New leadership in ILRI’s livestock research-for-development work in Asia

Steve Staal, Theme Director

ILRI’s new regional representative for East and Southeast Asia Steve Staal (picture credit: ILRI).

Steve Staal has been appointed the new regional representative of the International Livestock Research Institute (ILRI) for East and Southeast Asia. An American citizen who has lived and worked in developing countries throughout his life, Staal will be based at the headquarters of the International Rice Research Institute (IRRI), in Los Baños, The Philippines.

Staal, an agricultural economist by training, has been based at ILRI’s headquarters in Nairobi, Kenya, for many years, where he recently led ILRI’s Markets, Gender and Livelihoods Research Theme and in the past year served as ILRI’s interim deputy director general for research, during the institute’s transition to a new management team. Among other assignments, he has worked in South and Southeast Asia to enhance smallholder dairy and pig systems in particular. He has a long-standing track record in making a difference in policy analysis and advocacy for inclusive and pro-poor smallholder livestock-based development.

This ILRI position for coordinating and shaping ILRI’s collaborative livestock research in East and Southeast Asia is new. Staal’s appointment to it is a reflection of ILRI’s intent to strengthen its presence in Asia and its productive partnerships there so as to provide better support for livestock research for development in the region. Purvi Mehta-Bhatt (India), who has been heading ILRI’s research in all of Asia, will continue to represent ILRI in South Asia.

ILRI's Purvi Mehta-Bhatt #2 in India

ILRI’s head of Asia Purvi Mehta-Bhatt, taken during a field day In Haryana, India, in 4 Nov 2012 (picture credit: ILRI).

This new assignment for Staal and new focus for Mehta-Bhatt is made to increase ILRI’s engagement with partners throughout Asia.

ILRI stakeholders are encouraged to communicate with Steve Staal, at s.staal [at] cgiar.org, on areas of potential mutual interest, including opportunities for new collaborations and interactions, in East and Southeast Asia.

‘Health is not the absence of disease (and too important to be left to doctors)’–Keynote address

Minoan Bronze Bull Leaper

Minoan bronze bull and bull leaper, from Crete, around 1500 BC (image on Flickr by Ann Wuyts).

Increasing livestock production to meet rapidly growing demands in a socially equitable and ecologically sustainable manner is becoming a major challenge for the Asia-Pacific region. To discuss the challenges and a practical response, the United Nations Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO), together with the International Livestock Research Institute (ILRI) and the Animal Production and Health Commission for Asia and the Pacific (APHCA) organized a Regional Livestock Policy Forum in Bangkok 16–17 Aug 2012.

The Asia and Pacific region has experienced the strongest growth in milk and meat over the last two to three decades. In three decades (1980 to 2010), total consumption of meat in the region grew from 50 to 120 million tonnes, and milk consumption grew from 54 to 190 million tonnes. By 2050, consumption of meat and milk in the region is projected to exceed 220 and 440 million tonnes, respectively. While this growth is creating new opportunities and better diets for many poor people, managing it will be a tall order and involve: stimulating income and employment opportunities in rural areas, protecting the livelihoods of small farmers, improving resource use efficiency at all levels of the livestock value chain, minimizing any negative environmental and health consequences of the growth, and ensuring adequate access by the poor to the food they need to live healthy lives.

The Aug 2012 Regional Livestock Policy Forum was held to find solutions. The 80 stakeholders in livestock development who attended represented governments, research agencies, civil society and multilateral organizations, think tanks, private-sector industries and regional and global networks.

Three keynote addresses highlighted environmental, social and health aspects of uncontrolled livestock sector growth. The director general of ILRI, Jimmy Smith, delivered the keynote on ‘health at the livestock-policy interface’. He described three kinds of health—human, animal and ecosystem—and the close interactions among them. Excerpts of his presentation follow.

Health at the livestock-policy interface: Interdependence

Slide from a presentation made by ILRI director general Jimmy Smith at a Regional Livestock Policy Forum in Bangkok 16–17 Aug 2012.

