Improving the environmental sustainability of livestock systems in the developing world–ILRI’s Jimmy Smith

On 25 September, ILRI director general Jimmy Smith delivered an opening address on ‘Improving environmental sustainability of livestock systems in the developing world’ at the ‘Agri4D annual conference on agricultural research for development’ held in Uppsala, Sweden.

Livestock and the Sustainable Development Goals

Livestock and the Sustainable Development Goals

Reduce poverty with livestock

Empower women with livestock

Ensure healthy lives with livestock

Ensure food/nutrition security with livestock

Ensure sustainable livelihoods with livestock

Manage natural resources with livestock

Livestock and the environment

Smallholder livestock keepers and the environment

Global GHG efficiency per kg of animal protein produced

Different trajectories demand different environmental solutions

Closing the efficiency gap

Production efficiency--developed countries

Possible GHG opportunities

Feed opportunities

Water opportunities

Restoring value to grasslands

Potential carbon sequestration by 2040

Pootential carbon sequestration in global rangelands

Pay livestock keepers for wildlife conservation

Pay livestock keepers for environmental services

Waste to worth

Manure problems/management

Opportunities for manure management

Key messages



Read / view the opening keynote presentation made by ILRI’s director general Jimmy Smith at the International Grasslands Congress (IGC):

And read / view the presentation made at IGC by ILRI’s director for institutional planning and partnerships Shirley Tarawali:

Recycling Africa’s agro-industrial wastewaters: Innovative system is piloted for Kampala City Abattoir

A holding tank for recycling wastewater at the city abattoir in Kampala.

A holding tank for recycling wastewater at Kampala City Abattoir (photo credit: ILRI/Albert Mwangi).

Note: This post was developed by Bio-Innovate communications officer Albert Mwangi.

A clamor to improve Africa’s agricultural value chains by greater industrialization of many of Africa’s agricultural processes was heard often at the just-completed sixth Africa Agricultural Science Week (AASW6), held in Accra 15–20 Jul 2013 and organized by the Forum for Agricultural Research in Africa. Most African nations are already pushing to add value to their primary agricultural commodities by supporting the establishment of relevant production and manufacturing processes and industries. Their aim is to transform their role as producers of primary agricultural commodities, such as whole raw coffee beans, into exporters of near-finished agricultural products, such as finely graded and ground coffees, thus earning more from their agriculture sectors.

Several of Africa’s livestock-based economies are working to add value to their production of leather. Rather than drying the skins and hides of slaughtered domestic animals and selling these as is, the skins and hides in addition are softened, graded and cut for various products, and in some cases used to produce finished leather products for export. While economically desirable, the production and manufacturing processes employed in this kind of industrialization can pose significant environmental risks, in this case, for example, by contaminating and/or polluting riverine eco-systems, water bodies and groundwater sources with heavy metals and other toxic substances.

Last week, Nigerian blogger Bunmi Ajilore, an advocate of sustainable agriculture and environmental justice, gave a succinct description of the public health hazards as well as benefits of using wastewater in agricultural activities (The use of wastewater in agriculture: The nagging dilemma, posted on his EcoAgriculturist Blog and reposted on the FARA–AASW Blog).

A research-for-development program based in eastern Africa known as ‘Bio-resources Innovations Network for Eastern Africa Development’, or Bio-Innovate for short, is working to deliver innovations in the recycling of agro-wastewater from industrial processes. A pilot project being implemented in Ethiopia, Uganda and Tanzania, for example, is working to develop safe and sustainable agro-processes for waste treatment and these will soon be scaled out to other agro-industries in the eastern Africa region.

The city abattoir in Kampala, Uganda, a partner in this Bio-Innovate project, illustrates ways in which the project is helping to make recycling processes both safe and sustainable. These processes are being integrated in ways to, simultaneously, reduce pollution, generate energy and recover nutrients from agro-process wastewaters.

Wastewater recycling at the city abattoir in Kampala
A 2005 publication by Joseph Kyambadde (Integrated Process for Sustainable Agro-process Waste Treatment and Climate Change Mitigation in Eastern Africa) showed that a good number of industrial activities in this region release inadequately treated wastewaters into the environment. The study further indicated that effluent from Kampala City Abattoir significantly harms the ecology and water quality of Lake Victoria’s Inner Murchison Bay, source of Kampala’s drinking water.

The abattoir has a slaughter capacity of 500–600 cattle and 200–300 goats/sheep per day, with an estimated wastewater production of 200-400 m3 per day. This wastewater effluent generated by the abattoir is a major factor in nutrient enrichment and oxygen depletion in Lake Victoria.

