The ILRI 2019 Annual Report> The right policies

Moe Hni Si (World Vision Myanmar)
System dynamics models provide a diagrammatic representation of the complex relationships within an agricultural or livestock value chain; here it is being applied to paddy farming in Myanmar.

Capturing complexity: The ‘dynamics’ in livestock system dynamics modelling

ILRI is pioneering the use of ‘participatory system dynamics modelling’ of the livestock value chains dominant across the developing world to determine optimal technical, institutional and policy interventions

By Judy Kimani

Livestock value chains are highly complex. Such value chains comprise the full range of individuals, agencies and actions required to bring a given livestock product—whether dairy, eggs or meat—from its original production by a farm or household through its processing and final delivery to, and consumption, by consumers.

Current methods for analysing livestock value chains have not been up to the task of determining the best interventions to make to improve them. System dynamics models offer a solution.

These models, which have long been used to address complex problems in fields outside of agriculture, are actually a family of methodologies based on 'systems thinking,' which treat social and natural systems as an interconnected collection of 'stocks,' 'flows' and 'feedbacks.' By modelling these feedback loops and analysing behaviour over time, a rich understanding of a system can be developed. The model serves, in essence, as a virtual environment where model users can test various assumptions and explore future scenarios generated by relations among a multitude of factors.

Systems modelling has been implemented in several studies to capture, analyse and understand the behaviour of dynamic complex systems.

Within CGIAR, the International Livestock Research Institute (ILRI) has pioneered the use of system dynamics models to enhance the analysis of livestock value chains. These models are used to test scenarios to explore the results of implementing different possible interventions. By capturing the complex interactions of livestock value chains, use of these models provides a deeper understanding of how value chains work, their major performance gaps, and the best options for closing those gaps, where ‘best’ can take economic and non-economic factors and trade-offs into account.

In 2019, ILRI scaled out its use of participatory processes to construct these models in a number of contexts. Such techniques, termed ‘group model building’, involve several focus group sessions with stakeholders in a given livestock value chain. This specific participatory method directly involves 10–15 stakeholders from diverse backgrounds in the model development process. In a series of iterative model building sessions, the stakeholders are guided through a process of conceptualizing and mapping the dynamics that undermine a livestock value chain and identifying those factors that might be leveraged to improve it.

ILRI has pioneered the use of system dynamics models within a participatory ‘group model building’ process to enhance livestock value chains in developing countries.
An ILRI participatory system dynamics modelling session in Myanmar (photo credit: Lincoln University/Jared Berends).

A team manages and supervises the discussions in as many as four to five separate sessions. The first session introduces the process to stakeholders and includes a short instruction on the concepts of systems, problem conceptualization and prioritization. Building on the problems articulated in the first session, the second session develops an initial model to understand the causes and consequences of high-priority problems in the value chain, using systems thinking techniques that provide a diagrammatic representation of the complex relationships within a livestock value chain. The third and fourth sessions continue the model building process by establishing more structure and incorporating data from both stakeholders and other sources.

ILRI’s experience with this ‘participatory system dynamics modelling’ process has demonstrated its considerable value in unravelling the complexities of small-scale livestock production and marketing systems in low- and middle-income countries. The method fosters significant collaboration, team building and learning among the participants. In addition, by bringing together both women and men playing very different roles and coming from very different institutions across a whole value chain, the method provides a rare means of obtaining data in low-income environments where relevant data is very scarce.

In parallel to the engagement with value chain actors, a reference group of technical experts complements the process. The reference group provides feedback and an external reality check on the process and information collected through regular discussions.

Karl M Rich, an agricultural economist and quantitative modelling expert who leads ILRI’s foresight modelling and policy team, says that he was motivated to use the system dynamics methodology because of ‘the many multi-faceted, multi-dimensional and interacting feedbacks that occur among the biological aspects of animal production, the epidemiology of livestock diseases, the patterns of livestock land use, the dynamics of livestock marketing, and the many institutions that impinge on small-scale livestock systems in developing countries. Each and all of these together influence the uptake and impact of market, policy and technical interventions made to enhance the livestock sector.’

