Fighting aflatoxins: CGIAR scientists Delia Grace and John McDermott describe the disease threats and options for better control

In this 6-minute film, two leading scientists combatting aflatoxins in the food chains of developing countries describe some of the risks these toxins pose and new options for their better control. Aflatoxins are a naturally occurring carcinogenic byproduct of common fungi that grow on grains and other food crops, particularly maize and groundnuts, as well as in the milk and meat of livestock that have consumed feeds contaminated with aflatoxins. These toxins threaten public health in many poor countries.

In this short film, Delia Grace and John McDermott discuss on-going research to control aflatoxins in developing countries and why this research matters so much.

Delia Grace is a veterinary epidemiologist who leads research on both ‘food safety and zoonoses’ at the International Livestock Research Institute (ILRI) and ‘agriculture-associated diseases’, a flagship project of the CGIAR Research Program on Agriculture for Nutrition and Health (A4NH). John McDermott, another veterinary epidemiologist by training, who formerly served as ILRI’s deputy director general for research and now works for the International Food Policy Research Institute (IFPRI), is director of A4NH (Agriculture for Nutrition and Health), a multi-centre program led by IFPRI.

Earlier this week (4 Nov 2013), IFPRI and its 2020 Vision initiative jointly with the CGIAR Research Program on A4NH released a series of 19 briefs on the state of efforts to combat aflatoxins. ILRI’s Grace co-edited the series with IFPRI’s Laurian Unnevehr: ‘Aflatoxins: Finding solutions for improved food safety’. Grace and Unnevehr themselves developed 2 of the 19 briefs: ‘Tackling aflatoxins: An overview of challenges and solutions’  and The role of risk assessment in guiding aflatoxin policy’. In another of the briefs, Grace zeroes in on the dangers of aflatoxins in animal-source foods: ‘Animals and aflatoxins’. Jagger Harvey and Benoit Gnonlonfin, two scientists with ILRI’s Biosciences eastern and central Africa (BecA) Hub, along with colleagues in Australia and Cornell University, wrote the last brief in the series: ‘Improving diagnostics for aflatoxin detection‘.

Aflatoxins grow naturally on many farms, infesting grains and groundnuts, particularly after drought or insect damage and are a particularly common problem in developing countries, where aflatoxins not only pose a significant public health risk but also create a barrier to trade in agricultural commodities.

‘These toxins have a range of effects on human and animal health,’ says Grace. ‘High doses are lethal to both humans and animals and chronic consumption of lower levels of aflatoxins is associated with liver cancer and immunosuppression in children.’

Researchers have known about the problem of aflatoxins in developing countries for several decades but because these countries have largely informal markets and minimal trade, people have tended to minimize or ignore the problem.

‘But this is changing’, says McDermott. ‘Recent cases of aflatoxin-related deaths in Africa widened appreciation that this problem is important; there’s been a recent increase in investment in different control methods’, he says.

The series of briefs released this week brings together the experiences of researchers both within and outside CGIAR and contributes to efforts to help smallholder farmers better manage aflatoxins on their farms.

The briefs describe health risks from aflatoxins and the state of research on aflatoxins, including new methods of detection, crop breeding and food storage and handling, as well as ways to overcome the market constraints imposed by aflatoxins.

‘We’ve assembled for policy- and other decision-makers the current state of knowledge on what we need to do about aflatoxins in tropical countries,’ says McDermott.

Read more about the briefs released this week:

Read the whole publication: Aflatoxins: Finding solutions for improved food safety, edited by Laurian Unnevehr and Delia Grace


Table of Contents and Introduction

1. Tackling Aflatoxins: An Overview of Challenges and Solutions
by Laurian Unnevehr and Delia Grace

2. Aflatoxicosis: Evidence from Kenya
by Abigael Obura

3. Aflatoxin Exposure and Chronic Human Diseases: Estimates of Burden of Disease
by Felicia Wu

4. Child Stunting and Aflatoxins
by Jef L Leroy

5. Animals and Aflatoxins
by Delia Grace

6. Managing Mycotoxin Risks in the Food Industry: The Global Food Security Link
by David Crean

7. Farmer Perceptions of Aflatoxins: Implications for Intervention in Kenya
by Sophie Walker and Bryn Davies

8. Market-led Aflatoxin Interventions: Smallholder Groundnut Value Chains in Malawi
by Andrew Emmott

9. Aflatoxin Management in the World Food Programme through P4P Local Procurement
by Stéphane Méaux, Eleni Pantiora and Sheryl Schneider

10. Reducing Aflatoxins in Africa’s Crops: Experiences from the Aflacontrol Project
by Clare Narrod

11. Cost-Effectiveness of Interventions to Reduce Aflatoxin Risk
by Felicia Wu

12. Trade Impacts of Aflatoxin Standards
by Devesh Roy

13. Codex Standards: A Global Tool for Aflatoxin Management
by Renata Clarke and Vittorio Fattori

14. The Role of Risk Assessment in Guiding Aflatoxin Policy
by Delia Grace and Laurian Unnevehr

15. Mobilizing Political Support: Partnership for Aflatoxin Control in Africa
by Amare Ayalew, Wezi Chunga and Winta Sintayehu

16. Biological Controls for Aflatoxin Reduction
by Ranajit Bandyopadhyay and Peter J Cotty

17. Managing Aflatoxin Contamination of Maize: Developing Host Resistance
by George Mahuku, Marilyn L Warburton, Dan Makumbi and Felix San Vicente

18. Reducing Aflatoxins in Groundnuts through Integrated Management and Biocontrol
by Farid Waliyar, Moses Osiru, Hari Kishan Sudini and Samuel Njoroge

19. Improving Diagnostics for Aflatoxin Detection
by Jagger Harvey, Benoit Gnonlonfin, Mary Fletcher, Glen Fox, Stephen Trowell, Amalia Berna, Rebecca Nelson and Ross Darnell



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

CGIAR Research Program on Agriculture for Nutrition and Health within CGIAR

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Measuring and mapping the multiple burdens of food-borne disease

One-health approaches to managing zoonoses and emerging infections

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

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


Zoonoses: The lethal gifts of livestock–Part 3 of ILRI ‘livestock live talk’ by Delia Grace

View this ILRI slide presentation, which is a ‘slidecast’ that includes an audio file of a ‘livestock live talk’ given by veterinary epidemiologist Delia Grace at ILRI’s Nairobi headquarters on 31 Oct 2012.

The following remarks are a transcript of the third part of a presentation made on 31 Oct 2012  by Delia Grace, who works at the International Livestock Research Institute (ILRI), in Nairobi. Grace, a Irish veterinary epidemiologist, leads ILRI’s research on food safety in informal markets in developing countries and on ‘zoonoses’—diseases shared by animals and people. Grace also leads a component on agriculturally related diseases of a new multi-centre CGIAR Research Program on Agriculture for Health and Nutrition, which is headed by John McDermott, former deputy director general-research at ILRI, who is now based at ILRI’s sister CGIAR institute the International Food Policy Research Institute (IFPRI), in Washington, DC, USA. Grace is also a partner in another multi-institutional initiative, called Dynamic Drivers of Disease in Africa.

A prolific writer of scientific publications and a scientist of particularly wide research interests, Grace began her ‘big-picture’ talk on zoonoses—on why, and if, they are ‘the lethal gifts of livestock’—with an overview of human health and disease at the beginning of the 21st century. Go here to read part one:  The riders of the apocalypse do not ride alone: Plagues need war, famine, destruction–and (often) livestock, ILRI News Blog, 4 Nov 2012, and here to read part two: Mapping the perfect storms: Where poverty, livestock and disease meet in terrible triage, ILRI News Blog, 6 Nov 2012.

Here we begin the third and final part of this ILRI ‘livestock live talk’ presentation by Delia Grace on ‘The lethal gifts of livestock’.

‘So we’ve talked a bit about the big picture: human health and disease in the 21st century and why livestock matter. I’ve presented some of the findings on these studies, trying to get some evidence—the evidence decision-makers want, in a format they can use, in a way that motivates them to invest money.

Zoonoses: The Lethal Gifts of Livestock: From mapping to managing slide

Zoonoses: The Lethal Gifts of Livestock: From mapping to managing, by Delia Grace, ILRI ‘livestock live talk’ seminar, 31 Oct 2012.

‘But now, finally, I want to talk a bit about how we move from mapping to managing.

‘Mapping is good but there is always the “paralysis by analysis” with such organizations, And it’s true; I was originally trained as a vet and it’s like we spend all our time on diagnosis and we don’t do any therapy; we never get round to actual treatment. I think too much of the work we’ve done so far has been assessing, trying to know more and more, and not saying, “OK, we know enough; let’s go and do something; let’s show that we can do something; and let’s try and make a difference.

‘So in this last section I’m going to talk about how we are planning to move from mapping and measuring to managing. This takes me to the new CGIAR Research Program ‘Agriculture for Nutrition and Health’, which just started in January, like the CGIAR Research Program on Livestock and Fish, which you may be more familiar with.

‘This brings together a lot of CGIAR centres to focus for the first time on the links between agriculture and human health. It’s led by the International Food Policy Research Institute (IFPRI) and has four components. Three of these components focus on human nutrition—human nutrition is a big problem and it’s probably where the donors are most interest at the moment. But one component focuses on disease, and that’s the component that’s led by ILRI.

Zoonoses: The Lethal Gifts of Livestock: Agriculture-associated diseases slide

Zoonoses: The Lethal Gifts of Livestock: Agriculture-associated diseases, by Delia Grace, ILRI ‘livestock live talk’ seminar, 31 Oct 2012.

‘So “agriculture-associated disease” works at that intersection, the intersection between human health, animal health and agro-ecosystems and value chains. We sometimes talk about “one-health”, this new integrated movement. We like to think of three healths: people, animals and the planet—three healths that are interdependent. And if they’re managed separately, they won’t be managed best.

‘The aim of this component on disease is to have key development implementors as well as the enablers to have the evidence, motivation and capacity. So we need somehow to generate evidence, motivation and capacity, motivation probably being the tricky one, to reduce the burden of disease through agricultural-based interventions and innovations. And that’s key, because of course this whole area of innovation and human health is a very crowded, busy map. We need to identify where agricultural research and agricultural-based interventions can make a difference.