Researchers at Uganda’s Makerere University, who are implementing this project, are working with staff of Kampala City Abattoir to create a ‘value-addition chain’ that involves bioconversion of slaughter wastes to produce biogas and production of nutrient-rich slurry for use in hydroponic systems, where plants are grown without soil, and as bio-fertilizer. In a pilot plant that has been set up, effluent from the abattoir is first treated in anaerobic and aerobic sequencing batch reactor (SBRs) digesters; the resulting digestate is separated into two components: a nutrient-rich sludge that will be converted to bio-fertilizer and treated effluent that has a reduced organic load. This effluent can then be used to cultivate vegetables, flowers and animal fodder in a hydroponic system constructed in an artificial wetland. The treated wastewaters have great potential also for industrial use in cleaning the slaughtering areas, animal storage facilities and public toilets. This system combines bio-digestion of waste to reduce the organic load and generate biogas and electricity; utilization of nutrient-rich effluent for hydroponics; and artificial wetlands to further clean the effluent before release into the environment. This integrated system not only is an innovative way to manage and recycle wastewater sustainably but also provides people with sufficient incentives for such recycling.

The biogas and electricity generated by this integrated wastewater management / recycling system can be used as an alternative energy source, and so help reduce deforestation, which generates the greenhouse gases causing climate change. As noted, other products generated by the system can be used as affordable bio-fertilizer. And of course a further benefit is better protection of freshwater resources.

By treating agro-process waste in such an integrated way, this project is helping Kampala City Abbattoir to protect Uganda’s environment and livestock livelihoods alike. It is the aim of Bio-Innovate and its Ugandan colleagues to replicate this pilot system in suitable places elsewhere on the continent to help Africa’s expanding agro-industries make safer and better use of their wastewater.

About Bio-Innovate
Bio-Innovate makes use of advanced biosciences both to increase efficiencies in agro-processing and to make more sustainable use of local bio-resources. The program is based at the Nairobi, Kenya, headquarters of the International Livestock Research Institute (ILRI website). For further information, contact Albert Mwangi, Bio-Innovate communications officer, at a.mwangi [at]

About AASW6
FARA website’s 6th Africa Agriculture Science Week (AASW6), in Accra, Ghana, included marketplace exhibitions (15–20 Jul 2013), side events on sub-themes (15–16), a ministerial roundtable alongside a Ghana Day (17 Jul), plenary sessions (18–19) and a FARA Business Meeting (20 Jul). The discussions were followed on Twitter (search for #AASW6) and blogged about on the FARA-AASW6 blog.

Lowering the ‘water footprint’ of livestock products

vietnam fodder10_lo

A smallholder livestock farm in Dak Nong Province, Vietnam. Animals raised in mixed systems have a much lower water footprint on surface and groundwater bodies than those in industrialized farming systems (Photo credit: Neil Palmer/CIAT).

A leading researcher in water resources says that the efficiency of water use in smallholder livestock systems in Africa could be raised significantly through such means as reducing levels of concentrate feed used in livestock feeding systems, raising more livestock in drylands unsuitable for crop farming, and greater cooperation between livestock sector players and water management experts.

Arjen Hoekstra, a professor in water management from the University of Twente, in the Netherlands, made these remarks during a ‘Livestock live talk’ on ‘The water footprint of livestock products’ at the International Livestock Research Institute (ILRI) on 7 Feb 2013.

According to Hoekstra, every commodity has a water footprint –‘the volume of fresh water that is used to produce the commodity, summed over the various steps of the production chain’. This footprint includes when and where the water was used and the temporal and spatial dimensions of the water used.

About 4% of the global water footprint comes from domestic water use, but by far most of the world’s water footprint – 96% – is ‘invisible’ and is associated with agricultural and industrial products bought in markets.

‘Ninety-two per cent of humanity’s water footprint comes from agricultural production, and animal production is responsible for 29% of the water footprint of the global agricultural sector,’ said Hoekstra. Agriculture-related water use inefficiencies in developing countries contribute to a farming water footprint that is much larger in these countries than in developed countries.

Hoekstra presented results from a series of studies that looked at the globalization of water, the water footprint of animals and what can be done to reduce it. These studies focus on components of water consumption and water pollution in producing market commodities, including the volume of rain, surface or ground water evaporated or incorporated into a product and the volume of polluted water resulting from the processes of producing specific commodities.

His results show that in food production, animal products such as beef, poultry and pork had a consistently higher footprint than crops such as wheat and soybean.

‘The higher water footprint of animal products is mostly related to the origin and composition of animal feeds and the feed conversion efficiency’, said Hoekstra. ‘Whether concentrates are organic or conventional determines the pollution-related water footprint of the feed.’

Hoekstra noted that animals raised in grazing and mixed systems had a much lower water footprint on surface and groundwater bodies than those in industrialized farming systems. ‘Even though the conversion of feed to livestock product (milk or meat) improves as one moves from grazing to industrial systems, this is at the cost of more high-nutrient concentrate feed, which has a larger water footprint than roughages,’ he said.

Water footprint assessment is a growing field. ‘In future’, Hoekstra said, ‘stakeholders have the challenge of coming up with shared terminologies and calculations for a global water footprint standard and setting up benchmarks for quantitative water footprint reduction targets.’ A Water Footprint Network that brings together academia, governments and the private and public sectors has already been established towards this end.

