Storming the ivory towers: Time for scientists to get out, ‘get social’, to learn better, faster–Nature commentary

Framework for building an evidence base on impacts of social learning

An evaluative framework for assembling an evidence base on the impacts of social learning. Figure 1 in Social learning and sustainable development, article by Patti Kristjanson, Blane Harvey, Marissa Van Epp and Philip Thornton, published in Nature Climate Change 4, 5–7 (2014) (first published online 20 Dec 2013).

Most of us like learning new things. But while learning alone is no fun, it’s hard to convince scientists, who spend their professional lives attempting to learn new things, to adopt ‘social learning’ approaches. These could help bring about new understandings, and help transform such understandings into development benefits, by helping scientists learn with, and from, a diverse group of stakeholders, including non-scientists, holding common purpose.

Those assumptions are held by social learning advocates, who include Patti Kristjanson, an agricultural economist at the World Agroforestry Centre and lead author of a commentary on social learning published in the 20 Dec 2013 online edition of Nature Climate Change. Kristjanson gives a main reason for the reluctance of her agricultural research colleagues to take up social learning. ‘First and foremost’, she says, ‘is the worry of scientists about the large transactions costs of the “many conversations and messy partnerships” such joint learning necessarily entails.’

‘Yet many of the same scientists also worry about the slow pace of agricultural development in many parts of the world’, Kristjanson says.

Those of us attempting to use science to help solve complex agriculturally related development problems—like how to help hundreds of millions of smallholder farmers adapt to harsher, more erratic, climates while producing more food and lifting themselves out of poverty—need to try new approaches. If we keep doing science the way we’ve always been doing it, we’re going to run out of time.’

This Nature Climate Change commentary includes a ‘call to action’.

Kristjanson and her colleagues say it’s time for climate change scientists to step up—to help effect a step change. ‘We need the “social engagement” of many, many more scientists working on climate change adaptation and mitigation strategies. We need them to help us build a solid body of evidence on the benefits—and the costs—of applying social learning approaches.’

The commentary provides a framework that can be used to assess when social learning is likely to be ‘really worth it’ and begins with an introduction, summarized here:

Agricultural research-for-development bodies such as the United Nations Food and Agriculture Organization, CGIAR and their partners are under mounting pressure from their funders to link their research knowledge to actions that achieve faster and more substantive and long-lasting ‘development outcomes’, such as CGIAR’s four ‘system-level outcomes’ of reduced rural poverty, increased food security, better nutrition and health, and sustainable management of natural resources. To bring about the many changes in behaviour, policies and institutions as well as agricultural practices needed to achieve such broad benefits, the authors argue that researchers and their projects need to be continuously informed by, and engaged with, many others, including the individuals and societies they are working to benefit, so as to better understand, and more effectively use, the processes by which people and communities, and policymakers and government officials, learn and adapt their behaviour in the face of climate and other changes and pressures.

Among the many advantages the authors cite of agricultural scientists employing social learning approaches are the following:

  • joint learning and knowledge sharing and co-creation are enhanced among diverse stakeholders around a common purpose
  • the established traditions of participatory development are built on, with learning and collective change placed at the heart of such engagement
  • diverse knowledge and value systems are integrated in ways that help us tackle so-called ‘wicked’ (highly complex) socio-agro-ecological problems

The Nature Climate Change commentary provides a table of examples of agricultural development projects and programs that are already using social learning approaches.

On the face of it, the authors says, social learning approaches should help research-for-development institutions become smarter and more effective. But while iterative learning processes appear to be critical to adapting to environmental and other big changes, it’s difficult to apply ‘learning tools’ in many developing-country situations, they say, where there is high uncertainty and great poverty. ‘And we have as yet little evidence of the impacts of social learning approaches on “hard” development outcomes’, says Kristjanson. Scientists are also concerned, she says, about a lack of demonstrated ability to replicate and scale out the benefits of localized social learning.

The authors of this commentary include Philip Thornton, an agricultural systems analyst and climate change specialist at the International Livestock Research Institute (ILRI). Thornton says that the authors are embarking on a ‘systematic evidence-gathering initiative, using a common evaluative framework to track new initiatives from a range of institutional settings that incorporate social learning approaches’.

‘The practical guidelines we provide’, he says, ‘should help those interested in applying social learning approaches to use the best available knowledge, information and tools to implement and document their initiatives’.

Patti Kristjanson and Philip Thornton both lead work of the CGIAR Research Program on Climate Change, Agriculture and Food Security Program (CCAFS), where Kristjanson leads its Linking Knowledge to Action Theme and Thornton its Data & Tools ThemeCCAFS is funded by the CGIAR Fund, AusAid, Danish International Development Agency, Environment Canada, Instituto de Investigação Científica Tropical (Portugal), Irish Aid, Netherlands Ministry of Foreign Affairs, Swiss Agency for Development and Cooperation, UK Aid, and the European Union, with technical support from the International Fund for Agricultural Development.

An authors’ version of this article is available for all to read on Cgspace.

Journal subscribers can read the whole article, Social learning and sustainable development, by Patti Kristjanson, Blane Harvey (International Development Research Centre, Canada), Marissa Van Epp (International Institute for Environment and Development, UK)) and Philip K Thornton, in Nature Climate Change 4, 5–7 (2014) doi:10.1038/nclimate2080 (first published online 20 Dec 2013).

A lively article about this Nature commentary was published by CCAFS yesterday (8 Jan 2014): Want sustainable development? Then it’s time to get social.

CCAFS, ILRI and their many partners invite you to join our efforts to create an evidence base on the impacts of social learning approaches. Leave your comments and ideas in the commentary section below or on the CCAFS website.

This Nature commentary article was produced as part of a continuing social learning process — see their wiki here: Climate Change and Social Learning initiative — in which knowledge is being co-constructed through many different channels. We are grateful and indebted to all who have participated in this process.

A new global alliance for a safer, fairer and more sustainable livestock sector

Representatives of global and regional institutions

Eight major organizations working in livestock development are issuing a joint communiqué today, committing themselves to working in closer alliance to develop and fulfill on a global agenda for the livestock sector that is safer, fairer and more sustainable. The organizations are:

  • African Union-Interafrican Bureau for Animal Resources
  • Association of Southeast Asian Nations
  • Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation
  • Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations
  • International Fund for Agricultural Development
  • International Livestock Research Institute
  • World Bank
  • World Organisation for Animal Health

This communiqué was developed by participants of a High-Level Consultation for a Global Livestock Agenda to 2020, co-hosted by the World Bank and the International Livestock Research Institute (ILRI) in Nairobi, Kenya, 12–13 Mar 2012. At that meeting, leaders in livestock development issues exchanged ideas, concerns, experiences and expertise with the aim of developing closer partnerships, a shared vision and more complementary programs for a global livestock agenda. They agreed on the outlines of a consensus regarding strategies for a safer, fairer and more sustainable global livestock agenda to 2020. The full joint communiqué follows.

A new global alliance for a safer, fairer and more sustainable livestock sector
In the face of a fast-growing, resource-hungry and commonly misunderstood livestock sector, it is clear that increased investment in the sector is essential to livelihoods, global health and the environment. To address livestock as a global public good, a strengthened alliance has been formed among key institutions charged with shaping and steering the global livestock agenda.