Livestock and nutrition
‘Livestock provide about a third of human protein. Even small amounts of animal protein greatly enhance the poor-quality diets of very poor people, many of whom subsist largely, for example, on sorghum and millet. But while 1 billion people are hungry, some 2 billiion are over-nourished, which is often attributed particularly to over-consumption of meat.

HEALTH ONE: Livestock and human health
‘Remarkably, 60% of human diseases, and 75% of emerging diseases (such as bird flu), are ‘zoonotic’, or come from animals, and 25% of all human infectious diseases in least-developed countries is zoonotic. A 2012 study led by ILRI veterinary epidemiologist Delia Grace estimates that the ‘top 13’ zoonoses each year kill 2.2 million people and make 2.4 billion people ill. The same study found that emerging zoonotic diseases are associated with intensive livestock production systems, with hotspots of these being in western Europe and USA, but that the high burden of neglected zoonotic diseases is associated with poor livestock keepers, with hotspots identified in Ethiopia, Nigeria and India.

HEALTH TWO: Livestock health
‘In developing countries, largely in contrast to developed nations, we still struggle to control what are known as ‘transboundary’ livestock diseases, which include, for example, Newcastle disease in chickens and foot-and-mouth disease in cattle. As important, however, are the common endemic diseases of low-income countries, such as parasitic infections, viral diarrhoea, respiratory and reproductive diseases. While we pay considerable attention to transboundary diseases, and emerging infectious diseases with pandemic potential, we are neglecting endemic diseases that hurt the world’s poor the most, and which some estimate are even more costly than transboundary diseases.

Health at the livestock-policy interface: Annual losses

Slide from a presentation made by ILRI director general Jimmy Smith at a Regional Livestock Policy Forum in Bangkok 16–17 Aug 2012.

HEALTH THREE: Agro-ecosystem health
‘The downside: As many people are now aware, livestock are a significant source of the greenhouse gases warming our planet; they compete for water with staple grains and biofuels, and their diseases can spill over into wildlife populations. On the upside, livestock manure is an important source of organic matter needed for soil fertility (about 50% of the nitrogen used in agriculture in India comes from manure), permanent pastures are potentially an important store of carbon, and the current carbon ‘hoofprint’ can be greatly reduced through more efficient livestock production.’

Jimmy Smith then laid out some ‘prescriptions’.

Prescriptions for human health

  • Manage disease at its (early animal) source, not when it shows up (later) in humans
  • Invest in ‘one-health’ systems for preventing and controlling zoonotic diseases
  • Promote risk- and incentive-based (not regulatory- and compliance-based) food safety systems

Prescriptions for animal health

  • Support smallholder systems to improve livestock production and productivity
  • Use technology and innovations (e.g., vaccines) to improve animal health services
  • Take a whole value-chain-development (not piecemeal) approach

Prescriptions for ecosystem health

  • Manage externalities
  • Close large gaps in ruminant production
  • Reduce livestock-induced deforestation
  • Manage manure
  • Implement payment schemes for livestock-based environmental services

Advice for policymakers
And Smith had some advice for policymakers.

  • Invest in surveillance (re-incentivize disease reporting)
  • Better allocate resources between emerging and endemic diseases
  • Support innovations at all levels in the health sectors
The livestock director concluded his talk by saying:
It is our belief that we can feed the world, we can do so in environmentally sustainable ways, we can do so while reducing absolute poverty, and we can do so while improving the health of people, animals and the planet.
Health is not the absence of disease’, Smith said, quoting his scientist Delia Grace. ‘And it’s too important to be left to doctors.’

See Jimmy Smith’s whole slide presentation, Health at the livestock-policy interface, 16–17 Aug 2012, and/or watch this 25-minute filmed presentation of his presentation.

See a slide presentation made at the Bangkok Forum, Poverty, food security, livestock and smallholders, by ILRI’s Steve Staal and FAO’s Vinod Ahuja.

Presentations made at the meeting, a detailed program and a list of participants are available here.

