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

Kemeria Hussien at Ethiopian milk market

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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

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

Agricultural research, climate change and ‘social learning’: How did we get here?

'Southern Gardens' by Paul Klee, 1921 (via WikiPaintings)

‘Southern Gardens’ by Paul Klee, 1921 (via WikiPaintings).

An ongoing CGIAR group meeting in Bodega Bay, California, (18–19 Mar 2013) is looking at untapped potential in CGIAR and beyond for actors of diverse kinds to join forces in improving global food security in the light of climate change. Updates from the event are being shared on the CCAFS website and on Twitter (follow #2013CCSL). For more information, go to CCAFS 2013 Science Meeting programmeMore information about the meeting is here.

The following opinion piece was drafted by Patti Kristjanson, of the CGIAR Research Program on Climate Change, Agriculture and Food Security (CCAFS) and based at the World Agroforestry Centre (ICRAF), in Nairobi, Kenya, with inputs from other ‘climate change and social media champions’, including Sophie Alverez (International Center for Tropical Agriculture [CIAT]), Liz Carlile (International Institute for Environment and Development [IIED]), Pete Cranston (Euforic Services), Boru Douthwaite (WorldFish), Wiebke Foerch (CCAFS), Blane Harvey (International Development Research Centre [IDRC]), Carl Jackson (Westhill Knowledge Group), Ewen Le Borgne (International Livestock Research Institute [ILRI]), Susan MacMillan (ILRI), Philip Thornton (CCAFS/ILRI) and Jacob van Etten (Bioversity International). (Go here for a list of those participating at the CCAFS Annual Science Meeting in California).

Untapped potential
All humans possess the fundamental capacity to anticipate and adapt to change. And of course experts argue that it is change — whether the end of the last Ice Age or the rise of cities or the drying of a once-green Sahel — that has driven our evolution as a species. If we’ve progressed, they say, it’s because we had to. And we can see in the modern world that, with supportive and encouraging environments, both individuals and communities can be highly resourceful and innovative, serving as agents of transformation. The agricultural, industrial and information revolutions were the products of both individual inventiveness (think of Steve Jobs) and social support (Silicon Valley).

Some of the major changes today are occurring fastest in some of the world’s slowest economies. The two billion or so people in the world’s developing countries who grow and sell food for a living, for example, are adjusting to huge changes — to their countries’ exploding populations and diminishing natural resources, to a rural exodus and rush to the cities, to higher food prices, to new lethal diseases, to a single global economy, and, on top of all of that, to a changing climate causing unpredictable seasons and more extreme and frequent ‘big weather’ in the form of droughts, floods and storms.

PETE CRANSTON
The problems generated by climate change requires larger scale, collaborative responses — that is, social learning, requiring collaborative reflection and learning, at scale, and engaging community decision-making processes. 
Collective action, at scale, to systemic problems caused by climate change is the area of interest that came out of a workshop on climate change and social learning held in May 2012.

[The workshop Cranston refers to, held on ILRI’s campus in Addis Ababa, Ethiopia, was organized by CCAFS; go here for more information.]

When it comes to the food systems that support all of us, that enable human life itself, we’re squandering our innate potential to innovate. What will it take to unleash the potential within all of us — consumers and farmers and farm suppliers, food sellers and agri-business players, agricultural scientists, policymakers, thought leaders, government officials, development experts, humanitarian agents — to make the changes we need to make to feed the world? And what will it take to do so in ways that don’t destroy the natural resource base on which agriculture depends? In ways that don’t leave a legacy of ruined landscapes for our children and children’s children to inherit?

PATTI KRISTJANSON
You don’t hear much about what can be done about it. We need to see major changes in how food is grown and distributed. In Africa and Asia, where millions of families live on one to five hectares of land, we need to see improved farming systems. We  need to see transformative changes, not small changes. But to transform food systems, we also need to transform how the research that supports these transformations is done. We need to think more about partnerships. And learning.

Remembrance of a Garden, by Paul Klee, 1914 (via WikiPaintings)

‘Remembrance of a Garden’ by Paul Klee, 1914 (via WikiPaintings).

How did we get here?
Before attempting to answer those questions, it might profit us to take a look at how agricultural development got to where it is now. Alain de Janvry, a professor of agricultural and resource economics at the University of California at Berkeley, and others argue as follows.

For decades, development agencies put agriculture at the forefront of their priorities, believing it to be the precursor to industrialization. Then, starting in the 1970s and early 1980s, the bias for agriculture began to be seriously eroded, with huge economic, social, and environmental costs.

The good news, de Janvry says, is that ‘In recent years, a number of economic, social, and environmental crises have attracted renewed attention to agriculture as both a contributor to these problems and a potential instrument for solutions. . . . A new paradigm has started to emerge where agriculture is seen as having the capacity to help achieve several of the major dimensions of development, most particularly accelerating GDP growth at early stages of development, reducing poverty and vulnerability, narrowing rural-urban income disparities, releasing scarce resources such as water and land for use by other sectors, and delivering a multiplicity of environmental services.’

The bad news, he says, is that ‘renewed use of agriculture for development remains highly incomplete, falling short of political statements.’

Let’s now return to our questions about what’s missing in agricultural development today, and what that has to do with ‘social learning’, or lack of it.

Apparatus for the Magnetic Treatment of Plants, by Paul Klee, 1908 (via WikiPaintings)

‘Apparatus for the Magnetic Treatment of Plants’ by Paul Klee, 1908 (via WikiPaintings).

Unlocking the human potential for innovating solutions
Agricultural scientists are important actors both in instigating change and in helping people anticipate and adapt to climate and other agriculturally important changes. They have played a key role so far in spearheading major agricultural movements such as the Green Revolution in Asia. Yet one billion poor people have been left behind by the Green Revolution, largely because they live in highly diverse agro-ecological regions that are relatively inaccessible and where they cannot access the research-based information, technologies and support they need to improve, or ‘intensify’, their farming systems.

The complex agriculturally related challenges of today require going way beyond ‘business as usual’. And they offer agricultural scientists unprecedented opportunities to play major roles in some of the major issues of our time, including reducing our greenhouse gas emissions and adapting to climate change. But we’re not going to make good use of these opportunities if we don’t recognize and jump on opportunities for joint societal learning and actions.

POTATOES IN THE ANDES
Take this example from Latin America, where agricultural researchers set about documenting the biodiversity of potato varieties in the high-elevation Andes. An unanticipated consequence of this activity was learning from local farmers about numerous varieties previously unknown to science. And the scientists realized that traditional knowledge of these hardy varieties and other adaptive mechanisms are helping many households deal with climate variability at very high elevations. Further learning in this project showed that women and the elderly tended to have much better knowledge of traditional varieties and their use than the owners of the land. This kind of knowledge is now being shared widely in an innovative Andean regional network.

RICE IN VIETNAM
Here’s another example. Rice is now being grown by over a million farmers in Vietnam using a new management system that reduces water use and methane gas emissions while generating higher incomes for farm families. This happened through farmers — both men and women — experimenting and sharing experiences in ‘farmer field schools’ that had strong government support. It turns out that the women farmers are better trainers than men. After participating in a farmer field school, each woman helped 5–8 other farmers adopt the new approach, while every male participant helped only 1–3 additional farmers. So making sure women were a key part of this effort led to much greater success in reducing poverty and environmental damage.

Ravaged Land, by Paul Klee, 1921, Galarie Beyeler (via WikiPaintings)

‘Ravaged Land’ by Paul Klee, 1921, Galarie Beyeler (via WikiPaintings).

New opportunities for doing research differently
Back to de Janvry for a moment. ‘Crises and opportunities’, he says, ‘combine in putting agriculture back on the development agenda, as both a need and a possibility. This second chance in using agriculture for development calls for a new paradigm, which is still largely to be consistently formulated and massively implemented. . . [A] Green Revolution for Sub-Saharan Africa is still hardly in the making.’