ILRI scientists have utilized an innovation to the group model building process to enable it to characterize the spatial attributes of value chains. This work has helped to determine ‘where’ as well as ‘how’ value chains are evolving, a factor largely missing from conventional analyses. This innovation, termed ‘spatial group model building’, engages stakeholders in identifying value chain characteristics directly on physical maps using participatory geographic information systems principles.

An example of ‘spatial group model building’ in India (photo credit: SOAS/Gregory Cooper).

‘Our experience with spatial group model building’, Rich says, ‘confirmed that people are highly visual and identify strongly with place. Using participatory geographic information systems enriches our understanding of how value chains work and helps to establish a common reference point from which to start the modelling process.’

ILRI has employed this technique in scenarios to estimate the predicted returns of various interventions that might be made to enhance livestock value chains. A project funded by Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation and co-led by the University of London-SOAS and ILRI, for example, recently analysed market and technical interventions in vegetable and poultry value chains in India’s state of Bihar and in Bangladesh.

In this project, ‘Market Intervention for Nutritional Improvement’, a system dynamics model was developed to explore pathways to ‘win-wins’ in farmer incomes and the availability and affordability of fruits and vegetables in small rural markets. The model assessed how interventions targeting transport subsidies and cold storage would affect trade-offs between producer livelihoods and the availability of fruits and vegetables.

The initial findings suggest that any ‘win-wins’ will require achieving a delicate balance among options to upgrade the fruit and vegetable value chains. The best options for achieving better nutrition, for example, are likely to lead to poorer economic outcomes for fruit and vegetable producers, and vice versa.

ILRI has also employed spatial group model building in a project funded by the New Zealand Ministry of Foreign Affairs and led by World Vision New Zealand. This project, ‘Thanintharyi Region Rural Income and Livelihoods Development,’ identified and implemented pro-poor interventions in targeted pig and paddy value chains in the townships of Myeik and Palaw, in southern Myanmar. Use of the model showed that small-scale production of hybrid pig breeds should be a highly profitable enterprise for rural households. However, frequent disease outbreaks, the unpredictability of farm-gate live pig prices and a lack of formal credit facilities make this a high-risk livelihood option for many community members. For poorer pig producers, the current structure and loan terms of the financial products on offer result in periods of negative cashflow due to time-lags in pig production. The model showed that periods of negative cashflow were still present even with the introduction of animal health workers and a contract farming arrangement. This insight informed a redesign of the financial products, including the introduction of a ‘grace period’ (deferred loan payments) to combat periods of negative cashflow and ensure that the poorer producers could also engage in upgrading their pig systems.

Better lives through Livestock

How the other half works:
Making a living with livestock

International Livestock Research Institute2019 Annual Report

Photo credit: ILRI/Georgina Smith
Jimmy Smith, ILRI director general (l) with ILRI board chair Lindsay Falvey(photo credits: ILRI/Alexandra de Athayde and ILRI/Susan MacMillan)


We are publishing the 2019 annual report of the International Livestock Research Institute (ILRI) during a global pandemic whose impacts on human health and the global economy have already proven catastrophic. Both COVID-19 and recent events around the world have shown that inequalities of various kinds—social, racial and economic, among others—remain powerful forces that need to be addressed. At ILRI, we are committed to ensuring that our research on livestock contributes in a multitude of ways to addressing the current crisis, from preventing future pandemics to helping those most impacted by the present one. We are working on livestock solutions that help re-ignite economies, support health and nutrition, and build up sustainable and resilient food systems in the poorer parts of the world.

This report’s focus on gender is especially timely. Few societies in the world are free from inequalities arising from gender, as few are free from inequalities of race, status and multiple other kinds of division.

read more

A gendered lens: Women, men and the future of livestock

Picture a livestock keeper in the developing world. In all likelihood, you are visualizing a man, perhaps herding cows and goats across a savanna or ploughing a piece of farmland with bullocks. The very term ‘animal husbandry’—which refers to the care, cultivation and breeding of animals—denotes masculine qualities, deriving as it does from late Old English (‘male head of a household’). But of course, it is not only men who keep livestock.

