Further unlocking the potential of maize: Dual-purpose is the new purpose of the world’s most important cereal

In the field: Kenya

Maize field at Kampi ya Moto, Kenya (photo on Flickr by C Schubert/CCAFS).

September 2013 special issue of the scientific journal Field Crops Research describes research to improve, and make wider use of, dual-purpose maize (or corn) varieties, which are used for their stover — the stalk, leaves and other residue of the plant after the grain has been harvested — as well as for their grain. Among smallholder farmers in Africa and other developing regions, maize stover is a common, and critically important, supplementary feed for ruminant livestock.

The special journal issue was edited by edited by Elaine Grings, of South Dakota State University (and formerly of ILRI); Olaf Erenstein, of the International Maize and Wheat Improvement Center; and Michael Blümmel, of the International Livestock Research Institute (ILRI).

The following statements are excerpted from a synthesis paper written by the editors, which presents key findings in 12 papers about the potential for dual-purpose maize varieties to meet changing maize demands.

This special issue substantiates that dual-purpose maize varieties are technically feasible and have a large potential market, particularly in many emerging markets. The reported findings argue the case for continued investments in maize stover R&D and thus reigniting earlier dual-purpose crop research in general.

WatotoWeeding4A-74

Children weed a maize plot at Kampi ya Moto, Kenya (photo on Flickr by C Schubert /CCAFS).

Among the findings are the following.

‘Maize — or corn (Zea mays L.) — now is the most important global cereal in terms of production reflecting its versatility in use, including human food, animal feed and fodder, industrial products and biofuel.’

‘Despite being a versatile crop, maize production and maize breeding efforts over time have typically had a single-purpose orientation [on improving grain yields]. . . . Even smallholders within mixed maize-livestock systems typically focus on maize grain yield . . . , with maize stover as additional byproduct and benefit.’

There are prospects within the range of stover quality to increase fodder quality without compromising grain yield.

‘It is this potential of dual-purpose varieties that has reignited research interest and some of the research underlying this special issue. Indeed, despite earlier skepticism only a decade ago, substantial progress has been made in developing dual-purpose maize options for both grain and fodder purposes . . . .’

‘Maize germplasm differences in fodder quality can be exploited without compromising on grain yield.’

‘Confirmation of the relatively favorable feed value of maize stover vis-à-vis other coarse cereal residues — having at least par if not better feed quality traits compared to sorghum and millet, which have been the focus of prior dual-purpose crop improvement research and have been reported to contribute substantially to gross crop production values.’

‘Confirmation of being able to rely on a few key laboratory indicators . . .  as good proxies for feed quality . . . as this enhances the ease of screening for feed quality traits.’

‘From a livestock nutrition viewpoint, an increase in stover quantity is only useful (unless making stover cheaper) if livestock can respond with increased intake, which is stover quality dependent.’

Dairy cow on a Kenyan smallholding

 A dairy cow on one of Kenya’s many smallholder farms consumes maize stover, an important supplementary feed in East Africa (photo credit: ILRI).

Read the synthesis paper, as well as other papers, in this special issue of Field Crops Research 153 (2013) 107–112, edited by Elaine Grings, Olaf Erenstein and Michael Blümmel. The papers authored by ILRI scientists include the following.

Blümmel M, Grings E and Erenstein O 2013:
Potential for dual-purpose maize varieties to meet changing maize demands: Synthesis

Erenstein O, Blümmel M and Grings E 2013:
Potential for dual-purpose maize varieties to meet changing maize demands: Overview

Homann Kee-Tui S, Blümmel M, Valbuena D, Chirima A, Masikati P, Rooyen AF van and Kassie GT 2013:
Assessing the potential of dual-purpose maize in southern Africa: A multi-level approach

Anandan S, Khan AA, Ravi D, Sai Butcha Rao M, Reddy YR and Blümmel M 2013:
Identification of a superior dual purpose maize hybrid among widely grown hybrids in South Asia
and value addition to its stover through feed supplementation and feed processing

Ravi D, Khan AA, Sai Butcha Rao M and Blümmel M 2013:
A note on suitable laboratory stover quality traits for multidimensional maize improvement

Ramana Reddy Y, Ravi D, Ramakrishna Reddy C, Prasad KVSV, Zaidi PH, Vinayan MT and Blümmel M 2013:
A note on the correlations between maize grain and maize stover quantitative and qualitative traits
and the implications for whole maize plant optimization

Lukuyu BA, Murdoch AJ, Romney D, Mwangi DM, Njuguna JGM, McLeod A and Jama AN 2013:
Integrated maize management options to improve forage yield and quality on smallholder farms in Kenya

Ertiro BT, Twumasi-Afriyie S, Blummel M, Friesen D, Negera D, Worku M, Abakemal D and Kitenge K 2013:
Genetic variability of maize stover quality and the potential for genetic improvement of fodder value