ALAIN DE JANVRY
In the new paradigm, process thus matters along with product if the multiple dimensions of development are to be achieved. . . . As opposed to what is often said in activist donor circles, it is a serious mistake to believe that we know what should be done, and all that is left to do is doing it. . . . Because objectives and contexts are novel, we are entering un-chartered territory that needs to be researched and experimented with. Extraordinary new opportunities exist to successfully invest in agriculture for development, but they must be carefully identified. . . . Innovation, experimentation, evaluation, and learning must thus be central to devising new approaches to the use agriculture for development. This requires putting into place strategies to identify impacts as we proceed with new options.

The biggest mistake one could make about using agriculture for development is believe that it is easy to do and that we already know all we need to do it. It is not and we don’t. . . . Lessons must be derived from past mistakes, and new approaches devised and evaluated.

So how do we derive lessons from past mistakes? How do we devise new approaches and evaluate them on-goingly?

LIVESTOCK IN EAST AFRICA
One way is to take a proactive social learning approach — learning together through action and reflection, which leads to changes in behaviour. Researchers from ILRI, for example, learned by interacting closely with pastoral groups in East Africa that intermittent engagement is not as powerful a force of social change as is continual engagement, which they achieved by instituting ‘community facilitators-cum-researchers’. This led to transformative changes in land policy and management, with long-lasting benefits for wildlife populations, pastoral communities and rangelands alike.

Public-private partnerships that include researchers can also help. Through active learning together we can reach more people, more efficiently and effectively than before — this approach is further supported through widespread access to the internet and smartphones that allow greater engagement from communities and individuals spread far and wide. We can map the soils and water resources needed to grow food, and try new ‘crowdsourced’ approaches to identify needs for different types of seeds and seedlings. We can democratize research, and make scientists much more responsive to the needs of different groups of people.

Rising Sun, by Paul Klee, 1907 (via WikiPaintings)

‘Rising Sun’ by Paul Klee, 1907 (via WikiPaintings).

Why bother?
What’s the incentive for researchers to do things differently? For all of us, it lies in the opportunity to sharpen our edge, to become better solvers of bigger, more complex problems, or at least to ask better questions about ‘wicked problems’. For scientists in particular, the opportunity to make our research, including fundamental and lab-based research, more relevant and targeted to meeting demand — user-inspired rather than supply-driven research — is tremendous.

RICE IN AFRICA
When researchers at two international rice research institutes, IRRI and AfricaRice, started to include women in participatory varietal selection, different preferences emerged. Women focused more on food security than yields. Through working directly with women as well as men, the nature of research challenges and questions changed to accommodate different needs, values and norms. The use of farmer-to-farmer learning videos accelerated the transfer of different types of learning. Evaluations show that this approach has led to an 80% greater adoption rate of different technologies and practices than previous dissemination techniques.

In these ways, socially differentiated and participatory research approaches hold the promise of making our research more central to the major agricultural problems we’re facing — and to anticipate future problems, issues and questions by sharpening our critical questioning through ongoing learning.

Reconstructing by Paul Klee, 1926 (via WikiPaintings)

‘Reconstructing’ by Paul Klee, 1926 (via WikiPaintings).

How do we learn and make this happen?
We learn by using, by doing, by trying, by failing, by modeling, through engagement, dialogue and reflection. Knowledge links to action more effectively when the users are involved from the problem definition stage onwards, when they ‘co-own’ the problem and questions that could lead to solving it. So a shift towards joint observation, trials, modeling and experimentation is key. CGIAR and its partners have used learning approaches to catalyze transformative change in the ways in which food is grown, distributed and consumed.

LEARNING ALLIANCES IN LATIN AMERICA
CIAT has been taking a ‘learning alliance’ approach, partnering with intermediaries such as the Sustainable Food Lab, global food and commodity corporations, local farmer associations and international development-oriented non-governmental organizations. Innovative networks have been formed that link local producers (rural poor) with global buyers. Executives from global food companies have gone on learning journeys where they hear first-hand from small farmers about 3-month periods of food insecurity; they responded by supplying alternate seed varieties for food security over this period. Global companies have reoriented their buying patterns to accommodate local producer needs. These new alliances are generating longer-term networks that are building the adaptive capacity of both food sellers and producers.

Refuge by Paul Klee, 1930 (via WikiPaintings)

‘Refuge’ by Paul Klee, 1930 (via WikiPaintings).

What are we asking people to do?
We want to see more people embracing the idea of joint, transformative learning, the co-creation of knowledge. This is not a new idea. But the imperatives we’re facing now demand a more conscious articulation, promotion and facilitation of this approach by a wide range of people, especially scientists from all disciplines. More relevant science leads to social credibility and legitimacy, which in turn should lead to the ability to mobilize support — a win-win for researchers.

PATTI KRISTJANSON
To enable social learning, incentives and institutions — the rules of the game — have to change also. This includes our changing how research is planned, evaluated and funded. We need much longer time horizons than those currently in play (with 2–3 year projects the norm). And we need to share this critical lesson with governments and other investors in agricultural research for development.

Our vision of success includes many more scientists engaged in broad partnerships; producing more relevant, useful and used information; doing less paperwork and more mentoring of young people and more interactive science; and more generously sharing their knowledge. This helps us to see — much more clearly than before — our scientific contributions to improved agricultural landscapes, sustainable food systems, profitable and productive livelihoods, and improved food security globally.

EWEN LE BORGNE
For more on social learning, consult these ‘social learning gurus’ cited by Ewen Le Borgne:
•  Mark Reed, author of the definition that a few of us have been quoting — see his What is social learning? response to a paper published in Ecology and Society in 2010.
•  Harold Jarche or Jane Hart, both write well on social learning in an enterprise — see Social Learning Centre website and Jarche’s blog.
•  Sebastiao Ferreira Mendonca — see the Mundus maris website (Sciences and Arts for Sustainability International Initiative)
•  Valerie BrownAustralian academic who worked a lot on multiple knowledges in IKM-Emergent, a five-year research program in ’emergent issues in information and knowledge management and international development’ (blog here)

For more information:
Go to CCAFS 2013 Science Meeting programme. Updates from the event are being shared on the CCAFS website and on Twitter (follow #2013CCSL).

For more on this week’s meeting, see these earlier posts on the ILRI News Blog:
The world’s ‘wicked problems’ need wickedly good solutions: Social learning could speed their spread, 18 May 2013.
Climate change and agricultural experts gather in California this week to search for the holy grail of global food security, 17 Mar 2013.

And on the CCAFS Blog:
Farmers and scientists: better together in the fight against climate change, 19 Mar 2013.
Transformative partnerships for a food-secure world, 19 Mar 2013.

Read Alain de Janvry’s whole paper: Agriculture for development: New paradigm and options for success, International Association of Agricultural Economists, 2010.

For more on the use of ‘social learning’ and related methods by the CCAFS, see the CCSL wiki and these posts on ILRI’s maarifa blog.

The world’s ‘wicked problems’ need wickedly good solutions: Social learning could speed their spread

Five-minute animated video produced for a Climate Change and Social Learning (CCSL) initiative of the CGIAR Research Program on Climate Change, Agriculture and Food Security (CCAFS). CCAFS scientists and partners are meeting this week to share their best ideas on how to work better together, and with many others, for a climate-safe future.

Patti Kristjanson, an agricultural economist working out of Nairobi, Kenya (World Agroforestry Centre), for the CGIAR Research Program on Climate Change, Agriculture and Food Security (CCAFS), opened the latter’s annual science meeting in California yesterday (18 Mar) with a little animated video on ways to combat the world’s ‘wicked problems’. The 70-odd researchers at this meeting are looking for ways to make bigger and faster impacts on increasing global food security while reducing global warming.

The short (5-minute) animated video is worth a look. It sets out the need for speed in scaling up our agricultural successes and encourages us to make more conscious use of something called ‘social learning’.

What’s that? Well, it’s what most of us do most of the time—learn from each other in social gatherings of one kind or another. What Kristjanson and her climate change researchers are advocating, however, is applying social learning methods intentionally and systematically, that is to say, doing research that pays as much attention to the social processes of science and its communication as to the scientific methods it employs and the evidence it generates.

