Livestock goods and bads … have our views changed?

Livestock, the good the bad and the ugly” was the theme for the annual staff meeting of the International Livestock Research Institute in April of this year.

As an organization we have tended to focus on the positive aspects of livestock production in developing countries and this bias is evident in our strap-line: Better Lives through Livestock. At the same time the global media regularly present a very different view of livestock as “polluters of the planet”.

We felt it time to address this issue head on and consider both the negative and positive elements of livestock production and how these differ in the developed north and the developing south.

In the run-up to our meeting we conducted a quick survey to get participants thinking about the issues. At the meeting itself we engaged in an extended dialogue on livestock goods and bads using a range of formats. We repeated the survey after the meeting.

Survey results were reasonably consistent before and after the meeting although some of the opinions did change. For example the perception that in global terms livestock are a pathway out of poverty was significantly eroded following the meeting. There was also a tendency for increased awareness of zoonotic disease as a livestock bad. We also saw a reduction in those responding “don’t know” suggesting that our deliberations did increase understanding on livestock goods and bads.

Although the results were interesting, the survey was also a useful process for getting people thinking about livestock goods and bads and the high response rate (almost half of participants completed the first survey round) suggest that it was a useful exercise. See a summary of the survey results.




This post is part of a series associated with the ILRI Annual Program Meeting in Addis Ababa, April 2010. More postings …

Livestock goods and bads: Filmed highlights of ILRI’s 2010 Annual Program Meeting

At the 2010 Annual Program Meeting (APM) of the International Livestock Research Institute (ILRI), held in April in Addis Ababa, Ethiopia, several hundred participants debated and discussed the challenges facing the global livestock industry. ILRI and its partners are investigating ways to promote smallholder participation in livestock markets, more sustainable ways for livestock keepers to use natural resources, and ways to improve livestock pathways out of poverty.

Some of the presentations made during the meeting on the theme of 'Livestock: the Good, the Bad and the Gaps' were captured on film. We share three of those below.

The first film is a presentation by ILRI agricultural systems analyst Mario Herrero on the important place of livestock for smallholder farmers in developing economies. Herrero highlights the many benefits livestock bring to the rural poor and argues that the rapidly expanding sector will need to be better managed and to reduce the environmental risks it poses if it is to continue to be productive. Herrero argues for an integrated assessment of the effects of the global livestock industry on various agro-ecosystems important to the poor.

In the second film, ILRI veterinary and food safety researcher Delia Grace discusses the human health risks associated with livestock keeping. Grace notes that zoonotic diseases (those transmitted between animals and people) and emerging infectious diseases (such as bird flu) are two of the well-known risks associated with livestock. But she says that animals provide a means of regulating diseases because they can serve as sentinels that lets communities and public health officials know of disease outbreaks before the diseases can affect humans. She makes the case for more research to address the many common misconceptions that exist about livestock and human health.

In the third film, Narayan Hedge, of India's BAIF Development Research Foundation, highlights the important role livestock play in providing a livelihood for nearly 700 million people in India. He makes an appeal for better livestock technologies, better infrastructure, and more efficient management of the industry so that more smallholder farmers can use livestock to escape poverty.

One world, one health, one airspace

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Livestock research in a new ‘framework’ for agricultural development

The following are highlights of a presentation made by Carlos Seré to open the annual program meeting of the International Livestock Research Institute in Addis Ababa, Ethiopia, on 15 April 2010.

The reform process of the Consultative Group on International Agricultural Research (CGIAR) is moving full speed ahead. Yesterday, the board of trustees of the International Livestock Research Institute (ILRI) agreed that we join the new CGIAR Consortium.

How do we fold ILRI’s core competencies into the more integrative programs the new CGIAR is developing?

The food price crisis triggered a reconsideration of the importance of international agricultural research. We made a serious mistake in decreasing investments in this area over the last two decades, and it is clear that we are paying the price for that mistake now. There is now renewed interest in agriculture, with many different funds being set up to support it. At the recently concluded Global Consultation on Agricultural Research for Development, in Montpellier, France, there was public recognition that the research and development system has been operating in a fractured way.

Those of us doing international agricultural research have been doing our thing, the national agricultural research systems of developing countries have been doing their thing, and so on. And even if these research organizations had been working effectively together, they have not matched themselves to programs in complementary sectors—in roads and other kinds of infrastructure, in markets, in extension services. Our challenge now is to see how all these investments can be better aligned. Our effort in the CGIAR to establish a Consortium is one part of that overall requirement for much clearer and explicit alignment of the different parts of the development process.