Ertiro BT, Zeleke H, Friesen D, Blümmel M and Twumasi-Afriyie, S 2013:
Relationship between the performance of parental inbred lines and hybrids for food-feed traits in maize (Zea mays L.) in Ethiopia

Zaidi PH, Vinayan MT and Blümmel M 2012:
Genetic variability of tropical maize stover quality and the potential for genetic improvement of food-feed value in India

Vinayan MT, Babu R, Jyothsna T, Zaidi PH and Blümmel M 2013:
A note on potential candidate genomic regions with implications for maize stover fodder quality

Read about this special issue in the ILRI Clippings Blog:
Field Crops Research special issue on dual-purpose maize for food and feed, 15 Nov 2013.

‘The health of the poor is the wealth of the poor’: A little film for a big World Food Day and World Food Prize

The prevention and control of agriculture-associated diseases from FILM for SCIENCE in AGRICULTURE on Vimeo.

To honour World Food Day today, celebrated every year on 16 Oct in honour of the founding of the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations on this date in 1945, the International Livestock Research Institute (ILRI) invites you to watch a 3-minute film about a new research to reduce agriculture-associated diseases.

Delia Grace is a veterinary epidemiologist and food safety expert with ILRI, one of 15 CGIAR centres working for a food-secure world. Grace leads the ‘agriculture-associated diseases’ component of a CGIAR Research Program on Agriculture for Nutrition and Health. The latter, led by the International Food Policy Research Institute, was started in 2012 to investigate the links between agriculture, nutrition and health in poor nations.

Here is Grace on just what ‘agriculture-associated diseases’ are, and why they matter.

The health of the poor is the wealth of the poor.
In hungry countries, most people cannot get enough nourishing and safe food. A third of humankind still grows their own food or buys local food in local markets. But the foods poor people grow, buy and eat often make them sick, and can even kill them.

Food-borne disease is the most common illness in the world.
Milk, eggs, meat and vegetables are especially dangerous. Yet these superior foods provide the world’s poorest two billion people with essential nutrients they need to grow, develop and be healthy and productive.

In addition, more than half of all human diseases are transmitted to people from farm and other animals.
These diseases include those like TB and AIDs, which are catastrophic in the developing world. And every six months, another new disease jumps from animals to people.

In 2012, the A4NH research program was started to investigate the links between agriculture, nutrition and health in poor nations. A4NH scientists aim  to find ways to lower people’s risk of disease from food farming, food markets and foods, while increasing agriculture’s benefits.

Health problems rooted in agriculture need solutions that start on the farm.And end with safe food in every household.

About World Food Day and the World Food Prize
The annual celebrations for World Food Day help to raise awareness of the issues behind poverty and hunger. In the US, the associated events include bestowal of the World Food Prize on individuals who have contributed the most to the world’s food supply. Along with former British prime minister Tony Blair and others, ILRI’s director general, Jimmy Smith, is in Des Moines, Iowa, today to participate in the World Food Prize Laureate Award Ceremony  and Borlaug Dialogue.

The World Food Prize was founded by Norman Borlaug, a CGIAR scientist at the International Maize and Wheat Improvement Center (CIMMYT), in Mexico, whose work on high-yielding and disease-resistant wheat varieties led to the Green Revolution and his winning the Nobel Peace Prize in 1970.

The winners of this year’s World Food Prize—Marc Van Montagu, Mary-Dell Chilton and Robert T Fraley—made independent breakthroughs in agricultural biotechnology that have made it possible for farmers to grow crops that give greater yields, resist insects and disease, and tolerate extreme climates.

ILRI takes pleasure today in celebrating their achievements, as well as in honouring the following thirteen CGIAR scientists who have received the World Food Prize since the CGIAR’s Borlaug established the award in 1986:

  • 1987: MS Swaminathan, improved wheat and rice varieties in India, International Rice Research Institute (IRRI)
  • 1988: Robert Chandler, improved tropical rice varieties, International Rice Research Institute (IRRI)
  • 1990: John Niederhauser, control of potato late blight, International Potato Center (CIP)
  • 1995: Hans Herren, pest control for the cassava mealybug, International Institute for Tropical Agriculture (IITA)
  • 1996: Henry Beachall and Gurdev Khush, rice breeders, International Rice Research Institute (IRRI)
  • 2000: Evangelina Villegas and Surinder Vasal, development of Quality Protein Maize, International Maize and Wheat Improvement Center (CIMMYT)
  • 2001: Per-Pinstrup Andersen, food-for-education programs, International Food Policy Research Institute (IFPRI)
  • 2002: Pedro Sanchez, restoring fertility to soils, World Agroforestry Centre (ICRAF)
  • 2004: Monty Jones, developer of New Rice for Africa (NERICA), International Institute for Tropical Agriculture (IITA)
  • 2005: Modadugu Gupta, promoter of acquaculture and architect of the ‘blue revolution’, WorldFish Center (WorldFish)
  • 2009: Gebisa Ejeta, sorghum breeder, International Crops Research Institute for the Semi-Arid Tropics (ICRISAT)

Better support for, and integration of, mixed crop and animal farming is key to increasing and sustaining world food production

Gita Kothari, crop-livestock farmer in India's northern state of Uttarakhand

A crop and livestock farmer in Uttarakhand, India. Integrated crop and livestock farming systems can play a significant role in improving global food security (photo credit: ILRI/Susan Macmillan).

