Agriculture-associated diseases: Can we control them? Stop them? Prevent them? It’s back to the farm (and market)

CGIAR Research Program on Agriculture for Nutrition and Health within CGIAR

CGIAR Research Program on Agriculture for Nutrition and Health: This program focuses on one of five strategic objectives of CGIAR (Slide 3 of ‘A4NH–Presentation for Discussion with Donors and Partners’, Jun 2013; credit: CGIAR Research Program on Agriculture for Nutrition and Health).

Veterinary epidemiologist and food safety expert Delia Grace is in Montpellier, France, this week, along with a lot of other distinguished folk in the business of doing agricultural research for development in poor countries. Research leaders at 15 CGIAR centres, representatives of CGIAR funding organizations and key CGIAR partners are getting together in this town, the capital of ‘southern France’ and the location of the CGIAR Consortium, to update each other on where they are in a new(ish) series of multi-centre, multi-partner, multi-country and multi-disciplinary CGIAR research programs tackling big issues such as climate change, water scarcity and empowerment of women.

Grace oversees one of four components of one of these 16 big new CGIAR Research Programs—Agriculture for Nutrition and Health—which works to adapt agricultural practices and policies to improve human health. The whole program is led by John McDermott, another epidemiologist, who is based at the International Food Policy Research Institute (IFPRI), in Washington, DC. Grace’s component, which she leads from her base at ILRI’s Nairobi campus (where Mcdermott served for many years, first as scientist and then as deputy director general for research), is investigating ‘agriculture-associated diseases’, with specific focus on improving food safety, controlling zoonotic diseases and diseases emerging from animals, and reducing other health risks in agro-ecosystems in the developing world.

Partners of the CGIAR Research Program on Agriculture for Nutrition and Health

Partners of the CGIAR Research Program on Agriculture for Nutrition and Health: Slide 33 of ‘A4NH–Presentation for Discussion with Donors and Partners’, Jun 2013 (credit: CGIAR Research Program on Agriculture for Nutrition and Health).

Last week, McDermott and Grace and other leaders in the ‘CGIAR Research Program on Agriculture for Nutrition and Health’ gave their CGIAR scientific colleagues, partners and donors an overall presentation of their  program. Highlighted below are slides concerning Grace’s component on ‘Prevention and Control of Agriculture-Associated Diseases’.

CGIAR research at the interface of human, animal and ecosystem health

Measuring and mapping the multiple burdens of food-borne disease

One-health approaches to managing zoonoses and emerging infections

Below, view the whole presentation: A4NH–Presentation for Discussion with Donors and Partners, June 2013:

For more information, visit the landing page on the CGIAR website for the project ILRI’s Delia Grace leads on Agriculture-Associated Diseases or the project’s website and blog: AgHealth.

 

Spinning through the online media universe (geeky, social and otherwise)

Technical Online Communicators Workshop: Group picture

Group picture of the participants, resource experts and facilitator (Peter Casier, middle of back row, both hands raised) of the first CGIAR Technical Online Communicators Workshop, 27–31 May 2013, Rome.

Twenty-four technical online communicators (aka ‘web geeks’), representing 12 of the 15 centres of the CGIAR Consortium and 5 CGIAR partner organizations, along with a dozen or so experts in various technical web-related matters, recently participated in a five-day workshop at Bioversity International, a CGIAR centre based in Maccarese, outside Rome. This was the first such meeting of CGIAR (and partner organization) staff who, just a few years ago, would probably have been called ‘webmasters’, in the sense of technicians who design or maintain websites.

That designation has changed, however, splintering into dozens of specialities in recent years with the on-going explosion of social media and other online tools, vehicles and platforms. So ours was a motley group of people serving variously (and singly or in combinations) as ‘web developers’, ‘web designers’ or ‘web [or server] administrators’; as ‘social media coordinators’ or ‘content managers’; as ‘knowledge sharers’ or ‘workflow coordinators’. Some were more on the IT side, some more focused on user engagement; some were most interested in ensuring security, some in ensuring open access; some started as content designers, some as content writers; some are now specializing in web analytics, some in social learning. Interestingly, fully a third of the group still work mostly on originating online content (content still king?), while others now focus on ‘spinning’ the content through various social media channels (a task becoming a job on its own).

The online ecosystems in these agricultural research-for-development organizations are thus evolving rapidly. And the byzantine complexity of online expertise, staffing, monikors and structures in CGIAR centres is mirrorred in many other organizations today, some of which are now forming cross-cutting web management teams headed by ‘chief web officers’ operating at the level of chief information officers. What’s clear is the increasing need for better online strategies and coordination to further organizational communications, goals and missions. With CGIAR’s fast-growing online presence, the people who ‘pull the online levers’ should no longer, this group believes, labour in isolation but rather have spaces in which to share their trials, tribulations and successes in revamping websites, optimizing websites for search engines, making web infrastructure more secure, and so on (and on).

What the workshop also made clear is that ‘geeky’ (we have agreed among us that this term, rather than ‘nerdy’, best reflects the group’s persona*), while accurately depicting what might appear as odd or unconventional, as well as technically obsessed, behaviour (and worn as a matter of pride, I suspect, by this group), denotes neither social awkwardness nor social inferiority. The socializing among the group was intense—with the younger participants running a lively online digital conversation in parallel with the ‘real’ conversation in the workshop room every day, and with the online reporting as we went along instantly appearing seemingly everywhere on the web. And every evening almost everyone took the train into Rome—to consume its food, wine, street life, handicrafts, imperial antiquity—till midnight. And then managed the early train the next morning to Maccarese and the workshop. Unstoppable! Further demonstrations of the cultural/humanistic dispositions of these technical enthusiasts came in the course of the week in the form of spontaneous opera singing, a virtuoso violin performance, a love of fine typography, a passion for truffle cream, impromptu dancing and singing contests, and much more.

Peter Casier, the endlessly energetic (and endlessly energizing) Flemish man based in Rome (but self-described ‘serial expat’) who dreamed up, organized and facilitated this workshop, which was sponsored by the CGIAR Consortium, exemplifies the diverse approaches, expertise and passions of the workshop participants. Casier’s professional background is a kaleidescope of work experiences, from graphical engineer, to ecologist, to hightech IT head, to Antarctic explorer, to ham radio operator, to technical advisor for the Red Cross, to manager of relief operations for humanitarian organizations, to sailor of the Atlantic (or was it the Pacific?), to book author, to blogger and social media guru, to (currently) full-time online media consultant for NGOs . . . . With a knack for turning hobbies into professions, and knowledgeable about most of the topics raised in the week’s proceedings (and passionate about all of them), Casier changed ‘hats’ by the hour, going from chief organizer and facilitator to moderator to listener/learner to rapporteur to time keeper to evaluator to strategist . . . Throughout, he championed the work of the participants, calling them and their jobs the ‘orphans of the orphans’ of institutional communications and ICT departments. Time to change that, he thinks. (And he, being a self-confessed ‘agitator’, is probably just the man to do that.)