We, the representatives of global and regional institutions whose mandates cover livestock, met in Nairobi, Kenya, 12-13 March 2012. We exchanged ideas, concerns, experiences and expertise with the aim of developing closer partnerships, a shared vision and more complementary programs for a global livestock agenda.

Our consultation came at an opportune time. Global production and consumption of meat, milk and eggs are growing fast, especially in developing countries, in the face of diminishing natural resources. Decision-makers and investors continue to under-appreciate the critical role that livestock play in the lives and livelihoods of the world’s poorest people. The world remains alert to the risk of pandemics arising at the interface between people and animals.

We agreed that social equity, global health and the environment should be considered among the strategic ‘pillars’ of the global livestock agenda. There was also much concurrence on the issues and challenges facing the livestock sector and the ways to address them.

We are building this alliance to work in closer partnerships, with each organization bringing to bear its comparative advantage. Together we aim to be more effective in explaining to the world better why livestock are essential to the society and to the health and wellbeing of the poor and to show leadership in addressing the challenges and opportunities that livestock can bring.

We will do this by marshalling the best evidence to support our case; directly addressing the harm as well as benefits generated by livestock; learning from successes and failures to design and implement the most appropriate programs and policies; exploiting advances in our understanding of complex systems and powerful new technologies; and building on existing successful initiatives. We aim to develop strategic goals, and to create, and share publicly, a means to measure progress against these goals.

We invite our colleagues in other institutions, public and private, to join us.

View and download the official version of the communiqué, with logos of the organizations of its eight authors: A new global alliance for a safer, fairer and more sustainable livestock sector, 11 April 2011.

Read more about the high-level consultation in previous posts on this ILRI News Blog:
Developing an enabling global livestock agenda for our lives, health and lands, 13 Mar 2012.
Towards a more coherent narrative for the global livestock sector, 15 Mar 2012.
Sharing the space: Seven livestock leaders speak out on a global agenda, 20 Mar 2012.



Towards a more coherent narrative for the global livestock sector

Jimmy Smith and Henning Steinfeld (FAO)

ILRI’s Jimmy Smith (left) and FAO’s Henning Steinfeld confer at a high-level consultation for a global livestock agenda to 2020 at ILRI’s Nairobi campus this week.

High-level leaders in the livestock world have agreed on major ways to fulfill on an ambitious global livestock agenda to 2020 that would work simultaneously to protect the environment, human health and socioeconomic equity. The heads of ten agencies met earlier this week in Nairobi to hammer out the outlines of a consensus on strategies for a global livestock agenda to 2020. This High-Level Consultation for a Global Livestock Agenda to 2020 was co-hosted by the World Bank and the International Livestock Research Institute (ILRI).

Three ‘pillars’ for the future of livestock were discussed: the environment, human health and social equity.

Henning Steinfeld, chief of livestock information and policy analysis at the United Nations Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO), gave a presentation on the livestock-environment interfaceGlobal environmental challenges [and livestock].

Bernard Vallat, director general of the World Organisation for Animal Health (OIE), spoke on issues at the livestock-human health interfaceGlobal animal health challenges: The health pillar.

Carlos Seré, chief development strategist at the International Fund for Agricultural Development (IFAD), described livestock and equity issuesGlobal poverty and food security challenges: The equity pillar.

A major issue raised repeatedly throughout the 1.5-day consultation was the need to work in closer partnership not only to create synergies in institutional work programs but also to begin creating a more coherent narrative for the livestock sector. This new narrative is needed, it was said, both for some simple messaging to counter misunderstandings about the essential role livestock play in the lives and livelihoods of one billion poor people (e.g., dairying in poor countries feeds hungry children and pays for their schooling) and for more nuanced communications that help decision-makers and their constituencies better distinguish among livestock production systems, which vary vastly according, for example, to the different species kept (e.g., the rearing of pigs vs goats vs chickens), the environments in which the animals are raised (remote mountains vs fertile plains vs dry grasslands) and the particular livestock production system being employed (pastoral herding vs mixed smallholder farming vs industrial farming).

2012 ILRI-World Bank Livestock Agenda to 2020: Topic 1

François Le Gall (World Bank)

François Le Gall, senior livestock advisor at the World Bank, co-hosted an ILRI-World Bank High-Level Consultation on the Global Livestock Agenda by 2020, held in Nairobi, Kenya, 12-13 Mar 2012 (photo credit: ILRI/Susan MacMillan).

2012 ILRI-World Bank Livestock Agenda to 2020: Card 3

World Bank's Stephane Forman and François Le Gall

Stephane Forman (left) and François Le Gall, both livestock experts at the World Bank (photo credit: ILRI/Susan MacMillan).

2012 ILRI-World Bank Livestock Agenda to 2020: Card 4

ILRI animal health scientist Jeff Mariner

ILRI animal health scientist Jeff Mariner led discussions of one of several working groups at the consultation (photo credit: ILRI/Susan MacMillan).

2012 ILRI-World Bank Livestock Agenda to 2020: Card 7

Carlos Seré (IFAD) and Baba Soumare (AU-IBAR)

IFAD’s Carlos Seré (left) and Baba Soumare (centre), chief animal health officer at AU-IBAR (photo credit: ILRI/Susan MacMillan).

2012 ILRI-World Bank Livestock Agenda to 2020: Card 8

Walter Masiga and Bernard Vallet (OIE)

Walter Masiga and Bernard Vallet of the World Animal Health Organisation (OIE) (photo credit: ILRI/Susan MacMillan).

2012 ILRI-World Bank Livestock Agenda to 2020: Card 9

Kristin Girvetz, Gates Foundation

Kristin Girvetz, program officer at the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation (photo credit: ILRI/Susan MacMillan).

2012 ILRI-World Bank Livestock Agenda to 2020: Card 13

In total, 14 leaders in global livestock issues took part in this week’s Nairobi consultation:

ASEAN (Association of Southeast Asian Nations)
Soloman Benigno, project manager and animal health expert

AU-IBAR (African Union-Interafrican Bureau for Animal Resources)
Ahmed El-Sawalhy, director
Bruce Mukanda, senior program and projects officer
Baba Soumare, chief animal health officer

BMGF (Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation)
Kristin Girvetz (formerly Grote), program officer

EU (European Union) Delegation to Kenya
Bernard Rey, head of operations

FAO (Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations)
Henning Steinfeld, chief of livestock information and policy

IFAD (International Fund for Agricultural Development)
Carlos Sere, chief development strategist

ILRI (International Livestock Research Institute)
Jimmy Smith, director general (co-host)

OIE (World Organisation for Animal Health)
Bernard Vallat, director general
Walter Masiga, sub-regional representative for Eastern Africa and the Horn of Africa

UN (United Nations)
David Nabarro, special representative of the UN secretary general for food security and nutrition (via filmed presentation)

World Bank
Francois Le Gall, livestock advisor at the World Bank (co-host)
Stephane Forman, livestock specialist for Africa

Read more about this consultation on this ILRI News Blog: Developing an enabling global livestock agenda for our lives, health and lands, 13 Mar 2012.