View Arjen Hoekstra’s presentation:

Read a related article by Jane Gitau in ILRI’s People, Livestock and Environment blog.

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

Pastoralism and Development in Africa

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

More ‘crop per drop’? Only when ‘more milk per drop’ saves the poor as well as Nile Basin waterflows

Now it is time for the herders to cool their body

Herder boys and cattle both cool their bodies in the midday heat in the Awash River in Ethiopia’s Oromia Region, posing health problems for people at such shared livestock watering sites (photo credit: ILRI).

Ten years ago, scientists at the International Livestock Research Institute (ILRI) and the International Water Management Institute (IWMI) established a partnership centred at ILRI’s campus in Addis Ababa, Ethiopia. The partnership was formed to address widespread concerns that livestock consume excessive amounts of water and that livestock keeping is a major cause of water degradation. A statistic commonly reported, and believed, was that producing one kilogram of meat required 100,000 litres of water, mainly for production of livestock feed, in contrast to less than 3000 litres needed to grow most crops.

The ILRI-IWMI partners believed that these statements were neither sufficiently nuanced to note huge differences in the world’s livestock systems nor grounded in good science. But it was clear to them that if the figures were true, they needed to find ways to reduce livestock use of water resources and if the figures were not true, they needed to determine accurate estimates of water use. They were fortunate to be welcomed into the CGIAR Challenge Program on Water and Food (CPWF) and the CGIAR Comprehensive Assessment of Water and Agriculture, both of which enabled the new partners to pursue research on what was quickly termed ‘livestock water productivity’ in an African context.

Many unanswered questions remain, but the following consensus emerged from the ILRI-IWMI partnership.
1. African beef production typically uses one-tenth to one-fifth the amount of water used in industrialized countries and livestock systems; 11,000–18,000 litres of water are used to produce one kilogram of beef in Africa compared to the 100,000 litres for beef production that is so often reported (see above). It is clear that industrialized livestock production systems tend to use vastly more water per unit of beef produced than Africa’s livestock keepers, who typically integrate their raising of beef stock with food cropping on small plots of land, where the livestock enhance the cropping (e.g., via manure for fertilizing the soils and draught power for ploughing the land) and the cropping enhances the livestock (e.g., via the residues of grain crops used to feed the farm animals).

2. Because cattle and other livestock serve and benefit the world’s poor farmers in many ways, with meat being only one benefit that usually comes after an animal has served a long life on a farm, the water used in African smallholder livestock production systems generates many more benefits than meat alone.

3. Over the preceding half a century, much research had been conducted to increase crop water productivity, but virtually none to increase livestock water productivity. This dearth, along with the high and rising value of many animal products, suggests that returns on investments made to develop agricultural water resources for crops will be much greater if livestock are integrated in the cropping systems and factored into the water equations.

4. Finally, there still remains much room to increase livestock water productivity in Africa’s small-scale livestock production systems. Four strategies for doing this are outlined below and are included in a book that was launched earlier today in Addis Ababa.

But before we get to that press release, listen for a moment to Don Peden, a rangeland ecologist who led this research at ILRI for many years and who says the IWMI-ILRI partnership ‘was an extraordinary example of the potential for inter-centre collaboration.

I often think the partnership was as important as the research products it generated’, says Peden. ‘Many people and institutions helped make our collaborative work on water and livestock succeed. First on the list is Doug Merrey. Many of the CPWF staff made huge contributions and provided outstanding encouragement. There are too many to mention, but they include Jonathan Woolley, Alain Vidal, Seleshi Bekele, David Molden and Simon Cook.

‘We also owe a great debt to many of our partners’, Peden goes on to say. ‘This includes professors (the late) Gabriel Kiwuwa, David Mutetitka and Denis Mpairwe from Makerere University as well as Hamid Faki from Sudan’s Agricultural Research Corporation. And special mention should be made about Shirley Tarawali, now serving as ILRI’s director for Institutional Planning, who provided day-to-day encouragement and support throughout the project and made a tremendous contribution. And we also had a unique research team in ILRI’s People, Livestock and the Environment Theme that made successes possible.

In brief, the interpersonal interactions among all of these people and institutions and many others made this work possible. The success of the project lies in the people, and not just in the book.’

5 key messages regarding livestock and water—excerpted in full from the livestock chapter in the new—book follow.
(1) ‘Domestic animals contribute significantly to agricultural GDP throughout the Nile Basin and are major users of its water resources. However, investments in agricultural water development have largely ignored the livestock sector, resulting in negative or sub-optimal investment returns because the benefits of livestock were not considered and low-cost livestock-related interventions, such as provision of veterinary care, were not part of water project budgets and planning. Integrating livestock and crop development in the context of agricultural water development will often increase water productivity and avoid animal-induced land and water degradation. . . .