Why should livestock be part of the new CGIAR?

We know that livestock research can explicitly address poverty. ILRI’s research paradigm makes use of a ‘systems perspective’. And, understanding that technical solutions are only part of what poor communities and countries need, ILRI researchers have developed an ‘innovations systems mindset’.

What does ILRI bring to the new CGIAR?

Some examples in the area of 7 global issues that ILRI research addresses.

  1. SUSTAINABLE INTENSIFICATION OF AGRICULTURAL SYSTEMS: more efficient and integrated mixed crop-and-livestock farming systems through development of improved dual-purpose food-feed crops and judicious use of available biomass.
  2. REDUCING PASTORAL VULNERABILITY: livestock vaccines, drought insurance for herders living in drylands, policies that encourage pastoral households to diversify their income sources.
  3. ADAPTATION AND MITIGATION STRATEGIES FOR CLIMATE CHANGE: livestock feeding regimens that increase milk yields while reducing the amounts of greenhouse gases produced; investigation of the levels of carbon sequestration in rangelands.
  4. ENHANCED FOOD SAFEY AND MARKET ACCESS: pro-poor regulations, policies and incentives, particularly for smallholder dairy systems in East Africa and South Asia.
  5. PREVENTION OR CONTROL OF EMERGING ZOONOTIC DISEASES: risk maps, better control of livestock disease outbreaks through participatory epidemiology.
  6. DEVELOPMENT OF LIVESTOCK VACCINES: improved existing vaccines and development of new ones and innovative public-private vehicles for delivering them to poor livestock keepers.
  7. 7 CONSERVATION AND USE OF ANIMAL GENETIC RESOURCES: evidence to support conservation priority setting, development of reproductive technologies and other methodologies for better conservation and use of native stock in poor countries.

What are our challenges? How do we integrate all this intelligently into the new CGIAR Consortium and its Mega Programs? How do we implement gender issues into all our research work? How do we build greater capacity in our national and regional partners in developing countries? How do we build the trust needed to make the new and deeper partnerships required by the new way of operating in the new CGIAR? And how do we do a better job of quickly distilling the knowledge from our research to address urgent global issues such as climate change and emerging diseases?

View the presentation:

Le bon, la brute et le Ouverture de la Reunion Annuelle de l'ILRI

Ce jeudi 15 avril, en dépit d’une pluie torrentielle, du retard subséquent et de quelques fuites dans la tente prévue pour rassembler participants et orateurs, la réunion annuelle de l’Institut International de Recherche sur l’Elevage (ILRI) a démarré à Addis Abeba dans la bonne humeur.

En effet, Dirk Hoekstra, responsable du projet IPMS et facilitateur de la réunion a annoncé son anniversaire, et sa joie à le célébrer en présence de ses collègues…

Alan Duncan, chercheur et responsable de l’organisation de l’événement, a ensuite souhaité la bienvenue aux participants puis a rappelé “nous sommes tous ensemble aujourd’hui pour mieux sentir et pourquoi pas apprendre la culture ILRI. Ceci devrait permettre à chacun de comprendre la position de l’Institut concernant les aspects positifs mais aussi négatifs liés à l’élevage.”

Pour rappel, le thème de la réunion annuelle 2010 est “Elevage: le bon, la brute et le…”, et un prix sera attribué à celui ou celle qui complètera le mieux l’expression laissée incomplète.

Après avoir introduit le programme des trois jours à venir, Alan Duncan a laissé la place au Directeur Général de l’ILRI, Carlos Seré. “La réunion annuelle devrait permettre à tous d’établir des connexions” a t-il indiqué “mais aussi à envisager comment l’ILRI va s’intégrer dans la nouvelle structure du Groupe Consultatif.”

Après une présentation des lignes stratégiques de l’ILRI et des prochains défis à relever, Carlos Seré a laissé le duo de facilitateurs, Nadia Manning-Thomas et Julius Nyangaga, entrainer la foule vers un petit buna bien serré, sous la pluie toujours, mais prête à échanger et discuter sous les parapluies…

Livestock research at ILRI: A view from the North

Dieter SchillingerDieter Schillinger joined the board of trustees of the International Livestock Research Institute (ILRI) in 2009. This week he attended his second meeting of the board, held in Addis Ababa, Ethiopia.