‘So what do we focus on? We focus on big five areas, which we call research activities. Two of them are under food safety, the first being risk management in these informal food markets, where most poor people buy and sell; the second being mycotoxins, which are a fungal toxin in staple crops. And then under “zoonoses”, we have three major focuses: the first being emerging infectious disease, the second neglected zoonoses, and the third “eco-health/one-health”, which is a kind of capacity-building paradigm.

‘Cross-cutting disease and appearing in all of them is a focus on gender and equity. Gender is quite important in disease because it’s both a biological and a social determinant of exposure and vulnerability to disease Equity likewise—poverty, age, other issues can very much affect susceptibility and vulnerability. The second is capacity building; this is key to change and we mean capacity building at all levels, from decision-makers to the science community to the actual farmers and value chain actors. Of course, we won’t be doing that directly; that’s not our comparative advantage. But we can develop pilot tools and new approached that can then be taken up by the development sector. And, third, communication and influence.

How do we get these messages out? How do we move from outputs to outcomes? And how do we show how those outcomes can contribute to impact?

‘There are some key assumptions or hypotheses. These are based on five to ten years’ work. At the same time, they’re not written in stone; they’re things we need to generate more evidence about. And many people would disagree with some or all of these.

‘So, first of all is that the informal food markets are the most important for poor buyers and consumers and will be—no ‘supermarketization’ here–and will be into the next few decades, at least in the countries we care about, where there are the most poor people.

Current food safety regulation is ineffective and unfair; we know it; we know it can even be paradoxical; we know it can make things worse. It’s kind of like the Somalia story—once you’ve got rid of the government, you’ve removed the first constraint to export. We find in many cases, these food safety regulations brought in to make things better make things worse. The way forward we believe is through risk- and incentive-based approaches.

‘The second main areas and the second main hypothesis is that these rapidly intensifying and urbanizing livestock systems are something the planet has never experienced before at this level and this rate, and it really does have the potential to bring about something very nasty. We talked at the beginning of great societal dislocations, of the Neolithic transition, of these massive plagues that wiped out ninety per cent of the population. I’m not saying it’s a fact, it may not even be probable, but it’s certainly something that cannot be ignored.

‘And at the moment, we are woefully ignorant of the disease dynamics and drivers and emergence of what’s going on in these new, novel, never-before seen systems, especially around South Asia, Southeast Asia and parts of the peri-urban areas of African cities. Here we think innovative surveillance—I showed you the surveillance we’ve got, 920,000 dead, 80,000 reported—so here we need innovative surveillance and whole-chain interventions. These are product-driven, demand-driven, rapidly emerging value chains and we need to work with the chain, not just work here and there in a piecemeal approach, as we have done in the past.

‘Our third big area are the cold spots. We sometimes emphasize the hotspots. These are places that are bubbling up, rapidly changing, doing strange things, lots of innovation going on, lots of possibility for thing to pop out of the cooking pot. But then we also have the cold spots, the neglected zoonoses, the pastoral areas, where you still have hundreds of millions of people cut off from markets, cut off from these emerging rapid opportunities, getting poorer and poorer, digging themselves deeper into poverty. And for these people, they’re the ones who are bearing the burden of these neglected zoonoses.

‘Take cysticercosis; you don’t have cysticercosis anymore in Vietnam, where you’ve got rapidly growing, highly innovative pig keepers. You get it in places in Uganda, where pigs are still scavenging and people don’t use latrines. So these people are still suffering from neglected zoonoses that have been eradicated everywhere anyone has got enough money and will power, and they’re symptoms of poverty, really; they’re symptoms of the whole complex. This is not a place for silver bullet approaches; this is a place for integrated approaches—taking a community wide, a gender approach, an equity approach—that deals with all the symptoms and not just the disease.

‘So those are our assumptions and how those assumptions affect what we’re going to be working on as we try and see how agriculture can do its little bit to help manage these diseases.

‘I’m going to give you a few examples before we finish and close for questions.

Zoonoses: The Lethal Gifts of Livestock: Highlight 1 slide

Zoonoses: The Lethal Gifts of Livestock: Highlight 1, by Delia Grace, ILRI ‘livestock live talk’ seminar, 31 Oct 2012.

So here is one highlight. One thing we’re doing this year is conducting rapid integrated assessments of food safety, zoonoses and nutrition in five high-potential CGIAR Research Program on Livestock and Fish value chains. This Livestock and Fish program has made the decision to focus on nine value chains in the whole world and really transform them, bring all of research with development partners to really change these value chains to move millions of people out of poverty. And these value chains are pre-selected as being one of these hotspots I’ve been talking about—rapidly changing, rapidly intensifying, lots going on. The Livestock and Fish program cares about production; they care about increasing productivity. They’re not necessarily thinking about the externalities of this, that they might unleash new diseases on the world, or make lots and lots of people sick by giving them more and more pork that is full of salmonella and trichomonas and things like that. So we see an added value of food safety working with those value chains, not just those in the Livestock and Fish program but in all the CGIAR research program value chains. And also, in many of these areas, food safety is not a standalone concern but if we can piggyback it on lots of other activities, then we can make it go further. Just a quick example—well, no I won’t. But ask me about pigs in Uganda sometime; it’s rather scary.

Zoonoses: The Lethal Gifts of Livestock: Highlight 2 slide

Zoonoses: The Lethal Gifts of Livestock: Highlight 2, by Delia Grace, ILRI ‘livestock live talk’ seminar, 31 Oct 2012.

‘The second highlight I mentioned before and I won’t go into it now but how this mapping and measuring we’re doing of the hotspots is already starting to inform donor agendas and we also want to be part of that funding, if we can be, to help manage what we have measured and mapped.

Zoonoses: The Lethal Gifts of Livestock: Highlight 3 slide

Zoonoses: The Lethal Gifts of Livestock: Highlight 3, by Delia Grace, ILRI ‘livestock live talk’ seminar, 31 Oct 2012.

‘And the third highlight is how these integrated approaches have started making a difference. And these highlights are things the whole of the CGIAR Research Program on Agriculture for Health and Nutrition has done during the year:
(1) Publishing special editions on urban zoonoses.
(2) Starting a new project on how the pathogens flow in Nairobi, from the abattoir to the dumps to the slums to the hospitals to the ILRI campus, and back and forth.
(3) Eco-health, one-health—we set up and are supporting two new centres in Southeast Asia and we’re looking at the barriers and bridges for governments doing things differently.
(4) Rift Valley fever—how does climate change and irrigation cause disease to jump around? We think it does; we want to know how.
(5) Pathogen hunting, here in our biotechnology facilities there’s a big pathogen hunting facility and now bio-repository. What are the implications of these new diseases getting into new systems?
(6) We’re integrating; instead of doing everything separately, we’re putting human and livestock disease surveys. We’re doing that in Kenya, Laos, Vietnam, China. There are some maps from Laos.
(7) Developing and testing new diagnostics; one thing main here has been for cysticercosis.

‘So in conclusion, here are my take-home messages. This is what I’d like people to think about.

‘First, here and now, the burden—the human sicknesses and deaths caused by neglected zoonoses—is much, much higher than that caused by emerging diseases. And most are very manageable. Moreover, the pareto law applies of the vital few and the trivial many. So these are places we can and must act to alleviate human misery.

‘Second, emerging infectious diseases are not so scary by themselves. But when you get a great societal dislocation, then they can be civilization-altering. And are we farming on the brink of chaos? We don’t know. It’s important that we find out, because this is one of the big questions for humanity’s future. Moreover, if societal dislocation is the missing ingredient X that nobody is talking about, we need to think about that, not just the disease.

‘And my final point is that agricultural research has an important role in integrative approaches to improve human health, animal health and the health of the planet.

Zoonoses: The Lethal Gifts of Livestock: Bibliography slide

Zoonoses: The Lethal Gifts of Livestock: bibliography slide, by Delia Grace, ILRI ‘livestock live talk’ seminar, 31 Oct 2012.

‘And here I just list some of the various chapters and papers that this presentation was based upon and where you can get more information if you are scared or skeptical or anything like that.

‘I’d like to acknowledge the mapping and spillover work, which is funded by the UK Department for International Development (DFID) and done with partners from different institutions, and the team leading the component on Agriculture-Associated Diseases of the CGIAR Research Program on Agriculture for Nutrition and Health, whose work I’m representing across food safety, mycotoxins, emerging infectious diseases, zoonoses and eco-health, and the many people who have supported us. And with that, I’ll hand it over to questions and to Tezira Lore to moderate.’

This ends the third and final part of the seminar by Delia Grace.

Part one of this seminar is here: The riders of the apocalypse do not ride alone: Plagues need war, famine, destruction–and (often) livestock, ILRI News Blog, 4 Nov 2012. Part two is here: Mapping the perfect storms: Where poverty, livestock and disease meet in terrible triage, ILRI News Blog, 6 Nov 2012.

View the slide presentation, which is a ‘slidecast’ that includes an audio file of the presentation by Grace: Zoonoses: The lethal gifts of livestock, an ILRI ‘livestock live talk’ by Delia Grace at ILRI’s Nairobi headquarters on 31 Oct 2012.

Read the invitation to this ILRI ‘livestock live talk’, and sign up here for our RSS feed on ILR’s Clippings Blog to see future invites to this new monthly seminar series.


Mapping the perfect storms: Where poverty, livestock and disease meet in terrible triage

The following remarks are a transcript of the second part of a presentation made last week by Delia Grace, who works at the International Livestock Research Institute (ILRI), in Nairobi. Grace, a Irish veterinary epidemiologist, leads ILRI’s research on food safety in informal markets in developing countries and on ‘zoonoses’—diseases shared by animals and people. Grace also leads a component on agriculturally related diseases of a new multi-centre CGIAR Research Program on Agriculture for Health and Nutrition, which is headed by John McDermott, former deputy director general-research at ILRI, who is now based at ILRI’s sister CGIAR institute the International Food Policy Research Institute (IFPRI), in Washington, DC, USA. Grace is also a partner in another multi-institutional initiative, called Dynamic Drivers of Disease in Africa.