View pictures of the event on ILRI Flickr.


Developing an enabling global livestock agenda for our lives, health and lands

Jimmy Smith and Francois Le Gall (WB)

ILRI’s Jimmy Smith (left) and the World Bank’s Francois Le Gall are co-hosting a high-level consultation for a global livestock agenda to 2020 at ILRI’s Nairobi campus this week.

Can our global livestock systems meet a triple bottom line—protecting health, the environment and equity? Can 14 high-level leaders and thinkers outline and agree on a strategy that can help the world fulfill on that ambitious livestock agenda to 2020? Can all this be done in one and a half days?

Three weeks after Bill Gates announced at a meeting of the International Fund for Agricultural Development (IFAD) in Rome new grants of USD200 million from the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation (BMGF) to support the world’s smallholder farmers—a meeting in which Gates called on the big United Nations food-related agencies to work together to create a global productivity target for those small farmers—those agencies are meeting this week in Nairobi to hammer out the outlines of a consensus regarding strategies for a global livestock agenda to 2020.

This High-Level Consultation for a Global Livestock Agenda to 2020 is being co-hosted by:
Francois Le Gall, livestock advisor at the World Bank, and
Jimmy Smith, director general of the International Livestock Research Institute (ILRI).

The dozen other heads of institutions and departments among the world’s leading bodies for food security that are taking part are:

ASEAN (Association of Southeast Asian Nations)
Soloman Benigno, project manager and animal health expert

AU-IBAR (African Union-Interafrican Bureau for Animal Resources)
Ahmed El-Sawalhy, director
Bruce Mukanda, senior program and projects officer
Baba Soumare, chief animal health officer

Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation (BMGF)
Kristin Girvetz (formerly Grote), program officer

European Union (EU) Delegation to Kenya
Bernard Rey, head of operations

Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) of the United Nations
Henning Steinfeld, chief of livestock information and policy

International Fund for Agricultural Development (IFAD)
Carlos Sere, chief development strategist

United Nations (UN)
David Nabarro, special representative of the UN secretary general for food security and nutrition (via filmed presentation)

World Bank
Stephane Forman, livestock specialist for Africa

World Organisation for Animal Health (OIE)
Bernard Vallat, director general
Walter Masiga, sub-regional representative for Eastern Africa and the Horn of Africa

Among the ideas rising to the surface for these leaders of global livestock departments and institutions are the need to shift focus from livestock per se to livestock-based lives and lands. The discussions are centering initially on three pillars of livestock development: health, environment and equity.

David Nabarro, the UN special representative for food security and nutrition, in a filmed presentation for this high-level consultation, said:

There is a movement for the transformation of food systems throughout the world. Livestock is an essential part of this equation. ILRI and the World Bank are key actors in seeing that science is applied for effective action for improved livestock systems. This meeting is important and happening when it should.

ILRI director general Jimmy Smith then gave an overview of the trends, opportunities and challenges of livestock development.

Feeding the world is possible, Smith concluded, as is sustaining our natural resource base and reducing absolute poverty.

Our challenges in achieving these, the livestock director said, include ‘improving our methodologies to develop more reliable assessments of the hard trade-offs involved in choosing ways forward for livestock development, managing those trade-offs at multiple scales, and ensuring institutional innovations, which will be as important as technological innovations—and perhaps harder to achieve’.
Watch and listen to Smith’s presentation.

Among the trends Smith highlighted are:

  • Demand for livestock products continues to rise
  • Livestock systems will continue to produce much of the world’s food
  • There remains a vast divide between developed and developing regions in kinds of livestock systems and their costs and benefits, but those different worlds are increasingly interconnected

Smith stressed the need for more reliable evidence-based assessments of the hard trade-offs implicit in our choices for the livestock sector, which will differ greatly in different regions and circumstances, especially in light of the fact that livestock impact so many important global development issues (e.g., human health, environmental protection, global food security)

An example of how critical livestock issues are for human well-being that Smith pointed out is the interface between livestock and human health.

Animal source foods are the biggest contributor to food-borne disease, Smith said. Diseases transmitted from livestock and livestock products kill more people each year than HIV or malaria. Indeed, one new human disease emerges every 2 months; and 20 percent of these are transmitted from livestock.

This consultation on a global livestock agenda comes at an appropriate time for Jimmy Smith, who started his tenure as director general of ILRI only late last year and who has instituted a task force, headed by ILRI’s director for institutional planning Shirley Tarawali, to refresh ILRI’s long-term strategy for livestock research for development. As several of the other institutions represented at this meeting are also in the thick of rethinking their strategies, this 1.5-day intense consultation is able to harvest the fruits of much recent hard thinking that has already been done in these global and regional institutions.

Turning defeat into new destiny–Going beyond food aid in the Horn of Africa

NP Kenya 211011_29

A massive die-off of livestock across the great pastoral drylands of the Horn of Africa in 2011 threatened the livelihoods of more than 13 million people, most of them in Somalia, Ethiopia and Kenya, and killed tens of thousands of the most famished and vulnerable people. This—what is believed to have been the worst drought in the region in six decades—combined with civil strife in Somalia has generated nearly 100,000 refugees and sent untold numbers of people into absolute—and, for many, everlasting—poverty (photo of cow carcass in northern Kenya, credit: Neil Palmer/CIAT).

With the news cycle generated by the United Nations Conference of the Parties (CoP 17) climate change conference in Durban in Dec 2011 now over and the rains having arrived in central and southern Somalia, easing both the drought and the famine there, it appears to be an appropriate time to revisit the underlying causes of the hunger and famine that swept across these lands in the second half of 2011. This was the first famine to be declared in the Horn by the United Nations in nearly 30 years. In a 34-page policy paper published recently (18 Jan 2012), Oxfam and Save the Children estimate that between 50,000 and 100,000 people died between April and August 2011, more than half of them children under five.

The following opinion piece by Jimmy Smith, director general of the International Livestock Research Institute (ILRI), explores what it will take to prevent such a tragedy from happening again in this region.

Opinion piece by ILRI’s Jimmy Smith
The ongoing famine in southern Somalia, and the hunger elsewhere in the Horn of Africa, is a catastrophe that has been hard to look at and hard, for most of us in our wired and networked 21st century, even to absorb.

But face it we must. None of us hearing the horror stories of tens of thousands of refugees fleeing villages broken by several years of crippling drought, which turned lands and livestock alike to dust, and then, with the arrival of seasonal rains, to mud, can fail to be aware of our own part in this still-unfolding tragedy. For we together have failed to provide the livestock herders and crop farmers who inhabit these marginal lands with even the minimal resources they need to keep their environments productive.

In the opinion of some, our alternating neglect and wholesaling of East Africa’s vast and once productive dryland ecosystems has helped turn them into fragmented wastelands, dotted with refugee camps.

We may tell ourselves that there is little we can do about political strife in countries such as Somalia, but we cannot say the same thing about our perennial under-investment in small-scale rain-fed food production, an activity that remains the over-riding business of virtually every person living in the Horn today. Rich and poor nations alike have systematically failed to deliver this support, support that is usually promised in our meetings, support that is needed to build and sustain Africa’s own food production capacities.