In fact, some two-thirds of the developing world’s hundreds of millions of poor livestock keepers are women, not men. In these countries, women, not men, perform most of the work in farm and herding households that goes into caring for animals. It is these women, not their menfolk, who do most of the day-to-day farm animal management as well as the processing, marketing and selling of the milk and eggs their animals produce. And it is developing-country women, not men, who typically make daily household decisions regarding a family’s chickens and other small stock.

read more

Nicoline de Haan, ILRI gender team leader(photo credit: CGIAR CRP on Water, Land and Ecosystems)

Thanks to our Donors and Partners

we worked on


Projects in 2019

  • 63


  • 70


  • 118


  • 11,839


The animals they keep

Feature stories highlighting ILRI's gender work

ILRI is a research-for-development institute, dedicated to a world free of poverty, hunger and environmental degradation. Its projects and initiatives reach beyond the library or the laboratory to the real world. The four stories that follow depict with journalistic flair and photographic detail the opportunities and challenges facing women and men building a better future for themselves through livestock.

The CGIAR gender platform

A renewed platform on gender aims to give greater voice to women farmers in the developing world Hosted by ILRI, the multi-centre collaborative effort will focus on gender equality and transformative food systems

Women farmers in the developing world face a host of challenges, from balancing domestic and agricultural chores to securing access to land and markets. To help women achieve gender equality in food systems, and to sustainably defeat hunger and enhance nutrition, CGIAR has launched a CGIAR GENDER Platform. The platform aims to create a ‘new normal’-a world in which greater gender equality drives more equitable, sustainable, productive and climate-resilient food systems.
ILRI is proud to serve as host for a new CGIAR-wide platform on gender issues in global agricultural research for development. Known as GENDER (Generating Evidence and New Directions for Equitable Results), the platform aims to help transform the way gender research is done, both within and beyond CGIAR, and to help kick-start a process of genuine change towards greater gender equality and better lives for smallholder farmers everywhere.

Jimmy Smith, director general of ILRI, stated, 'GENDER is well positioned to produce far-reaching and enduring impacts because it will aim to give a voice to the millions of women who today are mostly excluded from the extremely urgent efforts to produce enough, and good enough, food under the climate crisis. Only when both women and men are empowered to transform food systems can they successfully nourish families, communities and entire nations, today and in the future.'
Launched in January 2020, GENDER builds on a wealth of research and learning generated by the previous CGIAR Gender Network and the Collaborative Platform for Gender Research (2011–2019). It includes all 14 CGIAR research centres, 12 collaborative CGIAR research programs and 3 other CGIAR system-wide research support platforms and will forge alliances with change-makers in government, academia, national agricultural research extension systems and non-governmental organizations.

ILRI's gender team

It begins in the lab

But extends to the field

Fighting animal disease, planting better forages, preventing the dangerous spread of antimicrobial-resistant infections and improving food safety all require meticulous scientific work. ILRI’s biosciences division provides researchers with the time and resources to carry out that painstaking research. These stories show how ILRI is working to find solutions that will progressively reduce poverty and improve human health.

Building for the future

Making tomorrow’s breakthroughs possible

Tomorrow’s scientific breakthroughs can only happen if we invest in people and institutions today. ILRI maintains a variety of programs to enhance mission effectiveness and stimulate global research on livestock in the developing world. Its internship program has hosted scores of undergraduate interns from the world over—the next generation of livestock scientists. Its Ethiopia campus provides a model of how CGIAR centres can work synergistically. And its pioneering genotyping platform is helping scientists throughout Africa to modernize and strengthen breeding programs.

The right policies

The science of livestock systems

Because they are embedded in structures that extend from the family home to global trade, the economics, policies and social science of livestock systems remain ILRI's focus. ILRI’s scientists are helping the Kenyan government develop land-use policies to ensure a viable future for the country’s millions of pastoralists. They are identifying sustainable, bottom-up, stakeholder-led interventions in livestock value chains. And they are ensuring that farmers in Africa participate in climate-smart solutions that maximize productivity while lowering greenhouse gas emissions.

ILRI digital reach and social media


Website performance since launch in March 2019

  • Users +81%
  • Pageviews +123%

Top 2019 science journal articlesfrom ILRI programs