A prolific writer of scientific publications and a scientist of particularly wide research interests, Grace began her ‘big-picture’ talk on zoonoses—on why, and if, they are ‘the lethal gifts of livestock’—with an overview of human health and disease at the beginning of the 21st century. Go here to read part one:  The riders of the apocalypse do not ride alone: Plagues need war, famine, destruction–and (often) livestock, ILRI News Blog, 4 Nov 2012.

Here we begin part two of this ILRI ‘livestock live talk’ presentation by Delia Grace on ‘The lethal gifts of livestock’.

Getting a handle on why zoonotic diseases matter, to whom and how much
‘So, we’ve discussed the links between livestock and disease and why livestock play such an important role in human disease. The next question we have to ask is to try and put some details on this, to put some parameters on it. So, if disease matters, and if animals have a big role in disease, what disease matters? How much? To whom? What does it cost? And what can we do about it?

‘In thinking through this, we tend to think at ILRI of different categories, which help us get more of a handle on some of the details. So we talk about the neglected zoonoses; these are the diseases like TB, brucellosis, cystercicosis—diseases that have been eradicated anywhere people have money and care, but persist—hang on—in poor countries. We talk about emerging infectious diseases—the BSEs, the SARS, the bird flus, Rift Valley fever, blue tongue—diseases that are changing their patterns and becoming more important. Then the food-borne diseases are the other big category. This is the single-most important. If you’re interested in human health and human death, food-borne diseases are the single-most important category. And finally, there are the other health risks in agro-ecosystems: How we farm and what this means for our health and nutrition.

Let the mapping begin
‘I now want to talk about some recent work we did on mapping poverty, zoonoses and emerging livestock systems in order to get a better handle on some of these questions about why it matters, who it matters to, how much it matters, and what we should or could do about it.

‘I’m going to present some work that was commissioned by DFID [the UK Department for International Development]. These were two systematic reviews that DFID asked us to do. The aim of these was to present data and expert knowledge on poverty and zoonoses hotspots in order to prioritize areas, to target areas, where prevention of zoonotic diseases can bring the greatest benefits to poor people.

‘This study took us down some interesting paths and some interesting conclusions. I’m going to talk about them in a little bit of detail.

‘So, the methods. What we wanted to do was to update global maps of poor livestock keepers. The first ever global map of poor livestock keepers was produced by ILRI around 10 or 15 years ago, again commissioned by DFID. This, I would say, was a landmark map. We also wanted to map rapidly emerging livestock systems. And here we drew a lot again on ILRI’s expertise, especially Mario Herrero’s group, which have been doing a lot of big-picture work on changes in livestock systems—what’s happening, where it’s happening and why it’s driving change. We also wanted to update one of the most iconic maps for people in the zoonoses community, and this is the map by Kate Jones on emerging infectious diseases that appeared in Nature about ten years ago (and everywhere else since).

‘We wanted to identify which were the most important zoonoses for poor people. You’d think that we’d know that, but what we find is that we have a dozen definitions and none of them agree. And then, finally, we wanted to develop the first global mapping of where zoonoses, poverty and emerging [livestock] systems come together to make hotspots, for maximum investments, for maximum bang for the buck.

Where are the poor livestock keepers?

Density of poor livestock keepers (updated 2012)

Update in 2012 by ILRI’s Delia Grace of map by ILRI’s Phil Thornton showing density of poor livestock keepers (map credit: ILRI/Philip Thornton).

‘Here is the updated map of poor livestock keepers. I think you can see by looking at it that it’s focal. The dark areas represent high density. South Asia jumps out at us. And in Africa we see the ‘magic 7’, from the coastal regions of West Africa to Nigeria and up through the highlands of Ethiopia and right down the Rift Valley through Uganda and northern Tanzania and right down to Malawi.

‘So what can we say in our updating of poor livestock keepers?

One billion poor livestock keepers depend on 19 billion livestock. Most of the livestock in the world are owned by poor people: 24 billion in total in the world and 19 billion in poor countries. That’s a lot of opportunities for disease to spill over, 19 billion animals.

What’s more, the ‘parietal law’, the law of ‘the vital few and the trivial many’, applies. Just 4 countries have 44 per cent of poor livestock keepers. All countries are not equal.

‘Livestock matter a lot: 75% of rural people, and 25% of urban people, depend on livestock. Now ‘depend’ is one of those weasel words that we keep being asked to shine more light on. We don’t know enough—it’s amazing how little we know despite how important this is—but our best guess for now is that when we say ‘depend’ we mean that livestock contribute between 2 and 33% of household income and 6 to 36% of protein. It’s not trivial.

Where are the fast-evolving livestock production systems?

Change in poultry production
Change in pig production
2012 maps showing changes in poultry and pig production between 2000 and 2030 (map credit ILRI/Delia Grace).

‘The second map we updated was these emerging livestock systems. As we suspected, most emergence is happening in the monogastrics, the pigs and the poultry. And of course this has been known since the landmark papers on the livestock revolution. Our maps confirm this; we’re getting a lot of change in pigs and poultry, and again it’s focal; you can see that it’s not uniform.

‘So in summary, where are we getting massive, rapidly changing systems? Big changes in numbers? Big changes in baselines? Where do we have people who don’t have a lot of experience doing this sort of farming now doing it in a big way? (Once you get naïveté along with massive intensification, you get problems.)

Poultry in several places on all continents, bovines in South and East Asia, and pigs in sub-Saharan Africa. These are the rapidly emerging livestock systems.

Where are the emerging infectious diseases?
‘Next, we updated the emerging infectious diseases map. This was a study that was originally done by Jones et al. based on all emerging diseases from 1940 to 2004. What we wanted to do was to focus just on zoonotic diseases (the 75% of all human disease that are zoonotic) and also to update it with data from 2004 to 2012.

Emerging Zoonotic Diseases Events 1940-2012

Map by IOZ, published in an ILRI report to DFID; Mapping of Poverty and Likely Zoonoses Hotspots 2012.

‘All of these dots represent new, potentially scary, diseases. The bigger the dot, the more the outbreaks. The new diseases are the blue circles; they are the ones that happened in the last ten years. The brown are the old; those are the ones that happened in the 70 years before. Again you can see a pattern here, but it’s not the same pattern we saw in the other map.

‘What we see is that western USA and western Europe are the hotspots for disease emergence. There’s a reporting bias in here, but we believe that this is not just reporting bias but actually represents emerging events. Interestingly, the blue events, the new events, are more common in South America and Southeast Asia, as intensification takes off in these regions and start to look more like intensive [livestock] systems of the West.

Multiple disease burdens are ‘where it’s at’
‘So, what are the high-priority zoonoses? We were interested in multiple [disease] burdens. One of the things we believe leads to bad management of zoonoses is that it’s done sectorally; it falls between lots of chairs. The World Health Organisation thinks about the human burden. The United Nations Food and Agriculture Organization thinks about the animal burden. Other people think about the wildlife burden. But people too rarely get together and think about the multiple burden.

What isn’t measured isn’t managed. And we think that one great step forward is just having people think about multiple burdens. So our listing, our criteria, consists of looking at the burdens across human health, animal health and ecosystems health.

‘From lots of listings, we assessed 56 zoonoses and found that together they caused a lot of problems. But the ones that were most important tended to have a wildlife interface, had a major impact on livestock and were amenable to on-farm agricultural interventions.

Top zoonoses calculated by ILRI's Delia Grace in 2012

Slide of ‘top zoonoses’ from ‘livestock live talk’ presentation, ‘Zoonoses: The Lethal Gifts of Livestock’, made by Delia Grace on 31 Oct 2012.

‘Just to give you some idea of the numbers, there are about 600 zoonoses and we looked at the top 50. Of that top 50, this is the human death caused by the top 13 and that by the next 43. Again, I think you can see it’s a case of the vital few and the trivial many. If you’ve got scarce resources and care about human death, you invest in the top 13, not in the bottom 43.

And here it is just broken out by individual zoonoses, and even in that top 13, you can see that there’s a difference between big killers and little killers. And sometime the ones we hear most about—and worry most about—are the ones that kill least.

‘The first thing we did then was to go to official reporting systems to try to find out where these zoonoses were and how these linked to the other things we were mapping. There are several reporting systems. There’s one by OIE [World Organisation for Animal Health], which is ‘notifiable’, that is, every OIE member has to report all their animals that die of notifiable diseases (you’d think that was easy enough). There’s also one run by FAO, and there’s Pro Med, there’s GEWS, and there’s Health Map, which is an aggregator.  That a picture of Health Map, and it’s a pretty exciting innovation. A ‘bot’ trawls the web and captures all the information on diseases.

When we put all of these [official disease reporting systems] together, what we found was that they were completely useless. They told us almost nothing about the burden of diseases. They told us about exciting things, interesting things. When a kid in Buenos Aires got bitten by a rabid dog, that showed up here. But when we were interested in what is sickening and killing billions and millions of people, it was just hopeless.

‘Just to give you an example, Africa has about 250 million tropical [aggregated] livestock units; we know that around 25 million of them die prematurely every year. We estimate around half of those deaths are due to notifiable diseases. There are over 60 notifiable diseases and pretty much everything falls into these. And what’s reported? Say 10 million dead, 80,000 reported.

This isn’t just under-reporting; this is a reporting system that is not very helpful!

‘So we couldn’t use the official reports. And it’s a huge weakness. People go along blindly and mechanically collecting this data, sending it in to OIE, doing complicated analyses showing all the different effects and impacts of these diseases, but they fail to take into account that they’re only looking at the 80,000 that are reported, and not the 920,000 that are not reported. It’s sort of an exercise in futility.

‘So what we did instead was a systematic literature review. We found that the only way we could get some sort of handle on where these zoonoses are was just to keep looking through the literature, pulling it out—grey, white, published, local language—and get as many surveys as we could and geographically map them and see what they are doing. In fact, we got over a thousand studies, which was enough to get some sort of a spatial understanding.

Greatest Burden of Zoonoses Falls on One Billion Poor Livestock Keepers

Map by ILRI, published in an ILRI report to DFID: Mapping of Poverty and Likely Zoonoses Hotspots, 2012.

‘This is what we came up with. Where you see a dot is where 1 or more people or animals in 100 are affected by 1 or more diseases per year. At least a 1%, at least 1 in 100 are sickened or killed. The dark colour shows where the poor livestock keepers are. Again, you can see the ‘7’ in Africa, whereby the zoonoses are linked to the poor livestock keepers. You can see quite a bit in South Asia and some in Southeast Asia.