(2) ‘Under current management practices, livestock production and productivity cannot meet projected demands for animal products and services in the Nile Basin. Given the relative scarcity of water and the large amounts already used for agriculture, increased livestock water productivity is needed over large areas of the Basin. Significant opportunities exist to increase livestock water productivity through four basic strategies. These are:
‘a) utilizing feed sources that have inherently low water costs for their production
‘b) adoption of the state of the art animal science technology and policy options that increase animal and herd production efficiencies
‘c) adoption of water conservation options
‘d) optimally balancing the spatial distributions of animal feeds, drinking water supplies and livestock stocking rates across the basin and its landscapes. . . .

(3) ‘Suites of intervention options based on these strategies are likely to be more effective than a single-technology policy or management practice. Appropriate interventions must take account of spatially variable biophysical and socio-economic conditions. . . .

(4) ‘For millennia, pastoral livestock production has depended on mobility, enabling herders to cope with spatially and temporally variable rainfall and pasture. Recent expansion of rain-fed and irrigated croplands, along with political border and trade barriers has restricted mobility. Strategies are needed to ensure that existing and newly developed cropping practices allow for migration corridors along with water and feed availability. Where pastoralists have been displaced by irrigation or encroachment of agriculture into dry-season grazing and watering areas, feeds based on crop residues and by-products can offset loss of grazing land. . . .

(5) ‘In the Nile Basin, livestock currently utilize about 4 per cent of the total rainfall, and most of this takes place in rain-fed areas where water used is part of a depletion pathway that does not include the basin’s blue water resources. In these rain-fed areas, better vegetation and soil management can promote conversion of excessive evaporation to transpiration while restoring vegetative cover and increasing feed availability. Evidence suggests that livestock production can be increased significantly without placing additional demands on river water.’


Cows on the banks of the Nile (in Luxor, Egypt) (photo on Flickr by Travis S).

Now (finally) on to that press release.

‘Tens of millions of small-scale farmers in 11 countries need improved stake in development of the Nile River Basin—News conference, Addis Ababa, 5 Nov 2012

Alan Duncan at the Quick Feeds Synthesis meeting

ILRI livestock feed specialist Alan Duncan (right), joint Basin leader of the Nile Basin Development Challenge Programme, participated in a news conference today in Addis Ababa launching a new study on the Nile Basin and poverty reduction (photo credit: ILRI/Zerihun Sewunet).

As planetary emergencies go, finding ways to feed livestock more efficiently, with less water, typically do not find their way into ‘top ten’ lists. But today that topic was part of a discussion by a group of experts gathered in the Hilton Hotel in Addis Ababa, Ethiopia, to highlight the Nile River Basin’s potential to help 90 million people lift themselves and their families out of absolute poverty.

Despite attempts to cooperate, the 11 countries that share the Nile river, including a new nation, South Sudan, and the drought-ridden Horn of Africa, often disagree about how this precious and finite resource should be shared among the region’s some 180 million people—half of whom live below the poverty line—who rely on the river for their food and income.

But a new book by the CPWF argues that the risk of a ‘water war’ is secondary to ensuring that the poor have fair and easy access to the Nile. It incorporates new research to suggest that the river has enough water to supply dams and irrigate parched agriculture in all 11 countries—but that policymakers risk turning the poor into water ‘have nots’ if they don’t enact efficient and inclusive water management policies.

The authors of the book, The Nile River Basin: Water, Agriculture, Governance and Livelihoods, include leading hydrologists, economists, agriculturalists and social scientists. This book is the most comprehensive overview to date of an oft-discussed but persistently misunderstood river and region. To discuss the significance of the findings in the book were Seleshi Bekele Awulachew, a senior water resources and climate specialist at the United Nations Economic Commission for Africa; Simon Langan, head of the East Africa and Nile Basin office of IWMI; and Alan Duncan, a livestock scientist at ILRI.

Drawing water from the Nile

Drawing water from the Nile (photo on Flickr by Challenge Program on Water and Food).

Smallholder farmers need improved stake in Nile’s development
There is enough water in the Nile basin to support development, but small farmers are at risk of being marginalized, says the new book, which finds that the Nile River, together with its associated tributaries and rainfall, could provide 11 countries—including a new country, South Sudan, and the drought-plagued countries of the Horn of Africa—with enough water to support a vibrant agriculture sector, but that the poor in the region who rely on the river for their food and incomes risk missing out on these benefits without effective and inclusive water management policies.

The Nile River Basin: Water, Agriculture, Governance and Livelihoods, published by CPWF, incorporates new research and analysis to provide the most comprehensive analysis yet of the water, agriculture, governance and poverty challenges facing policymakers in the countries that rely on the water flowing through one of Africa’s most important basins. The book also argues that better cooperation among the riparian countries is required to share this precious resource.

This book will change the way people think about the world’s longest river’, said Vladimir Smakhtin, water availability and access theme leader at IWMI and one of the book’s co-authors.