The purpose of the workshop, Casier says, was ‘to kick-start an active community of practice for this group of expert online workers in CGIAR and partner institutions, a network that each can rely on to help them address common challenges, such as in web management (web monitoring tools, cloud hosting, social media monitoring tools, web development tools and CMS platforms/plugins, web security), and establish common standards (e.g., metrics of reach, basic security measures).’

Among the topics covered in the five-day CGIAR workshop (dubbed TOCS, for ‘technical online communicators’) were:

  • Online media overview and strategy
  • Website revamp process and approach
  • Web usability, optimization and security
  • Online statistics, eNewsletter systems, search engine optimization, latest design technologies/trends
  • Online document repositories, intranets, hosting
  • CMSes (Drupal, Joomla, WordPress)

Links to 180 resources for online work mentioned or discussed in this workshop are posted on Delicious.

For more information, follow the hashtag #TOCS2013 on Twitter and Yammer and read the posts on blogs by Marina Cherbonnier and Codrin Paveliuc-Olariu, both of Young Professionals in Agricultural Research for Development (YPARD).

For a digital conversation running side by side with the physical conversation of the workshop, see the Twitter stream collected by Codrin Paveliuc-Olariu.

Or contact Peter Casier at p.casier [at] cgiar.org (check out his ‘home page’, My House on the Road; his The Road to the Horizon blog; his Blog Tips blog; his Humanitarian and several other news aggregators . . .).

* Antonella Pastore, of the CGIAR Consortium, offers us the following attempt to distinguish connotations of ‘nerd’ and ‘geek’ (reminding us of the long period of attempts to reappropriate these terms). The piece includes this delightful, if unappetizing and cautionary, morsel:

The word geek is older [than nerd], starting out in the early 1900s to refer to a carnival performer whose only skill was the ability to bite the heads off chickens.’ — BBC News: Are ‘geek’ and ‘nerd’ now positive terms? 16 Nov 2012.

Dryland agriculture program launched for developing countries: Hot topic for a hot climate

Coping with Disaster: Sandstorm in Kenya

A sandstorm on the western shore of Lake Baringo (photo on Flickr by UN/Ray Witlin).

A new science program launched in Jordan last week—the CGIAR Research Program on Dryland Systems—is setting itself a huge ambition: To help many of the 2.5 billion people living in the vast drylands of the developing world raise their levels of both food production and security. A CGIAR Fund is supporting the program’s first three years of work to the tune of 120 million dollars.

This is the latest ‘research for development’ program of CGIAR, a global enterprise conducting ‘agricultural research for a food-secure future’. Some ten thousand scientific and support staff in the CGIAR community are at work with hundreds of organizations worldwide to design enduring food systems, via new means for healthy and productive lives and lands, across the whole of the developing world.

More than 60 research and development organizations, including the International Livestock Research Institute (ILRI), are part of this new drylands program. It is targeting dryland farmers, livestock keepers and pastoral herders in some of the hottest dryland hotspots of both Africa (West Africa’s Sahel and dry savannas as well as the extensive arid and semi-arid lands of North, East and Southern Africa) and Asia (West and Central Asia, including the Caucasus, and South Asia).

ILRI scientist Polly Ericksen leads the CGIAR Research Program on Drylands Systems in East and Southern Africa, where, in the coming years, the program aims to assist 20 million people and mitigate land degradation over some 600,000 square kilometres.

The program as a whole is led by the International Center for Agricultural Research in the Dry Areas (ICARDA), which, like ILRI, is a member of the CGIAR Consortium. Scientific, development, agri-business and local experts are joining forces to find new ways to help communities living in the harshest drylands to become more resilient and to help those in better-endowed drylands to increase their agricultural yields and incomes without degrading their natural resource base.

The dry areas of the developing world are likely to experience increasing poverty, out-migration and food insecurity’, says Frank Rijsberman, CEO of the CGIAR Consortium, adding that climate change is worsening agricultural and related livelihood prospects in many dry regions of the developing world.

The many scientists and partners in this program will investigate all options and combinations of options, including dryland cropping, livestock raising, mixed (agro-pastoral) crop-and-livestock production, integrating trees or shrubs in cropping and animal husbandry practices (agroforestry), and making diverse and sustainable use of different kinds of rangeland and aquatic resources. Among options to be developed are more sustainable farming techniques and management of water, land and other natural resources; genetically improved crop varieties and livestock breeds tailored for dryland environments; more enabling policy environments and infrastructure; and user-friendly ‘climate smart’ strategies and technologies.

Given the importance of agriculture to dryland developing countries, where farming remains the backbone of the economy but land is degraded, water scarce, rainfall and temperatures increasingly unpredictable, and civil strife (uncommonly) common, it will profit all of us to make sure that the world’s dryland communities can in future earn a decent living and produce food securely.

Note
The kinds of research, investment and policy support this sector needs to move forward in the face of climate change are outlined in a press release and report on Strategies for combating climate change in drylands agriculture, published in 2012 by the CGIAR Research Program on Climate Change, Agriculture and Food Security (CCAFS), ICARDA and the CGIAR Research Program on Dryland Systems. The report examined the problem of changing climate patterns in dryland areas and its effects on rural populations and offered practical solutions as input to the Conference of the Parties (COP18) United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC). The information came from discussions at the International Conference on Food Security in Dry Lands, held in Doha, Qatar, 14–15 Nov 2012.

Read a recent book, Pastoralism and Development in Africa: Dynamic Change at the Margins, edited by Andy Catley, Jeremy Lind and Ian Scoones. Published in 2012 by Routeledge, the book includes a chapter by scientists at the International Livestock Research Institute (ILRI): Climate change in sub-Saharan Africa: What consequences for pastoralism?, written by ILRI’s Polly Ericksen and colleagues. Parts of the book are available on Google books here.

Other related articles
ILRI News Blog: Pastoral livestock development in the Horn: Where the centre cannot (should not) hold, 31 Dec 2012.
ILRI News Blog: Africa’s vast eastern and southern drylands get new attention–and support–from agricultural researchers, 6 Jun 2012.
ILRI News Blog: Experts comment on new drylands research program for eastern and southern Africa, 25 Jun 2012.