Get the proceedings of the whole conference: Asian Livestock Sector: Challenges, Opportunities and the Response — Proceedings of an international policy forum held in Bangkok, Thailand, 16–17 August 2012. Animal Production and Health Commission for Asia and the Pacific, International Livestock Research Institute and the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations, 2013.

For more information, please contact:
Vinod Ahuja, FAO livestock policy officer, based in Bangkok: Vinod.Ahuja [at] fao.org
or
Purvi Mehta, Head of ILRI Asia, based in New Delhi: p.mehta [at] cgiar.org

 

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.

Making Asian agriculture smarter

cambodia21_lo

A cow feeds on improved CIAT forage grasses, in Kampong Cham, Cambodia (photo credit: Neil Palmer/CIAT).

Last week, coming on the heels of a Planet Under Pressure conference in London, which set out to better define our ‘planetary boundaries’ and to offer scientific inputs to the Rio+20 United Nations sustainable development conference this June, a group of leaders in Asia—comprising agriculture and meteorology chiefs, climate negotiators and specialists, and heads of development agencies—met to hammer out a consensus on ways to make Asian agriculture smarter.

The workshop, Climate-smart agriculture in Asia: Research and development priorities, was held 11–12 April 2012 in Bangkok. It was organized by the Asia-Pacific Association of Agricultural Research Institutes; the CGIAR Research Program on Climate Change, Agriculture and Food Security; and the World Meteorological Organization.

This group set itself three ambitious tasks: To determine the best options (1) for producing food that will generate lower levels of greenhouse gases, which cause global warming; (2) for producing much greater amounts of food, which are needed to feed the region’s rapidly growing and urbanizing population; and (3) for doing all this under a changing climate that, if farming and farm policies don’t change, is expected to reduce agricultural productivity in the region by anywhere from 10 to 50 per cent over the next three decades.

The workshop participants started by reviewing the best practices and technologies now available for making agriculture ‘climate smart’. They then reviewed current understanding of how climate change is likely to impact Asian agriculture. They then agreed on what are the gaps in the solutions now available and which kinds of research and development should be given highest priority to fill those gaps. Finally, they developed a plan for filling the gaps and linking scientific knowledge with policy actions at all levels.

On the second of this two-day workshop, the participants were asked to short-list no more than ten key areas as being of highest priority for Asia’s research and development communities.

This exercise tempted this blogger to suggest ten suitable areas in the livestock sector.

(1) Lower greenhouse gas emissions from livestock through adoption of improved feed supplements (crops residues) that reduce greenhouse gas emissions.
Contact ILRI animal nutritionist Michael Blümmel, based in Hydrabad, for more information: m.blummel at cgiar.org

(2) Safeguard public health by enhancing Asia’s capacity to detect and control outbreaks of infectious diseases transmitted between animals and people.
Contact ILRI veterinary epidemiologist Jeff Gilbert, based in Vientienne, for more information: j.gilbert at cgiar.org

(3) Improve the efficiency of water used for livestock and forage production.
Contact ILRI rangeland ecologist Don Peden, based in Vancouver, for more information: d.peden at cgiar.org 

(4) Pay livestock keepers for their provision of environmental services.
Contact ILRI ecologist Jan de Leeuw, based in Nairobi, for more information: j.leeuw at cgiar.org

(5) Recommend levels of consumption of meat, milk and eggs appropriate for the health of people, their livelihoods and environments in different regions and communities.
Contact ILRI partner Tara Garnett, who runs the Food Climate Research Network based in Guildford, for more information:  t.garnett at surrey.ac.uk

(6) Design institutional and market mechanisms that support the poorer livestock keepers, women in particular.
Contact ILRI agricultural economist Steve Staal, based in Nairobi, for more information: s.staal at cgiar.org 

(7) Educate publics in the West on the markedly different roles that livestock play in different regions of the world.
Contact ILRI systems analyst Philip Thornton, based in Edinburgh, for more information: p.thornton at cgiar.org

(8) Adopt risk- rather than rule-based approaches to ensuring the safety of livestock foods.
Contact ILRI veterinary epidemiologist Delia Grace, based in Nairobi, for more information: d.grace at cgiar.org 

