The IPCC of the livestock sector? Global Agenda of Action on building a sustainable livestock sector

Watch this 3.3-minute video interview of Henning Steinfeld, who leads the livestock sector analysis and policy branch at the Food and Agriculture Organization of the UN. He spoke at the sidelines of the Third Multi-Stakeholder Platform Meeting of the Global Agenda of Action in Support of Sustainable Livestock Sector Development, which was co-hosted in Nairobi, Kenya, by ILRI, FAO and AU-IBAR, 22–24 Jan 2013 (video produced by Muthoni Njiru, of ILRI’s public awareness unit).

Shirley Tarawali, director of institutional planning and partnerships at the International Livestock Research Institute (ILRI), is attending the 4th multi-stakeholder platform meeting of the Global Agenda of Action in Support of Sustainable Livestock Sector Development (GAA)  this week, 15–17 Oct, in Ottawa, Canada. The meeting aims to address the complexity of the challenges facing the sector which can be addressed only through concerted joint action.

This Agenda builds consensus among livestock sector actors on the path towards sustainability. Like its other members, ILRI believes the livestock sector is crucial to society achieving its environmental, social, economic and health objectives.

Basically, the livestock sector needs to produce more, from less, and with benefits to all.

A tall order. Can it be done? The Global Agenda of Action thinks it can.

‘The purpose of the Agenda is to catalyze the continuous improvement of the sector’s natural resource use to ensure the sector’s contribution to sustainability in food and agriculture. The partnership unites the forces of the public and private sectors, producers, research and academic institutions, NGOs and social movements and community-based organizations.’

Set up of the current Agenda

  • Open multi-stakeholder platform for consensus building on top-priority issues and actions
  • Guiding group for overall direction, guidance and monitoring
  • Focus area groups to implement the work programs
  • Support group

The GAA aims to help improve the efficiency of natural resource use in the livestock sector through work in the following three areas.

Focus area 1: Closing the efficiency gap
Generating large resource use efficiency, economic, and social gains through the use of livestock-related technologies, management practices, policies and institutional frameworks through, for example, quantification of efficiency gaps in target countries, regions and production systems

Focus area 2: Restoring value to grasslands
Enhancing livestock-related ecosystem services, productivity and livelihoods through the restoration, optimal management and utilization of grasslands through, for example, synthesis of non-market benefits of grassland restoration and an assessment of global grassland carbon sequestration potential

Focus area 3: Transforming waste to worth
Reducing nutrient overload and greenhouse gas emissions by livestock systems through the recovery and recycling of nutrients and energy contained in manure through, for example, a global inventory of current manure distribution, management practices and associated nutrient balances

This morning (15 Oct 2013), ILRI director Shirley Tarawali, an agronomist and livestock feed specialist by training, took part in a panel discussion questioning whether the Agenda should address ‘comprehensive sustainability’.

What is the evidence that it can be done? ILRI scientists are working to help obtain this (see below, for example). What strikes Tarawali most is the cogency of the three focus areas chosen to build this sustainability and the consistency of alignment demonstrated among the diverse kinds of livestock stakeholders taking part in this Global Agenda of Action.

Asked if we need an ‘IPCC’ to help us manage a sustainable evolution of the global livestock sector, Tarawali answered: ‘The Global Agenda is the IPCC of our global livestock systems! If we pay serious attention to the Agenda’s three focus areas of work, we can do this.’

ILRI scientists working directly with the Global Agenda of Action
ILRI director and agronomist/feed specialist Shirley Tarawali (UK) is part of the Guiding Group. Feed resources specialist Michael Blümmel (Germany), agricultural economist Hikuepi (Epi) Katjiuongua (Namibia) and sustainable livestock systems project leader Iain Wright (UK) are working with the Agenda’s Efficiency Group. Ecosystem ecologist Rich Conant (USA), livestock and the environment leader Polly Ericksen (USA) and ILRI Forage Genebank manager Alexandra Jorge (Mozambique) are working with the Agenda’s Grasslands Group. And landscape ecologist Tim Robinson (UK) and environmental scientist Nguyen Viet Hung (Vietnam) are working with the Agenda’s Manure Group.

See the Agenda strategy and consensus.

Directly below, view the slide presentation made by ILRI director general Jimmy Smith at the Third Multi-Stakeholder Platform Meeting of the Global Agenda of Action in Support of Sustainable Livestock Sector Development, which was co-hosted in Nairobi, Kenya, by ILRI, FAO and AU-IBAR, 22–24 Jan 2013.

Or, below, watch this 3-minute video produced by FAO introducing the Global Agenda of Action.

Sustainable intensification of agriculture in Africa: The case for mixed crop-livestock farming

Click to view this slide presentation made by Shirley Tarawali, director of institutional planning and partnerships at the International Livestock Research Institute (ILRI), in Nairobi, Kenya, on Thu 19 Sep 2013, at the 22 International Grasslands Congress, which was held in Sydney, Australia, 15−19 September 2013, and had some 800 participants. Other ILRI and former colleagues who developed the presentation with Tarawali are Alan Duncan, Peter Thorne, Diego Valbuena, Katrien Descheemaeker and Sabine Homann-KeeTui.

This ILRI presentation made the case for continued close integration of crop farming and livestock raising in Africa, where such integrated farming systems are key to helping small-scale food producers intensify their production levels while conserving their natural resources and protecting their environments.

Tarawali had three main messages for her audience, for which she and her colleagues provided samples of latest research work at ILRI and its partners around the world.

  1. Don’t decouple crop intensification efforts from livestock intensification work.
  2. Address the biomass challenge.
  3. Improve the efficiencies of smallholder livestock production systems to reduce any harm they cause to the environment.


Mixed crop-and-livestock farming systems are important for feeding the world

Slide 3: Livestock demand is highest in developing countries

Slide 4: Developing countries lead in global food production

Smallholder livestock keepers in developing countries are remarkably competitive

Slide 6: Smallholder livestock keepers are competitive

Slide 7: Smallholder livestock keepers are competitive

Slide 8: Key points related to smallholder competitiveness

Livestock benefit crop production

Slide 9: Soil fertility and manure

Slide 10: Animal traction

Crop production benefits livestock

Slide 12: Crop residues


Slide 13: Importance of grazed biomass for livestock

Slide 14: Sustainable intensification

Slide 18: More biomass?


Improve crop residues for livestock feed

Slide 20: Improve dual-purpise crop-residues for livestock feed

Slide 21: Opportunities to improve livestock efficiencies

Read / view the opening keynote presentation made at the International Grasslands Congress by ILRI’s director general Jimmy Smith on the ILRI News Blog:

Why the world’s small-scale livestock farms matter so much: Keynote address at International Grasslands Congress, Part 1, 16 Sep 2013

Why tackling partial truths about livestock matters so much: Keynote address at International Grasslands Congress, Part 2, 17 Sep 2013


‘Not by food alone’: Livestock research should be used to make a bigger difference, say African experts

Livestock landscapes: Africa

Livestock matter to the livelihoods and ambitions of most people living in Africa and other developing regions of the world (image credit: ILRI/Rob O’Meara).

Note: This post was developed by ILRI corporate communications staff Paul Karaimu and Muthoni Njiru.

The 6th Africa Agriculture Science Week (AASW6) of the Forum for Agricultural Research in Africa (FARA) is being held this week (15–Jul 2013) in Accra, Ghana. The official opening and plenary sessions start tomorrow, Thu 18 Jul.

Speaking at Monday’s launch of the whole AASW6 week, Tiemoko Yo, chairperson of FARA, said the science week aimed to respond to some of the burning issues in African agricultural research for development. Many if not most of those issues were discussed in more than 50 side events held over the first 2 days of the week, many of them by CGIAR centres.

