7 min.

Shirley Tarawali, assistant director general of ILRI, assumes Chair of the Global Agenda on Sustainable Livestock

ILRI News

On 1st November, Shirley Tarawali, assistant director general of the International Livestock Research Institute (ILRI), which is based in Africa and works in developing countries worldwide, took on, in addition to her ILRI duties, the role of Chair of the Global Agenda for Sustainable Livestock (GASL)—a multi-stakeholder partnership of livestock-sector stakeholders with a membership of about 115 organizations and over 1000 participants.

Based in Rome and hosted by the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations (FAO), GASL aims to improve sustainability of the global livestock sector through enhanced livestock policy dialogue, providing scientific livestock evidence and advocating good livestock practices and policies that advance the environmental, social and economic sustainability of this large, growing and highly diverse sector.

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Shirley Tarawali delivers a powerful message each and every time she speaks at the countless conferences, meetings, workshops and dialogues she participates in each year. That message is that a sustainable livestock sector can play a central role in helping the world meet its 17 Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs).

In a recent 2-hour debate of short-listed candidates for the position of Chair of GASL, Tarawali embedded this message in the many topical points she made to the greater GASL community, all of them pointing to the pressing need for sustainable livestock systems to be transformed and fulfil their many roles in helping to build resilient, sustainable and healthy food systems while tackling today’s big environmental and climate change challenges.

Tarawali is stepping into the shoes of Fritz Schneider, who served as chair since 2016. During his GASL tenure, Schneider helped to put sustainable livestock on the development stage and to transform GASL into the mature multi-stakeholder partnership that it is today.

It is those successes that Tarawali looks forward to building upon, backed by her 35-years of experience working and advocating for more sustainable and equitable livestock systems. She began her research as a plant scientist investigating agronomic aspects of mixed crop-livestock farming systems of West Africa, then moved into progressively larger leadership roles at ILRI, where she led the institute’s animal nutrition and natural resource management themes before becoming assistant director general in 2014. She has been an active participant in, and contributor to, GASL for the last decade, starting from the lead up to its inception in 2010.

Shirley Tarawali with several members of ILRI’s communications and knowledge management team. Tarawali leads ILRI’s communication and advocacy efforts. Photo P. Karaimu/ILRI

Last week Tarawali shared why she decided to take on this additional challenge (as if she weren’t busy enough!), what she brings to the position and what this potentially means for the global livestock sector, for livestock peoples’ of all kinds worldwide, and for ILRI and CGIAR

Being assistant director general of ILRI is a big job already. What motivated you to take on the additional responsibilities of GASL Chair?

When the position opened up, it was hard to resist seizing an opportunity to contribute further to something I am passionate about that has been something of a ‘life calling’. In my work, I have seen the mounting evidence that demonstrates how livestock production systems can be sustainable and the meaningful role they can play in contributing to global development. My aim has always been to keep elevating that evidence, especially in the case of developing countries, to attract much-needed investments–human as well as financial–in the sector.

I see considerable opportunities for greater synergies formed between, for example, ILRI and GASL. I am interested in bringing together our collective voices—to make the ‘whole greater than the sum of its parts’.

And, yes, while I recognize this adds more to my plate, I do not stand alone. I take on this role backed with the full support of ILRI’s director general, Jimmy Smith, and my ILRI and GASL colleagues, who are just as passionate about sustainable livestock possibilities as I am.

What do you bring to the position that is new or unique?

No one ‘piece’ of what I bring is unique on its own, but there is, perhaps, a uniqueness in the combination of pieces.

I have been involved with GASL in many ways, since even before its inception, so I carry a true appreciation and understanding of the potential and challenges this global partnership brings. Along with that, I bring years of working in ‘real’ livestock systems on the ground, especially in developing countries, where livestock play multi-dimensional roles in providing nutrition, household wealth and social/cultural cohesion. In my current leadership role at ILRI, my responsibilities have multiple dimensions that include strategy, planning, communication, capacity development, partnerships and governance issues.

Another area of expertise I bring is my experience in supporting ILRI’s advocacy and communications efforts, which are key dimensions to achieving ILRI’s second strategic objective—to ‘support’ evidence-based livestock decision-making at all levels. This has since evolved into supporting evidence for sustainable livestock on behalf of the whole sector, which goes beyond an ILRI-specific mandate.

What could your taking on this role mean for ILRI and for CGIAR in general?

The heart of the present CGIAR reform movement to create ‘One CGIAR’ is to position the work of the CGIAR centres—most of them located in developing countries and all of them working for a food-secure future—for greater development impacts, especially SDG2 (‘Zero Hunger’). There are considerable opportunities for centre synergies to achieve such ambitions, in addition to the CGIAR centres and their different agricultural mandates.

ILRI sits at the interface of CGIAR and the wider ‘livestock world’, which helps ensure that CGIAR research contributes toward sustainable livestock while issues of the diverse livestock constituency informs CGIAR priorities.

During GASL’s last annual multi-stakeholder partnership meeting, a couple of people spoke about ‘impossible tasks’. What do you consider to be GASL's most important ‘impossible task’ and how would you make the impossible, possible? 

The most impossible task for me is following in the footsteps of Fritz Schneider, who has done such an amazing job! Every conversation I’ve had—whether from within GASL, FAO, partners or donor agencies—as part of my transition to take over the role of chair has emphasized and re-emphasized that to me. Keeping in touch with Fritz and seeking his counsel will help me in my job enormously and he has graciously agreed to continue his engagement with GASL.

There are many other challenges, and I suspect I’ve yet to discover them all so I’m not sure where they stand in terms of the ‘impossibility’ range. One that occurs to me is continuing to move the ‘sustainable livestock conversation’ into the development space—moving out of our ‘comfort zone’—of livestock people talking to and agreeing with other livestock people.

I look forward to helping GASL’s diverse membership see ‘what’s in it for me’. This looks very, very different from different perspectives, say, of someone representing a pastoral livestock group versus someone representing private-sector folks engaged in dairy, egg or beef production. Also important is ensuring that people understand that GASL is not a funding agency, that GASL is about coming together to make the whole greater than the sum of its parts, that we are stronger and more effective when we speak with a collective voice.

ILRI is proud to have Shirley Tarawali represent the organization, CGIAR and livestock stakeholders in this high-profile and important international platform. We wish her great success and will support her every step of the way.

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