(9) Focus attention on small-scale, relatively extensive, mixed crop-and-livestock production systems.
Contact ILRI systems analyst Mario Herrero, based in Nairobi, for more information: m.herrero at cgiar.org 

(10) Give livestock-keeping communities relevant and timely climate and other information via mobile technologies.
Contact ILRI knowledge manager Pier-Paolo Ficarelli, based in Delhi, for more information: p.ficarelli at cgiar.org

Do you have a ‘top-ten’ list of what could make Asian agriculture ‘smart agriculture’? Post it in the Comment box, please!

Go here for ILRI blogs about the Planet Under Pressure conference.

ILRI in Asia blog

Scientists say farmers must be linked to markets to combat Africa’s food woes

Poultry seller in Mozambique

Poultry seller at the morning market in Chokwe, Gurue, Mozambique (photo credit: ILRI/Stevie Mann).

From dairy cooperatives, text messaging and grain storage to improved credit, transport and trade initiatives, a new book presents ‘high-payoff, low-cost’ solutions to Africa’s underdeveloped agricultural markets and chronic food insecurity.

As a food crisis unfolds in West Africa’s Sahel region, some of the world’s leading experts in agriculture markets say the time is ripe to confront the ‘substantial inefficiencies’ in trade policy, transportation, information services, credit, crop storage and other market challenges that leave Africans particularly vulnerable to food-related problems.

‘We can’t control the weather or international commodities speculators, but there are many things we can do to improve market conditions in Africa that will increase food availability and help stabilize food prices across the continent,’ said Anne Mbaabu, director of the Market Access Program at the Alliance for a Green Revolution in Africa (AGRA), which has invested US$30 million over the last four years to improve market opportunities for Africa’s smallholder farmers.

AGRA and the Nairobi-based International Livestock Research Institute (ILRI) have just released a book that features a range of studies that collectively make a compelling argument for embracing agriculture-oriented market improvements as crucial to not only avoiding future food crises but also for establishing a firm foundation for rural development and economic growth. The research was originally prepared for a conference in Nairobi in which 150 experts from around the world discussed how to ‘leverage the untapped capacity of agricultural markets in Africa to increase food security and incomes.’

Its publication comes as international aid groups are rushing assistance to Niger and other nations of the African Sahel—a narrow but long belt of arid land south of the Sahara that stretches across the continent—where a combination of high food prices and poor weather has left some 14 million people without enough to eat. The food problems in the Sahel are emerging just as African governments and aid groups say they have stabilized a food crisis in the Horn of Africa that at its peak in Somalia had left 58 percent of children under the age of five acutely malnourished.

But while volatility in international commodities markets is being widely cited as a major cause of the food shortages in the Sahel, there is growing evidence that at least some of the food price fluctuation in Africa is caused by domestic factors.

Recent research—led by Joseph Karugia, Coordinator of the Regional Strategic Analysis and Knowledge Support System for Eastern and Central Africa (ReSAKSS-ECA) at ILRI, and colleagues at the Association for Strengthening Agricultural Research in Eastern and Central Africa (ASARECA)—examining food price volatility in Eastern Africa suggests domestic factors are playing a role as well. The researchers found that over the last few years, even when global prices have receded, domestic prices in the region have remained high. For example, while global maize prices declined by 12 percent in the last quarter of 2008, in Kenya, Tanzania, Ethiopia, Zambia and Rwanda, they increased.

The study finds food price volatility in these countries is at least partly due to barriers and policies impeding the flow of food among markets in the region and between the region and global markets.

‘We need to consider what can be done within Africa to reduce our vulnerability to food-related problems,’ said ILRI’s interim deputy director general for research Steve Staal, an agricultural economist with expertise in smallholder farming systems. ‘Improving regional and sub-regional agriculture markets is one way we can increase food security and the impact of even minor improvements could be impressive. Just as it doesn’t take a big rise in food prices to tip millions of Africans into poverty, it does not require a sharp move in the other direction to generate huge benefits.’