Agriculture, the economic bedrock of all 11 Nile countries, and the most important source of income for the majority of the region’s people, is under increased pressure to feed the basin’s burgeoning population—already 180 million people, half of which live below the poverty line. According to the book, investing in a set of water management approaches known as ‘agricultural water management’, which include irrigation and rainwater collection, could help this water-scarce region grow enough food despite these dry growing conditions.

‘Improved agricultural water management, which the book shows is so key to the region’s economic growth, food security and poverty reduction, must be better integrated into the region’s agricultural policies, where it currently receives scant attention’, says Seleshi Bekele, senior water resources and climate specialist at the United Nations Economic Commission for Africa and one of the book’s co-authors. ‘It is tempting for these governments to focus on large-scale irrigation schemes, such as existing schemes in Sudan and Egypt, but more attention must also be paid to smaller, on-farm water management approaches that make use of rainwater and stored water resources such as aquifers.’

Lack of access to water is another area that could negatively impact the poor, according to the book. In the Nile Basin, poor people live further away from water sources than the wealthy, which forces them to travel longer distances to collect water. Women that are responsible for collecting water for their households and smallholder farmers who rely on rainwater to irrigate their crops would therefore benefit from policies that give them greater access to water in the Nile Basin.

We need to look beyond simply using water for crop production if we are to comprehensively address the issues of poverty in the region’, says David Molden, IMWI’s former director general and one of the book’s co-authors. ‘Water is a vital resource for many other activities, including small-scale enterprises like livestock and fisheries. This should not be forgotten in the rush to develop large-scale infrastructure.’

Improving governance, especially coordination among Nile Basin country governments, is another crucial aspect of ensuring that the poor benefit from the basin’s water resources. The book argues that the establishment of a permanent, international body—the Nile Basin Commission—to manage the river would play a key role in strengthening the region’s agriculture, socio-economic development and regional integration.

‘The Nile Basin is as long as it is complex—its poverty, productivity, vulnerability, water access and socio-economic conditions vary considerably’, says Molden. ‘Continued in-depth research and local analysis is essential to further understanding the issues and systems, and to design appropriate measures that all countries can sign on to.’

Interestingly, the book counters a common tendency to exaggerate reports of conflict among these countries over these complex management issues. ‘Past experience has shown that countries tend to cooperate when it comes to sharing water’, says Alain Vidal, CPWF’s director. ‘On the Nile, recent agreements between Egypt and Ethiopia show that even the most outspoken Basin country politicians are very aware that they have much more to gain through cooperation than confrontation.’

For more information, visit the website of the Challenge Program on Water and Food.

The Nile River Basin: Water, Agriculture, Governance and Livelihoods is available for purchase from Routeledge as of 5 Nov 2012. IWMI’s Addis Ababa office is donating 300 copies of the book to local water managers, policymakers and institutions in Ethiopia and elsewhere in the region. If you are interested in receiving a copy please contact Nigist Wagaye [at]


The CGIAR Challenge Program on Water and Food (CPWF) aims to increase the resilience of social and ecological systems through better water management for food production (crops, fisheries and livestock). The CPWF does this through an innovative research and development approach that brings together a broad range of scientists, development specialists, policymakers and communities to address the challenges of food security, poverty and water scarcity. The CPWF is currently working in six river basins globally: Andes, Ganges, Limpopo, Mekong, Nile and Volta

The International Water Management Institute (IWMI) is a nonprofit, scientific research organization focusing on the sustainable use of land and water resources in agriculture to benefit poor people in developing countries. IWMI’s mission is “to improve the management of land and water resources for food, livelihoods and the environment.” IWMI has its headquarters in Colombo, Sri Lanka, and regional offices across Asia and Africa. The Institute works in partnership with developing countries, international and national research institutes, universities and other organizations to develop tools and technologies that contribute to poverty reduction as well as food and livelihood security.

The International Livestock Research Institute (ILRI) works with partners worldwide to enhance the roles livestock play in pathways out of poverty. ILRI research products 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 risks of livestock-related diseases. ILRI is a member of the CGIAR Consortium of 15 research centres working for a food-secure future. ILRI has its headquarters in Nairobi, Kenya, a principal campus in Addis Ababa, Ethiopia, and other hubs in East, West and southern Africa and South, Southeast and East Asia.

CGIAR is a global research partnership that unites organizations engaged in research for sustainable development. CGIAR research is dedicated to reducing rural poverty, increasing food security, improving human health and nutrition, and ensuring more sustainable management of natural resources. It is carried out by the 15 centers who are members of the CGIAR Consortium in close collaboration with hundreds of partner organizations, including national and regional research institutes, civil society organizations, academia, and the private sector.

