Declan McKeever: ILRI and ILRAD lose a friend, with a personal tribute by Brian Perry

Cow, tree, hut

Declan McKeever,a former scientist at the International Livestock Research Institute (ILRI), and its predecessor, the International Laboratory for Research on Animal Diseases (ILRAD), brilliant immunologist, great friend, Irish wit and agent provocateur for all things unashamedly intelligent, has died.

ILRI staff last saw Declan end of last November, when he came to the ILRI Christmas party in Nairobi, where he was looking good, telling old and new stories, many about his sickness and his ongoing recovery, and things and people and insights that had moved him in his battle against cancer. His focus at that Christmas party was on other people’s trials, old friends, things that matter. He was tender as well as smart. His heart was open, his wit still dry.

He was looking forward to coming out to ILRI and Kenya again this weekend, to participate in a newly formed consortium to beat back an old foe of his and ILRI’s and ILRAD’s, East Coast fever, a cattle killing disease devastating the livelihoods of the poor in Africa.

He will be badly missed. We will not be the same without him.

An age-mate of his, Brian Perry, another illustrious former ILRAD/ILRI scientist, has written the following personal tribute.

‘We learnt with immense sadness that Declan McKeever died last night [23 Jan 2014]. He was diagnosed with myeloma in December 2012, underwent chemotherapy followed by an autologous stem cell graft in April 2013, had been recovering well, and was back at work full time later in the year. We send our sincerest condolences to his widow Christine, to Luke and Saoirse, and to Aoife and Leo.

‘Declan has been the closest of friends and confidants for the last 27 years, and I will miss him immensely. In the vibrant days of the International Laboratory for Research on Animal Diseases (ILRAD), Declan epitomised the dedication to scientific discovery and innovation which consumed the institute at the time, in the search for an understanding of the immune responses to Theileria parva, and how these could be captured and deployed in disease prevention through vaccines. In its mission to tackle two of the most intractable and complicated African livestock diseases, ILRAD bred and nurtured many scientists and thinkers, almost all of whom had different views and approaches to tackling vaccine development, in a funding environment impatient for results, a scenario captured in the Science article of April 1992 entitled ‘Nairobi laboratory fights more than disease’.

‘Declan rose to the occasion, thriving on scientific debate, and complementing his acute intelligence with a subtle, penetrating, wit that epitomised his multiple contributions. ILRAD became ILRI in 1995, and Declan left ILRI in 1999 after 13 years with the CGIAR, taking a chair in Veterinary Clinical Sciences at Edinburgh University, and joining a cluster of former ILRAD scientists continuing on their search for a vaccine against East Coast fever, this time in colder climes. Having separated from wife Mary Lou, he remarried former ILRI scientist Christine Thuranira, and in 2007 they moved on to positions at the Royal Veterinary College (RVC), University of London. Declan was Chair of Immunoparasitology, and Head of the Pathology and Infectious Diseases department, and had recently been appointed Vice Principal of RVC. A sudden and untimely end to a successful career. . . .

‘Declan was also an artist, well known for his cartoons of various staff members during the ILRAD days, and for his Christmas cards; while he lived in Kenya he donated the humorous artwork in the Christmas cards to various charities every year. There are some classics, such as the one on the left!


‘From the cartoons, perhaps my favourite is that of the ILRAD Director General, Ross Gray, taking one of his unannounced trips to the labs in 1994 and encountering Jed Lamb skateboarding towards him (below left)!

ILRAD director general Ross Gray

He also drew a cartoon of Nobel Prize winner Peter Doherty (below centre)

ILRAD board member Peter Doherty

and one of ILRAD director of research Jack Doyle

ILRAD director of research Jack Doyle

and one for my 50th birthday present (below right), which hangs with pride in our house.


‘Despite the impression on occasions of being quite irreligious, Declan had a strong belief, and a committed faith, which he drew on regularly. He was a devoted family man, exuding pride in his elder children, and taking on with ease the new roles and responsibilities of a father with young Luke and Saoirse. The reunion of all his children over Christmas 2012 gave him immense joy. . . .

‘When Declan became ill, he called me on skype to tell me of his condition. My wife Helena wrote to him and thanked him for letting us know. He replied: “Helena I was very touched by your message – it really brought home to me how important old friendships are. Niall MacHugh told me that I should tell my old friends because they will have something to contribute, and he was so right”.’