‘There is a definite link between livestock keeping and poverty, which is what we suspected, but here again there is a lot of under reporting.

An unlucky 13 zoonoses sicken 2.4 billion people and kill 2.2 million people and they affect more than 1 in 7 livestock each year. These numbers are not trivial. These are large numbers, large numbers of sickness and death.

Our zoonotic problems are big problems

Multiple burdens of zoonoses calculated by ILRI's Delia Grace in 2012

Slide of ‘multiple burdens of zoonoses’ from ‘livestock live talk’ presentation, ‘Zoonoses: The Lethal Gifts of Livestock’, made by Delia Grace on 31 Oct 2012.

‘As I said, we focused on multiple burdens of  zoonoses, and here are some. I won’t read through them in detail, but again, going across all of these surveys, the numbers are frighteningly high. Round about 10% of animals have brucellosis, which is a serious disease in people, causing ungulant fever, infertility in men; it can cause psychosis and depression. And it’s transmitted in milk. If you don’t boil your milk, 1 in 10 animals has brucellosis. Ten per cent of animals in Africa have tryps [African animal trypanosomiasis], reducing their productivity by 15%. With 250 million livestock units, say they’re worth USD500 each, and you reduce their productivity by 15%—we’re talking large numbers here. TB, cysticercosis, bacterial food-borne disease, all of these came up.

‘The bad news is that it’s there and it’s a big problem in animals as well as people. The good news, of course, is that this provides incentive-based ways of tackling some of these zoonoses. Because if you can manage your animal zoonoses and boost your productivity by 10 or 20%, there’s a strong incentive for you to do it. What we’ve found with these studies (and we’ve been doing a lot of them over the years), is that too often the human health attitude is that people should do this because it’s good. You should do it to protect your own health. You should do it to protect the consumer’s health. That is one of the weakest motivations of all. How many things do we not do even though we know they’re good for our health? And how many fewer things do we do if they’re not good for our health but they’re good for someone else’s health?

Give people incentives, not rules, to better manage disease
‘What we find in these informal markets, where regulation is a joke and you have a hundred vets in a country and a hundred million animals, there’s no point in regulations or officials telling people “You should do this because it’s good for you”. It has to be incentive-based. People have to see a real benefit from changing their behaviour, either in their pocket or in their social status. And it doesn’t have to be money. We found people will change their behaviour just as much if they can get a social kick out of it. If instead of being a low-status person they get to be a high-status person, they’ll change their behaviour.

‘So, in summary what did we find? There are definite [zoonotic] hotspots, which is good, because that’s what the donor wanted  because that’s where the donor wants to invest. This is also a nice example of how science can generate evidence that is asked for by a donor and then influences donor behaviour, so it’s a virtuous cycle.

Where the ‘perfect storms’ lie
‘Poor livestock keepers? South Asia is the biggest. Emerging livestock systems? Again, South Asia. Zoonotic emerging infectious diseases? Western Europe and USA. Zoonoses? South Asia and central and eastern Africa.

If we are to name six countries where all of these come together, where you get the ‘perfect storm’ conditions, they are India, Bangladesh and Pakistan in Asia; Ethiopia, Nigeria and Congo in Africa.

‘So we’ve talked a bit about the big picture, human health and disease in the 21st century and why livestock matter. I’ve presented some of these findings of our mapping studies trying to get some evidence: the evidence that decision-makers want in a format they can use, in a way that motivates them to invest money.

‘But now, finally, I want to talk a bit about how we move from mapping to managing. . . .’

This ends part two of the seminar by Delia Grace. Look on this ILRI News Blog for part three in a couple of days’ time.

Part one of this seminar is here: The riders of the apocalypse do not ride alone: Plagues need war, famine, destruction–and (often) livestock, ILRI News Blog, 4 Nov 2012.

View the slide presentation, which is a ‘slidecast’ that includes an audio file of the presentation by Grace: Zoonoses: The lethal gifts of livestock, an ILRI ‘livestock live talk’ by Delia Grace at ILRI’s Nairobi headquarters on 31 Oct 2012.

Read the invitation to this ILRI ‘livestock live talk’, and sign up here for our RSS feed on ILR’s Clippings Blog to see future invites to this new monthly seminar series.

The riders of the apocalypse do not ride alone: Plagues need war, famine, destruction–and (often) livestock

Albrecht Dürer

a presentation made last week by Delia Grace, who works at the International Livestock Research Institute (ILRI), in Nairobi. Grace, a Irish veterinary epidemiologist, leads ILRI’s research on food safety in informal markets in developing countries and on ‘zoonoses’—diseases shared by animals and people. Grace also leads a component on agriculturally related diseases of a new multi-centre CGIAR Research Program on Agriculture for Health and Nutrition, which is headed by John McDermott, former deputy director general-research at ILRI, who is now based at ILRI’s sister CGIAR institute the International Food Policy Research Institute (IFPRI), in Washington, DC, USA. Grace is also a partner in another multi-institutional initiative, called Dynamic Drivers of Disease in Africa.

A prolific writer of scientific publications and a scientist of particularly wide research interests, Grace began her ‘big-picture’ talk on zoonoses—on why, and if, they are ‘the lethal gifts of livestock’—with an overview of human health and disease at the beginning of the 21st century.

'livestock live talk' 31 Oct 2012: Delia Grace listens to a question

Regarding diseases, it’s not the past we have to worry about, says ILRI scientist Delia Grace; it’s the diseases we’re picking up and the lifestyle choices we’re making (picture credit: ILRI/Susan MacMillan).

‘At the moment we are 7 billion people and by 2050, we’ll probably be 9 billion.

To date, farming is not doing a very good job of feeding us or looking after our health. We have 1 billion people who are hungry, 2 billion people who suffer from ‘hidden hunger’, or micronutrient deficiencies (iron, vitamins, minerals), and we 1.5 billion people who are overweight or obese. All in some ways functions of a dysfunctional agricultural system.

‘Not only does agriculture have an important role in nutrition, it also has an important role in health. And that’s going to be the main topic of my presentation.

‘But a few facts here just to get us in the mood.

‘Of our 7 billion people, 55 million die each year; 18 million die of infection. That’s preventable—there’s no reason now why anyone should die of an infectious disease. But to put that in perspective, there are lots of other preventable things that also kill people: 1.2 million people die each year in road traffic accidents, 170,000 from fatal agricultural accidents and 22,000 (and rising) from extreme weather events.

‘Of those people who die each year . . . two-thirds live in middle-income countries and most of those people die of lifestyle-associated diseases (cardio-vascular/chronic). About a sixth of those who die each year die in high-income countries, and most of them die from being just too old—they die from things like Alzheimer’s and stroke and cardiac disease, things that often come at the end of a life. And then there are the one-sixth who die in low-income countries, and what they die of are the ‘preventables’, mainly infectious diseases.

So, where do these infectious diseases come from? When we look at diseases as a whole, we can see that most are ‘earned’. The wages of sin may be death but the wages of lifestyle choice is disease.

‘The major causes of disease on this planet are the choices we make or the choices that are forced upon us: degenerative diseases, cardiac diseases, diabetes, stroke, cancer. Allergies and asthmas, which are probably reflections of a lifestyle that was not the way we were evolved to live. Those diseases are not the focus of this discussion.

‘What we are focusing on are the “souvenirs”, the diseases we pick up from other sources. And those sources are pretty much animals. Around 60 per cent of all human diseases are shared with animals, and of the new and emerging diseases, 75 per cent are “zoonotic”, that is, they come from animals. What’s more, of the 18 million people who die of infectious diseases each year, two of the biggest killers are zoonotic, or jumped from animals to people.

‘One thing that distinguishes the “souvenir” diseases is that many of these are diseases that kill people when they are young or in the prime of their life, when they have a future ahead of them.

We’re all going to die—that’s one thing that’s fairly inevitable. If we want to spend scarce resources doing something about making our planet more healthy and productive, it makes sense to invest in the souvenirs, the diseases we’ve acquired rather than these end-of-life diseases, about which nothing much can be done.

‘In fact, some economists argue it’s cheaper to let people die once they’ve reached a certain age than it is to invest in trying to make them better, because they’re not going to contribute much more to society.

The diseases that don’t matter so much we call the ‘legacies’. These are the diseases that have always been with us, the diseases that humans brought with them in their evolution from non-human primates. It’s interesting to see that these diseases (e.g., staph, lice, typhoid) are pretty much conquered. So it’s not the past we have to worry about; it’s what we’re picking up and the choices we’re making.

'livestock live talk' 31 Oct 2012: Richard Bishop asks Delia Grace a question

ILRI scientist Richard Bishop asks Delia Grace a question following her ‘livestock live talk’ on 31 Oct 2012 in Nairobi on the subject of ‘Zoonoses: The lethal gifts of livestock’ (photo credit: ILRI/Susan MacMillan).

‘So, how do these diseases get from animals into people, these 60 per cent of diseases that we share with animals? “Spillover” is the word. Here we see what we call an epidemiological or sylvatic cycle. That’s a little pathogen living in a kind of equilibrium with its wild host. By the usual evolutionary rules, once these pathogens have been living a long time with their hosts, they tend to co-evolve so that they get a little less malignant. Otherwise, if the pathogen kills all its hosts, it’s not good for its long-term survival. So what you tend to get are complex pristine ecosystems with lots of hosts and lots of pathogens, all in an evolutionary race but all staying in a relative status quo.

‘Once you bring in humans, you can get spillover. Once humans start coming into these pristine ecosystems and start messing with them—start killing lots of animals or butchering game meat or doing other things that happen when people invade pristine ecosystems—some of these pathogens can spill over into humans. What tends to happen when they first spill over is that they’re not adapted to humans: they kill them and that’s it. That’s what we tend to see with the ebola and marburg viruses; you’ve heard about these in Uganda. They spill over, they kill, that’s it. But if they get lots and lots of opportunities to spill over to people, evolution starts kicking in, too, and they now have got a new host, a new lease, so they’re going to start being able to be transmitted more readily, from human to human.