One such side event organized by the International Livestock Research (ILRI) explored the role of  ‘Livestock research for Africa’s food security and poverty reduction’. Sixty-five people from agricultural and livestock development, extension and government agencies participated in this three-hour session facilitated by ILRI’s Even Le Borgne and held on 15 Jul. Five topics were  discussed:

  • The biomass crisis in intensifying smallholder livestock systems
  • Vulnerability and risk in drylands
  • Food safety and aflatoxins
  • Livestock vaccine biosciences
  • Mobilizing biosciences for a food-secure Africa

The session started with a look at Africa’s livestock sector as a whole.
After ILRI director Jimmy Smith welcomed the guests to ILRI’s morning discussion, Shirley Tarawali, ILRI director of institutional planning and partnerships, explained one of the aims of the session. ‘Today, with our partners and stakeholders, we’d like to reflect on where we can work closely with others to influence and develop capacity to enhance Africa’s agriculture.’

Half of the highest-value African commodities are livestock products, including milk and meat.—Shirley Tarawali, ILRI

ILRI presentation for ALiCE2013: Highest value African commodities

Next was a brief look at an emerging ‘biomass crisis’ in African agriculture.
Iain Wright, who leads an Animal Science for Sustainable Productivity program at ILRI, said ‘Livestock feed is at the interface of the positive and negative effects of livestock raising. Helping Africa’s many millions of farmers and herders to boost their livestock productivity through more and better feeds while also helping them to conserve their natural resources is a major challenge for livestock scientists.’

Biomass production is the most significant user of land resources and water in livestock production systems. We need to think how to produce this biomass more efficiently.—Iain Wright, ILRI

Biomass crisis

Next up was a quick overview of the public health threats posed by livestock foods and aflatoxins.
‘Ensuring food safety is one of the most important issues facing the agricultural sector today’, said Delia Grace, a veterinary epidemiologist and food safety expert at ILRI.  ‘This is especially so in developing countries, where food-borne diseases are among the top five health burdens. Livestock diseases and unsafe milk, meat and eggs pose multiple burdens on the poor. They sicken and kill people and animals and burden national economies with huge economic losses’.

Each year, Africa loses billions of dollars due to aflatoxins, which occur on mouldy maize, groundnuts and other crops and crop harvests. The widespread presence of aflatoxins in Africa hurts the continent not only by making people ill but also by contributing to lost market opportunities.—Delia Grace, ILRI

Unfortunately, she said, efforts to improve food safety standards can end up hurting the poor, who, finding it difficult to meet those standards, are often cut off from the informal markets they depend on. Livestock foods also pose problems, she said.

The most nutritious foods—milk, meat, fish and vegetables—are also the most dangerous. These foods are also among the highest-value agricultural products in terms of generating cash incomes and are especially critical for the well-being of Africa’s women.—Delia Grace, ILRI

Food safety and aflatoxins

Next was an introduction to livestock vaccines for African livestock.
Suzanne Bertrand, deputy director general biosciences at ILRI, reported on ILRI and partner research to produce vaccines that protect African livestock against disease. ‘We want to simplify vaccine production and to understand how the pathogens that are causing African livestock diseases are developing resistance to the drugs used to treat the diseases.’

We want to work on these issues with the immunology and health departments of African universities.—Suzanne Bertrand, ILRI

Importance of animal health in Africa


ILRI scientist Polly Ericksen also spoke on ILRI-partner approaches to new research on pastoral systems in Africa’s drylands and Ethel Makila introduced the state-of-the art facilities and training opportunities in the Biosciences eastern and central Africa-ILRI Hub, endorsed by the New Partnership for Africa’s Development (NEPAD) Comprehensive African Agricultural Development Programme (CAADP) and located in Nairobi, Kenya. ILRI deputy director for research in integrated sciences, John McIntire, provided a synthesis of the morning’s discussions.

From the participants

In agriculture, the livestock sub-sector has been neglected. To meet the Millennium Development Goal of helping people rise out of poverty, we must invest more in smallholder livestock production.Yusuf Abubakar, executive secretary of the Agricultural Research Council of Nigeria

‘When a research-based agricultural intervention is introduced to a community,’ said Mkhunjulelwa Ndlovu, of Zimbabwe’s Department of Agricultural, Technical and Extension Services, ‘it must be integrated into existing work and involve other stakeholders in development, especially governments, to ensure that use of the intervention is sustained over the longer term.

‘And remember’, Ndlovu said, ‘that the most active members in most communities are women; our interventions must suit their needs.’

We don’t feed ourselves and others with food alone; we also feed ourselves and others in intellectual ways. Capacity is key to driving innovation and change within societies; to build that capacity, we need to change people’s mindsets.—Mkhunjulelwa Ndlovu, Zimbabwe Department of Agricultural, Technical and Extension Services

ILRI's livestock for reILRI side event at AASW6: Group discussions

Group discussions at the ILRI side event on 15 Jul at the 6th Africa Agriculture Science Week (AASW6), in Accra, Ghana, 15-20 Jul 2013, organized by the Forum for Agricultural Research in Africa (FARA) photo credit: ILRI/Ewen Le Borgne).

Those participating in this ILRI-hosted side session agreed on the need for livestock scientists to work in multidisciplinary teams and engage in ‘holistic’ research. Only by doing so, they said, would livestock scientists be in position to evaluate all components affecting the livestock sector and thus to help reduce the many risks and burdens faced by Africa’s millions of small-scale livestock producers.

The participants also agreed that it is the responsibility of livestock and other agricultural researchers to provide policymakers with evidence of how each component of smallholder farming links to others and how investing in one component can make a difference to the other components. Improving animal health, for example, can also improve the safety and nutritional value of animal-source foods.

Recommendations put forward at ILRI’s side meeting for enhancing the livestock sector’s contributions to Africa’s food security and poverty reduction include the following.

  • Ensure development of high-quality vaccines is supported by high-quality vaccination campaigns that involve local communities.
  • Incorporate indigenous knowledge to ensure research understands community realities and addresses community needs.
  • Boost the essential roles of continental and sub-regional approaches to development in the livestock research agendas.

FARA’s 6th Africa Agriculture Science Week (AASW6), in Accra, Ghana, includes marketplace exhibitions (15–20 Jul 2013), side events on sub-themes (15–16), a ministerial roundtable alongside a Ghana Day (17 Jul), plenary sessions (18–19) and a FARA Business Meeting (20 Jul). Follow the discussions on Twitter with the hashtag #AASW6 or visit the FARA AASW6 blog.

View all of the ILRI slide presentations: Livestock research for food security and poverty reduction, 15 Jul 2013.

‘Livestock Research for Africa’s Food Security’: Join us at our side event at FARA’s AASW in Accra, 15 July

Invitation to the ILRI side event at FARA_AASW6

Next week, staff of the International Livestock Research Institute (ILRI) and many other CGIAR centres and research programs are attending the 6th Africa Agriculture Science Week (AASW6), which is being hosted by the Forum for Agricultural Research in Africa (FARA) and the Government of Ghana and runs from Monday–Saturday, 15–20 Jul 2013.
CGIAR is a global partnership for a food-secure future that conducts and disseminates research to improve the lives, livelihoods and lands of the world’s poorest people. CGIAR research is conducted by 15 of the world’s leading agricultural development research centres and 16 global research programs, all of them partnering with many stakeholders in Africa. More than half of CGIAR funding (52% in 2012) targets African-focused research.

The theme of next week’s AASW6 is ‘Africa Feeding Africa through Agricultural Science and Innovation’. CGIAR is supporting African-driven solutions to food security by partnering with FARA and the African Union, the Comprehensive Africa Agriculture Development Programme (CAADP), sub-regional organizations, national agricultural research systems and many other private and non-governmental as well as public organizations.

ILRI and livestock issues at AASW6

Ten ILRI scientists and staff will briefly speak and then engage with other participants in a side event ILRI is organizing at AASW6 on the topic of Livestock research for Africa’s food security. This three-hour morning side event will be facilitated by ILRI’s knowledge management and communication specialist, Ewen Le Borgne, and will be highly participatory in nature.

If you plan to attend this session, please shoot an email confirmation to Teresa Werrhe-Abira(t.werrhe-abira [at] so we can organize refreshments.