That may not be rocket science for most of us, but it’s still a tall order for most scientists. Kristjanson’s short engaging video, narrated by Zimbabwean food policy expert (and ILRI board chair) Lindiwe Sibanda and produced by two South Africans, artist/illustrator James Durno and videographer Dale Ballantine, chips away at such academic fustiness and scientific exceptionalism, arguing for greater scientist engagement with a greater diversity of people for greater impacts.

The video encourages its viewers to create ‘safe spaces’ for social learning (picture tree nurseries protecting seedlings — seedlings that will grow into trees of knowledge!). In such protected places, scientists and their many new partners can together tackle the wickedly complex problems of today, such as finding ways to grow enough food to feed the world’s increasing population in the face of an increasingly unpredictable climate.

Cultivate the future’, the video exhorts us. ‘Focus on the future, not the past — on our solutions, not our problems.’

The Tree of Life by Gustav Klimt, 1909 (via Wikipaintings)

‘The Tree of Life’ by Gustav Klimt, about 1909, Austrian Museum of Applied Arts (via WikiPaintings). 

More information
Read more on the ILRI News Blog about the CCAFS annual science meeting here and here.

For more information on the CCSL initiative, go to CCAFS 2013 Science Meeting programme. Updates from the event are being shared on the CCAFS website and on Twitter (follow #2013CCSL).

For more on the use of ‘social learning’ and related methods by the CCAFS, see the CCSL wiki and these posts on ILRI’s maarifa blog. See also this document by Blane Harvey (Institute for Development Studies [IDS], at the University of Sussex), Jonathan Ensor (University of York), Liz Carlile (International Institute for Environment and Development [IIED]), Ben Garside (IIED), Zachary Patterson (IDS), Lars Otto Naess (IDS): Climate change communication and social learning — Review and strategy development for CCAFS, Oct 2012.

For a recent scientific review of social learning, see this paper: Towards systemic and adaptive governance: Exploring the revealing and concealing aspects of contemporary social-learning metaphors, by Ray Ison, Chris Blackmore and Benjamin Iaquinto, Ecological Economics 87 (2013) 34–42, http://dx.doi.org/doi:10.1016/j.ecolecon.2012.12.016

Here is an excerpt from the paper:
‘Concerns about the effective governance of situations such as river catchments, watersheds, climate change adaptation, biodiversity conservation and ecosystem service provision are widespread. A paucity of effective governance approaches in such situations seemingly exists despite the efforts made in the 40 years since Rittel and Webber (1973) coined the term ‘wicked problems’ to refer to situations that are contested, difficult to bound, involving many stakeholders with socio-technical features (APSC, 2007; Ison, 2008). There is clearly a need for governance innovation (Hajer and Wagenaar, 2003); fortunately recent research, as evidenced by Ostrom’s body of work (see Ostrom, 2007, 2010) demonstrates that commons-type situations are no longer irrevocably committed to tragedy as posited by Hardin (1968). Social learning research is also an innovative response to commons-like, or ‘wicked’, situations (Wals, 2007) but the potential of ‘social learning’ to contribute to the governance of socio-ecological systems is not widely appreciated.’

 

 

 

 

Climate change and agricultural experts gather in California this week to search for the holy grail of global food security

Silhouette of a woman, by Vincent van Gogh,

Silhouette of a peasant woman digging carrots, by Vincent van Gogh, 1885, Van Gogh Museum, Amsterdam, Netherlands (via WikiPaintings).

Experts working at the interface of climate change and agriculture are gathering at two venues in California this week to do the impossible: find ways to do ‘climate-smart agriculture’, specifically—use science to feed more of the world’s growing population and reduce world poverty while mitigating agriculture’s environmental harms the greenhouse gas emissions that are warming the Earth.

First up is a CGIAR group looking to work better, with faster impacts, through so-called ‘social learning’. On Mon and Tue, 18–19 Mar 2013, the CGIAR Research Program on Climate Change, Agriculture and Food Security (CCAFS) is holding its annual science meeting, in Bodega Bay. This group of 70 or so people is Rethinking Science, Learning and Partnerships to Meet Development Outcomes: Reducing Poverty and Improving Food Security in the Context of Climate Change.

This CCAFS meeting is looking for ways to achieve better, bigger and faster impacts through engagement with a wide variety of communities. The participants see untapped potential in CGIAR and beyond for actors of diverse kinds to join forces in improving global food security in the light of climate change. They’re looking at innovative ways to democratize and co-create science for practical use. They hope to build on a legacy of social learning approaches and participatory work within CGIAR and to find ways to adapt these to address the complex challenges faced by hundreds of millions of small-scale food producers and sellers in developing countries.

Updates from the event are being shared on the CCAFS website and on Twitter (follow #2013CCSL).
For more information, go to CCAFS 2013 Science Meeting programme.

Among the CCAFS participants coming from the International Livestock Research Institute (ILRI), in Nairobi, Kenya, are Philip Thornton, James Kinyangi, Mariana Rufino, Polly Ericksen, Wiebke Foerch, Maren Radeny and Ewen Le Borgne.

Three peasants at a meal, by Pablo Picasso (via WikiPaintings)

Three peasants at a meal, pencil sketch and study by Vincent van Gogh, 1890, Van Gogh Museum, Amsterdam, Netherlands (via WikiPaintings).

Following the Bodega Bay meeting, a larger group of climate change and agricultural experts will meet at the University of California at Davis from Wed through Fri, 20–22 Mar 2013, for a global science conference on Climate-Smart Agriculture (and here).

With climate change occurring more rapidly than anticipated, an increase in extreme weather events is threatening global agriculture and food supplies. Existing technologies and institutional structures will be insufficient to slow climate change while feeding the growing human population sustainably. Participants at this conference will work to identify useful actions that are science-based, to use knowledge systems in new ways and to help strengthen the resilience of agricultural communities facing an uncertain future. They’ll look at new ways of integrating science and policy to transform land management and community action for food security. The overall aim is to link agricultural sciences with policies and practices so as to ensure a triple bottom line: food security, poverty alleviation and ecosystem services.

Many CCAFS staff will be participating in, or organizing sessions at, this conference as well.
For more information, visit the UC Davis website.

WILD: Take a look at famous artworks depicting ‘Women in Livestock Development’

WILD: Women in Livestock Development

Section of an ILRI Pinterest page depicting artwork of women in livestock development; created to celebrate International Women’s Day, 8 Mar 2013 (illustration credit: ILRI). Go to this board on the Pinterest site, WILD: Women in Livestock Development 2013, to view nearly 100 such WILD artworks.

Today, to celebrate International Women’s Day today (8 Mar 2013), those of us at the International Livestock Research Institute (ILRI), who work in Africa and Asia to reduce poverty, hunger, disease and environmental degradation through livestock- and research-based interventions, have put together nearly 100 images of artworks depicting ‘women in livestock development’, or WILD, for short.

Go to this board on the Pinterest site, WILD: Women in Livestock Development 2013, to view these WILD artworks.

You may also want to visit the Pinterest pinboard we created last year, WILD: Women in Livestock Development 2012, depicting 100+ women from ILRI, from our partner organizations and from around the world, each of whom is making a difference through livestock-related work.

Women in Livestock Development

ILRI Pinterest board, Women in Livestock Development, created to celebrate International Women’s Day in 2012 (illustration credit: ILRI).

Or watch this 13-minute filmed presentation of former ILRI gender expert Jemimah Njuki explaining why women are import in livestock development and also why livestock development is important: ILRI Film: Farm animals can help millions of women raise the well-being of their households and communities, 30 Mar 2010.

Or watch this 6-minute documentary about Mary, a widow in Malawi who has used the products of agricultural research to improve her (very hard) life and livelihood: ILRI Film: One woman’s struggles in rural Malawi, 8 Mar 2010.

Or watch some short interviews of women involved in research at the crossroads of women’s issues and agricultural research for development:
ILRI News Blog: 8 films, 4 women, a 30-year-old problem: Where we are in gender research for agricultural development, 10 Mar 2011.