He first got to know one of ILRI's forebears, the International Laboratory for Research on Animal Diseases (ILRAD), in the 1980s. He was then head of a German project developing new pharmaceuticals for trypanosomosis, a tsetse-borne disease that causes major problems for Africa’s livestock farmers. ‘We didn't have any success for trypanosomosis in cattle, but we did better with camels,’ he recalls, ‘and I still think of myself as a “camelophile”’.

A veterinarian by training, he now works as head of public affairs for Merial, one of the world's largest animal health companies, and chairs the Food Chain Committee of the International Federation for Animal Health.

One of the first things to impress Schillinger at ILRI was the broad range of interests represented on the board. ‘This came as a welcome surprise,’ he explains, adding that ILRI is a very different beast to ILRAD. ‘ILRAD was very focused on animal health research, whereas ILRI has a more balanced approach, integrating a range of different research activities related to livestock farming,’ he explains.

According to Schillinger, ILRI has an important role to play not just in providing solutions to the problems facing livestock farmers in the developing world, but in alerting people in the North to the importance of animal health issues. ‘Nowadays, everybody in Europe—politicians, the public, nongovernmental organizations—looks at livestock from the point of view of animal welfare,’ he says. ‘That's a good thing, but without good animal health, you don't have good animal welfare, and the research conducted by ILRI is therefore leading to better animal welfare.’

Schillinger also believes that ILRI's research can provide significant benefits for human health in the North. ‘Here’s an institution that’s working on diseases in Africa that could spread to Europe, including zoonotic diseases that can be transmitted from livestock to humans,’ he says. With the increase in travel and trade, and the likely effects of global warming, the risk of diseases spreading from one continent to another has risen.

‘If we can control livestock diseases in Africa, they are less likely to spread, and I think there will be more funds for this sort of research in the future,’ he says. ILRI can legitimately claim to be conducting research that benefits not only the rural poor in Africa but also the wealthier populations in the North.

Livestock goods and bads: Background and evidence

On Thursday 15 April, ILRI staff, Board members and partners gather in Addis Ababa for the first day of the annual program meeting. The first major plenary session mobilizes a range of speakers on different dimensions of the ‘goods and bads’ issue. The presentations are online:

See a short video interview with IFPRI’s David Spielman in livestock research priorities.

We also asked leaders of ILRI research groups to briefly present what each is doing in terms of livestock goods and bads, and which research gaps need to be filled.

This post is part of a series associated with the ILRI Annual Program Meeting in Addis Ababa, April 2010. More postings …