Brian Perry, Gilgil, Kenya, 23 Jan 2014

All drawings by Declan McKeever.

Dialing back on the drivers of global disease outbreaks: A look inside the ‘black box’

Pathogen flow at the wildlife–livestock–human interface


As published in PNAS 2013: 1208059110v1-201208059. Zoonosis emergence linked to agricultural intensification and environmental change, by Delia Grace and others, May 2013.

By Michelle Geis

A new report on the ‘causes of causes’ of H7N9 and other diseases that are emerging in animals and jumping species—into people

The deadly H7N9 bird flu virus in China and the spread of a SARS-like coronavirus in the Middle East continue to make headlines. H7N9 has killed 35 people  in China and 20 have lost their lives to the novel coronavirus—which has spread from Saudi Arabia to the UK, France and Germany.

Two opinion editorials in the New York Times last week, The next contagion: Closer than you think and The next pandemic: Not if, but when, correctly warn us about the potential global spread of these killer diseases. They call for more awareness of the dangers of zoonotic (animal-to-people) diseases, faster identification of animal sources of the pathogens and better vaccines to protect us against them. All of those are indeed needed.

But like much of the mainstream press, neither article mentions the root cause of these emerging infectious diseases, that is, the conditions that make zoonoses likely to arise in the first place and then help turn them into lethal pandemics.

These ‘causes of causes‘ of zoonotic disease outbreaks and their spread are pinpointed in a paper published this week in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences (PNAS). Delia Grace, a veterinary epidemiologist and food safety specialist at the International Livestock Research Institute (ILRI), in Nairobi, Kenya, and other scientists argue in this paper that we’ll only become capable of preventing or stopping the next pandemic when we better understand the drivers of disease emergence.

Some of these disease triggers are well-documented, if not well publicized. We know that rising demand for more meat and dairy products in rapidly growing developing countries, where cities and slums are densely crowded with livestock as well as people, can be a culprit. We know that animals kept in stressful as well as crowded conditions can be culprits. And we know that our expanding agriculture is fragmenting habitats, stressing wildlife and bringing people into contact with animals carrying pathogens, and reducing biodiversity, all of which encourage wildlife diseases to jump species.

A table published in the peer-reviewed article (see below) shows what conditions led to Ebola, HIV, SARS, Nipah, avian flu, Japanese encephalitis and more. Acknowledging and investigating these factors can provide governments and global health officials with important clues as to the next probable outbreak.

13PNAS_Grace_Figure1 copy

Table published in PNAS 2013: 1208059110v1-201208059. Zoonosis emergence linked to agricultural intensification and environmental change.

So, what is it that’s preventing us from anticipating and stopping the next global pandemic since we know the conditions likely to produce one? For one thing, as the paper discusses, the conditions that trigger diseases are changing more rapidly than the research that examines them.

Another challenge is that though an emerging disease event is reported somewhere in the world on average every four months, the likelihood of emergence in any given farm or farming system is low.

As Grace explains, ‘Taking action to slow the drivers of disease is good for humanity but not likely to have any observable benefits to the individual farmer. Hence, the society that benefits from less disease emergence must provide the incentives to dial back on the drivers.’

Finally, the world is increasingly farming on the margins, with most of the last few remaining near-pristine ecosystems now being invaded and destabilized. Just as inexorable is the move to rapidly growing cities of poor rural people, who are bringing their livestock with them. The resulting losses of biodiversity, and the rise of genetically improved, and thus similar, animal populations, also increases the risk of a pandemic emerging. Climate and environmental changes are generally making matters worse.

Grace says research must better examine the complex, context-specific, and interrelated nature of zoonotic pathogen emergence.

‘First’, she said, ‘we need to look inside the black box of the big trends driving disease emergence: urbanization, intensification, globalization, loss of habitat and biodiversity.

‘We also need to understand what causes matter most in different situations and which are amenable to mitigation.

‘And we need to develop ways of doing agriculture differently, ways that not only reduce disease emergence but also can be adopted at large scale.

‘Given that disease emergence is predictably unpredictable, much can be achieved by understanding, monitoring and managing pathogen dynamics before infectious agents emerge.’