Gita Fartiyal is a master’s student at Almora University, in Uttarakhand, India. She is also a small-scale livestock keeper. The money she makes from selling milk and animals is helping pay for her schooling. Fartiyal and her brother keep about 40 goats on a family crop-and-livestock farm in the mid-Himalayan region of northern India. Gebremicheal Desta grows crops and keeps dairy cows on a small farm in Ethiopia’s’s northern region of Tigray. His family depends on the income it gets from farming to pay for food, daily expenses and school fees.

Smallholder farmers, especially those in mixed crop and livestock systems like Fartiyal and Desta, produce milk, meat and eggs not only for their families but also to meet growing demands for foods of livestock origin. In much of the developing world, increasing population, economic growth and urbanization is driving a rapid demand for livestock foods. In India, for example, smallholders are producing more milk (105 million tons of milk in 2009 compared to 74 million tons in 1999) to respond to an increasing demand for dairy products. With the world’s population expected to reach 9 billion people by 2050, smallholder farmers are expected to play an important role in meeting global food demand in coming years.

Mixed crop and livestock farming systems support nearly 1 billion poor people across the world. Most of these are smallholders working a couple of hectares and relying on family labour to grow crops and keep livestock. But questions remain about how best to intensify production in these mixed systems so as to increase food yields and do so sustainably.

A report released last year, ‘Integrating crops and livestock in subtropical agricultural systems’, produced by researchers from the International Livestock Research Institute (ILRI) and the International Maize and Wheat Improvement Center, evaluates options to sustainably intensify production in these smallholder mixed systems. The 2011 report explores ways of refining the integration of crop growing and animal husbandry in the face of ever-diminishing land and water resources and climate change.

‘We need to help these small-scale farmers make the most efficient use of their land and water resources to increase productivity while at the same time sustaining and enhancing their natural resource base’, said Iain Wright, a science leader at ILRI and one of the report’s authors.

According to the paper, a key to global food security is helping tropical smallholders produce more food more efficiently through smart integration of their crop and livestock production.

The authors recommend three practical ways to both improve and sustain smallholder crop production.

First, crop and animal scientists should work together in crop improvement programs to improve the fodder quality of cereal and legume food crops. The resulting new varieties of sorghum and other crops would provide good yields of both human food and livestock feed. Second, farmers should make greater use of crop residues as animal feeds, which will make better use of water resources by ‘spreading the “cost” of the water used for growing crops across the grain and animal feed components’. Third, farmers should more effectively harness manure for crop production by adopting the ‘technology of storing and distributing manure to avoid the loss of nutrients and biomass’.

In the battle to produce more food to feed the world, smallholder mixed crop and livestock systems are increasingly seen as competitive because they make efficient use of natural resources, spread risk across several enterprises and allow for more flexible and profitable use of family labour, all of which can translate into much lower costs and environmental impacts in producing food compared to large specialized and industrialized farms. The increasing demand for livestock products is also making it possible for farmers to access local markets and increase their incomes.

The report also acknowledges that mixed crop and livestock farming systems alone will not produce all the food the world will need. ‘Specialised cropping systems and intensive livestock systems will [also] play their part’, the paper says. The rapid transition to industrial production of poultry, pig and dairy production systems in Asia is an example of how intensified agricultural production systems are helping to meet food demands for growing populations in that part of the world.

At the same time, the vast army of small-scale farmers like Fartiyal and Desta will be able to fulfill their potential and fully participate in more efficiently integrated agricultural systems that improve global food security only if they have access to ‘appropriate technologies, supportive policies at local, national and regional level and dynamic markets that can supply inputs and channel outputs to consumers more efficiently’.

Download the report: http://mahider.ilri.org/handle/10568/5556

Watch a related ILRI photofilm: ‘A tribute to the unsung heroes of small-scale food production’, http://blip.tv/ilri-photofilm/tribute-to-the-unsung-heroes-of-small-scale-food-production-5225764

 

 

 

Planet under pressure / A numbers game–but which numbers are the numbers that matter?

And growing

Population of the Earth on 26 September 2004, last day of a Fòrum Universal de les Cultures event in Barcelona, where this counter was and this photo was taken (image on Flickr by Daniel Daranas, horitzons inesperats).