What Africa’s rural farming and herding communities have needed, above all else, is increased agricultural research and development, with concomitant investments in rural roads, power, irrigation, clinics and schools. By failing to maintain sufficient levels of scientific as well as financial resources, we have failed to help local communities take up and adapt more sustainable and profitable herding and cropping practices.

The desiccation that devastated the Horn’s dry rangelands last year has parallels with that which occurred in the semi-arid grasslands of North America’s heartland some 70 years ago, creating a vast Dust Bowl across 19 states. The immense dust storms that blew the topsoil off the Great Plains throughout the 1930s made millions of acres of land useless and forced hundreds of thousands of people to leave their homes for other regions. Some people died of malnourishment, hundreds of thousands of people entered years of penury and joblessness, and by 1940 a total of some 2.5 million people had been dislocated and forced to migrate, like nearly 100,000 mostly Somali people in the Horn today.

In the wake of the American disaster, and in spite of a Great Depression then crippling the country—a financial crisis even deeper than that we’re facing today—a critical mass of agricultural expertise and ideas was brought to bear on those issues underlying the crisis. That mattered because the Dust Bowl was caused primarily not by several years of drought but rather by several decades of unsustainable farming, by a ‘carelessness of plenty’, with American entrepreneurs encouraged, by the availability of big farm machinery and easy credit as well as a period of unusually wet seasons, to plough the prairie sod to excess, as well as to overgraze it, which destroyed the prairie grasses and laid the land bare.

Americans set about transforming this by investing heavily in better farming. The federal government, for example, began an aggressive campaign to teach farmers soil conservation methods, and actually paid farmers to practice these methods. It set up a Drought Relief Service that bought cattle in emergency areas at better-than-market prices and then used the cattle for food distributed to hungry people nationwide. And it advised families remaining in the prairie states to shift from crop and wheat production to livestock and hay production, a more appropriate use of degraded lands.

Finally, and critically, America’s network of land-grant universities was mobilized not only to help feed people in the emergency but also to find lasting solutions for rebuilding the productivity and resilience of the nation’s prairies. The idea was to bring the scientific knowledge of land-grant colleges to American farmers. The idea worked.

Today, international, regional and national research and development groups, working together in well-coordinated ways and tied to local conditions and priorities, have an opportunity to make a similar difference in the Horn, helping its homeless and hungry people to reclaim their lands and livelihoods. It is, therefore, gratifying to see the donor community and governments mobilizing financial and technical resources to respond to the lessons just learnt in the Horn.

We’ve seen that unsustainable prairie cropping in North America and unsupported livestock-based agricultural production systems in the Horn, when combined with lengthy and severe drought cycles, are toxic mixes. But if America’s earlier tragedy teaches us anything, it’s that we can turn defeat into new destiny by applying the best of science—smart, innovative and conservation-minded agricultural research—and promoting those agricultural practices that will make the biggest and most enduring difference to poor people and their environments.

Americans said ‘never again’ about the Dust Bowl—and they made good on their promise. We can, and should, say the same thing about hunger and starvation in the Horn of Africa.

(1) The Guardian‘s Global Development Blog started the new year with a chat discussion on the food crisis in the Horn of Africa, where famine was officially declared on 20 Jul 2011.

As the Guardian‘s Jaz Cummins reports, on 13 Dec 2011, the UN made an appeal for USD1.5 billion to support projects in Somalia in 2012—a figure 50% higher than in 2011.

The Guardian this January recommends the following background reading it published last year:
Madeleine Bunting blogs on the role conflict and natural disasters have played in Somalia, 11 Sep 2011
Conflict with Kenya, 18 Nov 2011
The World Bank’s Vinod Thomas on how the Horn of Africa can be better prepared for recurrent drought, 11 Aug 2011
Pascal Lamy, director general of the World Trade Organisation, on the key ingredients to tackle food crisis, 21 Nov 2011
Liz Ford on the long-term strategy Africa’s latest food crisis needs, 4 Jul 2011

(2) Is A Food Crisis Brewing in the Sahel?
A meeting to be held on 25 Jan 2012 in Washington, DC, will assess whether a similar food crisis is brewing in the Sahel—and the best ways of ensuring that resources to deal with it are not squandered in ‘band-aid treatments’ but rather used to build resiliency in the region. The meeting is being organized by The Partnership to Cut Hunger and Poverty in Africa and the Woodrow Wilson International Center for Scholars Africa Program, in collaboration with the United States Agency for International Development (USAID) and the Famine Early Warning System Network (FEWS NET).

While African nations and the donor community struggle to mitigate famine in the Horn of Africa, fears are growing that drought in the Sahel will trigger a similar food crisis in West Africa by the spring of 2012. However, experts have cautioned against misdiagnosing the food situation in the Sahel, for fear that excessive band-aid treatments of emergency food assistance will squander energy and scarce resources that would be better utilized in treating pockets of severe food insecurity and building resiliency in the region. With input from US and African experts on the Sahel, this event will explore the true nature of the emerging crisis in the Sahel and seek to identify effective responses, including regional trade and resilience-building through agricultural development.

(3) PAEPARD (Platform for Africa-European Partnership in Agricultural Research for Development) Seminar: Preventing a New Famine in the Horn of Africa: The role of the EU in building resilience
Ann Waters-Bayer, a pastoral expert and senior advisor at ETC EcoCulture, was a panel member at a seminar put on for European Development Days 2011, 15–16 Dec 2011, in Warsaw. The panelists, comprising practitioners and policymakers, discussed how to prevent another crisis of this scale and the role that the EU can play in reaching long-lasting sustainable solutions.

Speaking on the panel, Waters-Bayer reminded her audience that pastoral modes of production are often the most appropriate uses of these and other of the world’s great drylands.

‘We’re ten years late in trying to support development which is appropriate to the Horn of Africa and other dryland ares. I think a lot of people in Europe don’t realize what are the most appropriate food production systems in the very dry and variable areas. Often the kinds of development support provided in these drylands are those more appropriate to Europe or better-watered areas.

‘I found it striking that in the film we’ve seen on how to prevent famine from happening again in the Horn of Africa, pastoralism was not mentioned. Pastoralism is the production system practiced in the largest part of the Horn of Africa. Pastoralism is the production system most appropriate for this type of environment. Pastoralism takes advantage of what crop farmers would regard as a constraint, a challenge, a problem—this variation in availability of vegetation, caused by the variability of rain, of water. Pastoralists take advantage of this variability by moving with their animal herds.

One of the big problems in this dryland region has been that a lot of the development and a lot of the policies for this region, especially policies dealing with use of communal resources and acquisition of so-called ‘unused land’, are policies confining pastoralists and making it impossible for this very appropriate production system to continue to operate.

‘Land grabbing has really become a big issue in the Horn of Africa and other parts of Africa. Land grabbing, or land acquisition, supposedly for more productive uses of the land, is going on without people realizing what production systems are actually using that land and how productive those systems are.

If there had been more research done on alternative ways of using land and real feasibility studies conducted on what can actually be done with this land, they would realize that the existing production systems, especially the very very flexible and resilient pastoralist system, is often the best way to use these very dry areas.’