Enjoy the day! And remember—hundreds of millions of women living in absolute poverty matter to livestock development, and livestock development matters to hundreds of millions of women living in absolute poverty.

The catch in making livestock more efficient: How to work together towards ‘a greater whole’

Global Agenda of Action in Support of Sustainable Livestock Sector Development, Nairobi

Some of the participants at the on-going third multi-stakeholder platform meeting of the Global Agenda of Action in Support of Sustainable Livestock Development taking place in Nairobi 22-24 Jan 2013 (photo credit: ILRI/Paul Karaimu).

Experts on livestock sector development are gathered this week in Nairobi, Kenya, to think through ways in which the livestock sector can be made more efficient.

On 22 January 2013, at the on-going third multi-stakeholder platform meeting of the Global Agenda of Action in Support of Sustainable Livestock Sector Development, Shirley Tarawali, director of institutional planning and partnerships at the International Livestock Research Institute (ILRI), was one of six members of a panel that discussed the clash between resource scarcity and demand growth in the livestock sector.

This panel reviewed the issues, challenges and possible solutions to the problem.

‘The clash between resource scarcity and livestock demand is a real and not a vague “sometime in the future”’ challenge, said Tarawali. ‘We must address it now; it will have devastating effects in our lifetimes if we do not.’

One of the certainties in recent years is that demand for food, especially animal-source foods such as milk, meat and eggs, has steadily risen. Livestock commodities are now among the top five highest value global commodities. Demand for livestock products has led to land use competition between food, feeds and fuel. Increased pressure on land means more food, to feed a growing world population, has to come from increased production on existing farmlands.

These realities are affecting the decisions taken by policymakers at the national level as they design policies on agricultural production, such as  how smallholder farmers should feed their animals or use and manage the manure their animals produce.

According to Tarawali, these challenges offer opportunities in three areas.

  • Diversity: Experts need to deal with the diversity of farming systems, commodities and efficiencies associated with livestock.
  • Dynamics: We need to influence the future dynamics of these changing livestock systems.
  • Development: We need to understand the impacts of livestock production on development issues such as poverty, health and nutrition, and food security.

‘The answer to these challenges does not lie in research alone,’ said Tarawali. ‘The answer will come from a “greater whole” in which research is only a small part.

According to Tarawali, stakeholders should bring together the parts that make up this whole. These include biophysical research that addresses issues such as productivity and efficient animal production; institutional support for markets and service support; and livestock systems issues such as research on future food needs and the diverse starting points and solutions to these challenges.

‘The Global Agenda of Action provides a forum for bridging these gaps and strengthening synergies between investment, development and public- and private-sector research towards this end,’ Tarawali said.

‘But,’ she cautioned, ‘the Agenda’s stakeholders need to think about the process of getting to this whole. We need to have a clear message to share to successfully influence and motivate decision-makers.

‘The catch lies in how we bring together the collective skills of all stakeholders towards this end.’

Read two recent article from the on-going multi-stakeholder platform meeting of the global agenda of action:

Taking the long livestock view
Greening the livestock sector: ‘Game changers’ for environmental, social, economic gains

View a presentation on ILRI’s experience in working with public-private partnerships to promote pro-poor livestock development.

Greening the livestock sector: ‘Game changers’ for environmental, social, economic gains

Global Agenda of Action in Support of Sustainable Livestock Sector Development, Nairobi

Jimmy Smith (centre), director general of ILRI, with participants at the 3rd Multi-stakeholder Platform Meeting of the Global Agenda of Action in Support of Sustainable Livestock Sector Development, 22–24 Jan 2013 (photo credit: ILRI/Paul Karaimu).

A week-long Third Multi-stakeholder Platform Meeting of A Global Agenda of Action in Support of Sustainable Livestock Sector Development, kicked off today in Nairobi, Kenya.

People concerned about either the benefits or the costs of livestock production should take note of these deliberations.

The Global Agenda is committed to broad-based, voluntary and informal stakeholder actions improving the performance of the livestock sector. It ambitiously aims to protect natural resources as well as to reduce poverty and protect public health. The assumption (‘theory of change’) underpinning the Agenda is that natural resource-use efficiency and thus sustainable development of the livestock sector can be achieved by an increase in the use of humanmade resources and a concomitant reduction in the use of natural resources per unit of livestock food/product/output.

View or watch (livestream) a slide presentation about the Global Agenda, titled People, the Planet and Sustainable Livestock, made by Jeroen Dijkman, of the United Nations Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO), at the International Livestock Research Institute (ILRI), in Nairobi, Kenya, on Friday, 18 January 2013. This was the fifth in a series of ‘livestock live talks’ at ILRI. Dijkman spoke of the coming crunch: ‘We’re adding two China’s to the world in the next 30 years and by 2050 we’ll need to feed 335 more people and need 70% more meat and milk.’ This, Dijkman said, is happening in the midst of growing land, soil and water scarcity (agriculture accounts for 70% of all freshwater use) and increasing livestock and other greenhouse gas emissions that are heating up our climate.

When Dijkman was asked if he thinks the Global Agenda offers a ‘third way’ for livestock production, one somewhere between subsistence and industrial production, he answered, it’s the ‘only way’.

We’re not going to stop livestock production, and livestock is at the centre of most contemporary resource use issues (land, water, energy, nutrients, climate change). Demand for livestock products will likely continue to be strong. Efficiency is key to reducing resource requirements and environmental impact. We need faster new technology adoption and better supporting policy frameworks. Making livestock more sustainable is both important and urgent: action is what is needed. ‘Blame games’ aren’t helpful: We need a constructive dialogue to build consensus. Resource use efficiency is the common ground and it indicates the direction of change.” — Jeroen Dijkman, FAO

Rationale
Growing populations, income gains and urbanization have made livestock one of the fastest growing sub-sectors of agriculture. Past sector expansion in developed countries and more recently in emerging nations has been impressive and has been associated with a widespread transformation of the livestock sector. Ensuring that the continuing demand expansion for livestock products does not increase pressure on natural resources and contributes to socially desirable outcomes, however, will require further adjustments and improvements in sector policies, governance and investments.

Focus
The Agenda’s stakeholders have agreed initially to focus on the following three areas.

Closing the efficiency gap
Application of existing technology and institutional frameworks to generate large resource use efficiency, economic and social gains.

Restoring value to grasslands
Harnessing grass/rangeland’s potential to contribute to environmental services and sustainable livelihoods.

Towards zero discharge
Reducing nutrient overload and greenhouse gas emissions through cost-effective recycling and recovery of nutrients and energy contained in animal manure.

As FAO’s Dijkman said in his seminar at ILRI the week before:

We’re moving to a new narrative. The livestock sector will grow but that growth will need to be ‘green’. The livestock sector offers great opportunities for better resource management and development. The good news is that social and health objectives can be aligned. We need to do this jointly – through collective action. That’s what this Global Agenda is all about.”

Field visits
Participants at the Global Agenda meeting this week will visit the following three agencies on the Friday following the close of the meeting on Thursday.

Ol Kalou Dairy
Ol Kalou Dairy Ltd is a well-established limited company founded located in the Central Province of Kenya. Founded in 2002 and comprising 3500 farmers, the dairy collects about 20,000 litres per day. The dairy is well equipped with a cooler and an agro vet shop that provides inputs and services on credit to active suppliers. Extension services are provided to the members. The dairy is currently been supported by the East Africa Dairy Development Project.

ILRI biosciences laboratories
A morning’s visit to the laboratories at ILRI will include an overview of ILRI by its director general, Jimmy Smith, followed by a tour of ILRI’s facilities, including the Biosciences eastern and central Africa (BecA)-ILRI Hub and its research, capacity building and services. works with partners worldwide to enhance the roles livestock play in pathways out of poverty, principally in Africa and Asia. The tour will also showcase ILRI’s biosciences livestock research, including its 454 sequencing platform and a project on ‘An Integrated Response System for Emerging Infectious Diseases in East Africa’, another on mycotoxins research, a nutritional diagnostics platform and a livestock bio-repository. The tour will be followed by a science poster session and lunch.