The book from the markets conference outlines a number of ‘high-payoff, low cost’ initiatives that combine ‘innovative thinking’ and ‘new technology’ along with policy reforms to give farmers an incentive to boost production—and the means to make their surplus harvests more widely available and at an affordable cost.

For example, the Smallholder Dairy Project, a collaborative project between ILRI and research and development partners in Kenya, catalyzed some 40,000 small-scale milk vendors to generate an extra US$16 million across the Kenya dairy industry by seeking policy changes and providing practical training that made it easier for them to comply with national milk safety and quality standards. Prior to the initiative, smallholder dairy farmers were not realizing either their production or income potential because complex and costly food safety standards reduced participation in formal milk markets.

‘Smallholder farmers and herders in Africa need a combination of investment in infrastructure and services, along with regulatory changes to take full advantage of growing agriculture market opportunities,’ said Staal. ‘And since smallholders produce most of the milk, meat, vegetables and grains consumed in Africa, improving their participation in agriculture markets—particularly as populations gravitate away from rural areas to urban centers—is key to the continent’s food security.’

For example, a warehouse receipt program operated by the Eastern Africa Grain Council and Kenya’s Maize Development program is offering farmers two things they previously lacked: a place to safely store surplus harvests and easier access to credit. Research has shown that on average, 25 to 50 per cent of crops produced on African farms spoil in the fields and in East Africa alone up to USD90 million worth of milk is lost per year due to spoilage.

Lack of credit is also limiting the ability of African farmers to produce and sell more food. One important aspect of the warehouse receipt program is that it allows farmers to get credit using the deposited grain as collateral. They can use the credit to purchase such things as farm inputs for the next planting or meet immediate cash requirements.

‘We understand that credit is crucial for expanding production on African farms—as it is everywhere in the world—which is why AGRA is working with commercial banks to unlock millions of dollars in loans for smallholder farmers across Africa,’ said Mbaabu.

AGRA’s partnerships with Standard Bank, NMB Bank (Tanzania), and Equity Bank (Kenya) were modeled on an initiative by the Rockefeller Foundation in Uganda that had only a 2 per cent default rate. ‘This shows that investing in African farmers makes good business sense,’ said Mbaabu.

The book also discusses initiatives that are using post-harvest processing facilities and information technology to improve market opportunities. An analysis of processing facilities in Tanzania that make chips and flour from cassava—a crop many smallholder farmers can produce in abundance—found that they were profitable even when dealing at 50 per cent of capacity. Research in Northern Ghana found farmers were getting 68 per cent more for their harvests after using a service that provides a steady stream of pricing, market, transportation and weather information via text message.

On the policy front, the market experts see an urgent need to confront the ‘hodge-podge of tariffs’ and the numerous export restrictions and customs requirements that make it hard for areas of Africa where there are food surpluses to serve those in food deficit. Critically, they recognize that private investors are in many cases playing the lead role in new investments for market development and services.

Policy-makers need to shift emphasis from a traditional regulatory approach to one of co-investment to leverage private sector activity, supporting appropriate infrastructure and information systems,’ says Staal.

A recent report from the World Bank on trade barriers in Africa recounted how in Zambia, the grocery store Shoprite spends USD20,000 per week securing import permits for meat, milk and vegetables. And its trucks carry up to 1,600 documents to meet border requirements. Overall, the Bank report estimates African countries are forfeiting billions of dollars per year in potential earnings by failing to address barriers to the flow of goods and services.

‘When many people think of a food crisis in Africa, they picture crops withering in the field or dead or dying livestock, but rarely do they think about the market issues that are part of the problem as well,’ said Namanga Ngongi, president of AGRA. ‘African farmers face many challenges in the field and pasture but they will continue to lack the means and the incentive to boost crop and livestock yields if we continue to neglect our underdeveloped agriculture markets.’

The book, African agricultural markets: Towards priority actions for market development for African farmers, and synthesis document are available for download here.