The CGIAR Research Program on Water, Land and Ecosystems examines how we can intensify agriculture, while still protecting the environment and lifting millions of farm families out of poverty. The program focuses on the three critical issues of water scarcity, land degradation and ecosystem services. It will also make substantial contributions in the areas of food security, poverty alleviation and health and nutrition. The initiative combines the resources of 14 CGIAR centers and numerous external partners to provide an integrated approach to natural resource management research. This program is led by the International Water Management Institute (IWMI).

Alan Duncan is a livestock feed specialist at the International Livestock Research Institute (ILRI) and joint Basin leader of the Nile Basin Development Challenge Programme (NBDC). Duncan joined ILRI in 2007 coming from the Macaulay Institute in Scotland. He has a technical background in livestock nutrition but in recent years has been researching institutional barriers to feed improvement among smallholders. Livestock-water interactions are a key issue in Ethiopia, particularly in relation to competition for water between livestock feed and staple crops. This is a core research topic for the NBDC and Duncan has built on pioneering work in this field led by ILRI’s Don Peden. Duncan manages a range of research for development projects and acts as ILRI’s focal point for the CGIAR Research Program on Integrated Systems for the Humid Tropics.



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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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

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

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

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

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

The minister remarked that:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Virtual Kenya email:

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

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

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

Placing ecosystems thinking at the heart of global food security

Rajasthan goats (Renoje Village)

Goat herd resting before going out for a day's grazing in Renoje Village, 1.5 hours drive south from Udaipur, in southern Rajasthan. ILRI scientists are conducting case studies on the use of stover and other crop wastes for feeding ruminant farm animals in India and Bangladesh. The residues of grain crops after harvesting, which make up more than half the feed for camels, cattle, buffaloes, goats and sheep, are vital to animal husbandry in these and many other developing countries (photo by ILRI/MacMillan).

Placing ecosystems at the heart of food security efforts can improve the productivity, resiliency and long-term sustainability of food supply systems. This is one of the key messages emerging from a new multidisciplinary collaboration led by the United Nations Environment Programme.

The collaboration brings together organizations working in the fields of livestock, fisheries, environment, water and agriculture to synthesize knowledge into options to alleviate hunger.

Ecosystems provide food both in its natural state (e.g., capture fisheries, forest products) and in more managed landscapes (e.g., crop systems, livestock, aquaculture). Climate change and overexploitation, especially of water resources, threaten the productivity of ecosystems. And because most of the world’s poor are directly dependent on both natural and managed ecosystems for food, they are the most vulnerable to environmental degradation and climate-related shocks.

Ecosystems also provide a host of services fundamental to food and water security. In particular, many ecosystems provide water management functions that are crucial to a stable food supply—these include water storage, purification and regulation functions as well as flood control. Ecosystems also need water to support their functioning, but many countries currently don't consider ecosystems a water user at all, much less a 'privileged' water user.

To keep up with food demand, water withdrawals from rivers and lakes will have to increase by an estimated 70–90% by 2050 and large tracts of forest and grassland will have to be converted to agriculture. The ecological fall-out from such a course of action would be catastrophic. Continued decreases in ecosystem services have already begun to hurt agricultural productivity.

Only by treating healthy ecosystems as fundamental to healthy food systems will it be possible to create systems that are not only more sustainable, but also more productive, resilient and diverse.

What this will take
(1) Shift the focus of agricultural development from protecting discrete ecosystems to managing larger landscapes.
Address these larger landscapes as bundles of interlinked services and ecosystems supporting food production. Expand the role of ministries of environment in bringing ecosystem services to the forefront of food security policy and planning.

(2) Ensure water for ecosystems and ecosystems for water.
Adequately value ecosystems services when allocating resources and planning water and land development. Avoid making unintended tradeoffs—particularly those that harm food and water security. Consider quality as well as quantity requirements of different water users to reveal options for reducing fresh-water withdrawals from the environment and getting more benefit per drop.

(3) Do more than improve 'water efficiency' in agriculture.
Without attending to allocation of water 'saved' to downstream ecosystems, improving water efficiency can end up doing more harm than good. Widen the focus on crop-based systems to include forests, livestock and fish. Place greater emphasis on managing water stored in the soil profile.

These three recommendations are described in detail in a forthcoming report, 'Ecosystems for water and food security', whose development was coordinated by the International Water Management Institute. Contributors to the report include: the Arava Institute for Environmental Studies, the Convention on Biological Diversity, the Challenge Program on Water and Food, EcoAgriculture Partners, the Interdisciplinary Centre for Environment and Society at the University of Essex, the International Livestock Research Institute (ILRI), the Institute for Land, Water and Society at the Charles Sturt University, the International Soil Reference and Information Centre–World Soil Information, the Participatory Ecological Land Use Management Association, the Stockholm Environment Institute, The Nature Conservancy, the UNEP-DHI Centre for Water and Environment, WorldFish, the Wageningen University and Research Centre.