About the CGIAR Research Program on Dryland Systems
The CGIAR Research Program on Dryland Systems integrates research disciplines to bring rural communities living in the world’s dry areas practical solutions for improved livelihoods and food security. The program develops and refines strategies and tools that minimize risk and reduce vulnerability in low-potential drylands while helping farmers and herders in higher potential drylands to intensify their food production in sustainable ways.

BecA-ILRI biosciences Hub in Nairobi receives grant from global life science tools company

Merkel visits ILRI Nairobi: ILRI technician Cecilia Muriuki

ILRI technician Cecilia Muriuki prepares protein samples in one of ILRI’s animal health laboratories (photo credit: ILRI/Susan MacMillan).

Global life science tools company Illumina (NASDAQ: ILMN) has announced the recipients of grants from its ‘Agricultural Greater Good Initiative’. One of these is the BecA-ILRI Hub, a state-of-the-art biosciences laboratory and facility platform located in Nairobi, Kenya.

The Biosciences eastern and central Africa-International Livestock Research Institute Hub (BecA-ILRI Hub), says the news release from Illumina, is ‘pioneering applications of Illumina technologies to increase crop yields and reduce poverty and hunger. . . .

BecA-ILRI Hub will use the grant to expand its study of genetic resistance to cassava brown streak disease and cassava mosaic disease, both of which have infected large percentages of crops across East Africa where cassava is a major source of nutrition.

‘”There is nothing more foundationally important to health than food, and Illumina is excited to be involved with organizations working at the forefront of food security,” said Jay Flatley, President and CEO of Illumina. “Collaboration will enable the power of genomics to impact more people and on a global scale.”. . .

“Collaborations like these between Illumina and the BecA-ILRI Hub are very welcome as they are key contributors towards strengthening agricultural research and capacity development in Africa,” said Dr. Appolinaire Djikeng, interim Director of the BecA-ILRI Hub. “If we are to bring Africa out from the shadow of poverty and food insecurity, then African scientists must have the tools to conduct research at the same level as other scientists around the world.”

‘In 2012, Illumina broadened the scope of the Agricultural Greater Good Initiative through engagement with the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation and Dow AgroSciences, as well as with the Feed the Future Initiative of the United States Agency for International Development (USAID).

‘”We’re excited about the opportunity to connect advances in sequencing technologies with the needs of millions of families farming small plots of land in sub-Saharan Africa and South Asia,” said Katherine Kahn, Senior Program Officer at the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation. “Increasing the productivity and resilience of staple crops including cassava and legumes is key to helping small farmers lift themselves out of poverty.”. . .’

Read the whole news release at Illumina: Illumina announces recipients of Agricultural Great Good Initiative grants: Expanded program focuses on improving food security and furthering agricultural sustainability, 15 Jan 2013.

About Illumina
Illumina is a leading developer, manufacturer, and marketer of life science tools and integrated systems for the analysis of genetic variation and function. It provides innovative sequencing and array-based solutions for genotyping, copy number variation analysis, methylation studies, gene expression profiling, and low-multiplex analysis of DNA, RNA, and protein. It also provides tools and services that are fueling advances in consumer genomics and diagnostics. Illumina technology and products accelerate genetic analysis research and its application, paving the way for molecular medicine and ultimately transforming healthcare. Illumina’s Agricultural Greater Good Initiative, launched in 2011, helps to spur critically needed research that will increase the sustainability, productivity and nutritional density of agriculturally important crop and livestock species. Grant recipients receive donations of Illumina reagents to support their projects.

About the BecA-ILRI Hub
The Biosciences eastern and central Africa-International Livestock Research Institute (BecA-ILRI) Hub is a world-class agricultural research and biosciences facility located at and managed by ILRI in Nairobi, Kenya. It provides support to African and international scientists conducting research on African agricultural challenges and acts as a focal point for learning, interaction and strategic research — enabling collaborations in the scientific community to benefit African farmers and markets within the region. The Hub was established as part of an African Union/New Partnership for Africa’s Development (NEPAD) African Biosciences Initiative, which employs modern biotechnology to improve agriculture, livelihoods and food security in eastern and central Africa. ILRI is a member of the CGIAR Consortium. CGIAR is a global agriculture research partnership for a food-secure future. Its science is carried out by the 15 research centres that are members of the CGIAR Consortium in collaboration with hundreds of partner organizations.

CGIAR Consortium acquires international organization status

Carlos Pérez2

Carlos Pérez del Castillo, the board chair of the CGIAR Consortium, which was today granted international organization status (photo credit: Neil Palmer/CIAT).

The Consultative Group on International Agricultural Research (CGIAR), a global partnership that brings together 15 agricultural research centers, including the International Livestock Research Institute (ILRI), from across the world, today signed an agreement establishing the partnership as an international organization.

Today’s granting of the new status to the organization, which is known as the CGIAR Consortium, received wide support from donors such as Denmark and France and is expected to bolster the impact of international agricultural research for development by enabling the Consortium to more effectively carry out its mandate. The new status will also increase the visibility of the 15 research centers and their programs and strengthen links to and ties with national and regional agricultural priorities.

‘This is a major step towards a new era for the CGIAR system and towards science for a food secure future,’ said Carlos Pérez del Castillo, the CGIAR Consortium board chair, in a statement during the signing ceremony, which was held at Montpellier in France.

Over the past 40 years, the CGIAR has received global recognition for being an international partnership that plays a key role in agricultural research and generating knowledge to the benefit of smallholder farmers. CGIAR research aims to reduced rural poverty, increased food security, improve nutrition and health and sustainably manage natural resources.

Read more in News from the Consortium.

Download the press release:

English: http://consortium.cgiar.org/wp-content/uploads/2012/03/CPC-March-2-speech_Eng-FINAL1.pdf

French: http://consortium.cgiar.org/wp-content/uploads/2012/03/CPC-March-2-speech_French.pdf

‘Historic’ G20 meeting in Montpellier backs more funding for agricultural research–CGIAR Treaty signed by France, Hungary

CGIAR Research Program on Livestock and Fish

Among flyers of the CGIAR Research Programs displayed at the G20 meeting on ‘Agriculture Research for Development: Promoting Scientific Partnerships for Food Security,’ in Montpellier, France, 12-13 Sep 2011, was  this one on ‘Livestock and Fish: More Meat, Milk and Fish by and for the Poor’ (brochure by ILRI [content] and CIP [design] for the CGIAR Consortium).