Herders in drought-stricken northern Kenya get first livestock insurance payments

Education on livestock insurance

Pastoralists from Marsabit, in Kenya’s remote northern drylands, play a game crafted by ILRI scientists to simulate livestock losses that could occur due to drought, in which the local herding communities are educated about how index-based livestock insurance works (image credit: ILRI).

As livestock deaths mount, a small group of herders in Kenya’s Marsabit District is first to benefit from program that tracks forage conditions via satellite.

In the midst of a drought-induced food crisis affecting millions in the Horn of Africa, an innovative insurance program for poor livestock keepers is making its first payouts today, providing compensation for some 650 insured herders in northern Kenya’s vast Marsabit District who have lost up to a third of their animals.

Known as index-based livestock insurance, or IBLI, payouts are triggered when satellite images show that grazing lands in the region have deteriorated to the point that herders are expected to be losing more than 15% of their herd. The current readings for which indemnities are now being paid show that between 18 and 33% of livestock have been lost to drought this season.

‘It’s terrible that we are seeing this level of loss, but gratifying that the policies are doing what they are supposed to do, which is to help herders avert disaster when weather conditions dry up pasture lands and animals begin to perish,’ said Isaac Magina, head of agriculture insurance at UAP Insurance Ltd.

‘When you look at a 33% loss, that is a significant portion of the asset base of any business and it would be difficult to survive without insurance,’ added Magina.

The insurance project was developed in partnership by the Nairobi-based International Livestock Research Institute (ILRI), Cornell University and the Index Insurance Innovation Initiative program at the University of California at Davis. Commercial partners Equity Bank and UAP Insurance Ltd implement the program. The IBLI project is funded by the United States Agency for International Development, the European Union, the British Government, the World Bank, the Microinsurance Facility and the Global Index Insurance Facility.

The Marsabit District alone is home to some 86 thousand cattle and 2 million goats and sheep that generate millions of dollars in milk and other products and serve as the main source of sustenance and income. ILRI estimates that up to one-third of all livestock in the region have perished during the current drought.

In East Africa, an estimated 70 million people live in the drylands, and many of them are herders. In Kenya, the value of the pastoral livestock sector is estimated to be worth USD800 million. And the Intergovernmental Authority on Development in Eastern Africa, which takes a regional approach to combating drought in six countries of the Horn, estimates that over 90% of the meat consumed in East Africa comes from pastoral herds.

Under the terms of the policy, insured herders are compensated for any losses above 15%, with the 15% threshold acting as a sort of deductible. For example, a cattle herder who lives in an area with a livestock mortality rate of 33% receives a payout covering 18% of his or her animals. With cattle valued at about 15,000 Kenyan shillings (Ksh) per head (about USD150), an insurance policy covering 10 animals, or Kshs150,000 in cattle, would pay out at about Kshs27,000 (about USD270).

When the 15% deductible is factored in, compensation ranges from 3% in areas where the drought has been more moderate to 18% in the areas where herders were hit particularly hard. But in an indication of the severity of the drought, all of the areas where the policies were sold have exceeded the 15%mortality threshold that triggers a payout. Thus far, the policies cover about 1,100 animals—mostly cattle, but some goats and sheep and a few camels as well.

The payments are being dispatched in the middle of a humanitarian crisis endangering 12 million people in the Horn that is prompting a call for new ways to manage food security risks in East Africa’s arid drylands. For example, a recent report from ILRI has found that the pastoral approach to livestock production, in which herders make do with marginal lands by regularly moving their herds, could be very effective at averting weather-related food shortages. ILRI experts say that in arid and semi-arid regions, keeping livestock can be a more effective coping strategy than cultivating crops—if herders have options for reducing their vulnerability to drought.

‘Drought insurance is one important way to help livestock keepers maintain food security even in very harsh environments,’ said Andrew Mude, the IBLI project leader at ILRI. ‘Insurance is not by itself sufficient,’ he added, ‘But if it is accompanied by other risk-reducing strategies, such as better access to grazing lands and watering areas, then the pastoralist approach, which some people dismiss as a backward lifestyle of the past, emerges as a very effective way to meet future food needs.’

Mude said that it is too early to tell just how the payouts from the policies will affect food security and other welfare indicators. For example, it’s not yet clear how many herders will use the compensation to replace animals lost to the drought. But Mude said one major success thus far is that the livestock mortality index that is at the heart of the program appears to be working. The fatality rate predicted by the satellite assessments of forage loss is tracking very closely surveys of animal deaths on the ground.

That’s crucial because using freely available satellite images of pasture lands to accurately predict animal deaths overcomes a major barrier that has bedeviled past efforts to provide livestock insurance in poor regions: the prohibitively high costs and logistics of confirming animal deaths in herds that roam across vast distances in extremely remote areas.

‘This is all still a work in progress,’ said Jimmy Smith, director general of ILRI. ‘But the fact that our relatively inexpensive approach to estimating livestock deaths seems to be accurate could open the door to making livestock insurance widely available in many parts of Africa.’

Going forward, experts believe a key issue will be whether livestock insurance in East Africa would be commercially viable by itself or whether its ability to protect herders from the impact of prolonged drought might justify some level of financial support from governments or donors, as agricultural insurance programs in Western countries often do.

‘This is asset insurance for animals that are the centerpiece of livelihoods, providing a stream of income and nutrition for years and years,’ said Mude. ‘The investment in insurance=based asset safety nets protecting these herds could have a more cost-effective welfare impact over the longer term than other forms of response such a food and cash assistance.’

‘This insurance scheme is a great example of how partnerships with the private sector can lift people out of poverty and provide long-term solutions to food crises,’ said Andrew Mitchell, the British international development secretary.

‘To many farmers, losing their cattle means losing everything, as they are not just a source of income but are their only source of food. Support from Britain and others means that more than 600 herders in Northern Kenya can buy more cattle to replace those they have lost. This means they are better able to cope with this and future devastating droughts.’

Best ways to manage responses to recurring drought in Kenya’s drylands

cattle carcass_Kitengela_NNP_border_1

The carcass of a cow that died of starvation in the Kitengela rangelands, near Nairobi National Park, in the great drought of 2009 (photo on Flickr by Jeff Haskins).

Those working to mitigate the impacts of the current drought in the Horn of Africa and to help prevent severe hunger and starvation from occurring here in future will profit from a close reading of a 2010 report by the International Livestock Research Institute (ILRI). This report—An Assessment of the Response to the 2008–2009 Drought in Kenya: A Report commissioned by the European Delegation to the Republic of Kenya—reviews the effectiveness of livestock-based drought response interventions during Kenya’s devastating 2008–2009 drought and suggests ways to improve the current drought management system and to incorporate climate change adaptation strategies into the country’s drought management policies.

Major findings of the report

The overriding importance of mobility
Without a single exception, all pastoralist groups interviewed consider mobility and access to natural resources as the most potent mechanism for coping with drought. Ironically, this is also the activity that is increasingly the most impeded. Interventions that facilitate and/or maintain critical migratory movement and/or allow access to unused grazing areas will continue to serve as the most powerful way to mitigate livestock losses during a drought. Often the funds required to achieve this are minimal compared to other interventions and as such it is also the most cost-effective intervention. Interventions targeting the removal of restrictions to mobility and access should be considered as prime activities during preparedness.