‘The other thing that can happen in these sylvatic cycles is the spillover can occur into livestock. This can be expected. Humans have contacts with wild animals, but livestock have many more. So we often see that livestock can act as a sort of bridge to bring these wild animal diseases into people. And that’s what we see with diseases such as the Nipah virus, diseases such as avian influenza and Rift Valley fever. The host is out there somewhere in the wild; often we don’t know where it is. It’s shocking to say: we still aren’t sure where the host for Rift Valley fever is, we just don’t know. But we know it gets into livestock, and from livestock it gets into people. People can be a dead-end host—the virus can get in, sicken and kill and that’s it—or the virus can gradually start adapting to humans.

‘Some of the factors that can help this transition are increasing the densities, increasing the contacts, increasing the amount of pathogen in the environment, but also other things like habitat change, biodiversity, vector density, host density.

I would argue—this is a little bit provocative and not everyone would agree—that spillovers happen all of the time and most of the time just aren’t any big deal. A lot of the present effort to control emerging infectious diseases is perhaps not well directed because we’re dealing with problems that are intrinsically self-limiting. However, when you look back at history, in order for a spillover to become a disaster—in order for a spillover to become a pandemic, a civilization-altering disease—you need something else. I think this missing ingredient is great societal dislocation.

‘And that’s what history shows. The first big transition was the Neolithic transition. I’m going to come back to that because it’s important. Other examples, from the 13th to the 15th centuries, Europe went through a little Ice Age—we talk about climate change making it hotter today; then, it got colder. People got hungry, people, starved, people moved; you got Black Death and it killed one in three.

‘When they opened up the New World and when people came to the Americas, something like 90 per cent of the population died in the Americas, from smallpox, from measles. This is what we call ‘virgin soil’ epidemics; people who had no immunity; why? because they hadn’t hung out with livestock for long enough, according to some people, so people just died in droves.

‘But it wasn’t just a disease—it was the collapse of their society, the collapse of a highly advanced, highly stable, highly functioning society. It was destroyed from the outside and the disease came in.

The riders of the Apocalypse do not ride alone. Plague by itself needs war, needs famine, needs destruction.

‘We saw the same in the First World War, with the trenches and that massive societal misery, which led to Spanish flu and 40 million dying, and colonialization and urbanization in Africa in the early 20th century leading to HIV.

Disease spillover + societal dislocation = pandemic

Slide from ‘livestock live talk’ by Delia Grace on 31 Oct 2012 (slide by ILRI/Delia Grace).


‘Some argue and some spend millions of dollars hearing that we are about to enter a new time of unprecedented societal dislocation. As we get massive population increases, massive climate change, massive global destruction, we’re in for another big plague.

‘Let’s look at the first epidemiological transition, just to take us back to history and to show how domestication leads to disease. The first [animal we domesticated] was the dog [15,000–30,000 BC], and some would argue that the dog domesticated us, and the last was the goose (1,500 BC), and anyone who has been chased around a farm by a goose knows that they are as yet imperfectly domesticated!

But between the dog and the goose, there’s been a long range of domestication and the animals brought disease with them, diseases we tend to think of as human diseases; measles, mumps, diptheria, flu, smallpox, they all jumped from animals, many of them from livestock.

Disease and livestock domestication

Slide from ‘livestock live talk’ by Delia Grace on 31 Oct 2012 (slide by ILRI/Delia Grace).


‘And of course this is a dynamic: once they jumped in they can jump back; other diseases jumped from people to livestock, and once they were in the livestock, they came back again.

‘So that was the link between livestock and disease and why livestock play such an important role in human disease.

‘The next question we have to answer is to try and put some details on this, try and put some parameters on it. If disease matters, and if animals play a big role in disease, what disease matters? how much? to whom? what does it cost? what can we do about it? . . .’

This ends part one of this ILRI ‘livestock live talk’ presentation by Delia Grace on ‘The lethal gifts of livestock’. Check back here tomorrow for part two.

Read the invitation to this ILRI ‘livestock live talk’, and sign up here for our RSS feed on ILR’s Clippings Blog to see future invites to this new monthly seminar series.

View the slide presentation: Zoonoses: The lethal gifts of livestock, an ILRI ‘livestock live talk’ by Delia Grace at ILRI’s Nairobi headquarters on 31 Oct 2012.

New ILRI study maps hotspots of human-animal infectious diseases and emerging disease outbreaks

Greatest Burden of Zoonoses Falls on One Billion Poor Livestock Keepers

Map by ILRI, published in an ILRI report to DFID: Mapping of Poverty and Likely Zoonoses Hotspots, 2012.

A new study maps hotspots of human-animal infectious diseases and emerging disease outbreaks. The maps reveal animal-borne disease as a heavy burden for one billion of world’s poor and new evidence on zoonotic emerging disease hotspots in the United States and western Europe.

The new global study mapping human-animal diseases like tuberculosis (TB) and Rift Valley fever finds that an ‘unlucky’ 13 zoonoses are responsible for 2.4 billion cases of human illness and 2.2 million deaths per year. The vast majority occur in low- and middle-income countries.

The study, which was conducted by the International Livestock Research Institute (ILRI), the Institute of Zoology (UK) and the Hanoi School of Public Health in Vietnam, maps poverty, livestock-keeping and the diseases humans get from animals, and presents a ‘top 20’ list of geographical hotspots.

From cyst-causing tapeworms to avian flu, zoonoses present a major threat to human and animal health,’ said Delia Grace, a veterinary epidemiologist and food safety expert with ILRI in Kenya and lead author of the study. ‘Targeting the diseases in the hardest hit countries is crucial to protecting global health as well as to reducing severe levels of poverty and illness among the world’s one billion poor livestock keepers.’

‘Exploding global demand for livestock products is likely to fuel the spread of a wide range of human-animal infectious diseases,’ Grace added.

According to the study, Ethiopia, Nigeria, and Tanzania in Africa, as well as India in Asia, have the highest zoonotic disease burdens, with widespread illness and death. Meanwhile, the northeastern United States, Western Europe (especially the United Kingdom), Brazil and parts of Southeast Asia may be hotspots of ’emerging zoonoses’—those that are newly infecting humans, are newly virulent, or have newly become drug resistant.

The study examined the likely impacts of livestock intensification and climate change on the 13 zoonotic diseases currently causing the greatest harm to the world’s poor.

The report, Mapping of Poverty and Likely Zoonoses Hotspots, was developed with support from the United Kingdom’s Department for International Development (DFID). The goal of the research was to identify areas where better control of zoonotic diseases would most benefit poor people. It also updates a map of emerging disease events published in the science journal Nature in 2008 by Jones et al.[i]

Remarkably, some 60 per cent of all human diseases and 75 per cent of all emerging infectious diseases are zoonotic.

Among the high-priority zoonoses studied here are ‘endemic zoonoses’, such as brucellosis, which cause the vast majority of illness and death in poor countries; ‘epidemic zoonoses’, which typically occur as outbreaks, such as anthrax and Rift Valley fever; and the relatively rare ’emerging zoonoses’, such as bird flu, a few of which, like HIV/AIDS, spread to cause global cataclysms. While zoonoses can be transmitted to people by either wild or domesticated animals, most human infections are acquired from the world’s 24 billion livestock, including pigs, poultry, cattle, goats, sheep and camels.

Poverty, zoonoses and markets
Today, 2.5 billion people live on less than USD2 per day. Nearly three-quarters of the rural poor and some one-third of the urban poor depend on livestock for their food, income, traction, manure or other services. Livestock provide poor households with up to half their income and between 6 and 35 per cent of their protein consumption. The loss of a single milking animal can be devastating to such households. Worse, of course, is the loss of a family member to zoonotic disease.

Despite the danger of zoonoses, the growing global demand for meat and milk products is a big opportunity for poor livestock keepers.

Increased demand will continue over the coming decades, driven by rising populations and incomes, urbanization and changing diets in emerging economies,’ noted Steve Staal, deputy director general-research at ILRI. ‘Greater access to global and regional meat markets could move  millions of poor livestock keepers out of poverty if they can effectively participate in meeting that  rising demand.’

But zoonoses present a major obstacle to their efforts. The study estimates, for example, that about one in eight livestock in poor countries are affected by brucellosis; this reduces milk and meat production in cattle by around 8 per cent.

Thus, while the developing world’s booming livestock markets represent a pathway out of poverty for many, the presence of zoonotic diseases can perpetuate rather than reduce poverty and hunger in livestock-keeping communities. The study found a 99 per cent correlation between country levels of protein-energy malnutrition and the burden of zoonoses.

Many poor livestock keepers are not even meeting their own protein and energy needs’, said Staal. ‘Too often, animal diseases, including zoonotic diseases, confound their greatest efforts to escape poverty and hunger.’

Assessing the burden of zoonoses
The researchers initially reviewed 56 zoonoses that together are responsible for around 2.5 billion cases of human illness and 2.7 million human deaths per year. A more detailed study was made of the 13 zoonoses identified as most important, based on analysis of 1,000 surveys covering more than 10 million people, 6 million animals and 6,000 food or environment samples.

The analysis found high levels of infection with these zoonoses among livestock in poor countries. For example, 27 per cent of livestock in developing countries showed signs of current or past infection with bacterial food-borne disease—a source of food contamination and widespread illness. The researchers attribute at least one-third of global diarrheal disease to zoonotic causes, and find this disease to be the biggest zoonotic threat to public health.

In the booming livestock sector of developing countries, by far the fastest growing sectors are poultry and pigs.

As production, processing and retail food chains intensify, there are greater risks of food-borne illnesses, especially in poorly managed systems’, said John McDermott, director of the  CGIAR Research Program on Agriculture for  Nutrition and Health, led by the International Food Policy Research Institute (IFPRI). ‘Historically, high-density pig and poultry populations have been important in maintaining and mixing influenza populations. A major concern is that as new livestock systems intensify, particularly small- and medium-sized pig production, the more intensive systems will allow the maintenance and transmission of pathogens. A number of new zoonoses, such as Nipah virus infections, have emerged in that way.’


Emerging Zoonotic Diseases Events 1940-2012

Map by Institute of Zoology (IOZ), published in an ILRI report to DFID: Mapping of Poverty and Likely Zoonoses Hotspots, 2012.

Intensification and disease spread
The most rapid changes in pig and poultry farming are expected in Burkina Faso and Ghana in Africa and India, Myanmar and Pakistan in Asia. Pig and poultry farming is also intensifying more rapidly than other farm commodity sectors, with more animals being raised in more concentrated spaces, which raises the risk of disease spread.