And if you’d like to use this opportunity to talk with or interview one of the ILRI staff members below, or just meet them, please do so! ILRI communication officers Muthoni Njiru (m.njiru [at] and Paul Karaimu (p.karaimu [at] will be on hand at the ILRI side session (and you’ll find one or both at the CGIAR booth most of the rest of the week) to give you any assistance you may need.

Among the speakers at the ILRI side session will be the following.

Jimmy Smith, a Canadian, became director general of ILRI in Oct 2011. Before that, he worked for the World Bank in Washington, DC, leading the Bank’s Global Livestock Portfolio. Before joining the World Bank, Smith held senior positions at the Canadian International Development Agency. Still earlier in his career, he worked at ILRI and its predecessor, the International Livestock Centre for Africa (ILCA), where he served as the institute’s regional representative for West Africa and subsequently managed the ILRI-led Systemwide Livestock Programme of the CGIAR, involving ten CGIAR centres working at the crop-livestock interface. Before his decade of work at ILCA/ILRI, Smith held senior positions in the Caribbean Agricultural Research and Development Institute (CARDI). Smith is a graduate of the University of Illinois at Urban-Champaign, USA, where he completed a PhD in animal sciences. He was born in Guyana, where he was raised on a small mixed crop-and-livestock farm.

John McIntire (USA) is ILRI deputy director general for research-integrated sciences. He obtained a PhD in agricultural economics in 1980 from Tufts University using results of farm-level field studies of smallholder crop production in francophone Africa. He subsequently served as an economist for the International Food Policy Research Institute (IFPRI), in Washington, DC, and the West Africa Program of the International Crops Research Institute for the Semi-Arid Tropics (ICRISAT), in Burkina Faso and Niger, and the International Livestock Centre for Africa (ILCA), one of ILRI’s two predecessors, in Ethiopia. He is co-author of Crop Livestock Integration in Sub-Saharan Africa (1992), a book still widely cited 20 years later. McIntire joined the World Bank in 1989, where he worked (in Mexico, Côte d’Ivoire, Senegal, The Gambia, Cape Verde, Guinea, Tanzania, Uganda and Burundi) until his retirement in 2011. In 2011, he became the second person to receive both the Bank’s ‘Good Manager Award’ and ‘Green Award for Environmental Leadership’.

Shirley Tarawali (UK) is ILRI director of institutional planning and partnerships. Before taking on this role, Tarawali was director of ILRI’s People, Livestock and the Environment Theme, with responsibilities spanning sub-Saharan Africa and Asia. She holds a PhD in plant science from the University of London. Previously, Tarawali held a joint appointment with ILRI and the International Institute of Tropical Agriculture (IITA), based in Ibadan, Nigeria. Her fields of specialization include mixed crop-livestock and pastoral systems in sub-Saharan Africa and Asia.

  • Delia Grace: Food safety and aflatoxins

Delia Grace (Ireland) is an ILRI veterinarian and epidemiologist who leads a program at ILRI on food safety and zoonosis. She also leads a flagship project on ‘Agriculture-Associated Diseases’, which is a component of the CGIAR Research Program on Agriculture for Nutrition and Health, led by the International Food Policy Research Institute (IFPRI), USA. Grace has broad developing-country expertise in food safety, risk factor analysis, ecohealth/one health, gender and livestock, participatory methods, randomized trials and health metrics.

Questions Grace will address in ILRI’s side event are:
What are risk-based approaches to food safety in informal markets where most of the poor buy & sell?
How should we deal with food safety dynamics: livestock revolution, urbanization, globalization?
How can we better understand the public health impacts of aflatoxins?

  • Polly Ericksen: Vulnerability and risk in drylands

Polly Ericksen (USA) leads drylands research at ILRI and for the CGIAR Research Program on Drylands Systems in East and Southern Africa, where, in the coming years, the program aims to assist 20 million people and mitigate land degradation over some 600,000 square kilometres. That CGIAR research  program as a whole is led by the International Centre for Agricultural Research in the Dry Areas (ICARDA), Syria. Ericksen also leads a Technical Consortium for Ending Drought Emergencies and Building Resilience to Drought in the Horn of Africa. Her broad expertise includes food systems, ecosystem services and adaptations to climate change by poor agricultural and pastoral societies.

Questions Ericksen will address in ILRI’s side event are:
How can commercial pastoral livestock production lead to growth in risk-prone drylands?
Is there a long-term role for livestock insurance in pastoral production systems?

  • Iain WrightAlan Duncan and Michael Blümmel: The biomass crisis in intensifying smallholder systems

Iain Wright (UK) is ILRI director general’s representative in Ethiopia and head of ILRI’s Addis Ababa campus, where over 300 staff are located. He also directs  ILRI’s Animal Science for Sustainable Productivity program, a USD15-million global program working to increase the productivity of livestock systems in developing countries through high-quality animal science (breeding, nutrition and animal health) and livestock systems research. Before this, Wright served as director of ILRI’s People, Livestock and the Environment theme. And before that, from 2006 to 2011, he was ILRI’s regional representative for Asia, based in New Delhi and coordinating ILRI’s activities in South, Southeast Asia and East Asia. Wright has a PhD in animal nutrition. Before joining ILRI, he managed several research programs at the Macaulay Institute, in Scotland.

Alan Duncan (UK) is an ILRI livestock feed specialist and joint leader of the Nile Basin Development Challenge Programme. Duncan joined ILRI in 2007, also  coming from Scotland’s Macaulay Institute. Duncan has a technical background in livestock nutrition but in recent years has been researching institutional barriers to feed improvement among smallholders. He also works on livestock-water interactions, which are a key issue in Ethiopia, where he is based, particularly in relation to the competition for water occurring between the growing of livestock feed and that of staple crops. Duncan manages a range of research-for-development projects and acts as ILRI’s focal point for the CGIAR Research Program on Integrated Systems for the Humid Tropics, which is led by the International Institute of Tropical Agriculture (IITA), Nigeria.

Michael Blümmel (Germany) is an ILRI animal nutritionist with PhD (1994) and Habilitation (2004) degrees from the University of Hohenheim, in Germany. He has more than 20 years of experience in research, teaching and development in Europe, the US, Africa and Asia. Blümmel’s major research interests include feeding and feed resourcing at the interface of positive and negative effects from livestock, multi-dimensional crop improvement concomitantly to improve food, feed and fodder traits in new crop cultivars, and optimization of locally available feed resources through small business enterprises around decentralized feed processing.

A question they will address in ILRI’s side event is:
What are the options for sustainable intensification through livestock feeding?

  • Ethel Makila: Mobilizing biosciences for a food-secure Africa

Ethel Makila (Kenya) is ILRI communications officer for the Biosciences eastern and Central Africa-ILRI Hub. She is a graphic designer expert in development communication, media and education. At the BecA-ILRI Hub, she is responsible for increasing awareness of the Hub’s activities, facilities and impacts among African farmers, research institutes, government departments, Pan-African organizations and the international donor and research communities.

Questions Makila will address in ILRI’s side event are:
How can we build bio-sciences capacity in Africa to move from research results to development impacts?
How can we keep the BecA-ILRI Hub relevant to the research needs and context of African scientists?

  • Suzanne Bertrand: Vaccine biosciences

Suzanne Bertrand (Canada) is ILRI deputy director general for research-biosciences. With a PhD in plant molecular biology from Laval University, Bertrand began her career as a scientist with Agri-Food Canada, working on forage plants. Her focus shifted rapidly from laboratory-based research to application of modern agri-technology in the developing world. Her overseas assignments included spells in the People’s Republic of China and Tunisia. She spent six years in the USA, first as research assistant professor at North Carolina State University, and then as a founding principal for a biotechnology start-up company. She then joined Livestock Improvement (LIC), a large dairy breeding enterprise in New Zealand, where she managed LIC’s Research and Development Group, delivering science-based solutions in the areas of genomics, reproductive health, animal evaluation and commercialization to the dairy sector. In 2008, Bertrand became director, International Linkages for the Ministry of Research, Science and Technology in New Zealand. She was later chief executive officer for NZBIO, an NGO representing the interests and supporting growth of the bioscience sector in New Zealand.