The importance of functioning livestock markets
Participants of a one-day workshop on commercial destocking in Marsabit District said that a successful commercial de-stocking intervention is next to impossible if the district does not already have a functioning, fully fledged, dynamic livestock trade as an ongoing activity during ‘normal’ times. ‘Emergency’ commercial de-stocking, they said, should in that case not be necessary because the commercial sector, if functioning, should be capable to up-scale its activity if and when there appeared a drought-related market surplus of stock.

Drought responses are falling behind
Although the drought responses presented here appear to be more effective and timely than responses to earlier droughts, these recent responses are not keeping up with an ongoing decline in many pastoral households in livestock assets and coping capacities. Furthermore, poor governance, lack of political will and mismanagement of funds plague efforts to move from relief responses to longer term development interventions. And conflicts over land, closely linked to a rapid population growth in Kenya, remain largely unresolved, with indications that these conflicts are only increasing and severely restricting pastoral mobility.

Lack of involvement of local communities
Local communities were not involved in the design and implementation of most interventions to help them cope with the drought. The single community to be consulted was in Laikipia, and that consultation was restricted to just one topic: livestock off-take. A Kajiado Naserian community that wanted support with finding alternative livelihoods so that it could stop relying on relief food actually found a goat distribution project that involved the community to be more successful than any relief interventions. Another community, in Isiolo’s Merti location, prefers a viable livestock market to any government-funded livestock off-take program and sees investments in pasture management as one way to solve the feed problems during drought.

Lessons learned
The good news
Increased semi-permanent presence of key non-governmental organizations in critical areas that are able to encompass a realistic drought management cycle approach has substantially improved information and speed of response. This, in combination with improved collaboration between agencies, together with improved coordination has at face value improved both the quality and timeliness of responses to droughts. The continued implementation of a basket of suitable preparedness activities remains the most cost-effective approach to reduce the impact of shocks. Activities such as those implemented by a regional ‘Drought Preparedness’ program of the European Commission’s Humanitarian Aid department (ECHO) and a project on ‘Enhanced Livelihoods in the Mandera Triangle’ funded by the United States Agency for International Development (USAID) are beginning to show a marked impact.

The bad news
But this good news is largely negated by other factors, such as reduced line ministry capacity, administrative/institutional changes such as the relentless creation of new districts, and conflicts. In some arid districts and in overall humanitarian terms, drought emergencies are no longer caused solely by prolonged periods of rainfall deficit; rather, such emergencies are increasingly provoked by many factors acting in concert, with the most important contributing factor being reduced access to high-potential grazing lands. This situation is itself caused, and heavily exacerbated, by a relentlessly increasing demographic pressure that is creating whole populations with scarce access to any animal resources at all. These dryland communities are left highly vulnerable to shocks.

Other major findings

The problems underlying dryland livestock-based livelihoods cannot be solved by relief interventions alone; their solutions require long-term research and development strategies and programs that build on and strengthen rather than undermine local institution, livelihood strategies and coping strategies.

Population growth and the continued and unplanned creation of settlements without access to permanent water continue to put a huge burden on humanitarian sources during a drought.

Communities found corruption and mismanagement to be bigger problems than ineffective interventions.

A Livestock Emergency Guidelines and Standards (LEGS, 2009) handbook, summarizing livestock-specific interventions, is an excellent toolkit supporting relief practitioners, but much remains to be improved regarding the appropriate timing of such interventions.

The lack of a coordinated approach in, and access to, reliable livestock statistics, both numerical and distribution wise, remains a huge constraint in the overall management of Kenya’s arid and semi-arid lands.

To prevent delays in the release of emergency funds, drought contingency plans should be regularly updated and contain agreed-upon quantitative triggers for the release of funds to implement interventions and creation of a sufficiently endowed national drought contingency fund deserves the highest priority.

About the report
In late 2009, at the conclusion of Kenya’s 2008–2009 drought, the European Union delegation funded this review of responses to the drought to help Kenya improve its drought management system by recommending more appropriate, effective and timely livestock-based interventions. The report begins by characterizing the severity of the two-year drought and assessing how well its impacts were forecasted. It then reviews 474 livestock-based interventions carried out during the 2008–2009 drought in six arid and semi-arid districts in Kenya. It recommends which livestock-related interventions to implement during drought (including specific advice on commercial destocking) and provides a checklist of advised livestock-based interventions for different scenarios. It offers guidelines for effective monitoring and evaluation. And it identifies where the drought response intervention cycle is hampered by policy constraints and how these might be addressed.

About drought in Kenya
Drought is the prime recurrent natural disaster in Kenya. It affects 10 million, mostly livestock-dependent, people in the country’s arid and semi-arid lands; remarkably, these non-arable lands cover more than 80 per cent of the country’s land mass. While reducing the country’s economic performance, recurring droughts particularly erode the assets of the poor, who herd cattle, camels, sheep, goats over the more marginal drylands. This regular erosion of animal assets is undermining the livelihoods of Kenya’s pastoral herding communities, provoking many households into a downward spiral of chronic hunger and severe poverty.

About Kenya’s drought management system
Since 1996, the Office of the President in Kenya, supported by the World Bank, has been implementing an Arid Lands Resource Management Project (ALRMP) in the country’s drought-prone and marginalized communities. The ALRMP, further supported by the European Union, funded a Drought Management Initiative and consolidated a national drought management system with structures at the national (Kenya Food Security Meeting, Kenya Food Security Steering Group), district (District Steering Group) and community levels. This drought management system includes policies and strategies, an early warning system, a funded contingency plan and an overall drought coordination and response structure. The main stakeholders involved, in addition to the Government of Kenya and its line ministries, are various development partners and non-governmental organizations. The most far-reaching changes to Kenya’s drought management system since its inception are now under way and include major institutional changes through the creation of a Drought Management Authority and a National Drought Contingency Fund.

About the drought of 2008–2009
The results of this study confirm that the 2008–2009 drought was extreme not only in meteorological and rangeland production terms, but also in terms of its devastating impacts on livestock resources. It is estimated that some 57 per cent of cattle and 65 per cent of sheep, for example, perished in Samburu Central District in 2009; in Laikipia North District, it is reported that 64 per cent of the cattle and 62 per cent of the sheep died over the 2008–2009 period. (Note that these estimates, being mostly subjective, give more of an impression than a reliable estimate of the impacts of the drought on Kenya’s livestock populations.)

What’s in this report?
Chapter 3 provides a general characterization of Kenya’s 2008/2009 drought. Chapter 4, assesses the drought responses in six arid and semi-arid districts of Kenya (Kajiado, Isiolo, Samburu, Laikipia, Turkana and Marsabit), incorporating feedback from a variety of stakeholders at district and national levels. Chapter 5 provides a checklist for drought-response scenarios; Chapter 6, guidelines for monitoring and evaluating responses to drought; and Chapter 7, a plan for commercial destocking in one of these districts. Chapter 8 summarizes climate change forecasts for Kenya and assesses the need for incorporating climate change adaptation policies into the country’s drought management strategies. Chapter 9 discusses the implications of the findings and makes recommendations. Chapter 10 distils lessons learned. This report is similar to an evaluation of responses to the 2000/2001 drought in Kenya (by Y Aklilu and M Wekesa) and reviews to what extent their recommendations were effectively implemented.

