The ILRI 2019 Annual Report> The right policies

FIPS/Raymond Jumah
Farmer Lillian Ochieng in Siaya County, Kenya, chopping the fodder grass Brachiaria into smaller pieces to minimize waste

Social equity in low-emissions development in the East African dairy sector

Low-emission dairy practices have significant implications for women’s labour, control of resources and access to financial benefits

By Sarah Kasyoka

Livestock emit significantly less greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions than transport, energy and other sectors but account for half of the total emissions within the agricultural sector. Forty per cent of these emissions are from enteric fermentation (digestive processes that decompose and ferment feed), while another 25% is from manure management. As a result, in the context of the current climate crisis discussions, the reduction of GHG emissions from livestock has generated intense interest from researchers, development practitioners and policymakers alike.

That interest has spurred concerted efforts towards ensuring that farmers in Africa participate in climate-smart solutions by taking advantage of huge opportunities to improve livestock productivity while minimizing negative impacts on the environment. Specifically, the dairy sector in East Africa has been targeted as a potential industry to implement climate-smart initiatives which can significantly lower GHG emissions.

Reducing GHG emissions from livestock has generated intense interest from researchers, development practitioners and policymakers alike

Researchers at the International Livestock Research Institute (ILRI) have been making contributions to the global efforts to respond to the increasing global demand for livestock products, including milk, through smallholder and medium farms, while lowering GHG emissions. Studies have examined the potential of various low emissions development (LED) options to reduce the emissions per unit of animal protein produced.

Since lowering livestock’s GHG emissions intensity is directly linked to changing farm practices, the LED interventions mostly fall under three major categories: feed quality and availability, manure management and animal husbandry. These options are often assessed in terms of their suitability for specific farming systems, their technical potential, the barriers that exist to their adoption and the potential incentives that could encourage their use among farmers.

However, most low-emissions research and interventions only focus on environmental and productivity outcomes but ignore the social distribution of impacts and benefits of their uptake. In most dairy production settings in East Africa, there exists a clear gender division of labour: men and women have different responsibilities and enjoy different benefits from livestock. Research has shown that women are predominately responsible for the daily and time-consuming tasks related to the management of cows. They secure fodder for the animals, remove their manure, provide them with water, assess and take care of their health needs, determine whether they are in heat and require mating or artificial insemination and, of course, milk them. These tasks can easily take six hours a day.

Village-Based Dairy Advisor Priscilla Auma attending to her pure-bred, Ayrshire bull calf in Busia County, Kenya (photo credit: Raymond Jumah/FIPS-Africa)

Men’s tasks tend to be more ‘seasonally needs-based’ or sporadic. They include purchasing and selling cows, spraying them against ticks and planting fodder crops, as ILRI social scientists Katie Tavenner and Todd Crane note. And although women contribute intense labour to dairy production, they are often less privileged when it comes to cattle ownership. The don’t benefit from the income from milk sales or participate in decision-making regarding the purchase and sale of animals.

Finally, while participation in the dairy sector is a viable means of improving rural livelihoods, the opportunities available to men and women for entering the sector are often different. Cultural norms favour men in terms of accessing the benefits of dairy farming through formal participation in milk markets. Women frequently face barriers in participating in the dairy value chain and in the potential to accrue benefits from such participation.

These gender dynamics have a significant role in the adoption of low emission development strategies in the dairy sector and must be taken into account. Otherwise, interventions meant to encourage the adoption of low-emission practices can end up, inadvertently, harming or disenfranchising women.

In most dairy production settings in East Africa, there exists a clear gender division of labour: Men and women have different responsibilities and enjoy different benefits from livestock

It is common for farmers to be more concerned with enhancing productivity and profitability than with the environmental impacts of their practices. They need an incentive to participate in low emissions development initiatives. These initiatives need to be employed carefully to avoid increasing men’s control over productive resources and monetary benefits to the detriment of women.

ILRI researchers have studied the gender norms and intra-household dynamics that influence women’s participation in low emissions development interventions, exploring specific options that can encourage their participation. Their research recommends engaging with smallholders regarding gender roles and equity in order to customize incentives for women’s participation in LED interventions to ensure that they are culturally sensitive and reflect day-to-day realities.

Ultimately, if the goal of lowering livestock’s GHG emissions intensity is to be achieved, the dynamic practices in smallholder households such as division of labour, resource control and decision-making power must be part of the equation. Both men and women need to be engaged in assessing the viability of LED initiatives in terms of their implications on social equity.

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.

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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.

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

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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.

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Top 2019 science journal articlesfrom ILRI programs