Assessing the likely impacts of livestock intensification on the high-priority zoonoses, the study found that livestock density is associated more with disease ‘event emergence’ than with overall disease burdens. Both the northeastern United States and Western Europe have high densities of livestock and high levels of disease emergence (e.g., BSE, or ‘mad cow’ disease, and Lyme disease), but low numbers of people falling sick and dying from zoonotic diseases. The latter is almost certainly due to the relatively good disease reporting and health care available in these rich countries.

Bovine tuberculosis is a good example of a zoonotic disease that is now rare in both livestock and human populations in rich countries but continues to plague poor countries, where it infects about 7 per cent of cattle, reducing their production by 6 per cent. Most infected cattle have the bovine form of TB, but both the human and bovine forms of TB can infect cows and people. Results of this study suggest that the burden of zoonotic forms of TB may be underestimated, with bovine TB causing up to 10 per cent of human TB cases. Human TB remains one of the most important and common human diseases in poor countries; in 2010, 12 million people suffered from active disease, with 80 per cent of all new cases occurring in 22 developing countries.  

Massive underreporting

We found massive underreporting of zoonoses and animal diseases in general in poor countries’, said Grace. ‘In sub-Saharan Africa, for example, 99.9 per cent of livestock losses do not appear in official disease reports. Surveillance is not fulfilling its purpose.’

The surveillance lacking today will be even more needed in the future, as the climate changes, she added. Previous research by ILRI and others indicates that areas with increased rainfall and flooding will have increased risk of zoonoses, particularly those diseases transmitted by insects or associated with stagnant water or flooding.

The main finding of the study is that most of the burden of zoonoses and most of the opportunities for alleviating zoonoses lie in just a few countries, notably Ethiopia, Nigeria, and India. These three countries have the highest number of poor livestock keepers, the highest number of malnourished people, and are in the top five countries for both absolute numbers affected with zoonoses and relative intensity of zoonoses infection.

‘These findings allow us to focus on the hotspots of zoonoses and poverty, within which we should be able to make a difference’, said Grace.

Read the whole report: Mapping of poverty and likely zoonoses hotspots, report to the UK Department for International Development by Delia Grace et al., ILRI, Institute of Zoology, Hanoi School of Public Health, 2012.

Read about the report in an article in NatureCost of human-animal disease greatest for world’s poor, 5 Jul 2012. Nature doi:10.1038/nature.2012.10953


[i] Nature, Vol 451, 990–993, 21 February 2008, Global trends in emerging infectious diseases, Kate E Jones, Nikkita G Patel, Marc Levy, Adam Storeygard, Deborah Balk, John L Gittleman and Peter Daszak.

Animal plagues: ‘The lethal gift of livestock’

List of reported bird flu outbreaks, May 11 through August 27, 2005

List of reported bird flu outbreaks from 11 May through 27 August 2005 (map on Flickr by Brooke Ganz/Asparagirl).

Two veterinary epidemiologists working at the International Livestock Research Institute (ILRI) recently published a fascinating look at the state of ‘livestock plagues’ that can, and regularly are, transmitted to human populations.

The two authors are John McDermott, who has since moved from ILRI to the International Food Policy Research Institute, where he leads a new CGIAR Research Program on ‘Agriculture for Better Nutrition and Health’, and Delia Grace, who remains at ILRI and leads the health components of this new program.

Introduction to this ILRI essay
‘Since the widespread domestication of animals in the Neolithic era, 10,000–15,000 years before the Common Era (CE), human livelihoods have been inextricably linked with the livestock they keep. Domesticated animals must have been among the most valued assets of ancient humans: walking factories that provided food, fertiliser, power, clothing, building materials, tools and utensils, fuel, power and adornments. Inevitably, the innovations of crop cultivation and food storage that allowed people to settle and live in high numbers and densities also increased the number of animals kept, density of livestock population and the intimacy of human-animal interactions. Pathogens responded, undergoing intense genomic change to seize these dramatically expanded opportunities.

Epidemics of highly contagious and lethal disease emerged, as livestock and people reached the critical population sizes needed for acute infections to persist. Diseases also jumped species from animal to humans: the lethal gift of livestock.

‘This chapter discusses which livestock epidemics are likely to constitute a disaster and why. . . .

Conclusion of the ILRI chapter
‘The struggle with epizootics continues and has even intensified in recent times. Population-decimating animal plagues, such as contagious bovine pleuropneumonia, peste des petits ruminants, swine fever, Newcastle disease and avian influenza, continue to have lethal and devastating impacts on livestock and livelihoods.

Livestock plagues are also shifting and emerging while climate change, urbanisation, migrations, genetically modified crops and rapid land use changes are examples of wild cards which could alter the present distribution for the disease dramatically for the worse.

The declaration of an era of epidemics, though, might be premature. In richer countries, dependence on livestock is low, resources exist to effectively control disease and non-communicable diseases associated with modern farming systems (such as lameness and reproductive problems) production pose the greatest problem to animal health.

‘In the developing world, the situation is different. Many people depend on animal agriculture: 700 million people keep livestock and up to 40 per cent of household income depends on livestock. Animal and human disease outbreaks are far more frequent, both for infections well controlled elsewhere and for emerging diseases.

In the poorest countries in Africa, livestock plagues that were better controlled in the past are regaining ground. Paradoxically, the fear of epizootics is much higher among the worried well in rich countries, who are highly concerned about the diseases they are very unlikely to fall sick or die of.

Thankfully this enlightened self-interest is providing more support for control of epizootics in poor countries. But it appears that while the centralised control of livestock plagues is effective (albeit, at high-cost) in richer countries, it struggles in the poorest. New approaches are not only needed but need to be rapidly tested and made available. What is required now is the vision and courage to transcend sectoral and conventional veterinary approaches and apply innovations to these urgent problems.’

Read the whole ILRI essay, which has been published as a chapter titled ‘Livestock epidemic’, freely available here on ILRI’s Mahider document repository, in a book by Routledge: Handbook of Hazards and Disaster Risk Reduction, edited by Ben Wisner, JC Gaillard , Ilan Kelman, published December 2011, 880 pages (hardback: 978-0-415-59065-5: USD240.00).


A pig from Western Kenya

A People, Animals and their Zoonoses (PAZ) project of the University of Edinburgh and ILRI is investigating the role played by pigs in transmitting zoonotic diseases and the risk factors for human infection in western Kenya (photo credit: ILRI/University of Edinburgh/Lian Doble).

Lorren Alumasa, ILRI clinical technician with the PAZ project collecting blood sample from a study participant

Lorren Alumasa, ILRI clinical technician with the People, Animals and their Zoonoses project (PAZ), collects blood sample from a study participant. The PAZ project investigates the role played by pigs in transmitting zoonotic diseases and the risk factors for human infection in western Kenya (photo credit: ILRI/Lorren Alumasa).

About the Handbook
The Handbook provides a comprehensive statement and reference point for hazard and disaster research, policy making, and practice in an international and multi-disciplinary context. It offers critical reviews and appraisals of current state of the art and future development of conceptual, theoretical and practical approaches as well as empirical knowledge and available tools. Organized into five inter-related sections, this Handbook contains sixty-five contributions from leading scholars. Section one situates hazards and disasters in their broad political, cultural, economic, and environmental context. Section two contains treatments of potentially damaging natural events/phenomena organized by major earth system. Section three critically reviews progress in responding to disasters including warning, relief and recovery. Section four addresses mitigation of potential loss and prevention of disasters under two sub-headings: governance, advocacy and self-help, and communication and participation. Section five ends with a concluding chapter by the editors.

Pathways of the evolution of livestock production systems

Pathways of evolution to increase the sustainability of livestock production

Graphic showing pathways of livestock systems evolution to increase the sustainability of livestock production in selected systems, published in a paper by John McDermott et al, ‘Sustaining intensification of smallholder livestock systems in the tropics, Livestock Science (2010) (illustration credit: ILRI/McDermott).

John McDermott, who serves as deputy director general-research at the International Livestock Research Institute (ILRI), and some of his ILRI colleagues published a paper in Livestock Science that sets out what will be needed to make livestock production a sustainable system for smallholders in the developing world, enhancing both the livelihoods and environmental resources of the poor. The abstract of this ILRI paper follows.

‘Smallholder livestock keepers represent almost 20% of the world population and steward most of the agricultural land in the tropics. Observed and expected increases in future demand for livestock products in developing countries provide unique opportunities for improving livelihoods and linked to that, improving stewardship of the environment.

‘This cannot be a passive process and needs to be supported by enabling policies and pro-poor investments in institutional capacities and technologies. Sustaining intensification of smallholder livestock systems must take into account both social and environmental welfare and be targeted to sectors and areas of most probable positive social welfare returns and where natural resource conditions allow for intensification.

‘Smallholders are competitive in ruminant systems, particularly dairy, because of the availability of family labour and the ability of ruminants to exploit lower quality available roughage. Smallholders compete well in local markets which are important in agriculturally-based or transforming developing countries.

‘However, as production and marketing systems evolve, support to smallholders to provide efficient input services, links to output markets and risk mitigation measures will be important if they are to provide higher value products. Innovative public support and links to the private sector will be required for the poor to adapt and benefit as systems evolve. Likewise targeting is critical to choosing which systems with livestock can be intensified. Some intensive river basin systems have little scope for intensification. More extensive rain-fed systems, particularly in Africa, could intensify with enabling policies and appropriate investments. In more fragile environments, de-intensification is required to avoid irreversible damage to ecosystems.

‘Attention to both social and environmental sustainability are critical to understanding tradeoffs and incentives and to bridging important gaps in the perspectives on livestock production between rich and poor countries and peoples. Two specific examples in which important elements of sustainable intensification can be illustrated, smallholder dairy systems in East Africa and South Asia and small ruminant meat systems in Sub-Saharan Africa, are discussed.’

Read the whole paper, J.J. McDermott, S.J. Staal, H.A. Freeman, M. Herrero and J.A. Van de Steeg, Sustaining intensification of smallholder livestock systems in the tropics, published in Livestock Science, 2010: doi:10.1016/j.livsci.2010.02.014

New director general of global livestock research institute appointed: World Bank livestock advisor Jimmy Smith

Jimmy Smith

New director general designate of the International Livestock Research Institute (ILRI) Jimmy Smith (photo credit: ILRI/Paul Karaimu).

