Livestock is the Cinderella of agricultural development

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1 Livestock is the Cinderella of agricultural development Jimmy Smith is the new Director General of ILRI* in Nairobi. He recently talked to the Syngenta Foundation about smallholders, livestock research and animal diseases. A further topic was BecA, the biosciences center that the Foundation supports at ILRI. Syngenta Foundation: How do you view the global importance of livestock? Jimmy Smith: The world is at an interesting stage with regard to food and nutritional security! There is much concern about how farmers can feed two billion more people in And unfortunately we re not starting from zero. We already have a billion who are hungry and poor. So we re really talking about nourishing three billion more people. Livestock plays a very important role. It is also a major economic factor: globally, animal agriculture accounts for 40% of farm GDP. Over a billion people depend on livestock, directly or indirectly, for their livelihoods. What do you see as the current great strengths of the *International Livestock Research Institute? ILRI has a huge capacity to help. We have been working to understand the circumstances in which people who live in poverty exist, trying to diagnose what will help them to emerge from poverty, including policy and technology. We have a strong cadre of scientists with a very important agenda. I hope ILRI will make a strong contribution to global food security. We ve done so in the past, and will continue to do so. What have been the key changes since you last worked there? Just over ten years ago, when I was at ILRI, we were struggling to get anyone interested in agriculture. For most politicians, food came from supermarkets. The industrialized countries were awash with milk and butter. There were good reserves of rice and other food commodities. For many decision-makers, the battle to feed the world had already been won. So investments in agriculture plummeted - from 15% of overseas development assistance to 2%. But nowadays even the G8 talks about the importance of ag and feeding the world. In terms of organizational changes since I left, ILRI has merged two centers and research cultures into a cohesive force. (The merger of the International Livestock Centre for Africa, ILCA, and the International Laboratory for Animal Diseases, ILRAD, was then in its infancy; it is now grown up). ILRI s predecessors were essentially based in Africa, but it is a now much more of a global entity. We ve got to translate more research into real outcomes for farmers Your declared commitment is to take ILRI to even higher heights. What is your vision for the organization, and how do you intend to get there? That s a tough question. We have the mandate to help feed the world adequately which means not only sufficient quantities, but also sufficient nutritional quality and diversity of foods. We have to address this mandate as rapidly as possible. Clearly we need to continue our very strong research efforts. 1

2 But we must also link our research better to development, and translate our findings into real outcomes and impacts. We need to form stronger partnerships with development organizations. That is something the whole CGIAR** could do much better over the next 5-10 years. Unfortunately, just as we ve finally got people s attention for agriculture, there is a huge economic downturn in the West. Countries are concerned about their own budgets. So we re going to have to work doubly hard to get our agenda funded. We need to become very effective communicators about what we re doing, how we re doing it, what we can deliver and when. We need to communicate this not only at our scientific meetings but wherever we can get global attention. We have to become stronger ambassadors for what we do. But at the bottom of it all is the science. We must be doing good science to deal with the very tough problems that the poor face in the developing world. It s relatively easy to promote livestock development in an industrial setting. But to make it happen among small farmers is a very difficult challenge. What is the importance to ILRI of its Hosted Initiatives such as BecA***? At its creation, ILRI had more bioscience facilities than any other center in Africa. The vision then was that biotech would become increasingly important in developing world agriculture. For instance, if we could breed a corn variety with good yields but only needing as little water as sorghum, then we would be taking a big step forward. This facility was seen as responding to some of the future needs of Africa and giving all Africans access to the platform. We re working to attain that vision. BecA is a platform for the outside world, but also drives ILRI science How do you see ILRI s mutual relationships with these initiatives developing under your leadership? I would like to see BecA realize its vision. Every country in Africa is now paying attention to ag development. There are huge technical problems, some of which biotech can help solve. We hope that BecA s open platform will respond to real challenges on the continent. Its capacity will certainly help drive ILRI s science. ILRI s focus is on livestock; BecA does much broader research. How do you see BecA s work supporting the ILRI mandate? We call ILRI a livestock center, but 50% or more of the world s meat and milk comes from mixed crop livestock systems. Livestock and crop farming go hand in hand. In poor countries, livestock get most of their feed from left-over crops, and smallholders get much of their fertilizer from livestock. So, we re a livestock center, but we know a lot about crops as well. So there is a closer fit with BecA than many people think. BecA is dedicated to helping African agriculture with biosciences. I see BecA both as a platform for the outside, but also as one which helps drive ILRI science on the inside. If we re talking about sequencing genomes, for example, the methodologies for crops and animals are quite similar. With good scientists working together on very broad, important challenges, we expect a lot of cross-fertilization. 2