IPMS project to scale up in its final year

IPMS logoThe Improving Productivity and Market Success of Ethiopian farmers (IPMS) Program held its Annual Review and Planning meeting from 12th to 14th April 2010 on the International Livestock Research Institute (ILRI) Campus in Addis Ababa. For the occasion, Research and Development Officers (RDOs) from the 10 districts distributed among the four larger states of Ethiopia where IPMS implements its program, also called Pilot Learning Woredas (PLW), came to Addis Ababa to discuss the program of work for 2010-2011 with IPMS headquarters team members. The theme of this meeting was a focus on ‘scaling up beyond the districts we are operating in’ and consisted, among others, of training sessions, M&E reports, presentations on gender and market issues, future workplans and publications-all targeted at how IPMS can take this forward and wider. According to Ermias Sehai, the project’s knowledge management adviser, “it is the last year of the project and it is very important that we document and communicate the lessons learned during the last five years of project implementation. We continue to capture, document and share our activities and results. Key to this is getting feedback and inputs from the RDOs on activities and results from their respective PLWs.” Zooming in… One of the training sessions focused on video recording and editing so RDOs can document the work done and results achieved in their PLW. Each participant was provided with a small digital camera recorder and over the course of the Annual Planning Meeting at ILRI, they will have to practice and each day during the APM, they are expected to bring a 3 minute footage of APM or non-APM related activities on campus. Selected footage will be posted on ILRI website. Bringing information ‘home’… Another training consisted of introducing the new ILRI website and the new knowledge base, Mahider, (‘portfolio’ in Amharic). “Often RDOs cannot see the ILRI website because of internet connection problems but in Mahider they can do subscriptions (ILRI feed subscriptions) which makes access to ILRI information easier”. explained Ermias Sehai. Getting together does not happen very often as the PLWs are far away from each other and scattered all over Ethiopia so being actually face to face and sharing experiences is a precious time for all. Extending our experiences… “Over the three days meeting, we also talked about GIS use in regard to the suitability of technologies” explains Noah Kebede, GIS research officer. “Borana cattle, for instance, is a high performing cattle breed in the South of the country. So we first did an analysis of the conditions, climate, grazing lands etc., and then using GIS we checked if there were similar conditions in other parts of the country into which we could introduce this species. Initial results show that areas such as Metema, located North West of Ethiopia, could be a viable prospect due to its similarities to the southern areas.” Next, RDOS will try the same process, introducing a Tigrayan breed called ‘begaiet ‘to the Alamata PLW. Understanding conditions for interventions… “The idea”, adds Abraham Getachew, M&E officer, “is that we always look at the market accessibility then combine this accessibility with the conditions of suitability for the various commodities, whether fruits, vegetables, cattle or forages. Then you can really work on interventions.” For Kahsay Bere, IPMS research officer, “it is not only important to consider biophysical aspects such as rainfall, grazing lands, etc. but socio-economic aspects as well. If we put cattle in a place with no people, it won’t work! Social mapping is an important component in regards to the commodities we deal with.” Getting closer to impact… A key aspect of the meeting and understanding the possibility for scaling up was the discussion lead by Lemlem Aregu, IPMS gender specialist, on the strategies for integrating gender and women in market oriented agricultural value chains. She pointed out that while everyone agrees on the importance of the role and status of women, it is still a strong issue for the group to learn and discuss about, in order to find concrete and viable ways of increasing women’s access to resources. Finally, tired but happy about the outputs of the meeting, Negatu Alemayehu, Ada’a RDO, commented that “it has been good to share experiences among RDOs. We learned about our strengths and weaknesses and hopefully we can use these lessons for the future.” In a positive conclusion, Dirk Hoekstra, IPMS project manager, reminded the IPMS team that “we are an action research program, and we hope that this meeting will contribute to the impact we are looking for.”

Rencontre avec Modibo Traore, membre du Conseil d’Administration de l’Institut International de Recherche sur l’Elevage (ILRI)

Modibo Traore Membre du Conseil d’Administration de l’ILRI depuis 2005, Modibo Traoré a d’abord débuté comme jeune vétérinaire au Mali. Il travaillait sur les maladies du bétail, notamment la trypanosomose, et est venu régulièrement en formation à l’ILCA (maintenant ILRI) à Addis Abeba, centre qui travaillait sur les mêmes problématiques. Il peut encore vous décrire le campus dans les années 80 et s’amuse d’être parmi les anciens maintenant. M. Traoré est ensuite revenu en Ethiopie en tant que porte-parole de son pays, quand il était Ministre du Développement rural de l’Agriculture. Ensuite il a dirigé le Bureau inter-africain des resources animales de l’Union africaine pendant trois ans puis a été nommé sous-directeur général chargé du Département de l’agriculture et de la protection des consommateurs de l’Organisation des Nations Unies pour l’alimentation et l’agriculture (FAO) en 2008. “A la FAO, mon rôle est de coordonner le travail de cinq divisions qui tâchent de répondre aux questions provenant du terrain, afin de créer les synergies nécessaires”, précise t-il. Actif au Conseil d’Administration de l’ILRI, il estime que “l’important est de nous assurer de la continuité des programmes de recherches, et de respecter les orientations initiales. Le rôle de l’ILRI est aussi d’aider à organiser la réflexion par rapport à ces orientations.” Pour Modibo Traoré en effet “au Mali notamment on voit partout des nouvelles façons de faire et nous sommes peut être une espèce en voie de disparition mais il est important d’activer une mémoire collective, de ne pas foncer tête baissée dans la nouveauté.”

Livestock goods and bads: Two European views

On 10 April, we interviewed ILRI Board Chair Knut Hove, from Norway, and Program Chair Jim Dargie, from the UK.

HOVE: In the last year media attention on livestock ‘bads’ has gone away in Norway. It has not had an impact on meat production in Norway. My country’s strategy to use the whole country, and we are located so far north, with such large grasslands, that ruminants will always have a place there.