Read the paper in Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences: Zoonosis emergence linked to agricultural intensification and environmental change, by Bryony A Jones, Delia Grace, Richard Kock, Silvia Alonso, Jonathan Rushton, Mohammed Y Said, Declan McKeever, Florence Mutua, Jarrah Young, John McDermott and Dirk Udo Pfeiffer, PNAS 2013 : 1208059110v1-201208059.

Michelle Geis is a Washington DC-based science communications expert who works for Burness Communications.

Livestock dairy scientist and former director general of ILCA John Walsh: An obituary

Former ILCA DGs John Walsh (left) and Hank Fitzhugh (right) in the 1980s

Former directors general of the International Livestock Centre for Africa (ILCA), a predecessor of ILRI, John Walsh (left), who passed away in Ireland at the end of Jan 2013, and Hank Fitzhugh (right) in the 1980s; in the middle is B K Johri, ILCA personel manager (photo credit: ILRI).

John Walsh, an Irish dairy scientist and former director general of the International Livestock Centre for Africa (ILCA), headquartered in Addis Ababa, Ethiopia, and one of two predecessors of the International Livestock Research Institute (ILRI), died on 31 January 2011, peacefully in his home in County Cork, Ireland. He is survived by his wife Marie, sons Brendan and Kevin, daughters Maeve and Emer, and six grandchildren.

John Walsh was appointed director general of ILCA in December 1986, following the departure of Peter Brumby (New Zealand), ILCA’s former director general. Walsh left ILCA in July of 1993, succeeded by Hank Fitzhugh (USA) that August.

Under Walsh’s tenure, a collaborative program between ILCA and the Kenya Agricultural Research Institute (KARI) was established in August 1988 at KARI’s Mtwapa Regional Research Centre, near Mombasa, Kenya. This program went on to play a major role in an award-winning ILRI-KARI-Kenya Ministry of Livestock Development Smallholder Dairy Project, under the direction of ILCA-ILRI scientist Bill Thorpe. ILCA also at this time established strong collaboration with the Ethiopian Agricultural Research Organisation (EARO), such as in smallholder dairy at the Holleta Research Station.

In September 1989, ILCA’s Semi-Arid Zone Programme was established in Niger at the Sahelian Centre of the International Crops Research Institute for the Semi-Arid Tropics (ICRISAT). In 1991 — the year in which the Ethiopia Government was overthrown — a joint ILCA-ILRAD African Trypanotolerant Livestock Network project, which had begun in 1980, was concluded. In 1992, ILCA launched a project to help conserve Africa’s indigenous animal genetic resources, which became a major program at ILCA and then ILRI under the leadership of ILCA-ILRI scientist Ed Rege.

‘Walsh brought to ILCA a strong emphasis on strengthening national agricultural research systems (NARS) of Africa’, says Hank Fitzhugh. ‘Training African scientists and extension agents and running collaborative research networks were given high priority. Among the collaborative research networks ILCA spearheaded at this time were the Small Ruminant Research Network, the Cattle Research Network and the Feed Resources Research Network. Many consider this emphasis on NARS, acknowledged by the Third External Program and Management Review of ILCA, to be Walsh’s legacy.’

Jean Hanson, a former and long-standing ILCA-ILRI scientist who headed ILRI’s Forage Genebank, and Fitzhugh both remember John’s kind heart, especially his concern for the disadvantaged.

Jean Hanson speaks for the ILRI family in her tribute that follows.

‘John had a strong background in livestock science in Ireland and strong administrative skills. One of the first things that John did when he joined ILCA was to put in place administrative policies and guidelines to bring order into the running of the institute. He liked things to be done in a very orderly way and led by example. He would walk up to the main gate and observe the time that staff arrived to make the point that he expected them to keep the working hours and he would pick up any waste paper lying on the ground and drop it into the bin to encourage others to keep the place tidy.

‘He was very hands on and used to walk around and drop into staff offices for a chat about how the work was going and what the challenges were and if as director general he could do anything to move the work forward. He was very proud of the compound and the image of ILCA and was responsible for the purchase of a sculpture at the front entrance of ILCA, which depicts a calf  being fed a special type of salt bar (‘amole chow’) by a woman, from the Art School at Addis Ababa University just before his departure in 1993.