Questions Bertrand will address in ILRI’s side event are:
How do we stimulate and sustain an African vaccine R&D pathway to achieve impact?
How can we grow a biotech and vaccine manufacturing sector in Africa?

Find more information about AASW6, including a full agenda, and follow the hashtag #AASW6 on social media.

Full list of ILRI participants at AASW6

  • Jimmy Smith, director general, based at ILRI’s headquarters, in Nairobi, Kenya
  • John McIntire, deputy director general-Integrated Sciences, Nairobi
  • Suzanne Bertrand, deputy director general—Biosciences, Nairobi
  • Shirley Tarawali, director of Institutional Planning and Partnerships, Nairobi
  • Iain Wright, director of ILRI Animal Sciences for Sustainable Agriculture Program, based at ILRI’s second principal campus, in Addis Ababa, Ethiopia
  • Abdou Fall, ILRI regional representative and manager of conservation of West African livestock genetic resources project, based in Senegal
  • Iheanacho (Acho) Okike, manages project of the CGIAR Research Program on Livestock and Fish, based in Ibadan, Nigeria
  • Appolinaire Djikeng, director of the Biosciences eastern and Central Africa-ILRI Hub, Nairobi
  • Iddo Dror, head of ILRI Capacity Development, Nairobi
  • Delia Grace, leads ILRI Food Safety and Zoonosis program and also an ‘Agriculture-Associate Diseases’ component of CRP on Agriculture for Nutrition and Health, Nairobi
  • Joy Appiah, former student in ILRI Safe Food, Fair Food project; ILRI is supporting his participation at AASW6; he is now at the University of Ghana
  • Polly Ericksen, leads dryands research within ILRI Livestock Systems and Environment program, serves as ILRI focal point for two CGIAR research programs—on Climate Change, Agriculture and Food Security and Dryland Systems—and leads a Technical Consortium for Building Resilience to Drought in the Horn of Africa, based in Nairobi
  • Katie Downie, coordinator of the Technical Consortium for Building Resilience to Drought in the Horn of AfricaHorn of Africa, Nairobi
  • Alan Duncan, leads feed innovations research within ILRI Animal Sciences for Sustainable Agriculture program and serves as ILRI focal point for the CGIAR Research Program on the HumidTropics, Addis Ababa
  • Michael Blümmel, leads feed resources research within ILRI Animal Sciences for Sustainable Agriculture program, based at ICRISAT, in Hyderabad, India
  • Allan Liavoga, deputy program manager of Bio-Innovate, Nairobi
  • Dolapo Enahoro, agricultural economist within ILRI Policy, Trade and Value Chains program, based in Accra

Communications support

  • Ewen LeBorgne, ILRI knowledge management and communications specialist; is facilitating ILRI’s side session at AASW6 on 15 Jul; based in Addis Ababa
  • Muthoni Njiru, ILRI communications officer in ILRI Public Awareness unit: overseeing media relations, exhibit materials, video reporting at AASW6; Nairobi
  • Paul Karaimu, ILRI communications writer/editor in ILRI Public Awareness unit: overseeing blogging, photography, video reporting at AASW6; Nairobi
  • Ethel Makila, ILRI communications specialist for the BecA-ILRI Hub, Nairobi
  • Albert Mwangi, ILRI communications specialist for Bio-Innovate, Nairobi


  • Cheikh Ly, ILRI board member, from Senegal, veterinary expert at FAO, based in Accra, Ghana
  • Lindiwe Majele Sibanda, ILRI board chair, from Zimbabwe, livestock scientist, agricultural policy thinker, and CEO and head of mission of the Food, Agriculture and Natural Resources Policy Analysis Network (FANRPAN), based in Pretoria, South Africa

Growing more food using fewer natural resources: Pipe dream or the ‘only’ development pathway possible?

Banalata Das, a shrimp farmer feds her cow at the family home. Khulna, Bangladesh. Photo by Mike Lusmore, 2012

 Banalata Das, a dairy and shrimp farmer, feeds her cow in Khulna, Bangladesh (photo credit: WorldFish/Mike Lusmore).

Ramadjita Tabo, a member of The Montpellier Panel and deputy executive director of the Forum for Agricultural Research in Africa (FARA), recently described the recent rather divisive nature of academic discussions on the viability of the ‘sustainable intensification’ of agriculture as follows.

Sustainable intensification, an agricultural development pathway that aims to reconcile food production and environmental protection, is a highly politicised term that divides academics and practitioners alike. Although, when first coined by Jules Pretty, the term was a way of bringing often divergent priorities such as addressing declines in land and agricultural productivity, pollution and food insecurity together under a new paradigm, it has been since accused of being a ruse for big, industrial agriculture. — Ramadjita TaboSustainable intensification: A practical approach to meet Africa’s food and natural resource needs, Global Food Security blog, 18 Apr 2013

Now a team of diverse scientists and other experts, having broadened the concept, make a case in a new report published in the journal Science that sustainable intensification is absolutely central to our ability to meet increasing demands for food from our growing populations and finite farmlands.

Tara Garnett and Charles Godfray, the article’s lead authors, say that we can increase food production from existing farmland if we employ sustainable intensification practices and policies. These, they say, can help minimize already severe pressures on the environment, especially for more land, water, and energy, natural resources now commonly overexploited and used unsustainably.

The authors of this Science ‘Policy Forum’ piece are researchers from leading universities and international organizations as well as policymakers from non-governmental organizations and the United Nations. One of the co-authors is Mario Herrero, an agricultural systems scientist who recently led a ‘livestock futures’ team at the International Livestock Research Institute (ILRI, a member of CGIAR), in Nairobi, Kenya, and who earlier this year moved to Brisbane, Australia, to take up the position of chief research scientist for food systems and the environment at the Commonwealth Scientific and Industrial Research Organisation (CSIRO). Another co-author is Philip Thornton, another ILRI systems scientist and a leader of a multi-institutional team and project in the CGIAR Research Program on Climate Change, Agriculture and Food Security (CCAFS).

The authors of this Science paper outline a new, more sophisticated account of how ‘sustainable intensification’ should work. They recognize that this policy has attracted criticism in some quarters as being either too narrowly focused on food production or as representing a contradiction in terms.

Why does articulating this new, more refined, account of sustainable intensification matter so much? ‘We often confuse sustainable intensification as synonymous with increases in productivity and resource use efficiency, but the picture is far more complex’, explains Herrero. ‘We attempted a balanced definition, one that encompasses all major perspectives.’ Such a new definition, Herrero says, can be telling. Take the pig and poultry sub-sectors, he says, which are commonly lauded for being more efficient than raising cattle, goats, sheep, water buffalo and other ruminant animals. ‘Well, that can be true. But not in large parts of Europe, for example, which import grain to feed their pigs and poultry, with one result being that Brazilian farmers are chopping down the rain forest to provide that feed to Europe’s livestock farmers. From this perspective, those “efficient” pig and poultry business are just not sustainable. In our endeavour to intensify’, Herrero continues, ‘we can overlook important aspects of agricultural intensification like ecosystems services, biodiversity and human health. Take the livestock sector, for example. With this sector so intimately connected to land management issues and with so many livestock-based livelihoods of poor people at stake, it’s essential that we don’t pay lip service to the ‘sustainability aspects’ of livestock intensification.

We need to  come up with suitable practical indicators of just what is sustainable, and the fact is that we’ll sometimes need to reduce intensification, as in places where additional increases in yields or efficiencies could place too much pressure on other facets of food systems. — Mario Herrero, agricultural systems scientist, CSIRO (formerly of ILRI)

Herrero’s colleague, Philip Thornton, agrees. And he reminds us of the ‘multi-functionality’ of agricultural production systems in developing countries, particularly livestock systems in sub-Saharan Africa. ‘These ‘multifunctions’ (such as keeping cows for household milk, and/or to generate a daily household dairy income, and/or to produce manure to fertilize croplands, and/or to transport produce to markets, and/or or to build household assets) differ by place and context, and our interventions aiming to enhance them need to differ accordingly, Thornton says. No ‘silver bullets’ or ‘one-size-fits-all’ approach, he says, is going to work in these varied smallholder production system contexts.