On 16 Sep 2011, the chairman of the board of the CGIAR Consortium for International Agricultural Research, Carlos Pérez del Castillo, made the following statements, which are excerpted from a message he sent to the directors general of the 15 CGIAR centres, including the International Livestock Research Institute (ILRI), which leads the CGIAR Research Program on Livestock and Fish: More Meat, Milk and Fish by and for the Poor.

‘The G20 Conference on Agricultural Research for Development just held in Montpellier (12–13 September 2011), was the first conference in the history of the G20 that focused on issues of international agricultural research for development. David Nabarro called it a “historic event of momentous proportions”, because of the strong consensus that emerged from the discussions on the key role of international agricultural research for development in providing sustainable long-term solutions to global food security.

‘Participants comprised the G20 representatives of Agriculture, Research and Foreign Affairs Ministries, as well as the Directors General of G20 Agricultural Research institutions. Key international institutions participated as well: GFAR [Global Forum on Agricultural Research], FAO [United Nations Food and Agriculture Organization], the World Bank and the CGIAR Consortium. . . .

‘With the objective to promote international scientific partnerships for Food Security, this was a working meeting with four sessions. The first, on how to increase coordination of agricultural research systems in the G20 countries was chaired by Japan and the CGIAR gave a keynote presentation . . . .

It was heartening to hear many delegations state that existing coordination mechanisms, such as the CGIAR Research Programs and the GCARD Roadmap, are particularly well positioned to facilitate international coordination . . . .

‘[T]hroughout the Conference, extensive references were made to a strong commitment to international agriculture research for development and to the important role that the reformed CGIAR is expected to play in the international arena, as facilitator of research synergies among G20 countries. . . . There was . . . an overwhelming consensus that more stable and longer-term funding are needed for international agricultural research to succeed in providing long-term options and solutions to global food security. . . .

‘We expect that the salient points from this meeting will be used as input for the joint G20 ministerial Finance and Development meeting in Washington (September 25), and for the Heads of States Summit, in Cannes (November 3–4). . . .

‘[A]t the end of the Conference, the Treaty establishing the CGIAR as an international organization was signed by France . . . and by Hungary . . . . Two other countries are expected to sign in the coming days, as the Treaty is now formally open for signatures at the Ministry of Foreign Affairs in Paris.’

View the poster on the CGIAR Research Program on Livestock and Fish.

Experts produce joint statement on long-term development needs of the drylands of the Horn

Ethiopische nomadevrouw met haar dochter

Ethiopian pastoralists of Somali origin have been trying to sustain their livestock livelihoods after some of their land was used to build a camp for Somali refugees at Dolo Ado, Ethiopia (photo on Flickr by Petterik Wiggers/Hollandse Hoogte—Photostream Giro 555 SHO).

The Africa Union’s Interafrican Bureau for Animal Resources (AU-IBAR) recently convened a two-day consultation of experts working to address the challenges to development of the arid and semi-arid lands of the Horn of Africa. This expert consultation on ‘Interventions for sustainable livestock systems in the Horn of Africa,’ was held 2–3 Sep 2011 at the International Livestock Research Institute’s headquarters, in Nairobi, Kenya. The AU meeting was preceded by a news briefing and learning event convened by the CGIAR Consortium of International Agricultural Research Centers. CGIAR CEO Lloyd Le Page participated in both the Consortium and AU drought-related meetings.

Both meetings helped to identify opportunities for sustaining food production in this sub-region, which continues to suffer from the catastrophic impacts of a severe drought, and helped to develop an initial framework for making better use of those agricultural opportunities in future.

The more than 40 experts gathered at the AU meeting developed a joint statement to better inform long-term development of this region’s drylands. This statement, which follows in full, will be used at upcoming high-level meetings on topics related to food security.

Expert Consultation to inform long-term development of arid and semi-arid lands in the Greater Horn of Africa

2–3 September 2011

A Joint Statement

Preamble
The current food security crisis in the Greater Horn of Africa is a stark reminder that insufficient attention has been given to addressing the root causes of vulnerability in the arid and semi-arid lands (ASALs) of this region. It is also apparent that it is not drought but rather vulnerability during drought in the ASALs that has thrown the region into repeated food crises. Yet in contrast to this vulnerability is the fact that the ASALs produce most of the livestock traded in the region, contributing up to 50% of agricultural GDP to the national economies, in addition to playing wider economic roles. African leaders at the country, regional and continental levels, along with global leaders and the development community, are now confronted with, and attempting to address, the questions: why do we continue to regard what is so clearly an asset as a liability; and what would an appropriate long-term development program look like that could sustainably harness the productive potential of the ASALs and reduce repeated crises?

In the next several months, numerous technical and political consultations are planned to discuss short, medium and long-term development in the ASALs. Against this backdrop, and the urgency of tackling this challenge head on, the African Union (AU) through its Interafrican Bureau for Animal Resources (AU-IBAR) convened an expert consultation 2–3 September 2011 in Nairobi, which was hosted by the International Livestock Research Institute (ILRI), a center of the CGIAR Consortium.

The consultation brought together over 50 development practitioners, researchers, and policy makers (from non-governmental organizations, government, regional organizations, international research institutes, and development agencies) from the Greater Horn of Africa and globally that are or have been engaged in addressing the challenges to the development of the ASALs.

This statement is a summary of key trends identified and recommendations of the experts. It also provides a summary of outcomes, illustrative interventions and issues for consideration.

Context and Trends

Context

  • ASALs account for 70% of the land area of the countries in the Greater Horn of Africa.
  • ASALs are a discrete geographic area in the Greater Horn of Africa where the population is vulnerable.
  • The shared agro-ecosystem, including natural resources such as water and pastures and common production systems, offers an opportunity for cooperation among countries to identify and implement solutions.
  • Pastoral and agro-pastoral livestock production systems are the primary economic enterprise and main economic driver in the ASALs.
  • There are now a large number of activities being implemented at country and local levels to help mitigate the impacts of drought and to build household and community resilience in an environment of increasingly unpredictable rainfall.
  • Social, technical and economic services are not widely available, especially to the mobile pastoral populations, and the longer-term development needs of the ASALs are generally neglected.
  • Insecurity in the region exacerbates vulnerability and hinders effective response and other interventions.