‘He led ILCA through its period of expansion in sub-Saharan Africa and the difficult transition of power in Ethiopia in 1991. He was out of the country on official travel when things started to unfold and flew back to do what he could to ensure the safety of the staff and continued running of the research. He was very concerned about staff safety directly after the transition. He only gave me permission, for example, to go out to the field sites to pay staff and see how things were doing if I took his personal driver as my bodyguard.

‘John was very egalitarian and was deeply concerned about the rural poverty in Ethiopia. One year he asked the ILCA photographer to go out in the countryside on ‘International Christmas Day’, which is a normal working day in Ethiopia because the Orthodox Christmas falls on 7 January, to document a normal day in the life of poor livestock farmers as a contrast to the excesses on that day in many developed countries. He cared about his staff and instigated an annual thank you lunch for the housing and catering staff where senior management served them on that one day of the year.

‘John was a staunch supporter of ILCA’s Zebu Club and he and the children played tennis there. He was very attached to Ethiopia and was so excited when the Olympian distance runner Deratu Tulu won the first gold medal for Ethiopia at the Barcelona Olympics that he invited her to visit ILRI to meet our staff.

‘After he left ILCA, John returned to Ireland and was active in livestock research there for some time. He was on the organizing committee of the International Grasslands Congress that was held in Ireland in 2005.’

The ILRI family extends its condolences to John’s wife Marie and family.

New leadership in ILRI’s livestock research-for-development work in Asia

Steve Staal, Theme Director

ILRI’s new regional representative for East and Southeast Asia Steve Staal (picture credit: ILRI).

Steve Staal has been appointed the new regional representative of the International Livestock Research Institute (ILRI) for East and Southeast Asia. An American citizen who has lived and worked in developing countries throughout his life, Staal will be based at the headquarters of the International Rice Research Institute (IRRI), in Los Baños, The Philippines.

Staal, an agricultural economist by training, has been based at ILRI’s headquarters in Nairobi, Kenya, for many years, where he recently led ILRI’s Markets, Gender and Livelihoods Research Theme and in the past year served as ILRI’s interim deputy director general for research, during the institute’s transition to a new management team. Among other assignments, he has worked in South and Southeast Asia to enhance smallholder dairy and pig systems in particular. He has a long-standing track record in making a difference in policy analysis and advocacy for inclusive and pro-poor smallholder livestock-based development.

This ILRI position for coordinating and shaping ILRI’s collaborative livestock research in East and Southeast Asia is new. Staal’s appointment to it is a reflection of ILRI’s intent to strengthen its presence in Asia and its productive partnerships there so as to provide better support for livestock research for development in the region. Purvi Mehta-Bhatt (India), who has been heading ILRI’s research in all of Asia, will continue to represent ILRI in South Asia.

ILRI's Purvi Mehta-Bhatt #2 in India

ILRI’s head of Asia Purvi Mehta-Bhatt, taken during a field day In Haryana, India, in 4 Nov 2012 (picture credit: ILRI).

This new assignment for Staal and new focus for Mehta-Bhatt is made to increase ILRI’s engagement with partners throughout Asia.

ILRI stakeholders are encouraged to communicate with Steve Staal, at s.staal [at], on areas of potential mutual interest, including opportunities for new collaborations and interactions, in East and Southeast Asia.

Experts take up two new director positions at ILRI, world’s leading pro-poor livestock research institute

John Murray McIntire

ILRI’s new deputy director of research in integrated systems John  McIntire.

The International Livestock Research Institute (ILRI) last November appointed two new deputy director generals of research at the institute. American John McIntire, formerly of the World Bank, will direct research on integrated livestock systems at ILRI while Suzanne Bertrand, a Canadian who has been working in the private sector in New Zealand, takes on directorship of ILRI’s biosciences research. This month they took up their new positions, where they also serve on ILRI’s senior management team, reporting to ILRI director general Jimmy Smith.