Speaking on ‘Sustainable food systems for food security’, Marianne Banziger, a scientist at the CGIAR maize and wheat centre (CIMMYT), this afternoon gave a ‘Rank Lecture’ at the Planet Under Pressure Conference in London.

She began with a bald statistic: To meet the food security challenges converging over the next 50 years, she said, we will have to produce as much food as has been consumed over the entire history of humankind.

Things did not get better after that.

We can expect more food price hikes, she argued, like those the world experienced in 2008 and 2010. Those peaks were due to low stocks; food prices went up three-fold and food prices have never returned to 2006 levels.

A large part of the changing food situation, Banziger explained, is due to the many people in developing countries that are newly incorporating into their largely starch-based diets meat, milk and eggs. However, most people gaining a bit of disposable income for the first time and using it to buy animal-source foods are still consuming far less of these foods than people in rich countries.

Biofuels are complicating the situation further: some 40% of the US maize crop now goes to biofuel, which is more than what is produced for animal feed.

Food price increases push people back into poverty, she reminded her audience. As food prices increase, and people find food less and less affordable, the proportion of their consumption of staple crops increases. If we do not act, food and energy price inflation will exceed income growth of the poor—pushing them further into poverty.

Living on borrowed resources
What goes up must come down: As fertilizer prices go up, the profitability and yields of smallholder farmers in developing countries go down.

Some 300 million people in India and China are sustained with grain grown from the over-pumping of water (that is, water resources not renewed by rainfall).

Social unrest is likely to come back again and again; deforestation, water scarcity and human migration are all likely to increase,

We still have the time to act.
Science usefully provides us with options.

We could reduce our consumption of food. How many of us now recycle and conserve water? Reduce food wastage? Eat less meat? These actions reduce demand. Those people now climbing out of poverty have as much right as we do to eat well.

On the other hand, we could increase our production of food.

The more we delay investments in this, the steeper will be the challenges we face.

Among new opportunities for increasing productivity are use of precision agriculture and cell phones (for conducting financial transactions, buying crop and input insurance).

We should not make the same mistakes as in the past by focusing on higher productivity alone. Farmers also need to generate greater income, to build greater resilience to shocks, to conduct sustainable farming, and to access viable markets and value chains.

Eyes wide open
Closing the yield gap among today’s marginalized farmers will not be enough, Banziger said. Farmers in the Indo-Gangetic Plains now grow wheat for 700 million people. But the encroachment of heat on these plains is expected to reduce yields 20–30% by 2050.

We need to explore the untapped biodiversity of staple crops. Drought-tolerant maize varieties have succeeded in the past. We’re looking for heat tolerance in wheat. Will transgenics be needed? The challenges are extreme, so ‘we need to keep our eyes open’.

Catch 22
At the close of Banziger’s presentation, a population expert in the audience asked what he might have presumed to be a rhetorical question: Why had Banziger omitted all reference to reducing the human population as a main method of ensuring food security?

Banziger responded forthrightly: It is not the increasing numbers of people per se that is the greatest factor in our food challenges, she said. Rather, it is the great numbers of people who are escaping absolute poverty (especially in India, China and Southeast Asia), and who are improving the quality of their diets as they do so by adding animal-source and other highly nutritious foods to their daily meals.

The implications are that reducing the numbers of people on the planet will not solve our food problems if great numbers of those people that remain keep moving out of poverty–a trajectory that many of this conference’s delegates are spending their professional lives working to advance.

Read more about the Planet Under Pressure conference:
ILRI News Blog: Planet under pressure / Livestock under the radar, 26 Mar 2012.

 

 

Straw matter(s) in Nepal

Nimala Bogati feeds her cows in Nepal

Dairy woman Nimala Bogati feeds her improved dairy cows green fodder. An ILRI-CSISA project on the Indo-Gangetic Plains of Chitwan District, in south-central Nepal, began in Sep 2010. Project staff are introducing residue-based feeding strategies supplemented with green fodder and concentrates to increase cattle and buffalo milk production (photo credit: ILRI/Susan MacMillan).

Starting in 2010, feed‐related aspects of dairying in two municipalities of Chitwan District in south-central Nepal have been investigated by staff members from the International Livestock Research Institute (ILRI) and a local Nepali non-governmental organization called Forum for Rural Welfare and Agricultural Reform for Development (FORWARD). This study set out to gain an understanding of the overall dairy production system in this district, with a particular focus on the livestock feeding strategies employed by farmers, and to identify key areas of the feeding strategy that could be altered to improve livestock productivity. A feed assessment tool called FEAST—a questionnaire that combines informal group discussions with structured interviews of key farmer informants—was used to rapidly assess on‐farm feed availability in a smallholder context.