‘As usual, it’s a matter of scale, with landscape or regional approaches expected to become critical to success. To achieve our desired development outcomes, we’re going to have to “intensify” small-scale livestock, mixed crop-livestock and other agricultural production systems where intensification can be done viably, and we’re going to have to ‘extensify’ these smallholder systems elsewhere in the landscape, where intensification is just not viable.
The main reason for producing this Science paper was to try to wrest the concept of ‘sustainable agricultural intensification’ back from those driving specific agendas. (We may well have to try to do the same for ‘climate-smart agriculture’, but that’s another story.) — Philip Thornton, ILRI and CCAFS

Similar arguments were published in a previous article in Science by Herrero, Thornton and their colleagues (Smart investments in sustainable food production: Revisiting mixed crop-livestock systems, Science, 12 Feb 2010, DOI: 10.1126/science.1183725). This new investigation, Herrero says, is something of a follow-up to that earlier paper. The new Science article stresses that while farmers in many regions of the world need to produce more food, it is equally urgent that policymakers act on diets, waste and how the food system is governed. The authors say we must produce more food on existing rather than new farmland; converting uncultivated land, they say, will lead to greater emissions of greenhouse gases, which are causing global warming, and greater losses of biodiversity.

The authors make a strong case for sustainable intensification being the only policy on the table that could generate ways of producing enough food for all without destroying our environment.

But, warns Charles Godfray, of the Oxford Martin Programme on the Future of Food, sustainable intensification should be only one part of an agricultural and development policy portfolio. ‘Sustainable intensification is necessary’, he says, ‘but not sufficient’.

Achieving a sustainable food system will require changes in agricultural production, changes in diet so people eat less meat and waste less food, and regulatory changes to improve the efficiency and resilience of the food system. Producing more food is important but it is only one of a number of policies that we must pursue together. — Charles Godfray, Oxford Martin Programme on the Future of Food

Increasing productivity does not always mean using more fertilizers and agrochemicals, which frequently carry unacceptable environmental costs, argue the authors. They say that a range of techniques, both old and new, should be employed to develop ways of farming that keep environmental damage to a minimum.

The authors of the paper accept that the intensification of agriculture will directly as well as indirectly impact other important policy goals, such as preserving biodiversity, improving human nutrition and animal welfare, protecting rural economies and sustaining development generally in poor countries and communities. Policymakers will need to find ways to navigate conflicting priorities, they say, which is where research can help.

Lead author Tara Garnett, from the Food Climate Research Network at the Oxford Martin School, says that food security is about more than just more calories. Better nutrition also matters, she says.

Some two billion people worldwide are thought to be deficient in micronutrients. We need to intensify the quality of the food we produce in ways that improve the nutritional value of people’s diets, preferably through diversifying the range of foods produced and available to people but also, in the short term, by improving the nutrient content of crops now commonly produced. — Tara Garnett, Food Climate Research Network

Michael Appleby, of the World Society for the Protection of Animals, says that ‘Attention to livestock welfare is both necessary and beneficial for sustainability. Policies to achieve the right balance between animal and crop production will benefit animals, people and the planet.’

Agriculture is a potent sector for economic growth and rural development in many countries across Africa, Asia and South America, says co-author Sonja Vermeulen, of CCAFS.

Sustainable intensification can provide the best rewards for small-scale farmers and their heritage of natural resources. What policymakers can provide are the strategic finance as well as institutions needed to support sustainable and equitable pathways rather than quick profits gained through depletion. — Sonja Vermeulen, CCAFS

Get the paper: Sustainable intensification in agriculture: Premises and policies, by T Garnett, MC Appleby, A Balmford, IJ Bateman, TG Benton, P Bloomer, B Burlingame, M Dawkins, L Dolan, D Fraser, M Herrero, I Hoffmann, P Smith, PK Thornton, C Toulmin, SJ Vermeulen, HCJ Godfray, Science, vol. 341, 5 Jul 2013.

ILRI director of institutional planning and partnerships, Shirley Tarawali, will be travelling to Accra, Ghana, tomorrow (9 Jul 2013) to take part in a 4-day workshop (10–13 Jul 2013) for major stakeholders in sustainable agricultural intensification in Africa. The participants will explore the links between systems research and sustainable intensification to refine and reach a common understandings.

The workshop also aims to help determine:
1) factors critical for successful sustainable intensification
2) institutional arrangements for integrating sustainable intensification into investment and service delivery programs
3)  best mechanisms for sharing and learning across Africa’s major sustainable intensification programs.

About 50 people will participate in this sustainable intensification workshop, representing the Forum for Agricultural Research in Africa (FARA); Africa’s sub-regional and non-governmental organizations, national agricultural research systems, universities and farmer organizations; CGIAR centres and research programs; and major African sustainable intensification programs, financing organizations and investors.

More information
Contact the University of Oxford Press Office on +44 (0)1865 280534 or email
Contact taragarnett [at] or charles.godfray [at]
Contact Shirley Tarawali: s.tarawali [at]

The Science article follows a workshop on food security convened by the Oxford Martin School and the Food Climate Research Network at the University of Oxford; a more detailed account of the workshop is at:

Tara Garnett runs the Food Climate Research Network:
Charles Godfray is the Director of the Oxford Martin Programme on the Future of Food:
For more information on the Oxford Martin School, please visit
Michael Appleby is chief scientific adviser for humane sustainable agriculture at the World Society for Protection of Animals:
Sonja Vermeulen is head of research at the CGIAR Research Program on Climate Change, Agriculture and Food Security:

Simon West, a PhD student within a GLEAN project and working at the Stockholm Resilience Centre, has an interesting point to make about the importance of ‘learning’ at the interface of ecosystem management and sustainable development (One thought on GLEAN @ STEPS summer school, 30 May 2013).

‘. . . My research examines the production of learning within ecosystem management, and how such learning – informed by mental models, narratives and framing of ecological change – affects the way that people interact with their environment. Learning is increasingly recognized as critical in achieving transitions toward sustainable development – but how does such learning take place, and what types of learning are required? Scholars from different disciplinary backgrounds will answer these questions in very different ways, and such differences reveal the contestation at the heart of any idea of sustainable development. . . .

‘Even in open and inclusive participatory processes decisions have to be made which inherently require closing down around particular courses of action; the success of one narrative (even if the narrative was previously marginalized) will inevitably come at the expense of others. Not everyone in a participatory process can necessarily ‘win.’ . . .

‘[T]oo much emphasis (by any discipline looking at sustainability issues) on developing any kind of “general content” of learning for sustainability is likely to be misguided. . . . I would argue that a more productive goal would be to encourage a new structure to knowledge, moving towards an ability to think in terms of complexity, multiple variables, interaction of social and ecological factors and temporal and spatial variability, in order to facilitate understanding of the adaptive and dynamic relations between values, framings and narratives, and the material environment.

‘Most importantly, this may lead to the realization that others in all contexts . . . will have wildly different, but equally legitimate, understandings of reality and what really matters – and this is perhaps the hardest concept for all of us, not least scientists, to really grasp.’

Launching ILRI’s new long-term strategy for livestock research for development–15-minute film

Watch this 15-minute filmed presentation on ILRI’s new long-term strategy.

Shirley Tarawali, director of institutional planning and partnerships at the International Livestock Research Institute (ILRI), describes ILRI’s new and recently launched long-term strategy.

‘We recently finalized a strategy for the coming ten years. The institute’s previous ten-year strategy finished in 2010 and we’ve had a lot of changes. We’ve become a member of the CGIAR Consortium. We’ve had a new director general. And the challenges facing agriculture and livestock in particular have become huge. We needed to consolidate and refocus our efforts for the coming ten years.

‘The strategy is called Livestock research for food security and poverty reduction. ILRI’s previous strategy was very much focused on poverty reduction, so we’ve expanded our mandate.