John McIntire, ILRI deputy director general for integrated systems research
John McIntire is a native Californian who graduated from Occidental College, where he was a member of the regional champion cross-country team, in 1972 with a BA in history. He worked in a pharmaceuticals factory until 1975, when he began graduate studies at the Fletcher School at Tufts University. In 1980, Fletcher awarded him a PhD in agricultural economics, based in part on fieldwork he had conducted near Segou, in central Mali, from 1977 to 1978. That work, done in collaboration with the West African Rice Development Association (now AfricaRice) and the Malian national research program, was one of the original farm-level studies of smallholder crop production done anywhere in francophone Africa and one of the first to study competition between rainfed and irrigated crops.

After receiving his PhD, McIntire took up a job as research associate at the International Food Policy Research Institute (IFPRI), in Washington, DC, where he published Food Security in the Sahel: Variable Import Levy, Grain Reserves and Foreign Exchange Assistance (1981). This report was one of the first papers to use a quantitative model of food supply and demand to investigate policies for improving food security in West Africa. In 1980, McIntire was appointed principal economist in the West Africa Program of the International Crops Research Institute for the Semi-Arid Tropics (ICRISAT), where he was based at the Kamboinse Research Station, near Ouagadougou, Burkina Faso. There he worked to identify constraints to improving millet and sorghum production in the sub-humid and semi-arid tropics of Burkina Faso, publishing work on village surveys, intercropping and animal traction. In 1981, he moved with ICRISAT to Niger, where he helped establish the ICRISAT Sahelian Centre at Sadore and conducted village-level studies on farmer-managed experiments with new millet-producing techniques involving improved cultivars, intercropping and mineral fertilizers.

McIntire left ICRISAT and Niger in 1984 to take up a position as principal economist at the International Livestock Centre for Africa (ILCA), one of ILRI’s two predecessors, in Addis Ababa, Ethiopia. While at ILCA, he worked on the economics of ILCA’s priority setting, trypanotolerance (genetic resistance to the disease African animal trypanosomosis), smallholder cattle fattening, crop residue management, alley farming and crop-livestock integration. Based on his work at ILCA and ICRISAT, he published Crop Livestock Integration in Sub-Saharan Africa (1992), with Daniel Bourzat and Prabhu Pingali, a book still widely cited 20 years later.

McIntire joined the World Bank in 1989, where he worked until his retirement in 2011. There he developed and managed a National Agricultural Technology Program for Mexico, which was, at the time, the largest Bank investment in national agricultural research in the world. He later worked as country economist for Côte d’Ivoire, where he was instrumental in the reform of the national cocoa marketing institution and in restructuring that country’s international debt as part of the HIPC (Heavily Indebted Poor Countries) Initiative. From 2000 to 2004, he was World Bank country director for Senegal, the Gambia, Cape Verde and Guinea. From 2004 to 2007, he served as director for Agricultural, Environmental and Social Development in the Africa Region of the World Bank. His final Bank assignment was country director for Tanzania, Uganda and Burundi, where he managed a team of some 200 people that delivered one of the largest IDA (International Development Association) programs in the world. In 2011, he was the second person to receive both the Bank’s ‘Good Manager Award’ and ‘Green Award for Environmental Leadership’, the latter notably for his work in defending Serengeti National Park.


Suzanne Bertrand

ILRI’s new deputy director of research in biosciences Suzanne Bertrand.

Suzanne Bertrand, ILRI deputy director general for biosciences research
Suzanne Bertrand’s background is a unique mix of science and managerial roles in government, academia and the private sector, with long interest and hands-on experience in international development. She has expertise in managing stakeholder and client relationships and in building project engagement strategies.

Bertrand earned a PhD in plant molecular biology at Laval University (French: Université Laval), in Canada’s Quebec Province and began her career as a scientist with Agri-Food Canada, working on forage plants. Her focus shifted rapidly from laboratory-based research to the application of modern agri-technology in the developing world. Her first overseas assignment was as a consulting plant physiologist for a Gansu Forest Nursery Project in the People’s Republic of China, funded by the Canadian International Development Agency; Bertrand served as director of this project for its last three years. She then went to North Africa, again as project director, to manage the installation and start-up of five tree nurseries in Tunisia, a project funded by the Nordic Development Bank and World Bank.