FORWARD's Deep Sapkota and ILRI's Arindam Samaddar in Nepal

FORWARD’s Deep Sapkota and ILRI’s Arindam Samaddar confer on a visit to a smallholder dairy producer in Gitanagar, Chitwan District, south-central Nepal (photo credit: ILRI/Susan MacMillan).

Project staff from ILRI and FORWARD selected the municipalities of Gitanagar and Ratnanagar for this study because these sites were to become part of projects conducted by a multi-institutional Cereal Systems Initiative of South Asia (CSISA) in Nepal.

Farmers in this area generally have very small plots of land, averaging just 0.24 hectares, from which they produce a wide variety of crops. Rice, maize and wheat are the dominant cereal crops here. Goats and dairy cattle, predominately Holstein-Friesian and Jersey, are the main livestock kept. Some households also keep dairy buffaloes and poultry.

Dairying and other livestock activities contribute 63% of household income, cropping the remaining 37%.

Crop residues (most of which until recently were purchased) are the primary component of the feed for the farm animals and are relied on throughout the year.

Purchased concentrate feeds such as wheat bran and commercially mixed rations provide a significant portion of the dietary metabolizable energy and crude protein.

ILRI has been working with FORWARD for just over one year to improve understanding in these farming communities of key animal health, nutrition and reproduction concepts, so that the farmers can reduce the costs of their milk production, with purchased feed being the main cost.

Farmhouse goats in Nepal

Two goats kept by a farm household in Nepal in a community served by the ILRI-FORWARD-CSISA project (photo credit: ILRI/Susan MacMillan).

Goats are the most popular livestock species kept within the area. Eighty percent of households keep 2–3 goats, which are used to fulfil household meat requirements and/or sold at irregular intervals for slaughter. Half the households here keep improved dairy cows, primarily Holstein-Freisian and Jersey, with each household keeping some 2–3 cows. About 10% of the households maintain local buffalo, and 5% improved buffalo such as Murrah, for milking, with each household keeping 1–2 animals. Local cows and buffalo are the cheapest dairy animals available, costing about 10,000Rs (USD$141) and 30,000Rs (USD$423) per head respectively. Improved cows and buffalo are available for 80000–90000Rs (USD$1128–USD$1269) per head. Dairy animals in this area produce approximately 3141 litres of milk per head per year, with sales of milk generating 249446Rs (USD$3519) per household annually.

Man and buffalo in Nepal

Bhim Bahadur Bogati, father-in-law of dairy woman Nirmala Bogati, and his son’s staff-kept buffalo cow (photo credit: ILRI/Susan MacMillan).

The dairy animals are usually maintained in purpose built sheds in close proximity to the household and stall fed throughout the year. The shed will generally only have temporary walls that are erected during winter months to keep the animals warm. During summer months, the walls are removed to allow air to circulate around the animals to keep them cool.

To find out more, read: Characterisation of the livestock production system and the potential of feed‐based interventions in the municipality of Ratnanagar and Gitanagar in the Chitwan district of southern Nepal, September 2010.

Notes
About FEAST
Feed for livestock is often cited as the main constraint to improved productivity in smallholder systems. Overcoming this constraint often seems an elusive goal and technical feed interventions tend to adopt a scattergun or trial and error approach which often fails to adequately diagnose the nature of the feed problem and opportunities and therefore the means to deal with problems and harness opportunities. The purpose of the Feed Assessment Tool described here is to offer a systematic and rapid methodology for assessing feed resources at site level with a view to developing a site-specific strategy for improving feed supply and utilization through technical or organizational interventions. Output from FEAST consists of a short report in a defined format along with some quantitative information on overall feed availability, quality and seasonality which can be used to help inform intervention strategies. The tool is aimed at research and development practitioners who are working in the livestock sector and need a more systematic means of assessing current feed-related strategies and developing new ones.

About CSISA
The Cereal Systems Initiative for South Asia (CSISA) applies science and technologies to accelerate cereal production growth in South Asia’s most important grain baskets. CSISA works in partnerships in 9 intensive cereal-production ‘hubs’ in Bangladesh, India, Nepal and Pakistan to boost deployment of existing crop varieties, hybrids, management technologies and market information. CSISA is funded by the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation and the United States Agency for International Development and conducted by the International Maize and Wheat Improvement Program (CIMMYT), the International Food Policy Research Institute (IFPRI), ILRI and the International Rice Research Institute (IRRI).

ILRI DAIRY FEED INTERVENTIONS IN SOUTH ASIA
Last September, ILRI held a workshop in Dehradun, northern India, to develop a tool for feed technology screening and prioritization. Last December, ILRI and national research institutions and NGOs from Bangladesh, India and Nepal conducted dairy feed experimental trials and demonstrated better use of crop residues for feeding to their dairy cows. Thirteen participants from four sites in Haryana, India (National Dairy Research Institute); Bihar, India (Bihar Veterinary College, Sarairanjan Primary Agricultural Cooperative Society); Chitwan, Nepal (Forum for Rural Welfare and Agricultural Reform for Development); and Dinajpur, Bangladesh (Bangladesh Livestock Research Institute, Cooperative for Assistance and Relief Everywhere) shared their results of the feed intervention trials and related training activities.