Farmers’ Choice
Farmer’s Choice was established in 1980 with its main objective being the sale of fresh and processed pork products to the entire population and across all income groups in Kenya. The core business of Farmer’s Choice is the production of sausages, bacon, ham, delicatessen products and fresh pork. Beef, lamb and poultry have also become important supplementary products.

Background
This meeting is organized by the International Livestock Research Institute (ILRI), the African Union-Interafrican Bureau for Animal Resources (AU-IBAR) and the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations (FAO). ILRI and AU-IBAR are co-hosting the meeting at the Intercontinental Hotel in Nairobi, Kenya, from 22 to 24 January 2013, with a third of the participants taking field trips on the following Friday. This meeting represents a ‘constituting milestone’ for the Agenda, entailing, in addition to information and networking events, working sessions to refine action programs and governance agreements.

About ILRI
The International Livestock Research Institute (ILRI) works with partners worldwide to enhance the roles livestock play in pathways out of poverty, principally in Africa and Asia. The products of these research partnerships help people in developing countries keep their farm animals alive and productive, increase and sustain their livestock and farm productivity, find profitable markets for their animal products, and reduce their risk of livestock-related diseases. ILRI is a not-for-profit institution with a staff of about 600 and, in 2012, an operating budget of about USD60 million. A member of the CGIAR Consortium working for a food-secure future, ILRI has its headquarters in Nairobi, Kenya, a principal campus in Addis Ababa, Ethiopia, and offices in other countries in East, West and southern Africa and in South, Southeast and East Asia.

India’s booming livestock sector: On the cusp?–Or on a knife edge?

Jimmy Smith and Purvi Mehta-Bhatt (left and right) with dairy farmer being interviewed by media in Haryana, India

On 4 Nov 2012, an ILRI delegation of 28 visited the village of Araipura, in the Karnal District in the Indian state of Haryana, where they held discussions with dairy farm families. Above are ILRI’s director general Jimmy Smith (left) and ILRI’s Asia program head Purvi Mehta-Bhatt (right) at a media interview of Anil K Srivastava (middle), director of India’s premier dairy research organization, the National Dairy Research Institute, based in Karnal. ILRI’s management team and board of trustees also visited the main campus at National Dairy Research Institute, at Karnal. These field visits preceded a meeting of ILRI’s board and management in New Delhi on 5–6 Nov, followed by an ILRI-ICAR Partnership Dialogue on 7 Nov 2012. (Photo credit: ILRI)

A partnership dialogue organized by the International Livestock Research Institute (ILRI) and the Indian Council of Agricultural Research (ICAR) on livestock, research and development was held yesterday (7 Nov 2012) in New Delhi.

India’s booming livestock sector
With 485 million livestock and 489 million poultry, India ranks first in global livestock population. Livestock keeping has always been an integral part of the socio-economic and cultural fabric of rural India. In recent years, India’s livestock sector has been booming. India has become the leading exporter of buffalo beef and it has turned from a milk-deficient nation into the world’s largest dairy producer, accounting for close to 17% of global production.

While the contribution of agriculture to the country’s GDP continues to fall with industrialization, the contribution of the livestock sector to India’s agricultural output only continues to increase. Livestock now contribute 28% of the output of the agricultural sector and the sub-sector is growing at a rate of 4.3% a year while that for the agricultural sector as a whole is growing at just 2.8% a year. Last year, India’s livestock sector output value was estimated to be over USD40 billion—more than all grains combined.

With over 80% of livestock production being carried out by small-scale and marginalized farmers, the benefits livestock generate for India’s poor are enormous and diverse. But while livestock are a prime force in this country’s economy and the well-being of hundreds of millions of its people, the sector has not yet been given the level of attention it warrants.

Livestock are both central to India’s development and a threat to it
Environmental impacts: While millions of people in India are benefiting from better incomes and nutrition due to livestock, there are great environmental and public health risks associated with the country’s livestock sector. For starters, India’s projected spike in demand for milk and meat—176% by 2025—will have tremendous impacts on the environment; already, for example, global livestock production accounts for up to one-fifth of human-generated greenhouse gas emissions.

Zoonotic diseases: And India’s fast-growing human population and resulting increasing animal-human interactions, combined with changing environmental conditions and inadequate sanitation and regulation, have made India one of the world’s top hotspots for livestock diseases, including zoonotic diseases—those that pass from animals to humans and which make up 75% of all human diseases. Controlling zoonoses is particularly important in developing countries, where the absolute burden of these diseases is up to 130 times greater than in rich countries. An ILRI global report released in July of this year, Mapping of Poverty and Likely Zoonoses Hotspots, ranked India near the top of the list globally for the highest burden of zoonoses—in terms of both absolute numbers of those infected with zoonoses and the level of intensity of the  zoonoses infections.

Classical swine fever, a highly contagious pig disease, poses a threat to rural farmers in India’s northeastern states of Assam, Mizoram and Nagaland—80% of whom keep pigs and 46.6% of whom identify pig farming as the most promising source of income. ILRI’s research has shown that nearly USD40 million in income is lost to the disease annually in these three states. As a result of targeted advocacy at the national ministry level, the government is allocating new funds for dealing with classical swine fever.

India’s Operation Flood, which started in the 1970s, has helped to increase national milk consumption by 30% over the last two decades. However, 80% of all sold milk is still marketed by informal traders, often perceived as unreliable, which discourages the investment into more productive animals and better inputs. What should India be doing to reach those farmers still living on the margins and who have yet to reap the benefits of India’s milk boom?

Livestock ‘goods’ and ‘bads’: The roles of livestock globally–both positive and the negative—must be better understood, particularly why researchers and policymakers must draw a distinction between the developed and developing world when it comes to the future of livestock. The current public debate on livestock is dominated by concerns of the developed world on the negative environmental and health impacts of livestock. Experts at ILRI argue that this one-sided focus can leave the poor as victims of generalizations and justify the neglect of research needed to improve the sector’s environmental performance and management of disease risks, especially in parts of the world where the benefits of livestock, which provide most poor household’s with livelihoods, regular incomes and good nutrition, outweigh its problems.

The ILRI-ICAR Partnership Dialogue
Among those who led the Partnership Dialogue from ILRI are Jimmy Smith, a global expert on livestock production for developing countries who heads up ILRI in Nairobi, Kenya, and Purvi Mehta-Bhatt, who is head of ILRI’s Asia program and based in New Delhi. All of ILRI’s international board of trustees and senior management participated in the Dialogue, as well as the director general of ICAR, the directors of ICAR’s animal science institutes and several vice chancellors and deans, with a total of 12 countries represented. The high-level meeting was inaugurated by MS Swaminathan, India’s foremost geneticist renowned for his role in India’s ‘Green Revolution’, member of India’s parliament and chairman the MS Swaminathan Research Foundation. The Dialogue was ably facilitated by S Ayyappan, director general of ICAR and secretary of the Department of Agricultural Research and Education, and KML Pathak, deputy director general of animal sciences at ICAR.

Leaders in government, non-governmental, research and private-sector organizations made presentations and three thematic sessions generated discussions on smallholder dairy and small ruminant value chains, animal health and animal feed and nutrition. A high-profile white paper will be produced from the proceedings of this dialogue to distill the major recommendations made and serve as a basis for pro-poor and sustainable livestock policy interventions in the country.