Jimmy Smith has been appointed the new director general designate of the International Livestock Research Institute (ILRI).

ILRI board chair Knut Hove made the announcement at the 35th meeting of the ILRI Board of Trustees, on 13 April 2011, to an afternoon gathering of ILRI staff, management and board.

In his announcement, Hove said, ‘We are facing challenges to make livestock more beneficial to the poor and less harmful to the environments of the poor. We think Jimmy Smith is a strong leader for ILRI, one who will open up new partnerships for pro-poor livestock research.’

Born in Guyana, in the Caribbean, where he was raised on a small mixed crop-and-livestock farm, Smith holds dual nationalities with Canada. He is a graduate of the University of Illinois, at Urban-Champaign, USA, where he completed hid PhD in animal sciences. Now based at the headquarters of the World Bank, in Washington, DC, he currently leads the Bank’s Global Livestock Portfolio.

Earlier in his career, Smith served for ten years at ILRI and its predecessor, the International Livestock Centre for Africa (ILCA) (1991–2001). At ILCA and then ILRI, Smith was the institute’s regional representative for West Africa, where he led development of integrated research promoting smallholder livelihoods through animal agriculture and built effective partnerships among stakeholders in the region. At ILRI, Smith spent three years leading the ILRI-led Systemwide Livestock Programme of the Consultative Group on International Agricultural Research (CGIAR), an association of 10 CGIAR centres working on issues at the crop-livestock interface. Since leaving his decade of work at ILCA/ILRI and the CGIAR, Smith has continued playing a major role in supporting international livestock for development in terms of both funding and strategizing.

Before joining the World Bank, where he has served for five years, Smith held senior positions at the Canadian International Development Agency (CIDA) (2001-2006) and the Caribbean Agricultural Research and Development Institute (CARDI) (1986–1991).

Smith will take over from Carlos Seré, ILRI’s current director general. The actual date of change-over will be announced in the near future and is expected to take place in the next 6 months.

Smith said, ‘I congratulate Carlos Seré, John McDermott [ILRI deputy director geneneral-research] and all ILRI staff for their work in making this institute such a strong player in livestock for development. Every member of staff has a contribution to make. My commitment is to take ILRI to even higher heights. I am excited about coming here and look forward to working with all of you. I hope I can demonstrate that I earn your trust and hard work.’

Seré commented, ‘I have known Jimmy for ten years and have learned to appreciate his many talents. He is familiar with important constituencies of livestock research and understands our partners well. We appreciate how strongly he has promoted the global livestock agenda in his work for CIDA and the World Bank and we believe he brings a number of important assets to the family. We will support him completely.’

ILRI Board Chair Hove said: ‘Jimmy Smith has an impeccable track record in developing extensive networks in the livestock sector globally and with development partners around the world. He is familiar with the CGIAR reform process and the international agricultural research agenda. We have full confidence that Jimmy Smith will build upon the strong ILRI foundation and provide the leadership and vision to propel ILRI to greater heights.’

Click on the slide presentation below to watch Smith’s presentation to the ILRI community.

Adapting agriculture to improve human health–new ILRI policy brief

A sleeping sickness patient in Soroti, Uganda

A child with sleeping sickness undergoes lengthy recovery treatment at a sleeping sickness clinic in Soroti, Uganda (photo credit: ILRI).

John McDermott, a Canadian deputy director general for research at the International Livestock Research Institute (ILRI) and a veterinary epidemiologist by training, and Delia Grace, an Irish veterinary epidemiologist working in food safety and many other areas of livestock health, have written a new policy brief on agriculture-associated diseases.

This policy brief has recently been disseminated by McDermott and Grace at an international conference on the agriculture, nutrition and health interface in New Delhi and a conference on the ‘One Health’ approach to tackling human and animal health, held in Melbourne.

McDermott and Grace argue that the way we approach agriculture does not serve human interests as a whole. ‘In the past, agricultural research and development largely focused on improving the production, productivity and profitability of agricultural enterprises. The nutritional and other benefits of agriculture were not always optimized, while the negative impacts on health, well-being and the environment were often ignored. This was especially problematic for livestock systems, with especially complex negative and positive impacts on human health and well-being.’

They give as an example a side effect of agricultural intensification: disease. ‘Highly pathogenic avian influenza (HPAI) is a notorious example of a disease that was fostered by intensified agricultural production and spread through lengthened poultry value chains and the global movement of people and animals. Large-scale irrigation projects, designed to increase agriculture productivity, have created ecosystems conducive to schistosomiasis and Rift Valley fever.’

And the reason we fail to foresee the negative effects of some agricultural practices, they say, is because the responses to disease threats are often compartmentalized. ‘Instead of analysing the tradeoffs between agricultural benefits and risks, the agriculture sector focuses on productivity, while the health sector focuses on managing disease. A careful look at the epidemiology of diseases associated with agriculture, and past experience of control efforts, shows that successful management must be systems-based rather than sectorally designed.’

‘At least 61% of all human pathogens are zoonotic (transmissible between animals and people),’ they write, ‘and zoonoses make up 75% of emerging infectious diseases. A new disease emerges every four months; many are trivial, but HIV, SARS, and avian influenza illustrate the huge potential impacts. Zoonoses and zoonotic diseases recently emerged from animals are responsible for 7% of the total disease burden in least-developed countries.

‘As well as sickening and killing billions of people each year, these diseases damage economies, societies and environments. While there is no metric that captures the full cost of disease, assessments of specific disease outbreaks suggest the scale of potential impacts. . . .

‘. . . There are two broad scenarios that characterize poor countries. At one extreme are neglected areas that lack even the most basic services; in these “cold spots,” diseases persist that are controlled elsewhere, with strong links to poverty, malnutrition and powerlessness. At the other extreme are areas of rapid intensification, where new and often unexpected disease threats emerge in response to rapidly changing practices and interactions between people, animals and ecosystems. These areas are hot spots for the emergence of new diseases (of which 75% are zoonotic). They also are more vulnerable to food-borne disease, as agricultural supply chains diversify and outpace workable regulatory mechanisms.

‘. . . What cannot be measured cannot be effectively and efficiently managed. Addressing agriculture-associated disease requires assessing and prioritizing its impacts, by measuring not only the multiple burdens of disease but also the multiple costs and benefits of potential interventions—across health, agriculture and other sectors. . . .

‘But these assessment tools and results have rarely been integrated to yield a comprehensive assessment of the health, economic and environmental costs of a particular disease. . . .

‘The complexities of agriculture-associated diseases call for more integrated and comprehensive approaches to analyse and address them, as envisioned in One Health and Eco- Health perspectives . . . . These integrated approaches offer a broad framework for understanding and addressing complex disease: they bring together key elements of human, animal and ecosystem health; and they explicitly address the social, economic and political determinants of health. Both of these global approaches recognize agriculture- and ecosystem-based interventions as a key component of multi-disciplinary approaches for managing diseases. For example, food-borne disease requires management throughout the field-to-fork risk pathway. Zoonoses in particular cannot be controlled, in most cases, while disease remains in the animal reservoir. Similarly, agriculture practices that create health risks require farm-level intervention.

‘Systemic One Health and EcoHealth approaches require development and testing of methods, tools and approaches to better support management of the diseases associated with agriculture. The potential impacts justify the substantial investment required. . . .

‘As a basis for framing sound policies, information is needed on the multiple (that is, cross-sectoral) burdens of disease and the multiple costs and benefits of control, as well as the sustainability, feasibility and acceptability of control options. An example of cross-disciplinary research that effectively influenced policy is the case of smallholder dairy in Kenya. In the light of research by ILRI and partners, assessing both public health risks and poverty impacts of regulation, the health regulations requiring pasteurization of milk were reversed; the economic benefits of the change were later estimated at USD26 million per year. This positive change required new collaboration between research, government and non-governmental organizations and the private sector, as well as new ways of working . . . .

‘Many agriculture-associated diseases are characterized by complexity, uncertainty and high-potential impact. They call for both analytic thinking, to break problems into manageable components that can be tackled over time, and holistic thinking, to recognize patterns and wider implications as well as potential benefits.

‘The analytic approach is illustrated in the new decision-support tool developed to address Rift Valley fever in Kenya. In savannah areas of East Africa, climate events trigger a cascade of changes in environment and vectors, causing outbreaks of Rift Valley fever among livestock and (ultimately) humans. Improving information on step-wise events can lead to better decisions about whether, when, where and how to institute control . . . .

‘An example of holistic thinking is pattern recognition applied to disease dynamics, recognizing that emerging diseases have multiple drivers. A synoptic view of apparently unrelated health threats—the unexpected establishment of chikungunya fever in northern Italy, the sudden appearance of West Nile virus in North America, the increasing frequency of Rift Valley fever epidemics in the Arabian Peninsula, and the emergence of bluetongue virus in northern Europe—strengthens the suspicion that a warming climate is driving disease expansion generally.

‘Complex problems often benefit from a synergy of various areas of expertise and approaches. . . . Complex problems also require a longer term view, informed by the understanding that short-term solutions can have unintended effects that lead to long-term problems—as in the case of agricultural intensification fostering health threats. . . .

‘New, integrative ways of working on complex problems, such as One Health and EcoHealth, require new institutional arrangements. The agriculture, environment and health sectors are not designed to promote integrated, multi-disciplinary approaches to complex, cross-sectoral problems. But many exciting initiatives provide examples of successful institutional collaboration. . . .

‘Agriculture and health are intimately linked. Many diseases have agricultural roots—food-borne diseases, water-associated diseases, many zoonoses, most emerging infectious diseases, and occupational diseases associated with agrifood chains. These diseases create an especially heavy burden for poor countries, with far-reaching impacts. This brief views agriculture-associated disease as the dimension of public health shaped by the interaction between humans, animals and agro- ecoystems. This conceptual approach presents new opportunities for shaping agriculture to improve health outcomes, in both the short and long terms.

