environment and development planning.

The Virtual Kenya website provides users with a platform to interactively view, explore, and download Atlas data in a variety of file formats and software applications, including Virtual Kenya Tours using Google Earth. In addition, GIS users in Kenya will—for the first time—have a dedicated online social networking community to share their work, comment and interact with each other on topics related to maps and other spatial data.

For those with limited mapping and GIS experience, Virtual Kenya will increase awareness of resources and tools available online to visualize and explore spatial information. For users and classrooms that do not have access to the Internet yet, other materials such as wall charts, student activity booklets, teachers guide, as well as the DVD with all the Virtual Kenya data and software will be available, giving them the opportunity to interact with tools available on the Virtual Kenya website.

Virtual Kenya email:

Virtual Kenya on the web:
Twitter: @virtualkenya
Facebook: VirtualKenya

Read more about Nature’s Benefits in Kenya: An Atlas of Ecosystems and Human Well-Being, or download the Atlas, published by World Resources Institute, ILRI, Kenya Central Bureau of Statistics, and Kenya Department of Remote Surveys and Remote Sensing, 2007.

Editor’s note: The Kenya Department of Resource Surveys and Remote Sensing (DRSRS) was incorrectly named in the original version and corrected on 26 June 2011.