Linking research-for-development and community needs in the climate-smart livestock systems project

This blog was written by Lucy Njuguna, a Graduate Fellow with the Sustainable Livestock Systems Program.

In development work, there is often concern that external interventions can impose unintended costs on communities, especially when there is little or no consultation with the communities on their interests and priorities. This concern is particularly important in research projects, where the contrasting goals of the researchers and community members must be intentionally aligned for both to benefit. Even organizations specializing in development in specific sectors or geographical areas face difficulties in aligning their research goals and objectives with the evolving and diverse needs of communities. Nevertheless, researchers and research quality can benefit from showing a ‘return on investments’ made in their projects and by actively seeking to deliver positive impacts to the communities they work with.

But how can researchers ensure efforts to bridge scientific research gaps at the same time also address pressing community needs?

Concepts such as research-for-development, also referred to as development research, have been proposed as models for pushing the agenda of impactful research forward. In its broadest sense, this approach entails strategically ensuring that research activities bridge scientific gaps in ways that are relevant and responsive to community needs at various levels.

Through its work, the International Livestock Research Institute (ILRI) is at the forefront of livestock research for development in sub-Saharan Africa where livestock is a major contributor to economic growth and food security. An ongoing initiative known as the Programme for Climate Smart Livestock Systems (PCSL) project is researching on ways of enhancing productivity and resilience as well as improving climate change mitigation and adaptation measurements in livestock systems in eastern Africa.

Whereas the project’s importance to international, national and sub-national communities in the region is apparent, ILRI is going a step further in ensuring the project’s sustainability by working with communities to identify how it can have more direct benefits to local livestock keepers.

A series of community meetings to identify priority community issues and ways in which they can be addressed within the mandate of the PCSL project are being held between the project team and communities in Kenya, Uganda and Ethiopia. Feedback from these meetings will inform mapping out of the contextual issues that will be critical for the success of the project.

Members of Ol Kirmatian group ranch in Kajiado County, during the PCSL meeting held 25th June 2019 (photo credit ILRI Lucy Njuguna)

Members of Ol Kirmatian group ranch in Kajiado County, during the PCSL meeting held 25 June 2019 (photo credit: ILRI/ Lucy Njuguna).

One such meeting was held on 24 and 25 June 2019 at the Shompole and Ol Kirimatian group ranches in Kenya’s Kajiado County, where the PCSL project is likely to be implemented. The meetings were structured in such a way that the general vision and objectives of the project were shared with the participants, who were then invited to share specific community concerns that they would like the project to address during implementation. Both meetings had approximately 35 participants who comprised community members, group ranch leaders and local chiefs.

ILRI researchers who were in attendance included Lutz Merbold, Sonja Leitner, Svenja Marquardt, Jason Sircely and Lucy Njuguna, and they shared their perspectives on the variety of requests made by the participants. For example, in Shompole, the participants said they would like to rear improved goat breeds, which can browse on the little pasture that is available. While improved goat breeds may have potential to improve productivity, the ILRI team suggested that a better starting point for the livestock keepers might be first to ensure improved quality and quantity of feeds for livestock, which is critical for harnessing the benefits of improved breeds.

Other opportunities for development that were identified at the meeting included the use of manure, which to date is underutilized as fertilizer for crops and fodder cultivation in the area. Participants noted that enhancing the use of manure as fertilizer would be a viable strategy since there is adequate land within the group ranches and fodder production would not compete with crop farming. In one group ranch, each household has eight acres where they can cultivate crops or fodder. The livestock keepers said they would be interested in fodder grass species such as Cenchrus ciliaris (African foxtail grass) and Cynodon dactylon (Couch grass), which are well adapted to the dry climate in the area.

In both group ranches, livestock health was mentioned as a big issue for livestock keepers. Trypanosomiasis, contagious caprine pleuropneumonia, foot-and-mouth and several other diseases were said to be a menace, and the community has limited access to veterinary services. Further, the participants said, since diseases and parasites reduce productivity and efficiency of animal production, they may also affect adaptation and mitigation of climate change. Although dealing with diseases is not within the expertise and scope of the PCSL project, the meetings discussed how the project might explore other opportunities to address the challenge of livestock diseases. These include for example, tapping into the expertise of the ILRI veterinary unit and/or lobbying the county government of Kajiado to improve access to veterinary services. In addition, in situ data that will be gathered through animal measurements when establishing greenhouse gas emissions baselines, could be used for monitoring animal health.

As a way forward in ensuring the project addresses these community needs and comes up with mechanisms for effective partnership, more meetings will be held between the communities in Kajiado and the ILRI project team. These meetings will seek a mutually beneficial agreement between all parties and identify partners who will facilitate community engagements.

The Program for Climate Smart Livestock Systems is funded and coordinated by the German Corporation for International Cooperation GmbH (GIZ). It is commissioned by the Government of the Federal Republic of Germany and implemented by ILRI in cooperation with the World Bank in Uganda, Kenya and Ethiopia.

This blog was written with contributions from Lutz Merbold, Sonja Leitner, Jason Sircely, and Svenja Marquardt.

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