The Alliance for a Green Revolution in Africa (AGRA)
is a dynamic partnership working across the African continent to help millions of small-scale farmers and their families lift themselves out of poverty and hunger. AGRA programmes develop practical solutions to significantly boost farm productivity and incomes for the poor while safeguarding the environment. AGRA advocates for policies that support its work across all key aspects of the African agricultural value chain—from seeds, soil health and water to markets and agricultural education.

The International Livestock Research Institute (ILRI)
works with partners worldwide to help poor people keep their farm animals alive and productive, increase and sustain their livestock and farm productivity, and find profitable markets for their animal products. ILRI’s headquarters are in Nairobi, Kenya; we have a principal campus in Addis Ababa, Ethiopia, and 13 offices in other regions of Africa and Asia. ILRI is part of the CGIAR (www.cgiar.org), which works to reduce hunger, poverty, illness and environmental degradation in developing countries by generating and sharing relevant agricultural knowledge, technologies and policies. This research is focused on development, conducted by a Consortium of 15 CGIAR centres working with hundreds of partners worldwide, and supported by a multi-donor Fund.

 More on the book

Download the full book or individual sections

Collective action ‘in action’ for African agriculture

Household takes refuge from the rain in central Malawi

Collaborative agricultural research in Africa gets a welcome boost; village farm household in central Malawi (photo credit: ILRI/Mann).

In recent months, an,  initiative of the Consultative Group on International Agricultural Research (CGIAR) called the Regional Plan for Collective Action in Eastern & Southern Africa (now simply called the ‘Regional Collective Action’) updated its ‘CGIAR Ongoing Research Projects in Africa Map’: http://ongoing-research.cgiar.org/ This collaborative and interactive map will be launched in the coming weeks through fliers, displays and presentations at agricultural, research and development meetings that have Africa as a focus. Although much of Africa’s agricultural research information has yet to be captured in this map, 14 centres supported by the CGIAR have already posted a total of 193 research projects and much more is being prepared for posting.

The newsletter of the Regional Collective Action—Collective Action News: Updates of agricultural research in Africa—continues to elicit considerable interest and feedback. Recent issues reported on the CGIAR reform process (November 2009) and agriculture and rural development at the recent climate change talks in Copenhagen (December 2009). The January 2010 issue reflects on the achievements of the Regional Collective Action since its inception three years ago (http://www.ilri.org/regionalplan/documents/Collective Action News January 2010.pdf).

Several high-profile African networks, including the Forum for Agricultural Research in Africa (FARA), the Food, Agriculture and Natural Resources Policy Analysis Network (FANRPAN) and the Association for Strengthening Agricultural Research in Eastern and Central Africa (ASARECA), are helping to disseminate the newsletter of the Regional Collective Action as well as information about its consolidated multi-institutional research map. Coordinators have now been appointed to lead each of four flagship programs of the Regional Collective Action.

Flagship 1 conducts collaborative work on integrated natural resource management issues and is coordinated by Frank Place at the World Agroforestry Centre (ICRAF).
Flagship 2 conducts research on agricultural markets and institutions and is led by Steve Staal of ILRI.
Flagship 3 conducts research on agricultural and related biodiversity and is led by Wilson Marandu of Bioversity International with support from Richard Jones of the International Crops Research Institute for the Semi-Arid Tropics (ICRISAT).
Flagship 4 conducts research on agriculturally related issues in disaster preparedness and response and is led by Kate Longley and Richard Jones of ICRISAT.

These four flagships programs of the Regional Collective Action are expected to play crucial roles in advancing collaborative discussions and activities in the new CGIAR, which is transforming itself to better link its agricultural research to development outcomes. ILRI’s Director of Partnerships and Communications, Bruce Scott, represented the CGIAR Centres at the December Meeting of the ASARECA Board of Trustees.

‘ASARECA continues to value the work of the CGIAR Centres in this region and welcome the Regional Collective Action,’ Scott said. With the four Flagship Programs off and running, the interactive Regional Research Map live on the web, and Collective Action News reporting on regional agricultural issues regularly, collaborative agricultural science for development in Africa appears to have got a welcome boost.