Important trends

  • The region is experiencing an increased number of shocks, especially more frequent droughts and floods, but also man-made shocks.
  • Although the long-term impacts of climate change cannot yet be accurately predicted, there appears to be increased variability of rainfall; and although many experts believe the region will become progressively hotter and drier, some parts may become wetter and more flood-prone.
  • There are growing opportunities for international/regional trade in livestock products due, in large part, to the increased demand for these products in Africa and the Middle East fuelled by growing populations, urbanization and rising incomes.
  • While access to services remains generally poor in the ASALs, significant progress has been made recently through greater access to, and coverage by, mobile phones.
  • Country strategies and investment plans are in place, but ASAL programming, although it is included, is not prioritized, coordinated or well developed.
  • Ongoing processes of land fragmentation, insecure tenure and use rights, and externally driven land appropriation processes also undermine pastoral productivity.
  • Improved research coordination and frameworks are already in place[1] but need to be leveraged to support the ASALs.
  • Policy windows of opportunity are emerging nationally and regionally, and the political voice of pastoralists is increasing.

Strategic Actions and Recommendations
The immediate challenges being faced in the Greater Horn of Africa serve as a call to action that is being heard and responded to by many countries, agencies, and interest groups. The immediate attention to saving lives and protecting livelihoods is indeed critical. However, much of this response, especially the efforts focused on long-term development, could make better use of existing systems, evidence and best practices to inform investment. They are too often partial solutions because no single country or agency has the ability to mobilize the resources or political will to operate at the scale needed to systemically tackle the issues. Recognizing the need for coordinated action, two recommendations are summarized below to advance a more effective mobilization of domestic resources and foreign development assistance in support of a long-term development effort.

1. The African Union should establish a task force to assist countries and regional economic communities (RECs) to design and mobilize support for long-term development of the ASALs in the Greater Horn of Africa. The fundamental task is to translate national strategies and investment plans for agriculture and food security that now exist into concrete activities and services. This will require:

  • Analysis to help inform and clarify the expected outcomes and targets from the investment in ASALs on the national agriculture and food security goals and targets, articulated through their CAADP Plans.
  • An inventory and review of ongoing efforts in the ASALs, identify best practices and modalities or instruments to consolidate ongoing efforts, align them with long term goals and targets, and scale up the best practices.
  • Strategic coordination of research and technical support to assist national coalitions of government, development partners, NGOs and the private sector to prioritize various interventions for the ASALs.
  • Development of partnerships to support and implement high-priority policy recommendations, and research, development and economic growth projects and activities.
  • The review of options for establishing an implementation framework at the national and regional levels that provides effective coordination, and that clarifies the roles and responsibilities of various parties in the implementation of a coordinated investment strategy for ASALs.
  • The task force is envisaged as a temporary measure with a lifespan of around 6 months: an important task during this period will be to identify a more sustainable platform to provide ongoing effective coordination to support long-term development of the ASALs of the Greater Horn of Africa.

2. The international community and bilateral development agencies should mobilize a consortium of technical organizations, e.g. CGIAR, FAO, WFP and NGO partners (e.g. REGLAP) to work with and support the AU task force in close consultation with the concerned countries to identify best practice, develop programs, provide technical services and conduct relevant research to support long term development of the ASALs.

Illustrative Outcomes and Interventions for Long-Term Development of ASALs
The expert consultation identified key challenges that a long-term development effort in the ASALs will face, considered major outcomes that will need to be pursued, and began to examine best practices that have been developed and are being applied, typically on a small-scale basis, that could be helpful in the long-term development of the ASALs. The expert consultation considered possible outcomes and actions for long-term agenda from the lens of: a) increasing the contribution of the ASALs to agricultural growth and national development goals and targets; and b) diversifying livelihoods and improving resilience amongst vulnerable households in ASAL areas of the Greater Horn of Africa.

Six major outcome areas and related illustrative interventions are considered as key in advancing the long-term development of the ASALs. They include the following.

Make national and regional pastoral policy frameworks operational

  • Define and elaborate ASAL programmes within the umbrella of the CAADP investment plans that are consistent with the AU policy framework for pastoralism and other regional initiatives, such as the IGAD regional policy framework on animal health in the context of trade and vulnerability
  • Promote regionally harmonized policy on livestock trade and the movement of livestock and people
  • Capacity strengthening of RECs, national and local agencies coordinating and implementing ASAL development where and as appropriate and requested
  • Effective monitoring and evaluation of policy implementation

Sustainable ecosystem management

  • Integrate local knowledge through participatory action research so as to ensure that strategies fit with local perspectives and priorities
  • CGIAR mentoring of national agricultural research services in applied research in ecosystem dynamics
  • Develop payment systems for environmental services that benefit pastoralists
  • Facilitate carbon sequestration and methane emission reduction
  • Enhance the use of natural resource (e.g. improved land-use planning; and water and soil management efforts.)

Secure regional trade

  • Inter-regional financial systems
  • Product standardization linked to SPS measures
  • Enhanced negotiation capacity
  • Reduced non-tariff trade barriers
  • Niche market development
  • Improved road, market, water and communication infrastructure

Institutionalized disaster-risk management and response

  • Assess need for early-warning systems for different stakeholders
  • Develop demand-driven knowledge products
  • Improve dissemination of early-warning information using alternative media
  • Invest in data management systems
  • Establish functional mechanisms for early response
  • Fund early response, especially at local levels, within a conducive policy and institutional setting
  • Provide safety nets
  • Provide index-based livestock insurance
  • Enhance traditional coping strategies

Empowered pastoralist communities

  • Strengthened producer associations
  • Conflict resolution – grazing, land access, environment
  • Strengthened traditional NRM strategies
  • Increased awareness of improved coping measures, such as timely destocking
  • Increased community participation in policy decisions and resource allocations
  • Capacity development for community driven development in government and at community level
  • Vocational training in technical and business skills
  • Social fund for cost-shared community-driven investments

Improved and alternative incomes

  • Effective community-based animal health services
  • Effective veterinary epidemiology program
  • Competitive private input supply
  • Secure access to land and water
  • Development of irrigation
  • Dryland products such as resins and gum arabica
  • Savings-driven credit schemes
  • Information-technology-based market information
  • Vocational training in technical and business skills
  • Basic numeracy and literacy
  • Energy and environmental services

Next Steps for Catalyzing Action
Recognizing the urgency of the situation, it is proposed that the African Union convenes a broadly based task force immediately, drawing on the rich expertise available within the region, continent and globally.

At the same time this joint statement should be distributed to other stakeholders, including the donor community, engaged in technical and political consultations over the next few weeks and months, with a view to mobilizing a coordinated effort to shape and implement a long-term development program to tackle the underlying causes of vulnerability in the ASALs of the Greater Horn of Africa.