Bertrand spent six years in the USA, first as research assistant professor at North Carolina State University and then as a founding principal for a biotechnology start-up company. She was then recruited as group manager for innovation with Livestock Improvement Corporation (LIC), a large dairy breeding enterprise in New Zealand, where she managed LIC’s Research and Development Group, delivering science-based solutions in the areas of genomics, reproductive health, animal evaluation and commercialization to the dairy sector.

In 2008, Bertrand became director of international linkages for the New Zealand Ministry of Research, Science and Technology. In this role, she established an overarching framework for the ministry’s external engagement and developed an International Linkages Strategy for New Zealand science. She was most recently chief executive officer for NZBIO, an NGO representing the interests and supporting the growth of the bioscience sector in New Zealand. Membership in NZBIO spans the spectrum of agbiotech, human health, industrial, environmental and food bioscience, from start-up companies to Crown research institutes and universities to large corporates and multinationals.

Bertrand has a lifelong interest in fine cuisine, art history, all things gardening, and travel.


ILRI adopts strategy and plan to mainstream approaches for gender equity in livestock development

This month, management of the International Livestock Research Institute (ILRI) adopted a ‘Strategy and plan of action to mainstream gender in ILRI’.

The document was developed by a task force led by Jemimah Njuki, leader of ILRI’s Poverty, Gender and Impact team.

This strategy and action plan define the role that ILRI will play to stimulate and facilitate efforts, both in-house and with partners, to take advantage of opportunities to promote gender equality and equity within the livestock subsector and the agriculture sector in general.

It has three main objectives:

  1. To promote equality of opportunity and outcomes between women and men in the livestock subsector at local, national, regional and global levels;
  2. To increase the quality, efficiency and impacts of ILRI’s work in livestock development;
  3. To ensure that equality, equity and rights are respected across gender, that there is good gender representation in ILRI staffing and decision-making positions and that there is active and balanced participation by both women and men in ILRI’s work.

The strategy and action plan to mainstream gender in ILRI embodies ILRI’s strong commitment to efforts to promote gender equality and women’s empowerment—Jimmy Smith, ILRI director general

The action plan is designed to contribute to the ongoing development of a new strategy for ILRI. To make it operational, Jimmy Smith called on ILRI staff to ‘work together to translate this commitment into actions that make a difference on the ground’.

The finalization of the strategy is one of the last actions in ILRI by Jemimah Njuki, who departs the institute at the end of March 2012. Her energy and commitment across ILRI will be missed. Read more about her work, and that of her team, on the ‘agrigender blog‘.

Download the strategy and action plan

American agricultural economist Tom Randolph to lead new CGIAR Research Program on Livestock and Fish

ILRI's Tom Randolph

Tom Randolph, an agricultural economist at ILRI, speaks with former ILRI project manager Oumar Diall while attending a 2006 workshop in Bamako, Mali, on controlling trypanosomosis drug resistance, a project he and Diall led for several years in West Africa (photo credit: ILRI/Stevie Mann).

Tom Randolph has been named director of a newly established CGIAR Research Program on Livestock and Fish. Jimmy Smith, new director general of the International Livestock Research Institute (ILRI), a position he took up on 1 October 2011, announced Randolph’s appointment on 13 October 2011.

ILRI leads this CGIAR research program, which is one of several new multi-institutional research programs initiated by the Consultative Group on International Agricultural Research (CGIAR). In this program, which aims to provide more meat, milk and fish by and for the poor, ILRI will be collaborating with other scientists and staff from three of its sister CGIAR centres—the International Center for Tropical Agriculture (CIAT), based in Cali, Colombia; the International Center for Agricultural Research in the Dry Areas (ICARDA), based in Aleppo, Syria; and the WorldFish Center, based in Penang, Malaysia. Many other strategic partners will play key roles in implementing the program in several ‘livestock value chains’ and countries targeted by the new project.

Randolph helped lead the collaborative processes employed over the last two years to develop the concept and subsequent full proposal for this research program.

Before this appointment, Randolph headed a team conducting research on smallholder competitiveness in changing markets under ILRI’s Market Opportunities Theme. His research interests and contributions at ILRI have been varied, including studies at the interface of animal and human health and assessments of the impacts of agricultural problems and the research conducted to address them, including evaluations of the impacts of tick and tick-borne diseases, animal health delivery systems, ILRI’s East Coast fever vaccine development research, the contributions economics and epidemiology can make to animal disease control and the control of bird flu in sub-Saharan Africa.