The report’s findings in a nutshell
The number of livestock interventions made increased dramatically between the 2000/2001 and 2008/2009 droughts. The total expenditure was also greater in 2008/2009 (USD4.6 million for 6 districts) than in 2000/20001 (USD4 million in 10 districts). ALRMP and the Kenya Government were the main funders of the efforts. Unfortunately, most livestock-related interventions began very late, in early to mid 2009, well past the optimal timing closer to the onset of the drought, in mid-2008. The ALRMP interventions started earliest, reportedly because it was the only organization with funds readily available through its Drought Contingency mode, when the drought became apparent to all. A total of more than 1.5 million people benefited directly from the interventions made in 2008/2009. The cost per individual reached was Kshs3,362, ranging from Kshs163 for water trucking to Kshs8,652 for emergency destocking. An estimated 15,873 tropical livestock units were purchased as part of emergency off-take. Over 5.7 million animals were reached by health interventions between July 2008 and December 2009. Over 1.5 million people were reached by interventions, 413,802 with traditional livestock interventions (destocking, animal health and feeds).

Practical lessons learned

Lesson 1
The most effective interventions were those that facilitated access to under-utilized grazing and watering resources. Those districts in Kenya with little new access to these natural resources are the most vulnerable.

Lesson 2
So-called ‘commercial de-stocking’ remains the least cost-effective drought intervention in Kenya. Long distances to markets, poor timing of interventions and lack of economies of scale all play important roles in making this kind of de-stocking unviable. But more than anything else, lack of an existing dynamic marketing system virtually precludes a commercial de-stocking operation from being cost-effective.

Lesson 3
‘Livestock-fodder-aid’ comes a close second in terms of poor cost-effectiveness. Shipping substantial quantities of bulky commodities such as hay to remote locations is extremely costly and moreover has had little if any measurable impact.

Lesson 4
Slaughter off-take, preferably carried out on the spot, with the meat distributed rapidly to needy families, is a popular intervention with beneficiaries and can provide substantial benefits. Those that sell a live animal often benefit also from the distribution of its meat. And the availability of this high-protein food can benefit household nutrition while allowing the selling households to maintain a little purchasing power a little longer.

More specific findings

The number of livestock-related interventions and the funding associated with these both increased considerably over the interventions carried out during the last drought in Kenya, in 2000/2001.

Once established, risk management systems tend to become static, but effective risk-management systems need to be adaptive and to build in mechanisms for people to ‘learn’.

Few interventions were made by mid-2008, when the drought was already apparent. Early interventions are preferable as they are more effective. Yet 63 per cent of all interventions, and all destocking programs, were conducted after June 2009, when the drought was at its peak.

Centrally managed interventions from Nairobi, such as the provision of fodder and the Ministry of Livestock Development-funded market off-take through the Kenya Meat Commission, had little impact and would have been many times more effective if funds had been made available through Drought Management Structures. (Considerable harm was done when publicized sales of stock never materialized, with large numbers of the animals herded to specified collection points suffering horribly and dying for lack of water and fodder.)

Unmanaged resource-related conflicts among ethnic groups were reported to be a major constraint to an equitable use of the diminishing natural resource base.

Bringing in water with tankers, maintaining and developing boreholes and destocking by slaughter in the affected areas were generally considered to be the most effective interventions. Most ‘other water’ and animal feeding interventions were considered ineffective.

Being more effective is not simply a question of spending more money; significant gains can be made by improving the way current resources are spent. (Across all types of interventions, no significant relationship was found between the effectiveness of a given intervention and its cost per individual reached.)

The problems of many unsuccessful interventions, such as animal feed and health, were due largely to inefficiency of implementation and/or poor timing.

A third more animals were moved in 2008/2009 than in 2000/2001. As disease killed many of the animals that migrated, animal health interventions should be included in future migration strategies.

Hay provisioning, which when well done might be an appropriate intervention, was generally too late and too little to have any significant impact on supporting animal herds through the drought.

Apart from Turkana and Samburu districts, no information on livestock marketing was disseminated or off-take exercises publicized, resulting in late off-takes and a greater expenditure of resources for off-take during the emergency stage than during the alert/alarm stage.

Bulletins put out by EWS (Early Warning Systems) provide overly generalized information, with no specific livestock focus, making the information inappropriate for livestock interventions. The information also often appears late, is too generic for district-specific interventions, and defines no thresholds for the release of contingency funds.

A lack of publicly available near-real-time and historic rainfall data hampered the real time analysis of rainfall anomalies. From a timeliness perspective, rainfall data is the most appropriate source of information for early warning, as it allows the longest response time to scale up relief operations. A number of organizational issues in the hands of government could improve this situation.

Analysis of monthly vegetation greenness anomalies does not appropriately reveal rangeland drought conditions relevant for livestock, as livestock manages to cope with shorter periods of reduced forage availability. A twelve-month running average of NDVI (normalized difference vegetation index) detected historic droughts much more precisely, indicating the usefulness of running average techniques for rangeland early warning purposes.

Satellite imagery allows near real time to screen opportunities for migration and identify for remedial conflict resolution in areas of high insecurity.

The reporting on livestock body condition, milk production and productivity proved to be inconsistent across districts, frequently incomplete and with units of measurement unspecified, indicating the need to harmonize the collection of livestock statistics.

Read ILRI’s whole report: An assessment of the response to the 2008–2009 drought in Kenya: A report to the European Union Delegation to the Republic of Kenya, 2010, by Lammert Zwaagstra, Zahra Sharif, Ayago Wambile, Jan de Leeuw, Mohamed Said, Nancy Johnson, Jemimah Njuki, Polly Ericksen and Mario Herrero.

* * *

Read an earlier ILRI News blog on this report: Livestock-based research recommendations for better managing drought in Kenya, 18 Jul 2011.

Three other recent ILRI research reports, published since that above, also assess the effectiveness of past drought interventions in Kenya’s northern drylands and offer tools for better management of the region’s drought cycles.

(1) ILRI research charts ways to better livestock-related drought interventions in Kenya’s drylands. ILRI Policy Brief (this is a distillation of recommendations in the report above), Jul 2011, by Jan de Leeuw, Polly Ericksen, Jane Gitau, Lammert Zwaagstra and Susan MacMillan

(2) The impacts of the Arid Lands Resource Management Project (ALRMPII) on livelihoods and vulnerability in the arid and semi-arid lands of Kenya. ILRI Research Report 25, 2011, edited by Nancy Johnson and Ayago Wambile.

This study assesses the impacts of the Arid Lands Resource Management Project (ALRMPII), a community-based drought management initiative implemented in 28 arid and semi-arid districts in Kenya from 2003 to 2010 to improve the effectiveness of emergency drought response while at the same time reducing vulnerability, empowering local communities, and raising the profile of ASALs in national policies and institutions.