Notes
Jimmy Smith, director general of the International Livestock Research Institute (ILRI)
Jimmy Smith, a Canadian citizen, was born in Guyana, in the Caribbean, where he was raised on a small mixed crop-and-livestock farm. He was appointed director general of ILRI in April 2011. Before joining ILRI, Smith served for five years at the World Bank, leading the its Global Livestock Portfolio. Before that, Smith held senior positions at the Canadian International Development Agency (2001–2006). Earlier in his career, Smith had worked at ILRI and its predecessor, the International Livestock Centre for Africa (1991–2001). At ILCA and then ILRI, Smith was the institute’s regional representative for West Africa, where he led development of integrated research promoting smallholder livelihoods through animal agriculture and built effective partnerships among stakeholders in the region. At ILRI, Smith spent three years leading the CGIAR Systemwide Livestock Programme, an association of 10 CGIAR centres working on issues at the crop-livestock interface. Before his decade of work at ILCA/ILRI, Smith held senior positions in the Caribbean Agricultural Research and Development Institute (1986–1991), where he embarked on his career supporting international livestock for development. Smith holds a PhD in animal sciences from the University of Illinois, at Urban-Champaign, USA.

Purvi Mehta-Bhatt, head  of ILRI Asia
Purvi Mehta-Bhatt is the head of ILRI’s work in Asia and is based in New Delhi, India. Mehta-Bhatt has been involved in many capacity development, outreach and technology transfer initiatives in India and around the world and brings over 16 years of experience in designing and implementing capacity development and stakeholder networking interventions. As director of Science Ashram in India from 1997 to 2005, she worked with more than 60,000 farmers and as country coordinator for the South Asia Biosafety Program. She serves on the board of several organizations, including the International Centre for development-oriented Research in Agriculture, the International Association of Ecology and Health and the Roadmap to Combat Zoonosis in India.

Read more about the ILRI-ICAR Partnership Dialogue on ILRI’s Clippings Blog:  Lessons from India’s smallholder dairy successes can help developing world–ILRI’s Jimmy Smith, 8 Nov 2012.

KARI agricultural innovations big hit with young smart business farmers: ‘Those are OUR people’

13th Biennial Scientific Conference at the Kenya Agricultural Research Institute (KARI) in Nairobi

 A few of the tents on the exhibit grounds at the 13th Biennial Scientific Conference held at KARI in Nairobi from 22–26 Oct 2012 (photo by ILRI/Alexandra Jorge).

The 13th Biennial Scientific Conference and Exhibition at the Kenya Agricultural Research Institute (KARI) took place last week at KARI’s headquarters in Nairobi’s leafy suburb of Loresho.

This correspondent—enamoured of the sea of white tents erected across KARI’s rolling green lawns to showcase hundreds of exhibitors of ‘Agricultural Products, Technologies & Innovations’—never actually made it to the proceedings of the conference itself. But if the conference was anything like the exhibits, it must have been a great success.

My organization, the International Livestock Research Institute (ILRI), tried to distinguish its exhibit on livestock forage research and capacity building from the hundreds of other tents just like it with decorations of African artefacts—wooden bowls, woven baskets and traditional cloths and the like—as well as safari chairs inviting passersby to come inside for a conversation. So successful were we that many people upon entering the ILRI tent promptly asked to buy some of the display items (and were promptly disappointed when we told them they weren’t for sale.) The big cattle and camel bells were also a big hit, with the visitors having to explain to ILRI staff the difference between the bell sounds appropriate for cows and those for bulls!

We were at KARI to promote opportunities for young Kenyan scientists to train at ILRI, the headquarters of which are located just a 15-minute drive from KARI. And we showcased our collaborative research with KARI scientists, including Solomon Mwendia, on disease-resistant varieties of Napier grass, aka ‘elephant grass’, on which so many Kenyan smallholder farmers depend for feeding their milk cows.

ILRI forage seed display at KARI event

Forage seed display at the ILRI booth (photo by ILRI/Alexandra Jorge).

Visitors showed great interest in ILRI printed materials about improved forages and feeds (lab lab, oats, vetch), seed samples and Napier grass cuttings and leaves, and a research-based feed assessment tool for selecting appropriate feeds for different regions.

13th Biennial Scientific Conference at the Kenya Agricultural Research Institute (KARI) in Nairobi

Alexandra Jorge, head of ILRI’s Forage Genebank, in Addis Abba, Ethiopia, talks to a visitor in ILRI’s booth on the exhibit grounds at the week-long KARI scientific conference; in the basket are varieties of disease-resistant Napier from the genebank (photo by ILRI/Paul Karaimu).

‘The demand for information was huge’, says Alexandra Jorge, who heads ILRI’s Forage Genebank, in Addis Ababa, Ethiopia, and came down to Nairobi to answer questions and provide expertise at KARI’s week-long event. ‘We had questions about the best feeds for dairy goats, how to maximize forage production for feeding dairy cows, the best methods for raising pigs, the best breeds of chickens to keep, how to transition to stall-fed (‘zero grazed’) dairy animals, how to start hydroponic and screen-house forage production, and what climate change is likely to change in Kenyan agriculture—and what livestock farmers can do now to cope with it.’

‘I really enjoyed participating in this exhibit,’ Jorge says ‘having real contact with our users and clients and chatting about their challenges and projects. It made me think hard about what we researchers do and the impact and benefits we can bring to farmers. It also made me realize how little I know about the work that many colleagues are doing and that we should make this information much more available.’

‘It was amazing to see the amount of interesting and innovative work KARI and many Kenyan universities are doing. Many people had stories to share, or tasty food, like the amazing sorghum sausages that taste just like meat!’

Sausages for sale at KARI event

Sausages for sale at the KARI event (photo by ILRI/Alexandra Jorge).

ILRI research manager Sandra Rwese was most impressed with the number of young entrepreneurs at this event looking for agricultural innovations and good ideas. ‘Scores of youth finding few jobs in urban areas appear to be calling city life quits and heading to rural farming villages. The numbers of these young new farmers that I met at the KARI event are much larger than I’d expected. This young generation is clearly keen on taking agriculture and livestock farming to the next level.’

Jane Gitau, a communications officer at ILRI, agrees. ‘Many of the visitors to ILRI’s tent inquiring about better methods of livestock keeping appeared to be in their thirties and early forties. They wanted information to take away with them; they wanted to learn more efficient methods of farming. It was refreshing to witness this drive to make agriculture a knowledge-based business.’

KARI display of range grass seed at KARI event

KARI display of range grass seed at KARI event (photo by ILRI/Alexandra Jorge).

‘Walking from booth to booth’, Gitau said, ‘I was amazed to see all that KARI had to offer from its 22 centres countrywide, from Kibos to Kiboko, Muguga to Thika, each with a different mandate in agricultural research. Staff from KARI’s Kiboko Research Station, located about 150 km southeast of Nairobi and the institute’s drylands station, exhibited various imported and hybrid rangeland grasses they are trialing. KARI’s Muguga Station was exhibiting some of Kenya’s important plant and livestock genetic resources. And an improved rice variety grown under irrigation at Kibos, in western Kenya, was on display, along with rice flour, rice cakes, rice doughnuts and rice cookies!’

Selling traditional Kamba baskets at KARI event

Traditional Taita woven baskets for sale at the KARI event (photo by ILRI/Alexandra Jorge).

Finally, Gitau remarked on the close connections KARI has to its constituency. ‘Those of us manning the ILRI booth often directed visitors to the many KARI booths to get their specific farming and livestock keeping questions answered. These people sought practical help and region-specific recommendations we didn’t have’, Gitau said. ‘When I asked people if they knew where to find KARI, I several times got the reply, ‘Hao ni watu wetu’, colloquial Swahili for, “Those are our people”.

 

Addressing the issue of our time: Experts meet in Nairobi to shape new nutrition program for Africa by new Australian food security centre


 
This 10-minute film shares the views of 10 nutrition, food policy and food safety experts who discussed gaps between research on food security, agriculture and nutrition in Africa at a meeting in Nairobi on 10–11 Sept 2012. Interviewed are: Mellissa Wood, Australian International Food Security Centre (AIFSC); Delia Grace, International Livestock Research Institute (ILRI); Bruce Cogill, Bioversity International; John McDermott, CGIAR Research Program on Agriculture for Nutrition and Health (A4NH); Robyn Alders, University of Sydney; Juliet Ssentubwe, Uganda Ministry of Agriculture; CJ Jones, Global Alliance for Improved Nutrition (GAIN); Ruth Oniang’o, member of the policy and advisory council of the Australian Centre for International Agricultural Research (ACIAR); Mateete Bekunda, International Institute for Tropical Agriculture (IITA); and Cyprian Ouma, World Vision.
 

