A woman for all livestock seasons—ILRI’s Shirley Tarawali

Shirley Tarawali, who serves as assistant director general of the International Livestock Research Institute (ILRI), this month (Nov 2020) took on the additional role of chair of the Global Agenda for Sustainable Livestock (GASL). (Please see this interview of Tarawali by Mireille Ferrari about Tarawali’s new GASL role.)

Shirley Tarawali was born and raised on a small family farm growing crops and raising livestock in Kent, in the UK. She obtained a doctorate in plant science from the University of London in 1983. After getting her doctoral degree and completing a year’s post-doctoral work in London, she was hired as a consultant to support a forage agronomy team of the International Livestock Centre for Africa (a predecessor of ILRI) in Nigeria. Later she was hired as a joint appointee (the first such joint appointment in CGIAR) to conduct work at the crop-livestock interface working for two CGIAR centres—the International Institute for Tropical Agriculture (IITA), headquartered in West Africa’s Nigeria, and ILRI, which has two principal campuses in East Africa, in Kenya and Ethiopia.

In her years of work as a jointly appointed crop-livestock ‘systems’ scientist, Tarawali investigated major aspects of ‘mixed’ crop-livestock farming agronomy in the challenging environs of rural West Africa. In this, she worked with many organizations to help solve the big, real-world, challenges facing the region’s mixed crop-livestock farmers, agro-pastoralists and remote livestock herders. In ensuing years, she took on leadership of ILRI programs encompassing the great diversity of smallholder livestock farming systems across Africa and Asia.

Throughout her 35 years of professional work, Tarawali has embodied the notion of ‘participatory’ by marrying international with local expertise, interdisciplinary with finely focused research topics, and field with laboratory work. She has cultivated collaborations with local, national and international partners and has participated in many hundreds of research workshops and meetings, scientific conferences, and, more recently, delivering messages about sustainable livestock at the United Nations and other development fora.

Tarawali’s involvement in these many meetings, says her boss, ILRI Director General Jimmy Smith, whether as participant, presenter, facilitator or organizer, is ‘marked by her demonstrable commitment to move sustainable livestock work forward and her exceptional ability to respect—and to listen carefully and productively—to the opinions, perceptions and research evidence of others.

Shirley is known for searching, finding and exploiting synergies. Partnerships, of all sizes and kinds, are central to her way of working and her many successes. And while we know that capturing synergies is a major way to make progress of all kinds, at ILRI and GASL we believe it is absolutely essential to creating more sustainable as well as equitable livestock futures for all.

—Jimmy Smith

As Tarawali begins her tenure as chair of the Global Agenda for Sustainable Livestock, she will continue in her central leadership role for ILRI as assistant director general.

Scroll down below to watch a little video that attempts to capture some of Tarawali’s ‘soft’ as well as scientific research and leadership skills.

Shirley Tarawali’s scientific outputs over the years include too many scientific papers and presentations to list here. The three of her recent papers linked to below, which focus on just one topic—that of how livestock impinges on human nutrition—will have to suffice as an indicator of the breadth of Tarawali’s concerns, interests and expertise.

Why is production of animal-source foods important for economic development in Africa and Asia, Animal Frontiers, Oct 2020.

Options for the livestock sector in developing and emerging economies to 2030 and beyond, World Economic Forum ‘Meat: The Future series’ white paper, Jan 2019.

Beyond milk, meat and eggs: Role of livestock in food and nutrition security, Animal Frontiers, Dec 2012.