[1] Newly approved CGIAR Research Programs, in partnership with national research institutes and other stakeholders, have the capacity to identify information and knowledge gaps, and provide research and innovation fundamental to the ASALs finding lasting and viable solutions, and to provide improved food security, reduced poverty, enhance nutrition and health, and more sustainable use of natural resources for the Greater Horn of Africa region.

Read more about these meetings on the AU-IBAR website and on the ILRI News Blog:

‘Africa’s drylands are productive, and potentially very productive’–ILRI’s Bruce Scott

CGIAR media briefing on the food crisis in the Horn of Africa: A strengthened and joined-up approach is needed

CGIAR briefing on the food crisis in the Horn of Africa: 1 September at ILRI Nairobi

Investments in pastoralism offer best hope for combating droughts in East Africa’s drylands–Study


CGIAR briefing on the food crisis in the Horn of Africa: 1 September at ILRI Nairobi

'Maasai herding', by Kahare Miano

‘Maasai herding’, painting by Kahare Miano (photo credit: ILRI/Elsworth).

A CGIAR news briefing will be held on the food crisis in the Horn of Africa on 1 September 2011 at the campus of the International Livestock Research Institute (ILRI). This event will be broadcasted live on our Horn of Africa page.

Research Options for Mitigating Drought-induced Food Crises

WHEN: 10:30 a.m.—noon, Thur, 1 September 2011 (09:30–11:00 CET—07:30–09:00 GMT)

WHERE: ILRI Campus, Naivasha Road, Nairobi

INVITATIONS: The briefing is open to the press and the public, but RSVP is needed to get access to the ILRI compound (see below).

The current famine engulfing the Horn of Africa and threatening the lives of nearly 13 million people continues to dominate discussions about development worldwide. As relief efforts continue, experts and stakeholders from the region will gather in Nairobi to discuss longer-term evidence-based solutions and interventions needed to avert the profound effects of predicted extreme weather events in the future.

Although droughts can result in failed harvests, they do not have to result in famine. Famine mainly has to do with inappropriate policies, conflicts and neglect, which reduce people’s access to food, grazing for livestock, and water for both. We must support agencies delivering emergency aid today.

And we must do more.

Almost everyone living in the drought-afflicted areas of the Horn produces food from these drylands. Research into dryland agricultural and natural resources thus plays a critical role in uncovering the causes of food shortages and identifying ways of reducing these. Linking smallholder farmers and herders with research knowledge, products and innovations—from better uses of land, water and other natural resources, to better grazing and pasture management, to weather-based insurance that protects against drought and other shocks, to drought-tolerant crops—could greatly enhance the resilience of vulnerable dryland communities to future droughts.

Experts within the Consultative Group on International Agricultural Research (CGIAR) will meet in Nairobi on 1 September with a few selected development partners to discuss how CGIAR research can be used to find long-term solutions to improving and sustaining agricultural livelihoods in the drylands.

Panel

Lloyd Le Page, CEO of the CGIAR Consortium

Mark Gordon, Co-Chair, UN Somalia Food Cluster, World Food Programme

Namanga Ngongi, President, Alliance for a Green Revolution in Africa (AGRA)

Joseph Mureithi, Deputy Director, Kenya Agricultural Research Institute (KARI) [TBC]

Topics to be addressed include:

Promising options and innovations to help farmers become more resilient and food-secure in the face of weather and other shocks

The role of infrastructure and access to viable, functioning markets in food security and prices

Whether drought-tolerant crops and large-scale irrigation are the answer

Whether pastoralism is a driver of drought-induced food insecurity or a buffer against it

Policies that are needed, and at what levels, to ensure that recommendations and innovations for drought-prone areas are put in place in those areas that need them most

For more information on the topic, and live video/Twitter link during the briefing, check our Horn of Africa page. Follow @CGIARconsortium on Twitter (Follow Twitter tag: #Ag4HoA)

The briefing is open to the press and to the public.

For more information and to RSVP, contact:

Jeff Haskins at +254 729 871 422 – jhaskins(at)burnesscommunications(dot)com

Meredith Braden at +254 713 234 806 – mbraden(at)burnesscommunications(dot)com

(RSVP is needed to get access to the compound)

CGIAR research coalition approves six programs to boost global food security

CGIAR Research Program 3.7 on livestock and fish

The developing world’s supplies of wheat, livestock, fish, roots, tubers, and bananas, along with the nutrition of its poorer communities and the food policies of its governments, should be enhanced in the coming years by new funding approved by the Consultative Group on International Agricultural Research (CGIAR), the world’s largest international agriculture research coalition.

The CGIAR has approved six new programs, totalling some USD957 million, aimed at improving food security and the sustainable management of the water, soils and biodiversity that underpin agriculture in the world’s poorest countries. The newly created CGIAR Fund is expected to provide USD477.5 million, with the balance of the support needed likely to come from bilateral donors and other sources.

The six programs focus on sustainably increasing production of wheat, meat, milk, fish, roots, tubers and bananas; improving nutrition and food safety; and identifying the policies and institutions necessary for smallholder producers in rural communities, particularly women, to access markets.

The programs are part of the CGIAR’s bold effort to reduce world hunger and poverty while decreasing the environmental footprint of agriculture. They will target regions of the world where recurrent food crises—combined with the global financial meltdown, volatile energy prices, natural resource depletion, and climate change—undercut and threaten the livelihoods of millions of poor people.

‘More and better investment in agriculture is key to lifting the 75 per cent of poor people who live in rural areas out of poverty,’ said Inger Andersen, CGIAR Fund Council chair and World Bank vice-president for sustainable development. ‘Each of these CGIAR research programs addresses issues that are fundamental to the well-being of poor farmers and consumers in developing countries. Supporting such innovations is key to feeding the nearly one billion people who go to bed hungry every night.’ CGIAR Fund members include developing and industrialized country governments, foundations and international and regional organizations.

Each of the research programs, proposed by the Montpellier-based CGIAR Consortium of International Agricultural Research Centers, is working on a global scale by combining the efforts and expertise of multiple members of the CGIAR Consortium and involving some 300–600 partners from national agricultural research systems; advanced research institutes; non-governmental, civil society and farmer organizations; and the private sector. By working in partnership on such a large scale, the CGIAR-plus=partners effort is unprecedented in size, scope of the partnerships and expected impact.

The six new programs, each implemented by a lead centre from the CGIAR Consortium, join five other research endeavours approved by the CGIAR in the past nine months (on rice, climate change, forests, drylands, and maize) as part of the CGIAR’s global focus on reducing poverty, improving food security and nutrition and sustainably managing natural resources. Each of the six programs described below was approved with an initial three-year budget.