A flyer with this information, Emerging Thinking on Ecosystems, Water and Food Security, is being distributed at a side event organized for Tuesday, 2 November 2010, 1–3pm, by UNEP and Global Water Partnership—'Green economy: Promote water as a key element for sustainable national development'—at a Global Conference on Agriculture, Food Security and Climate Change being held in The Hague from 31 October to 5 November 2010.

Other livestock-related side events of interest include the following:
>>> Tue, 2 Nov 2010, 1–3pm: 'Livestock and climate change' organized by the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations
>>> Wed, 3 Nov 2010, 6–8pm: 'Livestock, climate change and food security' organized by the ETC Foundation, Heifer International and other groups
>>> Fri, 5 Nov 2010, 1–3pm: 'CGIAR Program on Climate Change, Agriculture and Food Security' organized by the Consultative Group on International Agricultural Research

Livestock use of water in Nile Basin: Huge opportunities to use water resources more effectively

Principal investigators undertaking research on livestock use of water in the Nile River Basin met at ILRI in Ethiopia on 11 and 12 November 2009.

Representatives from Sudan’s Agricultural Economics and Policy Research Center, Makerere University in Kampala, and the Ethiopian Institute of Agricultural Research shared experiences of promising technologies and policy innovations that can enable millions of poor livestock keepers and farmers to enhance food production and livelihoods and reverse land degradation throughout vast Nile region.

Ethiopia, Sudan, and Uganda are very different countries but together they exemplify the major and diverse cropping and livestock keeping practices found in the Nile region. Rainfed crop and livestock production are dominant, but irrigation is locally important.

In all cases, the researchers concluded that there are huge opportunities to use water resources more effectively and productive for agricultural production. The key appears to be integrated inter-institutional collaboration with coherent policy aimed at increasing livestock water productivity through use of water efficient animal feeds, water conservation, adoption of state-of-the-art and available animal science knowledge.

Application of off-the-shelf science based outputs potentially enables environmentally sustainable increases in food production, improved domestic water, and better livelihoods. Much of the water required to achieve these benefits can come from rainfall that currently does not enter the Nile’s lakes and water course and does not sustain the natural environment. In other words, this is water for which there is often relatively little competition among diverse water users.

The researchers are synthesizing results from investigation undertaken in the basin.

It was supported by the CGIAR Challenge Program on Water and Food (

Report by Don Peden, ILRI

American TV show ’60 Minutes’ features ILRI research in Masai Mara


The work of ecologist Robin Reid, who spent 15 years conducting pastoral research at the Nairobi headquarters of the International Livestock Research Institute (ILRI) and is now Director for Collaborative Conservation at Colorado State University, in Fort Collins, is featured in a current segment of the American television program ’60 Minutes’, which aired last Sunday, 3 October 2009. You can view the segment on the 60 Minutes website here:

This story of the great annual wildebeest migration, the last such spectacle of big mammals on the move, focuses on two things—the danger that destruction of Kenya’s Mau Forest presents to the Mara River, the artery that keeps the wildlife and livestock in the Masai Mara region alive, and the hope for sustaining both wildlife populations and the Maasai’s pastoral livelihoods presented by new public-private initiatives called wildlife conservancies.

Poverty reduction lies behind both the danger and the hope.

Kenyan governments have allowed poor farmers to inhabit the Mau Forest, high above the Mara Game Reserve, which provides the waters for the Mara River. These farmers fell the trees to grow crops and make a living. The current government has recently acted to evict these communities to protect this important watershed.

Downstream, meanwhile, Maasai livestock herders, who have provided stewardship for the wildlife populations they live amongst for centuries, are bearing the brunt of the declining water in the Mara River, which threatens both their livestock livelihoods and the populations of big mammals and other wildlife that have made the Mara Game Reserve famous worldwide. Robin Reid says that should the Mara River disappear entirely, some experts estimate some 400,000 animals would likely perish in the very first week.

The new wildlife conservancies being developed in the lands adjacent to the Reserve are also about poverty reduction. They are an ambitious attempt by the local Maasai and private conservation and tourist companies to serve the needs both of the local livestock herders and the many people wanting to conserve resources for the wildlife. The conservancies are paying the Maasai to leave some of their lands open for wildlife. They appear to be working well, with the full support of the local Maasai. Dickson ole Kaelo, who is leading the conservancy effort, was recently a partner in an ILRI research project called Reto-o-Reto, a Maasai term meaning ‘I help you, you help me’. Dickson was a science communicator in that 3-year project, which found ways to help both the human and wildlife populations of this region. In his new role as developer of conservancies, Dickson and his community have managed to bring nearly 300 square miles of Mara rangelands under management by the conservancies, which pay equal attention to people and animals.

The long-term participatory science behind this story is demonstrable proof that, difficult as they are to find and develop, ways to help both people and wildlife, both public and private goods, exist, if all stakeholders come together and if the political will and policy support are forthcoming.

In other, drier, rangelands of Kenya, now experiencing a great drought that is killing half the livestock herds of pastoralists, some experts are predicting an end to pastoral ways of life. Other experts are predicting the end of big game in Kenya. Both, ILRI’s research indicates, are tied to one another. It appears unlikely that either will be saved without the other.