A new program to help deliver improved nutrition to Africa was recently designed at a workshop in Nairobi on 10–11 September 2012. The expert panel defined research priorities for Australian investments in the sphere of food and nutritional security in sub-Saharan Africa.

The workshop helped advance progress on what Hilary Clinton and others argue is the issue of our time—food security.

More than one billion people remain malnourished, and another billion suffer from hidden hunger due to lack of essential vitamins and minerals in their diets—this while another 1.5 billion people are overweight or obese.

A key to achieving lasting food security is meeting the challenge of providing food and adequate daily nutrition to all.

The agricultural sector rarely has ‘enhancing nutrition’ as an articulated objective. Delia Grace, a veterinary epidemiologist and food safety expert at the International Livestock Research Institute (ILRI), in Nairobi, Kenya, says: ‘A consensus is growing that the disconnect between agriculture, health and nutrition is at least partly responsible for the disease burden associated with food and farming’. The Australian International Food Security Centre (AIFSC), a new Australian Government initiative announced in October 2011, and ILRI hosted the 1.5-day workshop to help address this disconnect.

Experts in nutrition, national and subregional food policy, food safety, agricultural production and value chains from across Africa and the world participated.

Participants in the meeting discussed gaps between research on food security, agriculture and nutrition, in line with African priorities and how the  Australian International Food Security Centre can best complement work being undertaken by other organizations. The centre will use the outcomes of the workshop to shape its nutrition program by identifying where to make its initial investments in African food security.

The Australian centre aims to help bridge existing gaps between agricultural innovations and development so as to speed adoption of those innovations for better food and nutritional security of poor people.

Mellissa Wood, director of the Australian International Food Security Centre, says Australia has a role to play in this area. ‘Australia has many similar environments and challenges common to African agriculture. Our expertise in agriculture can help play a role in achieving food security in Africa, including developing more nutritious food,’ Wood said.

Australian agricultural science has experience with climatic variability and extreme climatic events that affect farming, forestry, fisheries and livestock. While eventually working in developing countries across Africa, Asia and the Pacific, the Australian International Food Security Centre is focusing its first efforts in sub-Saharan Africa.

The new Australian centre will work specifically to:

  • increase the nutritional quality, safety and diversity of food
  • reduce food losses after harvest
  • improve access by the poor to markets and other business opportunities
  • build the capacity of local institutions and individuals
  • promote gender equality

For more information, please read this brochure, http://aciar.gov.au/files/node/14087/aifsc_june_update_62995.pdf, or visit this website: aciar.gov.au/aifsc

 

The road back to Rio: ‘LivestockPLUS Learning Event’ shows how better feed reduces poverty AND livestock ‘hoofprints’

NP Llanos51_lo

Cattle graze on Colombia's eastern plains, or Llanos (photo on Flickr by CIAT/Neil Palmer).

 

Several hundred people in Rio de Janeiro today will be discussing and debating a topic not often included in high-profile meetings. The topic is how we can use improved livestock feed to reduce both poverty and climate change.

The discussions today will take place at one of 13 ‘learning events’ that are part of an Agriculture and Rural Development Day at the Rio+20 United Nations Conference on Sustainable Development. Staff from CGIAR  Centres are helping to organize and are participating in events throughout this day.

Given that the key messages of this particular learning event run counter to much current thinking about livestock, the participants will share and discuss scientific evidence that demonstrates the benefits of improved feeding practices, particularly their potential for contributing significantly to climate change mitigation while improving livestock production.

Messages
On the table today are both fodders, coarse foods composed of entire plants or the leaves and stalks of cereal crops, and bulky grass or hay forages. The learning event, titled ‘LivestockPlus—How can sustainable intensification of livestock production through improved feeding practices help realize both livelihood as well as environmental benefits?’, will deliver the following three fundamental messages.

New feeding practices can increase livestock production while decreasing its ecological ‘hoofprint’

New livestock feeding practices, like the use of improved dual-purpose crops and high-quality forages, offer significant potential for sustainable intensification of agricultural production to enhance livelihoods while also reducing livestock’s ecological ‘hoofprint’.

Improved forages, like forests, will capture carbon

Improved tropical forages offer the further advantage of sequestering large amounts of carbon—on a scale similar to that of forests—with the possibility of reducing emissions of nitrous oxide and methane per unit of livestock product. There is evidence that the potential of sown forages to sequester carbon (assuming good pasture and livestock management) is second only to that of forests and that sown forages could realize 60–80% of agriculture’s total potential to mitigate climate change.

Better feeding practices will allow mixed crop-livestock farmers to produce more food more sustainably

If widely applied by the vast army of ‘mixed’ smallholder farmers, who raise livestock as well as grow crops, and who are the mainstay of global food security, improved livestock feeding practices could deliver huge increases in food production at reduced environmental cost against a background of rising livestock production and consumption in the developing world.

Evidence
The result of numerous global initiatives and extensive testing, this work offers practical examples of how improved feeds can raise the production and incomes of smallholder farmers. Superior forage grasses widely adopted in Latin America, for example, already generate up to USD4 billion in Brazil alone. And improved tropical forages have also been adopted widely in Southeast Asia since the start of their promotion in 1995. A recent review indicates that continued adoption of improved feeds, including sown forages, could significantly reduce greenhouse gases on a global scale, while enhancing the livelihoods of the one billion people dependent on livestock-cropping systems.

What remains to be done
To scale up these improved feed resources so that they contribute to a transformed food system, we need more precsie understanding of the impacts of livestock on climate change, with the impacts differentiated by specific livestock-cropping systems, as well as of the potential for improved feeding practices to mitigate climate change. To make livestock and crop production in the tropics more climate friendly through improved feeding practices, smallholders must be given stronger incentives to market their livestock products and to sequester carbon through improved land management. Smallholders might be encouraged to adopt sown (and carbon-storing) forages, for example, through schemes instituted to pay them for the environmental services they provide.

What could be achieved
With donor support for research to obtain conclusive data and to provide policymakers with support for their decision-making, a functional system for implementing the LivestockPlus concept and associated strategies could be available within the next 5–6 years.

The program for this learning event
The program for this learning event includes a keynote presentation on the role of forages and livestock production in mitigating greenhouse gas emissions by CIAT soil scientist and agroecologist Aracely Castro; this keynote will be followed by three short case-study introductions on the following topics.

Carbon sequestration in livestock production for climate change mitigation: Implications for policy development in Brazil, presented by Embrapa beef cattle researcher Davi José Bungenstab.

Livestock production and climate change in sub-Saharan Africa and Asia: Technical innovation for environmental and livelihood benefits, presented by Carlos Seré, former director general of ILRI and now chief strategist for IFAD (note: Seré is speaking on behalf of ILRI animal nutritionist Michael Blümmel).

Climate-smart silvopastoral systems for a green livestock economy, presented by CATIE director Muhammad Ibrahim.

These case study presentations will be followed by parallel group discussions on each of the three cases to answer such questions as:
What are the main research findings that support the technological or policy innovation, including evidence of livelihood and environmental benefits?
What were key lessons learned from the research leading to this innovation?
What are the requirements for scaling it up?

The session will close with a moderated panel discussion in plenary with the keynote speaker and case study presenters.

Institutions involved
CATIE is a regional centre of excellence based in Costa Rica that works on solutions for the environment and development in rural communities in Latin America and the Caribbean.

CIAT, the International Center for Tropical Agriculture, based in Colombia, works to increase the eco-efficiency of agriculture to reduce hunger and poverty and to improve human health in the tropics.

EMBRAPA is the Brazilian Agricultural Research Corporation, which works for the sustainable development of Brazilian agribusiness.

ILRI, the International Livestock Research Institute, based in Africa, works to reduce hunger, poverty, ill health and environmental degradation through enhanced livestock systems for poor people in the developing world.