One of the projects Randolph led has helped to reduce parasite resistance to drugs used to control trypanosomosis (animal sleeping sickness) in the cotton belt of West Africa. This project established a clear picture of the distribution of potential resistance across a zone from eastern Guinea to western Burkina Faso, highlighting the importance of tsetse ecology, farming systems, accessibility to veterinary services and pharmaceutical products, and cattle breed in influencing drug use and misuse. Under Randolph’s leadership, this project evolved from a primary focus on the biological issue to a holistic understanding of the complex epidemiological and socioeconomic factors at farm, local, national and regional levels that influence the problem and determine the ability to address it.

Among his more recent projects is a groundbreaking assessment of the relations between dairy intensification, gender and child nutrition among smallholder farmers in the Rift Valley Province of Kenya; this project is investigating the pathways between dairy intensification and child nutrition.

An American from upstate New York, Randolph received an undergraduate degree in Chinese studies in 1976, after which he spent six years teaching English in Zaire with the Peace Corps. On his return to the United States, Randolph pursued an MSc and PhD in agricultural economics from Cornell University. His doctoral dissertation was based on field work he conducted in Malawi with the Harvard Institute for International Development, looking at the impact of agricultural commercialization on child nutrition in smallholder households. His thesis earned the American Agricultural Economics Association’s Outstanding PhD Dissertation Award. He subsequently joined the West African Rice Development Association (WARDA, now Africa Rice Centre), in Senegal, as a Rockefeller-funded post-doctoral fellow, later becoming policy economist and policy support program leader at WARDA’s Côte d’Ivoire headquarters.

Randolph joined ILRI in 1998 and will remain based at ILRI’s Nairobi, Kenya, headquarters as he directs this new multi-country and multi-institutional CGIAR Research Program on Livestock and Fish.

Jimmy Smith takes up position as director general of ILRI

ILRI director general Jimmy Smith

ILRI director general Jimmy Smith (right) addresses ILRI staff in Nairobi for the first time on 3 Oct 2011 (photo credit: ILRI/Samuel Mungai).

Jimmy Smith, new director general of the International Livestock Research Institute (ILRI), spent his first two weeks on the job visiting and listening to staff on both major campuses of ILRI, its headquarters in Nairobi, Kenya, and its principal campus in Addis Ababa, Ethiopia.

In remarks made on several occasions, Smith repeated his belief that staff are ILRI’s most important asset. But unlike many who give lip service to such change management speak, Smith has reason to mean it. In the 1990s, he served for a decade as a member of ILRI’s more far-flung staff, first in Ibadan, Nigeria, and then Addis Ababa, Ethiopia. He thus has personal experience of what it’s like to be outposted and said he was making it his personal commitment to see that all staff feel an integral part of the institute.

‘I see all staff of ILRI—as well as those of our sister centres and partners of the Consultative Group on International Agricultural Research (CGIAR)—on all our campuses as part of our family and feeling themselves to be so.’

At his first coffee morning meeting with staff at ILRI’s Nairobi headquarters, Smith also said the following.

‘I came here to build on what ILRI has already accomplished through its former director general, Carlos Seré, and his teams.

‘We have 2 billion more people to feed by 2050 and we already have 1 billion hungry people today. We must deliver.

‘The future is in our hands to make ILRI and the CGIAR live up to our promise to eliminate hunger and poverty.

‘I’ll be talking with you about where we go in the future to become a truly world-class global livestock institute known for its work to reduce hunger and poverty.

‘With this change of senior management, some staff may feel somewhat apprehensive. I promise you there’s nothing ILRI is doing now that I don’t value. But there is much we can do even better.

‘Our mission is urgent. Our research must deliver. And we have to become more efficient as well as more effective.

‘I don’t promise you business as usual. I promise you, rather, a commitment to integrity, performance and change.

‘And I’m counting on all of you to be my partners in this.’

Deadly rinderpest virus today declared eradicated from the earth–‘greatest achievement in veterinary medicine’

At OIE, ILRI's Jeff Mariner and others responsible for the eradication of rinderpest

At the 79th General Session of the United Nations World Organisation for Animal Health (OIE), in Paris in May 2011, ILRI’s Jeff Mariner (second from right) stands among a group of distinguished people heading work responsible for the eradication of rinderpest, a status officially declared at this meeting (image credit: OIE).