Livestock production an effective use of water in developing countries – new study

New study indicates that livestock production has high potential for effective, productive and profitable use of water in agriculture.

Contrary to widely held views that livestock production is a wasteful use of water and is destructive to water catchments, a new study asserts that livestock production has a high unrecognized potential for effective, productive and profitable use of water in agriculture. 

Animal production, particularly production of grain feeds and forages, is one of the world’s largest uses of agricultural water. If properly targeted for reform, this sub-sector may well hold the key to improved water productivity in agriculture. Livestock scientists are arguing that by reviewing the sourcing of livestock feed, increasing animal productivity, and improving grazing and watering practices, water productivity in agriculture could increase dramatically.

“In Africa we could double water productivity of livestock with little difficulty – maybe increase it four times” asserts Don Peden, a scientist with the International Livestock Research Institute (ILRI).

Livestock scientists are further challenging comparisons often made between livestock and crop water productivity. “Most comparisons focus on fresh weights of human foods; yet the water content of diverse foods such as meat, milk, potatoes and grains varies widely from about 10 to 80 percent, making such comparisons virtually meaningless,” says Peden. “Much criticism of high water use by livestock has emphasized grain-fed beef production, but livestock in developing countries consume very little grain, depending almost entirely on grass and crop residues and byproducts”.

Arising from evaluations of water use in livestock production systems as a part of a wider Comprehensive Assessment of Water Management in Agriculture, scientists say greater use of crop residues and by-products to feed livestock, a widespread practice in developing countries, could obviate the need for huge amounts of water now used to produce grains and other animal feeds in developed countries.

“One entry point for improving global agricultural water productivity is strategic sourcing of animal feeds such as grains, crop residues and by-products, pastures, fodder and forage crops. This issue has been largely ignored in 50 years of research on both livestock and water management,” says Peden.

Equally important is the need to improve animal productivity through better breeding, animal health and nutrition. Research suggests that livestock in Africa’s pastoral areas achieve only about one-third of their genetic production potential. Also needed are improved watering and grazing practices that reduce run-off, flooding, degradation and contamination of water resources.

Sub-Saharan Africa and South Asia are two of the most important livestock production areas in developing regions. In Africa, 500 million people live in livestock-producing areas, half of them below the poverty line. In South Asia, 1.2 billion people are involved in livestock production, 40 percent living on less than a dollar a day.  In these two regions, per capita meat consumption is about one-seventh of that in developed countries. The poor in these developing regions often suffer from lack of dietary protein, vitamins A and B12, zinc, iron and selenium.

In poor countries where most people subsist on starchy diets, animal foods constitute one of the best options for supplying these nutrients and helping to eliminate anemia, strengthen immune systems, and overcome malnutrition, as well as enhancing cognitive development in children. The contribution livestock make to the world’s poor is thus critical to their survival and development.  Far from being a wasteful use of water, scientists argue that livestock production in developing countries must be seen as both essential and an opportunity to increase water use efficiency.

To maximize the productivity of water, livestock experts recommend factoring in the water requirements for livestock and feed production in mainstream water planning, management and development. Evidence is mounting that integration of animal production into investments in agricultural water development results in more sustainable and profitable livelihoods for farmers and herders alike.

ILRI and partners launch project to increase livestock water productivity in the Nile Basin

ILRI and partners launch an innovative livestock-water project at a workshop in Kampala, Uganda.

ILRI and partners launched an innovative livestock-water project at a workshop, which ran from 5 – 9 September. Participants identified technological, policy and behavioral changes that would allow livestock to become effective and productive users of the scarce water resources of the Nile Basin.

CGIAR Challenge Program on Water and Food (CPWF) Brochure

The Nile waters sustain life for about 200 million people, many of whom are desper­ate­ly poor, from ten African countries. Water shortages already constrain food produc­tion in much of the Basin.

CGIAR Challenge Program on Water and Food (CPWF) News Release 1 September 2005

Livestock have been overlooked in water management programs. But the amount of water depleted by livestock in the Basin appears to be at least as great as that used to produce human food. (Production of livestock feed requires 50 to 100 times more water than animals drink.) A rising demand for livestock foods in these countries is placing even greater demand on water resources.

CGIAR Challenge Program on Water and Food (CPWF) Brochure

Uganda's State Minister for Animal Industry, Ms. Mary Mugyenyi, opened the workshop, ‘Nile Basin Water Productivity: Developing a Shared Vision for Livestock Production’, which was also attended by Dr. Carlos Seré, ILRI’s Director General.

CGIAR Challenge Program on Water and Food (CPWF) Brochure

For news items on the workshop and extracts from Carlos Seré's speech, click on the following links:

Monitor (Uganda) and All Africa Wire Service
People's Daily (China)
Sudan Tribune
Xinhua (China)