Presenters at the event
This learning event will be chaired by Elcio Guimarães, who is director of research for Latin America and the Caribbean at the International Center for Tropical Agriculture (CIAT). Discussions at the session will be summarized by Nathan Russell, a key organizer of this session who leads corporate communications work at CIAT. One of the three scheduled case study speakers, Michael Blümmel of ILRI, is unable to attend; his presentation will be made by Carlos Seré, former director general of ILRI and now chief strategist for the International Fund for Agricultural Development (IFAD).

Follow the event on the web
Today, 18 Jun 2012, proceedings of the Agriculture and Rural Development Day will be webcast live (the event takes place from 11.30–13.00 Rio time), and you can ask questions and interact with the organizers via Twitter and Facebook. You can also follow the presentations and discussions of this learning event on Twitter as @agricultureday and check updates via the Twitter-tags #RioPlus20 and #Rio4Ag and the Facebook page for ARDD. You can also follow CGIAR at Rio on this landing page on the CGIAR Consortium website.

Africa’s vast eastern and southern drylands get new attention–and support–from agricultural researchers

Strategic research themes of CRP on Dryland Systems

A new CGIAR Research Program on Dryland Systems is being planned to find ways to help dryland communities climb out of poverty while enhancing their food security and protecting their natural resources. This program will conduct four strategic research themes in five regions. Two of the research themes—reducing vulnerability/managing risk and sustainably intensifying production—make up the ‘meat’ of what has come to be called ‘the hamburger’ diagram. The top and bottom ‘buns’ represent the other two research themes:  strengthening innovations systems and measuring impacts/synthesizing knowledge across regions, respectively (figure by the CGIAR Research Program on Dryland Systems).

This week in Nairobi, Kenya, opening on a morning as grey and cold as London’s weekend Diamond Jubilee celebrations on the Thames, a Regional Inception Workshop of the CGIAR Research Program on Dryland Agricultural Systems for East and Southern Africa is being held. The 3-day workshop (5–7 Jun) is organized and hosted by the International Livestock Research Institute (ILRI). This inception workshop brings together more than 50 experts working in the drylands of eastern and southern Africa to identify key hypotheses and research questions for the research program, to agree on initial sites for its activities and to develop impact pathways and implementation plans. See the introductory slide presentation by Maarten Van Ginkel, deputy director general of the International Centre for Agricultural Research in the Dry Areas (ICARDA): The CGIAR Research Program on Dryland Systems: Scientific content and progress in the inception phase.

The planners of this CGIAR Research Program on Dryland Systems (the full mouthful of a title of which is ‘Integrated and Sustainable Agricultural Production Systems for Improved Food Security and Livelihoods in Dry Areas’) say this large, multi-institutional, multi-stakeholder and multi-diciplinary research program aims to develop a series of complementary technologies, policies and institutional innovations that will help very poor and highly vulnerable dryland populations improve their livelihoods—and do so over the longer term.

As its full name suggests, this CGIAR research program will apply ‘integrated systems’ approaches, which focus less on technical fixes for discrete problems and more on how interventions can be combined to meet the many needs of a profitable, equitable and sustainable agricultural production system. And the program will use large, so-called ‘landscape level’ frameworks to help scientists think through the links between farm or community practices and the broader ecosystem in which they are located; such analyses should allow, for example, more comprehensive assessments of the increasingly hard trade-offs in use of natural resources.

See consultant John Lynam’s slide presentation (below), which gives a comprehensive overview of ‘systems thinking’. Lynam argued that we need to change our research designs and methods if we’re going to serve the expanding agendas for international agricultural research. In his presentation he asked asked some provocative questions, such as, ‘How do we (should we) understand system performance? Is it by productivity, profitability, or income? Is it levels of vulnerability or food security? Or is it resource efficiency or resilience?. . . . Why do we have plantain (matoke) systems in Uganda while beer banana systems dominate in Burundi and Rwanda? . . . Why are many more people exiting agriculture in Africa than they are in Asia?’

The dry areas of the developing world occupy some 3 billion hectares, which represent 41% of the earth’s land area. These drylands are home to 2.5 billion people, who make up about a third of the population in developing countries. At least 16% of this population lives in chronic poverty.

These people make a living from the drylands by growing and managing a mix of food, fodder and fibre crops; vegetables; rangeland and pasture grasses, shrubs and trees; fruit and fuel-wood trees; medicinal plants; livestock; and fish. These dryland people face enormous environmental challenges, which in many regions are likely only to worsen with climate change.

This program targets two kinds of drylands. The first are those with the deepest endemic poverty and the most marginalized and vulnerable people, the most extreme environmental variability, and often the greatest natural resource degradation as well. The second are those with the greatest potential to increase food security and reduce poverty over the short to medium terms.

Dryland Systems Workshop at ILRI

Table discussions at an ILRI-hosted inception workshop for eastern and southern Africa component of the CGIAR Research Program on Dryland Agricultural Systems, 5-7 Jun 2012 (photo by ILRI/Susan MacMillan).

The future of dryland farming communities, the research planners assume, depends largely on their ability to more effectively manage  risk as well as to diversify and intensify their agricultural production systems. The integrated approach the program will take should help people better manage their natural resources and improve their crop, vegetable, livestock, tree and fish production. The approach should also help facilitate for dryland communities the establishment of enabling policy environments; the provision of greater institutional support; and a more equitable distribution of, and control over, resources, access to information, livelihood opportunities and decision-making.

Dryland Systems Workshop at ILRI: Agenda

Dryland Systems Workshop at ILRI: Outcomes

More specifically, this dryland research program aims to:

  • prioritize agricultural systems for impact
  • identify key researchable issues
  • increase the efficiency and sustainability of natural resource use
  • develop more resilient agricultural systems to manage risk and production variability
  • promote in situ and ex situ conservation and sustainable use of dryland agrobiodiversity
  • improve the productivity and profitability of dryland agricultural systems through sustainable intensification, diversification, and creation of value-added products and market links
  • identify niches of importance to the most vulnerable livelihoods (even if they appear to have low marketing potential)
  • address constraints faced by the most marginal farmers
  • develop new partnerships and models of working together.

Dryland Systems Workshop at ILRI: Organizer Polly Ericksen of ILRI and facilitator Constance Neely of ICRAF

Dryland Systems inception workshop for East and southern Africa organizer Polly Ericksen of ILRI (left) and facilitator Constance Neely of ICRAF (photo credit: ILRI/Susan MacMillan).

The structure and process of this workshop, which is focused on eastern and southern Africa, have been developed by an interdisciplinary research team headed by ILRI’s Polly Ericksen, with participants from the World Agroforestry Centre, the International Water Management Institute and the International Crops Research Institute for the Semi-Arid Tropics, as well as agricultural research consultants John Lynam and Brian Keating. The lead centre for this CGIAR research program is the International Center for Agricultural Research in Dry Areas.

In this region, the drylands program plans to work to reduce vulnerability in three areas of three East Africa countries:
Northern Kenya/southeastern Ethiopia: the triangle from Garissa in Kenya to Borana in south-central Ethiopia to Somali Region in southeast Ethiopia
Central Kenya: Baringo District
Southern Kenya/northern Tanzania: Kajiado and Narok districts and Serengeti National Park and Monduli and Samanjiro districts.

The program plans work to intensify agricultural production in three areas of three eastern and southern African countries:
Zambia-Malawi-Mozambique: the Chinyanja Triangle
Northeast Tanzania: from Kahama through Shinyanga to Babati districts
Ethiopia: the Oromia zones of East Shoa, West Shoa, Horogudru and the Amhara zone of North Shoa

For more information, visit the website for this CGIAR Research Program.

See previous blogs about this workshop:

ILRI Clippings Blog: CGIAR Drylands Research Program sets directions for East and Southern Africa, 4 Jun 2012.

ILRI Clippings Blog: Supporting dryland pastoralism with eco-conservancies, livestock insurance and livestock-based drought interventions, 5 Jun 2012.

A set of images of this workshop are on ILRI’s Flickr site.