Several world bodies are celebrating what is being described as ‘the greatest achievement in veterinary medicine’: the eradication of only the second disease from the face of the earth.

The disease is rinderpest, which means ‘cattle plague’ in German. It kills animals by a virus—and people by starving them through massive losses of their livestock.

‘In the nineteenth and twentieth centuries,’ reports the United Nations Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO), ‘the disease devastated parts of Africa, triggering extensive famines. . . . After decades of efforts to stamp out a disease that kept crossing national borders, countries and institutions agreed they needed to coordinate their efforts under a single, cohesive programme. In 1994, the Global Rinderpest Eradication Programme (GREP) was established at the UN Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO), in close association with the World Organization for Animal Health (OIE).

‘Excellent science, a massive vaccination effort, close international coordination and the commitment of people at all levels have helped make rinderpest eradication possible.

‘On June 28, 2011, FAO’s governing Conference will adopt a resolution officially declaring that rinderpest has been eradicated from animals worldwide. The successful fight against rinderpest underscores what can be achieved when communities, countries and institutions work together.’

Nobel Laureate Peter Doherty

Australian Peter Doherty, 1996 winner of the Nobel Prize for Medicine who served on the board of trustees of the International Laboratory for Research on Animal Diseases (ILRAD), a predecessor of  ILRI (photo credit: published on the Advance website).

Australian Peter Doherty, an immunologist who is the only veterinarian to win the Nobel Prize, for Physiology or Medicine, in 1996, and who served as chair of the board of trustees research program of the International Laboratory for Research on Animal Diseases (ILRAD), a predecessor of the International Livestock Research Institute (ILRI), is attending the FAO ceremonies this week. In an interview with FAO, he said:

Vaccine research is currently a very dynamic area of investigation and with sufficient investment and the enthusiastic participation of industry partners at the “downstream” end, we can achieve even better vaccines against many veterinary and human diseases.

The Washington Post in May reported that ‘the World Organization for Animal Health, at its annual meeting in Paris on Wednesday, accepted documentation from the last 14 countries that they were now free of rinderpest. The organization, which goes by its French acronym, OIE, was started in 1924 in response to a rinderpest importation in Europe.

‘The most recent recorded outbreak occurred in Kenya in 2001. Much of the past decade has been spent looking for new cases, in domesticated animals and in the wild, wandering herds of ungulates, or hoofed animals, in East Africa. The last place of especially intense surveillance was Somalia, where the final outbreak of smallpox occurred in 1977.

‘“There are a huge number of unsung heroes in lots of countries that made this possible,” said Michael Baron, a rinderpest virologist at the Institute for Animal Health in Surrey, England. “In most places, they were ordinary veterinary workers who were doing the vaccination, the surveillance, the teaching.”

‘Three things made rinderpest eradicable. Animals that survived infection became immune for life. A vaccine developed in the 1960s by Walter Plowright, an English scientist who died last year at 86, provided equally good immunity. And even though the virus could infect wild animals, it did not have a reservoir of host animals capable of carrying it for prolonged periods without becoming ill.

‘In 1994, the FAO launched an eradication program that was largely financed by European countries, although the United States, which never had rinderpest, also contributed money. The effort consisted of massive vaccination campaigns, which were made more practicable when two American researchers made a version of the Plowright vaccine that required no refrigeration. . . .’

One of those researchers was Jeffrey Mariner, now working at ILRI, in Nairobi, Kenya. Mariner also helped in surveillance work ‘with a technique called “participatory epidemiology” in which outside surveyors meet with herdsmen and ask open-ended questions about the health of their animals and when they last noticed certain symptoms.

‘“It was local knowledge that really helped us trace back the last places where transmission occurred—sitting down underneath a tree in the shade, listening to storytelling,” said Lubroth, of the FAO. . . .’

Read the whole article in the Washington Post, Rinderpest, or ‘cattle plague,’ becomes only second disease to be eradicated, 27 May 2011.

Read FAO’s interview of Peter Doherty: Healthier animals, healthier people, June 2011.