‘Understanding the multiple burdens of disease is a first step in its rational management. As agriculture-associated diseases occur at the interface of human health, animal health, agriculture and ecosystems, addressing them often requires systems-based thinking and multi-disciplinary approaches. These approaches, in turn, require new ways of working and institutional arrangements. Several promising initiatives demonstrate convincing benefits of new ways of working across disciplines, despite the considerable barriers to cooperation.’

Read the whole ILRI policy brief by John McDermott and Delia Grace: Agriculture-associated diseases: Adapting agriculture to improve human health, February 2011.

How do we get more poor people into the world’s vibrant and emerging livestock markets?

Mozambique, Maputo

Livestock products in a supermarket in Mozambique. The vibrant and emerging livestock markets in developing countires offer new economic opportunities for smallholders (Photo: ILRI/Mann)

Across much of the world, especially in developing countries, market opportunities for livestock products are increasing rapidly as a result of rising demand for animal products driven by growing populations, rising incomes and urbanization. These new markets have created opportunities for smallholder livestock producers, including poor rural farmers, to benefit from ready markets for milk, eggs and meat. But as markets expand, they also often give way to complex supply and distribution channels and the need for high-value products that can end up locking out smallholders from enjoying the benefits of these expanding markets.

How do smallholders maintain their ability to contribute to and benefit from the complex systems that will inevitably result as livestock markets grow?

According to researchers John McDermott and Berhanu Gebremedhin, from the International Livestock Research Institute (ILRI), and Karl Rich and Heather Burrow, from the Norwegian Institute of International Affairs and the University of New England, Australia, respectively, assessing existing relationships in these increasingly complex livestock value chains can not only reveal the reasons behind the increasing complexity of these systems, but also identify potential opportunities for smallholders and show policy and other constraints that can be addressed to encourage more of them to engage in the markets.

In findings presented in The role of livestock in developing communities: enhancing multifunctionality, a new book co-published by the University of the Free State South Africa, the Technical Centre for Agricultural Rural Cooperation (CTA) and ILRI, the researchers suggest areas that can be improved to encourage smallholder participation in livestock value chains. These include ‘local and informal markets, which offer the primary initial growth potential in poor countries’ and post-production systems such as that for processing manure for fuel and for processing hides and skins, which can provide important value addition for smallholders.

Smallholders are best at managing informal production environments, where they can make good use of household labour and low-cost production inputs. The authors cite widespread successful smallholder dairy production systems in South Asia, East Africa and Latin America, which are thriving.

This book reviews how smallholders are participating in emerging and growing livestock markets in Ethiopia and South Africa. The authors note that smallholder participation in livestock markets is particularly influenced by whether organizations within the livestock value chain encourage smallholders to join their organizations, which promotes ‘chain-level interventions that give opportunities for smallholders to participate in markets’.

In Ethiopia, for example, the emerging dairy market is served by farmer organizations like the Ada’a Cooperative in Debre Zeit, an hour’s drive from Addis Abba, which is working to provide feeds and animal health services to members, to improve local dairy breeds and milk collection and to introduce value-added processing. These efforts have led to a tenfold increase in milk collection, to 2.6 million litres, between 2000 and 2005, a gradual strengthening of smallholder links to markets, and a growing demand for breeding and feeding services, which are starting to be met by private companies.

‘There is evidence that setting up and maintaining strong organizations to manage market chains not only leads to improved economic benefits for producers but also leads to broader social benefits like gender development and education,’ the authors say. They recommend improving animal breeds, improving animal nutrition and integrating input supplies and knowledge and financial and market services into the market systems. ‘Smallholders are more likely to benefit from market initiatives when these markets are oriented towards sellers, where enabling policies from government exist and where collective action and support is mobilised . . . .’

‘Commodity-based trade approaches’ also help to bring more smallholders into the market. In Ethiopia, for example, a phased export program for beef that allows quarantine, vaccination and disease control followed by observation in an export-zone feed lot before slaughter has provided a way of certifying meat as disease-free for export to Middle Eastern markets.

The authors warn, however, that not all livestock value chains will be accessible to smallholders. Few of Africa’s small producers export beef and other meat because these products are governed by unique tariff systems and international trade rules and are open to international competitors.

The book recommends regular review of the performance of value chain systems to ensure they are responsive to both small-scale producers and changing consumer demands.

Read more about The role of livestock in developing communities: enhancing multifunctionality.

Download the full text.

Livestock boom risks aggravating animal ‘plagues,’ poses growing threat to food security and health of world’s poor

Shepherd in Rajasthan, India

Research released at conference calls for thinking through the health impacts of agricultural intensification to control epidemics that are decimating herds and endangering humans (Picture credit: ILRI/Mann).

Increasing numbers of domestic livestock and more resource-intensive production methods are encouraging animal epidemics around the world, a problem that is particularly acute in developing countries, where livestock diseases present a growing threat to the food security of already vulnerable populations, according to new assessments reported today at the International Conference on Leveraging Agriculture for Improving Nutrition & Health in New Delhi, India.

‘Wealthy countries are effectively dealing with livestock diseases, but in Africa and Asia, the capacity of veterinary services to track and control outbreaks is lagging dangerously behind livestock intensification,’ said John McDermott, deputy director general for research at the International Livestock Research Institute (ILRI), which spearheaded the work. ‘This lack of capacity is particularly dangerous because many poor people in the world still rely on farm animals to feed their families, while rising demand for meat, milk and eggs among urban consumers in the developing world is fueling a rapid intensification of livestock production.’

The global conference (, organized by the International Food Policy Research Institute, brings together leading agriculture, nutrition and health experts to assess ways to increase agriculture’s contribution to better nutrition and health for the world’s most vulnerable people.

The new assessments from ILRI spell out how livestock diseases present ‘double trouble’ in poor countries. First, livestock diseases imperil food security in the developing world (where some 700 million people keep farm animals and up to 40 percent of household income depends on them) by reducing the availability of a critical source of protein. Second, animal diseases also threaten human health directly when viruses such as the bird flu (H5N1), SARS and Nipah viruses ‘jump’ from their livestock hosts into human populations.

McDermott is a co-author with Delia Grace, a veterinary and food safety researcher at ILRI, of a chapter on livestock epidemics in a new book called ‘Handbook of Hazards and Disaster Risk Reduction.’ This chapter focuses on animal plagues that primarily affect livestock operations—as opposed to human populations—and that are particularly devastating in the developing world.

‘In the poorest regions of the world, livestock plagues that were better controlled in the past are regaining ground,’ they warn, with ‘lethal and devastating impacts’ on livestock and the farmers and traders that depend on them. These ‘population-decimating plagues’ include diseases that kill both people and their animals and destroy livelihoods.

Livestock-specific diseases include contagious bovine ‘lung plague’ of cattle, buffalo and yaks, peste des petits ruminants (an acute respiratory ailment of goats and sheep), swine fever (‘hog cholera’) and Newcastle disease (a highly infectious disease of domestic poultry and wild birds). The world’s livestock plagues also include avian influenza (bird flu) and other ‘zoonotic’ diseases, which, being transmissible between animals and people, directly threaten human as well as animal health.

McDermott and Grace warn that new trends, including rapid urbanization and climate change, could act as ‘wild cards,’ altering the present distribution of diseases, sometimes ‘dramatically for the worse.’ The authors say developing countries need to speed up their testing and adoption of new approaches, appropriate for their development context, to detect and then to stop or contain livestock epidemics before they become widespread.

In a separate but related policy analysis to be presented at the New Delhi conference, McDermott and Grace focus on links between agricultural intensification and the spread of zoonotic diseases. The researchers warn of a dangerous disconnect: the agricultural intensification now being pursued in the developing world, they say, is typically focused on increasing food production and profitability, while potential effects on human health remain ‘largely ignored.’

A remarkable 61 percent of all human pathogens, and 75 percent of new human pathogens, are transmitted by animals, and some of the most lethal bugs affecting humans originate in our domesticated animals. Notable examples of zoonotic diseases include avian influenza, whose spread was primarily caused by domesticated birds; and the Nipah virus infection, which causes influenza-like symptoms, often followed by inflammation of the brain and death, and which spilled over to people from pigs kept in greater densities by smallholders.

The spread and subsequent establishment of avian influenza in previously disease-free countries, such as Indonesia, was a classic example, McDermott and Grace say, of the risks posed by high-density chicken and duck operations and long poultry ‘value chains,’ as well as the rapid global movement of both people and livestock. In addition, large-scale irrigation aimed at boosting agricultural productivity, they say, has created conditions that facilitate the establishment of the Rift Valley fever virus in new regions, with occasional outbreaks killing hundreds of people along with thousands of animals.

The economic impacts of such zoonotic diseases are enormous. The World Bank estimates that if avian influenza becomes transmissible from human to human, the potential cost of a resulting pandemic could be USD3 trillion. Rich countries are better equipped than poor countries to cope with new diseases—and they are investing heavily in global surveillance and risk reduction activities—but no one is spared the threat as growing numbers of livestock and easy movement across borders increase the chances of global pandemics.

But while absolute economic losses from livestock diseases are greater in rich countries, the impact on the health and livelihoods of people is worse in poor countries. McDermott and Grace point out, for example, that zoonotic diseases and food-borne illnesses associated with livestock account for at least 16 percent of the infectious disease burden in low-income countries, compared to just 4 percent in high-income nations.

Yet despite the great threats posed by livestock diseases, McDermott and Grace see a need for a more intelligent response to outbreaks that considers the local disease context as well as the livelihoods of people. They observe that ‘while few argue that disease control is a bad thing, recent experiences remind us that, if livestock epidemics have negative impacts, so too can the actions taken to control or prevent them.’

An exclusive focus on avian influenza preparedness activities in Africa relative to other more important disease concerns, they point out, invested scarce financial resources to focus on a disease that, due to a low-density of chicken operations and scarcity of domestic ducks, is unlikely to do great damage to much of the continent. And they argue that a wholesale slaughter of pigs in Cairo instituted after an outbreak of H1N1 was ‘costly and epidemiologically pointless’ because the disease was already being spread ‘by human-to-human transmission.’

McDermott and Grace conclude that to build surveillance systems able to detect animal disease outbreaks in their earliest stages, developing countries will need to work across sectors, integrating veterinary, medical, and environmental expertise in ‘one-health’ approaches to assessing, prioritizing and managing the risks posed by livestock diseases.

More information on why animals matter to health and nutrition: and