ETHIOPIAN LIVESTOCK FEEDS PROJECT (ELF)
This week (21–22 Feb 2012), an inception workshop for an Ethiopian Livestock Feeds Project (ELF) is taking place at ILRI’s campus in Addis Ababa, Ethiopia. The project involves a short scoping study that will be used to help further develop and test rapid livestock feed assessment methods such as FEAST and Techfit. This work is funded by the Australian Centre for International Agricultural Research.

In Nairobi, German Chancellor Angela Merkel puts on lab coat, meets young bioscientists fighting hunger in Africa

DSC_6439

Lydia Wamalwa talks with German Chancellor (and former scientist) Angela Merkel at ILRI-BecA labs (photo credit: ILRI/Njoroge).

Yesterday (12 Jul 2011), Lydia Wamalwa, a PhD student from the International Potato Center doing her research at the Biosciences eastern and central Africa (BecA) labs at the International Livestock Research Institute (ILRI), gave Chancellor Angela Merkel an overview of her research to improve the resistance of sweet potato to the sweet potato weevil, a pest that causes major losses to this, the third most important food crop in eastern and southern Africa.

Merkel visits ILRI Nairobi: Lab tour

Apollinaire Djikeng, BecA’s technology manager, introduces BecA, which is hosted and managed by ILRI, to Chancellor Merkel (photo credit: ILRI/Njoroge).

On the same lab tour, the Chancellor also heard from Appolinaire Djikeng, a Camerounian bioscientist who is BecA’s technology manager.

Djikeng explained that ILRI established BecA in 2006 with the New Partnership for Africa’s Development and funding from Canada. BecA provides state-of-the-art laboratory facilities to African scientists conducting research on the continent’s biggest food production problems.

In its first 5 years of operation, Djikeng said that BecA has:

  • strengthened biosciences capacity in the region and trained hundreds of young African agricultural scientists;
  • generated productive collaborations between dozens of scientists working in Africa with other experts working in Germany and elsewhere in Europe, in North America and in Asia; and
  • convened donor representatives, agricultural scientists and civil society leaders in dozens of high-quality meetings to identify research gaps and ways to close them.

‘You’re now standing in BecA’s crop research laboratory,’ Djikeng said. ‘Many institutes have recently relocated their agricultural research programs here to take advantage of BecA’s resources, unique in sub-Saharan Africa.’

Among the international teams hosted by ILRI-BecA are those leading work on:

  • cassava, banana and yams (IITA [International Institute for Tropical Agriculture], based in West Africa)
  • sorghum, millet and other cereals of drylands (ICRISAT [International Centre for Research in the Semi-Arid Tropics], based in India)
  • potato and sweet potato (CIP [International Potato Center], based in Peru), and
  • drought-tolerant maize for Africa (CIMMYT [International Maize and Wheat Improvement Centre], based in Mexico).

One of BecA’s trainees, Rachel Aye, then told the Chancellor about how German support and BecA facilities are enabling her to advance development of a vaccine against a disease that is ravaging the livestock of Africa, including in her country, Uganda.

Djikeng and Aye thanked Chancellor Merkel on behalf of all their colleagues for making this historic visit and for her country’s longstanding support of agricultural research for development.

A desert state turns green

Rajasthan (disused) water pump (Bhimpur Village)

Disused water pump in Bhimpur Village, 1.5 hours' drive south of Udaipur, in Rajasthan, India (photo ILRI / MacMIllan).

Over the last five years, poor monsoons have led to crippling droughts throughout Rajasthan, India's 'Land of the Kings', which includes a hilly and rugged southeastern region and the barren northwestern Thar Desert, which extends across the border into Pakistan.

Rajasthan cow (Bhimpur Village)

This year's monsoon, which started mid-June, is wetter than average. By mid-September, the rains had transformed Rajasthan's hills into misty verdant pastures, on which still-thin cattle and buffaloes are now fattening. Rivers are full and running fast and lake waters are high with their floodgates bursting with water. Even the camels appear thankful for the greenery the monsoon has brought. Maize is ripening in the fields and everywhere you look people are cutting the tall green grass and other fodder and loading it and carrying it home—on their heads, on their bullock carts, on the backs of their motorcycles—to feed their animals. They will dry and store the excess fodder for use when the land turns brown again.

Rajasthan rice straw stored for livestock feed (Bhimpur Village)

Scientists at the International Livestock Research Institute (ILRI) are working with others to conduct three case studies in South Asia on the use of stover and other crop 'wastes' for feeding ruminant farm animals. The residues of grain crops after harvesting are vital to animal husbandry here, where such residues typically make up more than half the feed for cattle, buffaloes, camels, goats and sheep.