‘For much of 2012, we’ve been working on bringing together stakeholders, inside the institute, those who we work with, and those who don’t know us so well, in order to consult face-to-face and online to get inputs on where we should focus, where our priorities should be.

ILRI Vision and mission

‘ILRI’s strategic objectives—the what, if you like—were informed by a diagnosis involving a lot of external consultations.


Food security challenge
‘The whole world is concerned about how we can feed more billions of people in the decades to come; we see livestock as part of the solution to this food security challenge.

Delivering at scale
‘We can’t operate on small project levels; we need to make sure our research leads to development outcomes and impacts; significant numbers of people who keep animals in one way or another (there are probably about 1 billion) are impacted by our research.

Women in livestock development
‘We need to be specific about the roles of women in livestock development; if you want to have significant agricultural development impacts, you need to take specific account of the roles of women, who are often the ones raising the animals or processing or selling the milk and other animal products.

Diversity of livestock systems
‘Poor people who keep animals are involved in many different production systems, sometimes raising animals for milk and meat, sometimes for better cropping, sometimes to trade stock. Their opportunities depend on the livestock system they practice, the livestock commodities they produce and their economic situation.

Human health and the environment
‘Livestock systems can harm human health and the environment, but in developing countries there are huge opportunities to address these problems and use livestock to better protect human health and the environment.

New science
‘Even in developed countries, the productivity of agricultural systems is reaching its boundaries, so we need new science solutions. This is very much the case in developing countries as well, and we want to make sure that we bring new science to bear on developing-country livestock agriculture.

Greater funding
‘Although in many developing countries livestock contribute about 40% of agricultural GDP, investment in the livestock sector remains relatively low; raising funding for livestock research for development is essential.

Capacity development
‘We need greater capacity all round: within ILRI and within our partner and investor organizations.

Fit for purpose
‘We need to make sure that that every bit of the organization is lined up to deliver on our strategic objectives.

‘Given this diagnosis, ILRI must succeed in meeting three strategic objectives.

#1: Improve practice

‘We need to provide poor people raising and trading animals and animal products with the technologies and institutional and market environments they need.

#2: Influence decision-makers
‘We need to influence decision-makers to increase their investments in sustainable and profitable livestock systems of the poor.

#3: Develop capacity
‘We need to make sure that capacity exists to make good use of livestock investments and deliver at scale.


‘Finally, what we are calling critical success factors, this is the “how”. . . .’

ILRI strategy: Five intersecting critical success factors

The figure above shows the five areas in which ILRI needs to perform well, all of which depend critically on partnerships for success.

Watch two companion filmed presentations:
by Jimmy Smith, director general of ILRI, on ILRI and the Global Development Agenda (13 minutes) and
by Tom Randolph, director of the CGIAR Research Program on Livestock and Fish, on More Meat, Milk and Fish by and for the Poor (3 minutes).

Go to ILRI’s website for more on ILRI’s new long-term strategy.

The catch in making livestock more efficient: How to work together towards ‘a greater whole’

Global Agenda of Action in Support of Sustainable Livestock Sector Development, Nairobi

Some of the participants at the on-going third multi-stakeholder platform meeting of the Global Agenda of Action in Support of Sustainable Livestock Development taking place in Nairobi 22-24 Jan 2013 (photo credit: ILRI/Paul Karaimu).

Experts on livestock sector development are gathered this week in Nairobi, Kenya, to think through ways in which the livestock sector can be made more efficient.

On 22 January 2013, at the on-going third multi-stakeholder platform meeting of the Global Agenda of Action in Support of Sustainable Livestock Sector Development, Shirley Tarawali, director of institutional planning and partnerships at the International Livestock Research Institute (ILRI), was one of six members of a panel that discussed the clash between resource scarcity and demand growth in the livestock sector.

This panel reviewed the issues, challenges and possible solutions to the problem.

‘The clash between resource scarcity and livestock demand is a real and not a vague “sometime in the future”’ challenge, said Tarawali. ‘We must address it now; it will have devastating effects in our lifetimes if we do not.’

One of the certainties in recent years is that demand for food, especially animal-source foods such as milk, meat and eggs, has steadily risen. Livestock commodities are now among the top five highest value global commodities. Demand for livestock products has led to land use competition between food, feeds and fuel. Increased pressure on land means more food, to feed a growing world population, has to come from increased production on existing farmlands.

These realities are affecting the decisions taken by policymakers at the national level as they design policies on agricultural production, such as  how smallholder farmers should feed their animals or use and manage the manure their animals produce.

According to Tarawali, these challenges offer opportunities in three areas.

  • Diversity: Experts need to deal with the diversity of farming systems, commodities and efficiencies associated with livestock.
  • Dynamics: We need to influence the future dynamics of these changing livestock systems.
  • Development: We need to understand the impacts of livestock production on development issues such as poverty, health and nutrition, and food security.

‘The answer to these challenges does not lie in research alone,’ said Tarawali. ‘The answer will come from a “greater whole” in which research is only a small part.

According to Tarawali, stakeholders should bring together the parts that make up this whole. These include biophysical research that addresses issues such as productivity and efficient animal production; institutional support for markets and service support; and livestock systems issues such as research on future food needs and the diverse starting points and solutions to these challenges.

‘The Global Agenda of Action provides a forum for bridging these gaps and strengthening synergies between investment, development and public- and private-sector research towards this end,’ Tarawali said.

‘But,’ she cautioned, ‘the Agenda’s stakeholders need to think about the process of getting to this whole. We need to have a clear message to share to successfully influence and motivate decision-makers.

‘The catch lies in how we bring together the collective skills of all stakeholders towards this end.’

Read two recent article from the on-going multi-stakeholder platform meeting of the global agenda of action:

Taking the long livestock view
Greening the livestock sector: ‘Game changers’ for environmental, social, economic gains

View a presentation on ILRI’s experience in working with public-private partnerships to promote pro-poor livestock development.

Livestock livelihoods for the poor: Beyond milk, meat and eggs

Kenya farm boy drinking milk

Kenya farm boy drinking milk (photo credit: ILRI/Dave Elsworth).

The science journal Animal Frontiers this month (Jan 2013) focuses on the links between livestock production and food security.

Maggie Gill edited the issue. Gill is an animal nutritionist by training who has spent years as a senior member of research institutions in the the UK (Natural Resources Institute, Natural Resources International, Macaulay Land Use Research Institute, Scottish Government) and presently divides her time between work for the UK Department for International Development and the University of Aberdeen while also serving on the CGIAR’s Independent Science and Partnership Council. She is a former board member of the International Livestock Research Institute (ILRI).

In her introductory editorial to this issue, which focuses on livelihoods for poor owners and food for rich consumers, Gill reminds readers of the vast differences in livestock systems between the world’s poor and rich people and nations.

‘The relationship between livestock and food security is often portrayed by the media in emotional terms such as “Go vegetarian to save the planet”. Yet the relationship is not so simple. There are positive impacts of livestock on “the planet,” not the least in terms of the economy, with trade in live animals and animal products contributing 40% of the global value of agricultural output (FAO, 2009), but also in terms of the 1 billion poor people in Africa and Asia who depend on livestock for their livelihoods. The challenge is that there are also negative impacts of livestock, and they tend to be good headline grabbers!

‘I was pleased, therefore, to be invited to serve as guest editor of this issue of Animal Frontiers . . . [and] to have the opportunity to include papers about some of the lesser publicized facts about livestock and food security. . . . [A second issue on this topic will be published in Jul 2013.]

‘This issue takes a high-level perspective, exploring the relationship between people and animals (including fish) in developing countries, through trade and particularly in terms of nutrition. It then looks ahead to the challenge of climate change and considers how one traditional system (pastoralism) has evolved to cope with environmental instability. It ends with a paper on breeding strategies as an illustration of how scientific advances can help the livestock sector to make the best use of resources in a dynamic world. . . .’