CGIAR Research Program 3.7 on livestock and fish

Meat, Milk and Fish (USD119.7m) will increase the productivity and sustainability of small-scale livestock and fish systems to make meat, milk and fish more profitable for poor producers and more available and affordable for poor consumers. Some 600 million rural poor keep livestock while fish—increasingly derived from aquaculture—provide more than 50 per cent of animal protein for 400 million poor people in Africa and South Asia. This program will be led by the International Livestock Research Institute (ILRI), based in Africa.

Agriculture for Improved Nutrition and Health (USD191.4m) is designed to leverage agriculture improvements to deal with problems related to health and nutrition. It is based on the premise that agricultural practices, interventions and policies can be better aligned and redesigned to maximize health and nutrition benefits and reduce health risks. The program will address the stubborn problems of under-nutrition and ill-health that affect millions of poor people in developing countries. Focus areas include improving the nutritional quality and safety of foods in poor countries, developing biofortified foods and generating knowledge and techniques for controlling animal, food and water-borne diseases. This program will be led by the International Food Policy Research Institute (IFPRI), based in the USA, with the health aspects led by ILRI.

Wheat (USD113.6m) will create a global alliance for improving productivity and profitability of wheat in the developing world, where demand is projected to increase by 60 per cent by 2050 even as climate change could diminish production by 20 to 30 per cent. Accounting for a fifth of humanity’s food, wheat is second only to rice as a source of calories for developing-country consumers and is the number one source of protein.

Aquatic Agriculture Systems (USD59.4m) will identify gender-equitable options to improve the lives of 50 million poor and vulnerable people who live in coastal zones and along river floodplains by 2022. More than 700 million people depend on aquatic agricultural systems and some 250 million live on less than USD1.25 per day. The program will explore the interplay between farming, fishing, aquaculture, livestock and forestry with efforts focused on linking farmers to markets for their agricultural commodities.

Policies, Institutions and Markets (USD265.6m) will identify the policies and institutions necessary for smallholder producers in rural communities, particularly women, to increase their income through improved access to and use of markets. Insufficient attention to agricultural markets and the policies and institutions that support them remains a major impediment to alleviating poverty in the developing world, where in most areas farming is the principal source of income. This initiative seeks to produce a body of new knowledge that can be used by decision-makers to shape effective policies and institutions that can reduce poverty and promote sustainable rural development.

Roots, Tubers and Bananas (USD207.3m) is designed to improve the yields of farmers in the developing world who lack high-quality seed and the tools to deal with plant disease, plant pests and environmental challenges. Over 200 million poor farmers in developing countries are dependent on locally grown roots, tubers and bananas for food security and income, which can provide an important hedge against food price shocks. Yet yield potentials are reduced by half due to poor quality seed, limited genetic diversity, plant pests and disease and environmental challenges.

‘These programs mark a new approach to collaborative research for development,’ said Carlos Perez del Castillo, CGIAR Consortium Board Chair. ‘They bring together the broadest possible range of organizations to ensure that research leads to development and real action that improves people’s lives.’

Note: The Consultative Group on International Agricultural Research (CGIAR) is a global partnership that unites organizations engaged in research for sustainable development with the funders of this work. The funders include developing- and industrialized-country governments, foundations and international and regional organizations. The work they support is carried out by 15 members of a Consortium of International Agricultural Research Centers, in close collaboration with hundreds of partner organizations, including national and regional research institutes, civil society organizations, academia and the private sector.

Research proposal for ‘More meat, milk and fish by and for the poor’ submitted for funding

CGIAR Research Program 3.7 on livestock and fish

CGIAR Research Program 3.7 on livestock and fish: Opening slide in a series of 16 slides presented by ILRI director general Carlos Seré to the CGIAR Fund Council 6 April 2011 (credit: ILRI).

Carlos Pérez del Castillo, on behalf of the Consultative Group on International Agricultural Research (CGIAR) Consortium Board, which he chairs, wrote the following earlier this year in a cover letter to submission of a research proposal for consideration and approval by the CGIAR Fund Council.

‘The Consortium Board (CB) of the CGIAR has the pleasure to submit to the Fund Council (FC), for its consideration and approval, the CGIAR Research Program (CRP) 3.7, entitled “More Meat, Milk and Fish by and for the Poor.”

‘This proposal, submitted by ILRI (lead center), CIAT, ICARDA and WorldFish, focuses on improving productivity and profitability of meat, milk and fish for poor producers. This CRP constitutes a key link in the overall chain of impacts of the Strategy and Results Framework of the CGIAR. The CB considers that this research area, which has received relatively low attention from donors up to now, is of strategic importance for the livelihoods of the poor in developing countries. The challenge in this CRP is to set up market chains that fully address the special needs and circumstances of the poor smallholders and fishermen.

‘An additional challenge, fully in line with the spirit of the reform, is to create new research synergies by working on productivity improvement for livestock and fish in a more integrated manner than before the reform. The Board particularly appreciates the genuine integration of activities across the participating CGIAR centers that are proposed, and the overall quality of this proposal. We think that the proponents of this CRP have laid the ground for very innovative breakthroughs in research for development. . . .

‘The CB considers that the impact pathways described in the various log frames presented in the proposal are convincing. The identification of the eight target value chains is likewise a good mechanism for clearly focusing the work on addressing development challenges. The CB concurs with the referee who states that this is a very innovative dimension of the proposal, and a very effective one as well. ‘Concerning quality of science, the Board concurs with the referees that it is sound. The Board appreciates the explanation of the value addition of ILRI and WorldFish working alongside on genetic issues, as well as the description of the value chain development work. For the CGIAR, these are novel, and much needed, approaches.’

Read the full proposal: ILRI: CGIAR Research Program 3.7: More meat, milk and fish by and for the poor—Proposal  submitted to the CGIAR Consortium Board by ILRI on behalf of CIAT, ICARDA and the WorldFish Center, 5 March 2011.

CGIAR Research Program 3.7 on livestock and fish

CGIAR Research Program 3.7 on livestock and fish: First in a series of 16 slides presented by ILRI director general Carlos Seré to the CGIAR Fund Council 6 April 2011 (credit: ILRI).

View the whole slide presentation on this proposal made by ILRI director general Carlos Seré to the CGIAR Fund Council on 6 April 2011 in Montpellier, France.