The case studies are being conducted in three contrasting sites: the extensive and normally dry rangelands of Rajasthan, the modern farming sector of Haryana (part of India's breadbasket), and in the intensely cultivated fields of Bangladesh.

ILRI's Braja Swain in Rajasthan

Braja Swain, the project associate doing all the fieldwork and analyses for this project, says that even this year's good maize harvest will feed many families only for a few months, after which they will have to buy grain using money they get from selling some animals or from family members who have migrated away to find jobs.

Rajasthan goats (Renoje Village)

This project is funded by the Systemwide Livestock Programme of the Consultative Group on International Agricultural Research and led by the Maize and Wheat Improvement Centre. ILRI's Swain is studying for a doctoral degree in economics at the Centre for Development Studies at Jawaharlal Nehru University, in New Delhi.

An anthropologist at large

Arindam Samaddar Arindam Samaddar began working for International Livestock Research Institute in October 2009 and this is his first Annual program meeting. 'I'm very excited, both by the research I'm doing in India, and by the opportunity to meet new colleagues here,' he says. Being an anthropologist, he brings new skills to ILRI. When Arindam was studying for his PhD, he coined the term ‘agricultural anthropology’, and that tells you much about where he's coming from. 'I have always been interested in exploring agricultural development from an anthropological perspective,' he explains. His early research in the state of Bihar looked at the different ways three separate communities – Hindus, Muslims and tribal communities – approached agricultural tasks. Later, for his PhD, he studied the impact of technology adoption on rice cultivators in West Bengal. Two years of teaching at Calcutta University was followed by a spell with the International Maize and Wheat Development Center (CIMMYT), where he worked in partnership with ILRI scientists on the crop-livestock interactions in conservation agriculture systems in Bangladesh and India. Now, he is providing an anthropological perspective to the Cereal Systems Initiative in South Asia (CSISA), which aims to boost the cereal production of some 6 million arable farmers. So what attracted him to ILRI? "Anthropologists try to understand whole systems, they don't look at problems in isolation, and I think ILRI has a similar approach," he says. "ILRI also has a strong focus on poverty eradication, and that's something that appeals to me as well." He's also excited by the idea of getting his hands dirty – metaphorically speaking. “Up to now, I’ve always focused on research, but with this project I'm going to be involved, for the first time, in practical interventions to help improve farmers’ livelihoods."

New study warns that climate change could create agricultural winners and losers in East Africa

While predicting highly variable impacts on agriculture by 2050, experts show that with adequate investment the region can still achieve food security for all

Forage Diversity field on ILRI Addis campus

As African leaders prepare to present an ambitious proposal to industrialized countries for coping with climate change in the part of the world that is most vulnerable to its impacts, a new study points to where and how some of this money should be spent. Published in the peer-reviewed journal Agricultural Systems, the study projects that climate change will have highly variable impacts on East Africa’s vital maize and bean harvests over the next two to four decades, presenting growers and livestock keepers with both threats and opportunities.

Previous estimates by the study’s authors projected moderate declines in the production of staple foods by 2050 for the region as a whole but also suggested that the overall picture disguises large differences within and between countries. The new findings provide a more detailed picture than before of variable climate change impacts in East Africa, assessing them according to broadly defined agricultural areas.

‘Even though these types of projections involve much uncertainty, they leave no room for complacency about East Africa’s food security in the coming decades,’ said the lead author of the new study, Philip Thornton of the International Livestock Research Institute (ILRI), which is supported by the Consultative Group on International Agricultural Research (CGIAR). ‘Countries need to act boldly if they’re to seize opportunities for intensified farming in favored locations, while cushioning the blow that will fall on rural people in more vulnerable areas.’

The researchers simulated likely shifts in cropping, using a combination of two climate change models and two scenarios for greenhouse gas emissions, together with state-of-the-art models for maize and beans, two of the region’s primary staple foods.

In the mixed crop-livestock systems of the tropical highlands, the study shows that rising temperatures may actually favor food crops, helping boost output of maize by about half in highland ‘breadbasket’ areas of Kenya and beans to much the same degree in similar parts of Tanzania. Meanwhile, harvests of maize and beans could decrease in some of the more humid areas, under the climate scenarios used in the study. Across the entire region, production of both crops is projected to decline significantly in drylands, particularly in Tanzania.

‘The emerging scenario of climate-change winners and losers is not inevitable,’ said ILRI director general Carlos Seré. ‘Despite an expected three-fold increase in food demand by 2050, East Africa can still deliver food security for all through a smart approach that carefully matches policies and technologies to the needs and opportunities of particular farming areas.’