One of the seven papers featured in this issue is by Jimmy Smith, ILRI director general, and his ILRI colleagues. The article focuses mainly on the impacts and implications of livestock on food and nutrition security in poor countries, which go well beyond being a source of milk, meat, and eggs.

‘The paper by Smith et al. (2013)’, Gill says, ‘highlights, for example, the indirect benefits of livestock to the food security of poor livestock owners through income from the sale of their livestock products, enabling the purchase of (cheaper) staple foods and thus improving the nutritional status of members of the household, albeit not in the way many researchers expect! . . .’

Below are a few of the facts noted in Smith’s paper, ‘Beyond meat, milk and eggs: Role of livestock in food and nutrition security’.

Farm animals both increase (smallholder systems) and decrease (industrial systems) food supplies
‘Livestock contribute to food supply by converting low-value materials, inedible or unpalatable for people, into milk, meat, and eggs; livestock also decrease food supply by competing with people for food, especially grains fed to pigs and poultry. Currently, livestock supply 13% of energy to the world’s diet but consume one-half the world’s production of grains to do so.’

Livestock directly enhance the nutrition security of the poor
‘However, livestock directly contribute to nutrition security. Milk, meat, and eggs, the “animal-source foods,” though expensive sources of energy, are one of the best sources of high quality protein and micronutrients that are essential for normal development and good health. But poor people tend to sell rather than consume the animal-source foods that they produce.’

Livestock enhance food security mostly indirectly
‘The contribution of livestock to food, distinguished from nutrition security among the poor, is mostly indirect: sales of animals or produce, demand for which is rapidly growing, can provide cash for the purchase of staple foods, and provision of manure, draft power, and income for purchase of farm inputs can boost sustainable crop production in mixed crop-livestock systems.’

Smallholder livestock production and marketing can be ‘transformational’ for the world’s poor
‘Livestock have the potential to be transformative: by enhancing food and nutrition security, and providing income to pay for education and other needs, livestock can enable poor children to develop into healthy, well-educated, productive adults.’

The complex trade-offs inherent in livestock systems must be managed to increase the benefits and reduce the costs
‘The challenge is how to manage complex trade-offs to enable livestock’s positive impacts to be realized while minimizing and mitigating negative ones, including threats to the health of people and the environment.’

Read the whole illustrated article at Animal Frontiers: Beyond milk, meat, and eggs: Role of livestock in food and nutrition security, by Jimmy Smith, Keith Sones, Delia Grace, Susan MacMillan, Shirley Tarawali and Mario Herrero, Jan 2013, Vol. 3, No. 1, p 6–13, doi: 10.2527/af.2013-0002

The whole issue is available at Animal Frontiers: The contribution of animal production to global food security: Part 1: Livelihoods for poor owners and food for rich consumers, Jan 2013, which you can read about on the ILRI Clippings Blog today: Animal production and global food security: Livelihoods for poor owners and food for rich consumers, 8 Jan 2012.


Options to enhance resilience in pastoral systems: The case for novel livestock insurance

ILRI director for institutional planning Shirley Tarawali

ILRI director for institutional planning Shirley Tarawali (photo credit: ILRI/Stevie Mann).

Shirley Tarawali, director for institutional planning at the International Livestock Research Institute (ILRI), gave a slide presentation today (22 Feb 2012) titled ‘Options for enhancing resilience in pastoral systems: The case for novel livestock insurance’, at a Brussels Briefing onNew challenges and opportunities for pastoralism in ACP [Africa, Caribbean and the Pacific] countries.

Rangelands, Tarawali told the participants at this policy briefing, have fewer than 20 persons per sq km and a growing period of less than 60 days/annum, making crop production impossible. Constituting the largest land-use system globally, rangelands cover some 35 million sq km and support almost 50% of the world’s livestock. The 200 million pastoralists who live on rangelands are the environmental stewards of these vast resources, but many of them are among the world’s poorest, Tarawali reported, living on less than $2 a day. Subject to the vagaries of climate variability, food insecurity, poor markets and infrastructure, animal diseases, under-investment and conflicts over natural resources, pastoralists are among the world’s most vulnerable peoples.

A key development challenge, Tarawali said, is how to help pastoral communities increase their adaptive capacity and resilience in the face of shocks, such as the food crisis that followed a great drought in the Horn of Africa last year. At the risk of over-simplifying matters, she said, two main strategies can improve pastoral resilience: (1) help herders better secure the assets on which they depend—their animals and other natural resources (land, water, biodiversity), and (2) help them diversify their income sources, whether through better livestock marketing, sales of other rangeland products, or schemes that pay pastoral herders for ecosystem services and environmental stewardship.

Blind man awaits payout

A blind man awaits his pay out by a livestock insurance scheme being trialled in Marsabit, northern Kenya (photo by Jeff Haskins on Flickr).

Empirical studies of almost 1,000 families in the Marsabit region of northern Kenya, Tarawali said, show that pastoralists rely on their animals for at least 40% of their income, with loss of animals to drought being a major reason that pastoralists fall into poverty. ILRI and partners have tested an innovative insurance scheme designed to protect pastoralists against drought-related livestock deaths. Based on satellite data that determines vegetative cover, and thus forage availability, this insurance makes pay outs when the level of forage scarcity is predicted to cause a certain percentage of livestock deaths in an area. The scheme, which involves commercial insurance companies, has been piloted in northern Kenya since January 2010.

The pilot shows that it’s feasible to design index-based livestock insurance contracts attractive to both pastoralists and commercial institutions. To date, more than 3,000 pastoralists have participated in this novel insurance scheme, and more than 600 of them received indemnity payments in October 2011, following the drought in the Horn that year. Creative education tools have played an important role in helping these never-before-insured pastoral communities to grasp how the insurance works.

Taking the pilot scheme to scale, Tarawali said, will require making the scheme more cost-effective (perhaps through use of ICTs both to collect premiums and to make indemnity payments) and better aligning the different incentives of the partners, with the private (insurance) companies stressing copyright and profit and the public institutions (such as ILRI) aiming to enhance pastoral livelihoods.

Despite these challenges, she reported that this insurance tool has potential to help development agencies and governments shift their focus from making the right responses to droughts when droughts occur to investing in pastoral development on an on-going basis, with livestock insurance acting as a social safety net, securing the productive assets of these vulnerable populations in times of hardship. And she reminded her audience that most countries make significant public investments in agricultural insurance programs (US farmers pay only 40% of the actuarially fair premium and index-linked insurance in India is subsidized by some 50%). The index-based livestock insurance schemes now being piloted in Kenya and about to start in Ethiopia include rigorous evaluations of their impacts on pastoral welfare, which should help governments to efficiently target public investments in livestock insurance.

With this demonstration that index-based livestock insurance mitigates both pastoral vulnerability to drought and ad hoc coping strategies, Tarawali argued, it’s an appropriate time to consider redeploying some of the significant public funds spent in responding to droughts in insurance subsidy programs that keep insurance premiums affordable by poor pastoralists.

View the slide presentation: Options for enhancing resilience in pastoral systems:



For more information, visit the websites of the Index-based Livestock Insurance Project,  and ILRI,

‘Feed the Future’: Connecting ALL the (agricultural research) dots in the Ethiopian highlands

Sustainable intensification of crop-livestock systems to improve food security and farm income diversification in the Ethiopian highlands: Project Design Workshop—Project Outline and concepts

Watch and listen to a 17-minute (audio-enhanced) slide presentation made by ILRI’s Shirley Tarawali on the ‘Sustainable intensification of crop-livestock systems to improve food security and farm income diversification in the Ethiopian highlands,’ 30 Jan 2012.

Can scientists make the whole of agricultural research for development greater than the sum of its parts? That’s the aim of a new initiative starting this year in three regions of sub-Saharan Africa.

As part of an American ‘Feed the Future’ initiative to reduce hunger in sub-Saharan Africa, the US Agency for International Development (USAID) is supporting three agricultural research projects aiming to help Africa’s smallholders intensify their production systems and do so in ways that are sustainable.