(3) Livestock drought management tool. Final report for a project submitted by ILRI to the FAO Sub-Regional Emergency and Rehabilitation Officer for East and Central Africa, 10 Dec 2010, by Polly Ericksen, Jan de Leeuw and Carlos Quiros.

In August 2010, the Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) sub-Regional Emergency Office for Eastern and Central Africa contracted ILRI to develop a prototype livestock drought management decision support tool for use by a range of emergency and relief planners and practitioners throughout the region. The tool, which is still conceptual rather than operational, links the concepts of ‘drought cycle management’ with best practice in livestock-related interventions throughout all phases of a drought, from normal through the alert and emergency stages to recovery. The tool uses data to indicate the severity of the drought (hazard) and the ability of livestock to survive the drought (sensitivity). The hazard data has currently been parameterized for Kenya, but can be used in any countries of East and Central Africa. The tool still lacks good-quality data for sensitivity and requires pilot testing in a few local areas before it can be rolled out.

African meat for global tables

Mozambique, Maputo

As new channels for African exports become increasingly available, economists and policy makers are focusing more attention on how best to match producers to buyers in Europe and elsewhere, including Africa itself. A recent paper explores the potential and pitfalls of exporting African livestock products.

‘What can Africa contribute to global meat demand?’ recently appeared in Outlook on Agriculture (Vol 38 No 3, pp. 223-233, September 2009). It is authored by Karl M Rich, who works with both the International Livestock Research Institute (ILRI) and the American University in Cairo, and will move to the Norwegian Institute of International Affairs (NUPI) in Oslo, Norway, in February 2010.

Observing that global demand and prices for meat are currently at unprecedented highs, Rich cites International Food Policy Research Institute (IFPRI) data that project that annual per capita meat demand in Africa will double to 22 kg by 2050. This increase will necessitate corresponding rises in demand for cereals as well as livestock. Estimates from the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations (FAO) suggest similar increases in demand throughout the developing world.

These increases bring new opportunities for alternative sources of supply. At first glance, it would seem that Africa would have a distinct advantage in meeting the increasing demand within the continent. However, Africa’s ability to compete with Europe, Asia and the Americas has historically been constrained by low productivity, prevalence of animal diseases and the difficulty of meeting high global standards for health and safety. These constraints must be addressed before Africa can become a major player, and Rich’s paper examines the possibilities of bringing this happy situation about.

Rich begins with an overview of Africa’s role in the global meat trade, both imports and exports. His efforts in this regard are nothing less than heroic. The data from each of Africa’s fifty-odd countries are accumulated in enormously different ways, and the most recent data for some countries are several years old. Nonetheless, the figures are important, and to date no other author has made comparable efforts to get a handle on the situation. Rich does not express a great deal of optimism for the short or medium term. He estimates, for example, that at present Africa provides only about 1% of global meat exports for beef, pork and chicken.

A comparison of regional export shares is even more daunting. Table 1, which presents FAO data, indicates that the overwhelming majority of products come from southern Africa, notably South Africa, Botswana and Namibia, while goat and pig products are sourced predominantly from East Africa. Sheep products come mainly from North Africa (mainly Sudan). Meat exports from the rest of Africa, especially Central and Western Africa, are miniscule. Eight other tables and five figures in the paper provide detailed information of the variety and amount of meat imports and exports among African countries. In the case of exports, information is provided concerning the countries importing African meat products.

Among significant competitor nations are the emerging giant economies of the developing world, especially Brazil and India. These two countries account for a huge slice of the African market, constituting the main source of beef imports—both frozen and fresh—to seven of the largest African customer countries.

Rich points out that one important advantage that India, Brazil and other Latin American countries (Argentina, Paraguay, Uruguay) have over Africa is scale. According to the most recent data from FAO (2006), the total stock of cattle in Africa is about 232 million head. By contrast, Brazil alone has over 207 million head, while India has 180 million as well as nearly 100 million head of buffalo. The African countries with the largest stocks are Ethiopia and Sudan, but neither comes close to those of Brazil or India, and both have fewer head than Argentina.

While African exporters will not be able to compete with Brazil or India in the short to medium term, inroads to foreign markets have been made by some southern African countries to the European Union (EU). This trade is driven by preferential access to the EU brought about through the Cotonou Agreement which provides tariff reductions for African and other developing economies. But even with such international agreements in place, African countries have been unable to fill the quotas provided, largely because of the rigourous standards for compliance with EU sanitary regulations. To retain access to European markets, for example, Botswana and Namibia have had to set aside areas free from foot and mouth disease (FMD)—an expensive arrangement that precludes raising cattle by traditional African husbandry methods. Furthermore, without these preferences it is unlikely that southern African producers could compete with the likes of Brazil.

Rich concludes his paper with a section entitled The road ahead: where and how can Africa contribute to global meat demand?  Before discussing the most likely methods for improving Africa’s competiveness with other meat-exporting nations, however, he cautions that ultimately, significant improvements in productivity, breeding, infrastructure and marketing will be required over and above the options he identifies.

The author identifies five options.

  1. Commodity-based trade. Diseases such as FMD persist in developing countries, limiting market access from developing markets to lucrative ones in the developed world. Commodity-based approaches focus on attributes of a product such as quality and safety rather than the disease status of its place of origin. It is argued that deboned and properly matured beef, for example, poses virtually no threat of transmission of diseases such as FMD. While commodity-based approaches could pave the way for increased trade from Africa, a number of gaps remain. In particular, will African countries be the major winners? If not, what further constrains Africa’s market access? A recent report by Karl Rich and Brian Perry to the UK Department for International Development explores this option further.
  2. Certification programs and disease-free compartments. Africa can raise its profile in global markets by demonstrating compliance with SPS standards. A compartment is a network of micro-level disease-free areas linked to each other and maintained through high levels of monitoring. A good example of this option is discussed in the paper mentioned in the box item above, a USAID-funded program currently under way in Ethiopia.
  3. Branded niche products. This option focuses on the strengths that Africa can offer global buyers by building and encouraging trade associations and marketing organizations. The author cites several examples—Farmer’s Choice of Kenya, Farm Assured Namibian Meat, the Kalahari Kid Corporation, the Namibian Meat Board, the South African Meat Industry Company and the National Emergent Red Meat Producers Organisation. These associations promote local products, engage in branding and quality assurance and build the capacity of emerging farmers.
  4. Regional integration and trade. Rich points out that despite the existence of regional cooperation agreements, barriers between member countries continue to hamper trade. Reducing these barriers will be crucial if Africa is to develop and harness the scale necessary to compete in international markets and lower costs. Investments in marketing and promotion among regional partners will be required for countries to enter and sustain effective trading in high-value markets.
  5. Domestic markets. Both formal and informal channels for meat products have been developed within each African country over the past several years. Because domestic prices in fact frequently exceed international prices, finding ways to deliver local products at competitive prices is an option with good potential, though these products will increasingly compete with low-cost imports. Competing effectively on price will be crucial for African producers to be successful in such channels.

The abstract of the paper can be accessed online.
For additional information, contact Karl Rich at