More on the CRP and its development process

Board members to select new head of International Livestock Research Institute

Wondirad Mandefro, State Minister of Agriculture, Ethiopia

New ILRI Board Member Wondirad Mandefro Gebru, State Minister in the Ministry of Agriculture in Ethiopia, giving the opening address at a workshop on ‘Gender and Market-Oriented Agriculture’ that was organized and hosted by ILRI in Addis Ababa, Ethiopia, 31 January to 2 February 2011 (photo credit: ILRI/Habtamu).

The 35th meeting of the Board of Trustees of the International Livestock Research Institute (ILRI), being held at ILRI’s headquarters in Nairobi, Kenya, 10–13 April 2011, will mark a milestone for the institute, with selection and appointment of a new director general.

The second five-year term of ILRI’s present director general, Uruguayan agricultural economist Carlos Seré, who took up his position in January 2002, expires at the end of 2011. Two candidates for his replacement will make presentations and interact with the ILRI board and staff during the week of the board meeting. The outcome of the selection process is expected to be announced at the end of the board meeting.

Board members will also review an interim strategy for 2011–2012 that ILRI has developed. ILRI developed its current strategy, ‘Livestock: A Pathway out of Poverty’, covering the years 2003 through 2010, in 2002 through institute-wide discussions and consultations with key stakeholders. Since then, ILRI’s management team and board of trustees have reviewed the strategy every 2 to 3 years. Given an on-going reform process in the Consultative Group on International Agricultural Research (CGIAR), to which ILRI and 14 other centres belong, plus the formation of a new Consortium of CGIAR Centres and the development of a new Consortium Research Program, ILRI’s board and management determined that it would be best for ILRI to modify rather than reformulate its existing strategy to guide the institute during the upcoming 2-year transition period, from the beginning of 2011 through the end of 2012, by which time it is expected that ILRI will initiate development of a full new strategy, when the new Consortium of CGIAR Centres is more firmly established, to guide the institute from 2013 onward.

The CGIAR Consortium recently approved a Strategy and Results Framework, which will guide funding in the future. And the CGIAR Consortium and Fund are working with the CGIAR Centres and partners to create some 15 CGIAR Research Programmes (CRPs). ILRI will be be involved in many of the 15 CRPs, and will play major roles in three of them: CRP3.7, focusing on increasing the productivity of livestock and fish farming, which ILRI leads; CRP4, on improving agriculture for better human nutrition and health; and CRP7, on climate change, agriculture and food security.

This 25th meeting of ILRI’s board of trustees will welcome Wondirad Mandefro Gebru, State Minister in the Ministry of Agriculture in Ethiopia, to the board. Wondirad Mandefro’s scientific career has focused on increasing crop production through improved plant protection. His specific training and expertise is in applied genetics (MSc from Addis Abeba University) and nematology (MSc from the University of Ghent, in Belgium). He worked as a researcher for more than two decades at the Ambo Plant Protection Research Centre of the Ethiopian Institute of Agricultural Research. For three years, from 2007 to 2010, Wondirad served as director of the Agricultural Extension Directorate in Ethiopia’s Ministry of Agriculture and Rural Development. In October 2010, he was appointed State Minister in the Ministry of Agriculture. He also serves as the national focal point for the Comprehensive African Agricultural Development Program and as a member of the Board of the Ethiopian Seed Enterprise.

One world, one health, one airspace

Iceland’s recent volcanic eruption gives the international agricultural research community a welcome pause

Seldom has the world experienced a more dramatic demonstration of the interconnectedness of the modern world. Like the volcanic dust that since 14 April has spewed and spread from southern Iceland south and east over the upper airspace of northern Europe, air flights, and more than one million travelers and their planned activities, were suspended.

Three men who have likely not had three consecutive unplanned days for more than three decades were trapped by these unprecedented events for three glorious sunny days in Ethiopia’s highland capital of Addis Ababa. The three, all with veterinary backgrounds, are members of the board of trustees of the International Livestock Research Institute (ILRI), which had just completed its 33rd meeting on ILRI’s large leafy campus in Addis. They had just signed an agreement for ILRI to join a new Consortium of International Agricultural Research Centres, signaling a new phase in the nearly four decades of operations of ILRI and its two predecessors, the International Laboratory for Research on Animal Diseases and the International Livestock Centre for Africa.

Knut Hove, Rector of the University of Life Sciences in Norway, was trying to fly back to Oslo. Jim Dargie, chair of the program committee of ILRI's board, was trying to get to his home in Austria. Dieter Schillinger was trying to get to Lyon, France, where he heads public affairs at Merial, one of the world’s largest animal health companies. All three men took this remarkable occasion to get out and about in Ethiopia, first taking a day trip into the farmland countryside. This was the first time many staff had seen these men in jeans and other casual wear. And it was the first for many to have extended, relaxed conversations with them. Indeed, many things during these abnormal days seemed hyper normal on ILRI’s Addis campus.

Hitting the pause button
We will never know the full human costs of this volcanic eruption near the Arctic Circle, far from most human habitation. But we at ILRI already have quick and ready evidence of some of its human benefits. For once, the ILRI research community was forced to slow down, with many staff and board members experiencing enough time to take time with, and for, one another, getting to know each other better and in new ways. We would not go so far as to say that the busy ILRI community managed to approximate the civilized ‘slow time of the plough’ in the great livestock-keeping communities that ILRI’s research serves here in the Ethiopian highlands. But in the unexpected space that opened up this week, it did appear that ILRI took a moment to take a breath—and take stock, as it were.

This was doubly fortunate as ILRI’s scientific team leaders are now in the thick of marathon writing tasks as they prepare white papers on the roles of livestock research for ‘Mega Programs’ being fashioned by the new Consortium of International Agricultural Research Centres, which works to enhance agricultural livelihoods and lives in poor countries of the South. Much about these new global and long-term Mega Programs, and the roles of livestock research in them, apparently will be determined over the next two to three weeks. Much thus appears to be at stake for this research community and its many partners and beneficiaries.

It would thus appear advantageous that an icy volcano far to the North should have erupted when it did, giving members of the pro-poor international agricultural research community pause before embarking on their speedy development of frameworks for new research programs with and for countries of the South. For when all the drafts of all the white papers being developed are finalized, and when all the hard choices are finally made about what research will be funded and what not in the new Mega Programs of the new Consortium, one factor will have remained unchanged—that is the human factor. The volcanic pause this week serves to remind us that who and how we are for one another in this large and diverse community of agricultural scientists is likely to matter far more than what ideas we get onto paper, and embedded into proposals, over the next few weeks.