These projects will be conducted in three regions of Africa: Sustainable intensification of cereal-based farming systems (1) in the Sudano-Sahelian Zone of West Africa and (2) in East and Southern Africa, both led by the International Institute of Tropical Agriculture (IITA), based in Ibadan, Nigeria; and (3) Sustainable intensification of crop-livestock systems to improve food security and farm income diversification in the Ethiopian highlands, led by the International Livestock Research Institue (ILRI).

These three African agricultural intensification projects were all launched this year (2012) with design workshops. A wiki has information on the three workshops, including their agendas and outputs.

The design workshop for the project in the Ethiopian highlands has just started at ILRI’s campus in Addis Ababa. ILRI’s director for its People, Livestock and the Environment Theme, agronomist Shirley Tarawali, who will soon take up a new position as ILRI’s director of institutional planning, gave a 17-minute slide presentation on the project (above).

Tarawali said in her presentation that the project is ambitious to fix the disconnect between separate research projects on separate agricultural topics (livestock, cereals, water, and so on) by identifying and then pulling together the best research outputs from the separate research projects. Such outputs include, for example, the identification of legumes and cereals that will better feed livestock as well as people (and sometimes soils as well); ways to make more strategic use of scarce fertilizers and optimal combinations of organic (manure) and inorganic (synthetic) fertilizers; and more efficient ways to use water resources.

Add these kinds of useful products together and we could benefit whole farming systems,’ says Tarawali.

To learn more, or to contribute to the discussions, visit a blog about this Feed the Future initiative in the Ethiopian highlands.

Read an ILRI Clippings Blog about this initiative: Experts meet in Addis Ababa to design new agricultural research project for Ethiopian highlands, 30 Jan 2012.

Read more about the importance of small-scale mixed crop-and-livestock farming systems in the developing world:

Seminal and holistic review of the probable ‘futures’ of livestock production, food security and environmental protection, 7 Dec 2011.

Mixed crop-and-livestock farmers on ‘extensive frontier’ critical to sustainable 21st century food system, 23 Jun 2011.



Livestock and­ the environment: As the hard trade-offs look to get only get harder, more nuanced approaches to livestock development are needed

Boy and goats in Rajasthan

Ramand Ram with goats in his family’s plot in Rajasthan, India. Intensifying mixed crop-and-livestock farming and helping livestock keepers diversify their sources of income can protect livestock livelihoods (photo credit: ILRI/Mann).

Researchers say that poor countries can protect both livestock livelihoods and environments by promoting measures such as sustainably intensifying mixed crop-and-livestock farming, paying livestock keepers for the ecosystem services they provide, helping pastoralists diversify their sources of income and managing the demand for livestock products.

Researchers from the International Livestock Research Institute (ILRI), the Food and Agricultural Organization of the United Nations and the Animal Production Systems Group at Wageningen University, in the Netherlands, report in a proceedings published last November (2010) that there are ‘significant opportunities in livestock systems for improving environment management while also improving the livelihoods of poor people.’

The publication, titled The Role of Livestock in Developing Communities: Enhancing Multifunctionality, was co-published by the University of the Free State South Africa, the Technical Centre for Agricultural and Rural Cooperation and ILRI. The authors say that even though livestock production is already harming some environments, with such damage likely to increase in some regions in coming years due to an increasing demand from rapidly expanding populations in the developing world, new research-based options for livestock production can help improve both the livelihoods and environments of hundreds of millions of very poor people who raise farm animals or sell or consume their milk, meat and eggs.

The researchers propose shifting the debate on livestock and environment from one that focuses solely on the negative impacts of livestock production to one that embraces the complexity of livestock ‘goods’ and ‘bads’, particularly in developing countries, where livestock serve as a lifeline to many poor people.

The researchers say a good understanding of the environmental impacts of livestock production depends on distinguishing these impacts by region and production system and by addressing environmental problems along with problems of food insecurity and inequity.

The authors, who include ILRI scientists Mario Herrero, Phil Thornton, An Notenbaert, Shirley Tarawali and Delia Grace, recommend making a ‘fundamental shift’ in how demand for livestock products is seen and in adapting production systems to meet this demand. They suggest, for example, that policymakers consider ways of reducing demand for livestock products in (mostly industrialized) countries where (1) people are damaging their health by consuming too much meat, eggs and milk and (2) intensive ‘factory’ farming is damaging the environment.

The scientists also recommend finding ways of improving water management in livestock production. Recent findings show that livestock water use represents 31 per cent of the total water used for agriculture. The authors report that ‘in rangeland systems, water productivity can be improved by better rangeland management, which has the potential to reduce water use in agriculture by 45 per cent by 2050.’ Another promising idea is to begin paying livestock farmers for the rangeland water purification and other ecosystem services they maintain for the good of the wider community.

To reduce greenhouse gases from livestock systems, the authors recommend that efforts be put in place to intensify production systems in developing countries to produce more livestock products per unit of methane gas. ‘We need to provide significant incentives so that the marginal rangeland areas, often rich in biodiversity, can be protected for the benefit of farmers.’ Other options for reducing livestock-associated greenhouse gasses include improving animal diets, controlling animal numbers and shifting the kinds of breeds kept.

Although diseases transmitted between livestock and people also need to be addressed by research, the book notes that the ‘net effects of livestock on human health are positive,’ particularly due to livestock’s role in providing nourishing food for the poor and the contribution livestock herders make to regulating vast rangeland ecosystems, with their wildlife populations, which often helps prevent animals diseases from spilling over to human populations. Better use of disease control methodologies and investments will also help prevent the spread of these diseases.

The authors acknowledge that such changes in the way that livestock production is viewed will require a ‘subtle balancing act’ and commitments by a wide range of players in the scientific, development and policymaking communities. But without a more nuanced understanding of livestock production in the face of hard trade-offs between livestock and the environment, we could jeopardize the livestock livelihoods of many of the world’s ‘bottom billion’.

This article is summary of the chapter ‘The Way Forward for Livestock and the Environment’ in the The Role of Livestock in Developing Communities: Enhancing Multifunctionality.

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For more information read this related ILRI News article.

New study injects new life into the livestock 'goods' and 'bads' controversy

A new two-volume report, Livestock in a Changing Landscape, released in March 2010, makes the case that the livestock sector 'is a major environmental contributor' as well as a major livelihood of the world's poor.

The report's co-editor, biologist Harold Mooney, says: 'We want to protect those on the margins who are dependent on a handful of livestock for their livelihood. . . . On the other side, we want people engaged in the livestock industry to look closely at the report and determine what improvements they can make.' Among the key findings in the report are:

  • More than 1.7 billion animals are used in livestock production worldwide and occupy more than one-fourth of the Earth's land.
  • Production of animal feed consumes about one-third of total arable land.
  • Livestock production accounts for approximately 40 percent of the global agricultural gross domestic product.
  • The livestock sector, including feed production and transport, is responsible for about 18 percent of all greenhouse gas emissions worldwide.
  • About 1 billion poor people worldwide derive at least some part of their livelihood from domesticated animals

While overconsumption of animal-source foods – particularly meat, milk and eggs – has been linked to heart disease and other chronic conditions, these foods remain a vital source of protein and nutrient nutrition throughout the developing world, the report said. The authors cited a recent study of Kenyan children that found a positive association between meat intake and physical growth, cognitive function and school performance. Published this year by Island Press, Livestock in a Changing Landscape is a collaboration of the United Nations Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO), the Swiss College of Agriculture (SHL), Woods Institute for the Environment, International Livestock Research Institute (ILRI), Scientific Committee for Problems of the Environment (SCOPE), Agricultural Research Center for International Development (CIRAD), and Livestock, Environment and Development Initiative (LEAD). Other editors of the report are Laurie E. Neville (Stanford University), Pierre Gerber (FAO), Jeroen Dijkman (FAO), Shirley Tarawali (ILRI) and Cees de Haan (World Bank). Initial funding for the project was provided by a 2004 Environmental Venture Projects grant from the Woods Institute. Here is a presentation made by ILRI Director Shirley Tarawali at the launch of the publication and workshop of the way forward 4-5 March 2010 in Switzerland.

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