At the Seventh World Forum on Sustainable Development, held recently in Ouagadougou, Burkina Faso, African leaders announced a plan to ask the industrialized world to pay developing countries USD67 billion a year as part of the continent’s common negotiating position for December’s climate talks in Copenhagen.

The ILRI study analyzes various means by which governments and rural households can respond to climate change impacts at different locations. In Kenya, for example, the authors suggest that shifting bean production more to the cooler highland areas might offset some of the losses expected in other systems.

Similarly, Tanzania and Uganda could compensate for projected deficits in both maize and beans through increased regional trade. In the Common Market for Eastern and Southern Africa (COMESA), maize trade is already worth more than USD1 billion, but only 10 percent of it occurs within the region. As grain prices continue to rise in global markets, several East African countries will be well positioned to expand output of maize and beans for regional markets, thus reducing reliance on imports and boosting rural incomes.

Where crop yields are expected to decline only moderately because of climate change, past experience suggests that rural households can respond effectively by adopting new technologies to intensify crop and livestock production, many of which are being developed by various CGIAR-supported centres and their national partners.

Drought-tolerant maize varieties, for example, have the potential to generate benefits for farmers estimated at USD863 million or more in 13 African countries over the next 6 years, according to a new study carried out by the International Maize and Wheat Improvement Center (CIMMYT) and International Institute of Tropical Agriculture (IITA). Meanwhile, new heat-tolerant varieties of productive climbing beans, which are traditionally grown in highlands, are permitting their adoption at lower elevations, where they yield more than twice as much grain as the bush-type beans grown currently, according to Robin Buruchara of the International Center for Tropical Agriculture (CIAT).

In areas that face drastic reductions in maize and bean yields, farmers may need to resort to more radical options, such as changing the types of crops they grow (replacing maize, for example, with sorghum or millet), keeping more livestock or abandoning crops altogether to embrace new alternatives, such as the provision of environmental services, including carbon sequestration.

This latter option could become a reality under COMESA’s Africa Biocarbon Initiative, which is designed to tap the huge potential of the region’s diverse farmlands and other rural landscapes, ranging from dry grasslands to humid tropical forests, for storing millions of tons of carbon. The initiative offers African negotiators an appealing option in their efforts to influence a future climate change agreement.

‘If included in emissions payment schemes, this initiative could create new sources of income for African farmers and enhance their resilience to climate change,’ said Peter Akong Minang, global coordinator of the Alternatives to Slash-and-Burn (ASB) Programme at the World Agroforestry Centre. ‘Its broad landscape approach would open the door for many African countries to actively participate in, and benefit from, global carbon markets.’

‘Rural people manage their livelihoods and land in an integrated way that encompasses many activities,’ said Bruce Campbell, director of the CGIAR’s Challenge Program on Climate Change, Agriculture and Food Security. ‘That’s why they need integrated options to cope with climate change, consisting of diverse innovations, such as drought-tolerant crops, better management of livestock, provision of environmental services and so forth.’

How rapidly and successfully East African nations and rural households can take advantage of such measures will depend on aggressive new investments in agriculture, CGIAR researchers argue. According to a recent study by the International Food Policy Research Institute (IFPRI), it will take about USD7 billion annually, invested mainly in rural roads, better water management and increased agricultural research, to avert the dire implications of climate change for child nutrition worldwide.

About 40 per cent of that investment would address the needs of sub-Saharan Africa, where modest reductions projected for maize yields in the region as a whole are expected to translate into a dramatic rise in the number of malnourished children by 2050. Thornton’s projections probably underestimate the impacts on crop production, because they reflect increasing temperatures and rainfall changes only and not greater variability in the weather and growing pressure from stresses like drought and insect pests.

‘Farmers and pastoralists in East Africa have a long history of dealing with the vagaries of the weather,’ said Seré. ‘But climate change will stretch their adaptive capacity beyond its limits, as recent severe drought in the region has made abundantly clear. Let’s not leave rural people to fend for themselves but rather invest significantly in helping them build a more viable future.’

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About ILRI:
The Africa-based International Livestock Research Institute (ILRI) works at the crossroads of livestock and poverty, bringing high-quality science and capacity-building to bear on poverty reduction and sustainable development. ILRI is one of 15 centers supported by the Consultative Group on International Agricultural Research (CGIAR). It has its headquarters in Kenya and a principal campus in Ethiopia. It also has teams working out of offices in Nigeria, Mali, Mozambique, India, Thailand, Indonesia, Laos, Vietnam and China. www.ilri.org.

About the CGIAR: The CGIAR, established in 1971, is a strategic partnership of countries, international and regional organizations and private foundations supporting the work of 15 international Centers. In collaboration with national agricultural research systems, civil society and the private sector, the CGIAR fosters sustainable agricultural growth through high-quality science aimed at benefiting the poor through stronger food security, better human nutrition and health, higher incomes and improved management of natural resources. www.cgiar.org