3 What is your view on BecA s partnership with the Syngenta Foundation? Very positive. It s a relationship we cherish, and hope to grow. I have been involved in BecA since the planning phase, and worked for the Canadian agency that provided the initial grant. The Syngenta Foundation was crucial in getting the facility to work for broader partnerships in Africa. The core funding provided by the Syngenta Foundation was crucial to making the facility operational. And the Foundation contributed the vision that BecA should and can help transform African farming by bringing biosciences to bear on many problems. Among the first people you met after your appointment were Kenyan public sector representatives. Which topics in agriculture particularly interest them today? Some of the discussion revolved around the drought in this region. But we also talked about how to elevate the visibility of livestock as a public topic. Livestock really is the Cinderella of agricultural development. In Kenya, livestock is an important part of the economy, not only in the pastoral areas but also in the highlands. Smallholder dairy farming has been a recent success story here. So our question was: how can we do more of this? Why does animal husbandry often get less public attention than crop farming? There is no simple answer. Crops form the basis of most people s diet. Livestock products are more often associated with greater wealth. But even in poorer areas people often consume small amounts of livestock. New varieties of crops and advances in technology have transformed how farmers grow crops. But we have no silver bullets in the livestock sector. Improvements come in small steps, so people don t see the advances as easily. When animal ag does get public attention, it is often negative: environmental degradation, greenhouse gases and slaughterhouse practices have all been recent targets for criticism. We agree that animal owners have contributed to some of the problems, but some of the solutions are also in sight. Just as the car industry is trying to cut vehicle emissions, so are we working to reduce emissions from livestock and we will. Greater meat demand in developing countries is an opportunity for smallholders Meat, milk, and poultry demand continue to rise rapidly in many countries. How should ILRI best help farmers meet that demand in an environmentally sustainable way? Much of the demand growth is in developing countries; we see that as an opportunity. Worldwide, most meat and milk is consumed in its country of origin. If we can provide smallholders in the developing world with better access to markets and better technology to increase productivity, they can improve their livelihoods. That is a big part of ILRI s work. A major way to reduce methane emissions per unit of milk or meat is to improve livestock productivity. The average dairy cow in Africa produces a tiny fraction of the milk produced by its counterpart in North America and Europe. We need to improve those yields, for example. 3

4 Let s suppose that meat consumption in China and South-East Asia reaches US levels. How, by then, will ILRI have helped limit the health risks to consumers? Per capita consumption in the developing world has been increasing. However, it s still far below US levels and we do not advocate catching up! ILRI is involved in research led by the International Food Policy Research Institute on farming, nutrition and health. Health refers here not only to food safety but also to people s nutrition. We emphasize adequate nutrition and the avoidance of overconsumption. As demand continues to rise, how and where will production best keep up? Or will there be a huge international swing to more vegetarian diets by 2050? I haven t seen a huge vegetarian swing predicted anywhere, but there is enormous potential to increase the output from livestock systems. One way to do this is to increase smallholder production rather than large factory farming. If we can unlock the potential of smallholders, we would not only address hunger and poverty in rural areas, but also part of the livestock and environmental concerns. On which key animal diseases should ILRI concentrate under your leadership? Which disease is most important depends on where you are in the world. ILRI is studying this issue, and we re also working to anticipate future diseases. There are several neglected zoonotic diseases, ones that can go from animals to humans or vice versa, but don t usually get much attention. The world has recently focused a lot on pandemic diseases. Those can certainly cause havoc internationally, but we also need to look closely at diseases of urgent interest to the poor in the developing world. H1N1 and other disease outbreaks caused huge media and public concern. Having caught the world by surprise, it seemed, they have now faded from view. Are they beaten, was there too much hype, or will there soon be resurgence? World Bank studies suggest that a significant outbreak of avian flu could have killed 50 million people. It didn t happen. Some people say it was all unnecessary hype, like with computers and the year Others say that it didn t happen because the world took action. I agree, but I also think we had some good luck. We might not be so lucky next time. ILRI says you will open up new partnerships for pro-poor livestock research. What is pro-poor research, really? And which new partnerships would you most like to see? Pro-poor policies, technologies, and institutional innovations address the needs of the poor. The poor in the developing world are our clients. In a technological sense, their problems can be solved with good science from anywhere. We want to partner with people on the cutting edge of science, wherever they are based, that can be brought to bear on the problems of the poor. These partners could be in industrialized countries. But we particularly aim to forge more partnerships in the developing world, where scientific advancements are progressing quite rapidly. Some national programs in Asia and Africa are getting impressively strong. Those programs include our regional partners across a lot of Africa. ILRI represents only a very small part of total research for development funding, so we have to maximize its effects through partnership synergies. 4

5 Let s make a concerted effort to bring smallholders into the market If you had one single wish about corn for animal feed, what would it be? When markets are as tight as they are for food, and stockpiles are as low as they are now, there is great debate about whether food grains should be fed to animals. We have an interest in reducing the competition between food and feed. Corn is at the center of competition. Can we find adequate substitutes for feed among other grains? Sorghum and millet would be two examples. These crops grow in dry and marginal areas, where many people live in great poverty. A shift in feed grain sourcing could create new market opportunities for them. Looking forward, what would be your particular advice to agribusinesses, feed growers and processors in relation to livestock farmers? Let s make a concerted effort to bring smallholder producers into the market. This will not be easy, as they often live in remote places lacking good infrastructure, and they produce small quantities. But we should use all the means we have to get smallholders into the market. So instead of Africa importing so much food, we produce more and more of it here. That would allow smallholders to be part of the market and escape their poverty. Jimmy Smith grew up on a farm in his native Guyana, and also holds Canadian nationality. He received his PhD in Animal Sciences from the University of Illinois. From , Smith served at ILRI and its predecessor, the International Livestock Centre for Africa. As regional representative for West Africa, he directed research programs and built partnerships promoting smallholder livelihoods through animal agriculture. He also led an association of CGIAR centers working on the crop-livestock interface. Smith subsequently held senior positions at the Canadian International Development Agency and the Caribbean Agricultural Research and Development Institute. Before succeeding Carlos Seré as ILRI s Director-General, he led the World Bank s Global Livestock Portfolio. In his spare time, Jimmy Smith plays golf and listens to music. Asked about his favorite (livestock-based) food, he says: In Guyana, with its many people of Indian origin, I became very fond of curries. In Canada, there is nothing as refreshing as the first BBQ of spring! *For further information on ILRI, see **The CGIAR website is *** Read more on BecA and the Foundation at 5

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