DARGIE: In the UK, people are still questioning why so much of our crop area should be used for producing food for livestock. They have concerns about using so much energy for this in this era of climate change. Questions are being raised by the government about what should be its appropriate response to meet the rising meat requirements. There is going to be greater emphasis on home-grown food production to lessen the greenhouse gas emissions due to transporting foods. Bear in mind that people in our countries are overfed, and in that context, meat production is often seen as a public bad.

HOVE: On the other hand, in our countries diets like the Atkins are very popular, which encourage you to eat more protein and less carbohydrates. In Norway, the focus of most people’s concerns are the high levels of methane produced by industrial livestock production practices and the treatment of animals in these intensive systems, such as raising battery chickens and using feedlots for beef cattle. In the Scandinavian countries, we haven’t reached this industrial level yet—we tend to have small, family run farms that make use of grazing and grass production. We have strict controls on how many chickens or cows a farmer may raise. Norwegians are given many incentives for practicing small-scale sustainable agriculture.

DARGIE: This was the European Union’s response to overproduction of livestock foods—the milk mountains and so on. Governments rather than farmers have been paying for the environmental costs of agriculture in Europe. HOVE: The rising human populations need to be fed and they need to be fed efficiently. And that is the hard problem we face. As long as we have this wealth of fossil energy, we in Europe have been able to scale up, scale up, scale up, to mechanize our agriculture, with most of us having left the farm. (In the seventeenth century, everybody was producing food here.)

DARGIE: What’s going to suit one country is not going to suit many others. Many rich countries have turned food production into big business—they are producing food to sell elsewhere. And this is depressing incentives for sustainable agriculture elsewhere. The question is, if we include the costs of environmental services, are these rich food producers really efficient? One of the problems at the moment is putting a dollar sign in front of environmental services, or environmental bads. That is a big big issue. And how we cost factors will vary enormously from one country to another.

HOVE: Many researchers are working to get these figures. We in the developed world have lived on polluting and we have had strong economic growth. Now we have to pay for that. Now we have to pay for our wealth by cleaning up. That’s the chance for developing countries.

This post is part of a series associated with the ILRI Annual Program Meeting in Addis Ababa, April 2010. More postings …

Livestock: The good, the bad and the ugly

Later this month, many staff, partners and members of the board of trustees of the International Livestock Research Institute (ILRI) will gather in Addis Ababa, Ethiopia, for the institute’s annual program meeting. Alan Duncan, chair of the organizing committee, introduces below the theme for this meeting. ‘Livestock: the good, the bad and the ugly’.

ILRI has long promoted the virtues of livestock production for the poor. Our calendars and posters proclaim the value of ‘livestock for culture’, ‘livestock for women’, ‘livestock for food’, and so on. Yet in the wider world it seems that our voice is drowned out by a very different view of livestock: a view that sees farm animals as polluting the planet and degrading landscapes. This meeting is an opportunity for the ILRI community to consider these other perspectives and perhaps to try on some new approaches to livestock research for development.

People in the developed North have heard a lot recently about the negative impacts of livestock production. Many of these are concerns for animal welfare in so-called ‘intensive systems’, such as factory-farmed poultry, pigs and cattle. Other concerns are about the obesity, heart disease and other ailments and illnesses caused by over-consumption of fatty red meat, eggs and milk products. Still other concerns are for the global health scares provoked by livestock diseases that become human diseases (mad cow disease, bird flu) or for the economic devastation wrought by livestock diseases such as foot-and-mouth disease.

Working in the developing South, we have taken it for granted that such negative views of livestock do not extend to poor livestock keepers in smallholder systems in Africa and Asia. Yet it seems that the world doesn’t appreciate such subtleties. We are surrounded by some very negative blanket opinions about livestock. As a livestock research institute, have we neglected to conduct research on the ‘bads’ of livestock production?

At this meeting, we will face some of these issues head on and review the facts around livestock goods and bads. We’ll start with some scene setting: what are the goods and bads? What are the key facts and figures? What do the experts think? We’ll go on to look at what ILRI is doing in the area of livestock goods and bads and where it should be heading. While many of the goods and bads seem clear, there are many issues that don’t fit our neat categories – we aim at this meeting to tease out some of these ‘ugly’ issues. We won’t redesign our research program at this meeting, but we will start conversations that will shape our thinking about where we are and where we need to go. — Read more about livestock goods and bads …