Category Archives: Livestock

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By Jane Githinji, assistant director of veterinary services, Kenya and ABCF alumnus

Jane githinjiAs head of the virology laboratory at the Central Veterinary Laboratories in the Directorate of Veterinary Services (DVS) in Kenya, my responsibilities include laboratory surveillance, and confi rmation and reporting of animal viral diseases. My reports form the basis upon which disease control strategies are developed. It is, therefore, of the utmost importance that these reports refl ect the true picture of the disease situation in the country, from which appropriate disease control policies and strategies can be derived.

Like in most developing countries, poultry farming in Kenya is mainly in the hands of the smallholder rural poor, mostly women and young people, and is usually the only livelihood source for smallholder farmers. Outbreaks of infectious viral diseases that cannot be treated pose a major constraint on poultry production. Vaccination is the recommended method of control for these diseases. But vaccines do not always prevent occurrence of a disease.

The apparent failure of vaccines to protect chicken from infectious bursal disease (IBD) got me interested in understanding the cause of the disease despite prompt vaccinations by farmers (IBD causes immune suppression, making chicken more prone to other infectious diseases). I wanted to improve my understanding of the epidemiology of IBD in Kenya, starting with the comparative molecular characterization of the circulating viruses with the currently used vaccine virus strains.

The facilities available at the central veterinary laboratory are suitable for carrying out basic molecular analysis. However, to undertake more advanced molecular research required to gain a better understanding of IBD viruses circulating in Kenya, I needed access to the facilities at the BecAILR Hub. Under the mentorship of the BecA-ILRI Hub scientists, in a very conducive research environment as an ABCF fellow, I learned many skills, including sequence editing and analysis, primer design, scientific paper writing and communicating science to non-scientists. These crosscutting skills will be very useful in improving my diagnostic capacity, and ultimately, scientific data collection for policy development at the DVS.

Based on the feedback and recommendations I gave to the DVS director, I am confident my research findings will form the basis for developing effective IBD control strategies, including diagnosis, vaccination, hatchery surveillance and certification, IBD vaccines registration and vaccine production. Implementation of such strategies will have far reaching impacts on poultry production, poverty alleviation, nutritional security, economic empowerment for women and young people, and self-employment. Reducing antimicrobial residues in poultry products will also contribute to a reduction in antimicrobial drug resistance in humans.

With my newly acquired skills, I will be able to contribute more to livestock research: science, technology and innovation. I am a better mentor to young people, a better leader and manager, a more fulfilled person, and, above all, an asset to my country. My time as an ABCF fellow marked the beginning of what I believe will be a journey full of discoveries, networking, research development and fulfilment.

chicken and chics

Read more about the bioscience research and innovations that underpin development outcomes in the BecA-ILRI Hub 2016 Annual Report.

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Scaling up the use of Brachiaria grass as a key forage in Africa

Research implemented in Kenya and Rwanda by the Biosciences eastern and central Africa-International Livestock Research Institute (BecA-ILRI) Hub and national partners — the Kenya Agricultural and Livestock Research Organization (KALRO) and  Rwanda Agriculture Board (RAB)

On-farm evaluations in Kenya and Rwanda have confirmed that the use of Brachiaria grass extends forage availability for livestock by up to three dry months. These evaluations also confirmed previous observations of increases in milk production and weight when cattle are fed on Brachiaria grass. Over 6,000 farmers in both countries are growing the four best-bet Brachiaria varieties (Basilisk, MG4, Piatã and Xaraés), which were identified through the use of a participatory approach with key stakeholders. These varieties are being concurrently scaled out in Kenya and Mali by the Accelerated Value Chain Development (AVDD) dairy project, funded by the United States Agency for International Development (USAID) Feed the Future Initiative. There is growing interest and a push to adopt Brachiaria grasses in other countries including Botswana, Cameroon, Mozambique, Namibia and Somalia.

This research has identified potentially beneficial bacteria that occur naturally within the grass (bacterial endophytes). The endophytes could be useful: increasing production of hormones that regulate: plant growth and boost biomass production in Brachiaria; improving soil nutrient solubility and soil fertility; enhancing drought tolerance; and improving the overall health of the grass. These endophytes are currently being evaluated under greenhouse conditions for their ability to confer drought tolerance to Brachiaria.

To ensure the transfer of technologies to national programs, seven researchers from five East African countries were trained on forages biotechnology through the Brachiaria program. After periods of between six and nine months at the BecA-ILRI Hub the NARS researchers returned to their home institutions with transferable skills acquired through the training. An in-depth external review of the program concluded that it has made significant contributions to the improvement of forage availability and livestock productivity in the aforementioned program countries.

Read more about the bioscience research and innovations that underpin development outcomes in the BecA-ILRI Hub 2016 Annual Report.

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Goat in a market in Nigeria (photo credit: ILRI/Mann).

Goat in a market in Nigeria (photo credit: ILRI/Mann).

From 19–30 June 2017, the Biosciences eastern and central Africa-International Livestock Research Institute (BecA-ILRI) Hub will host the third edition of the Animal Quantitative Genetics and Genomics annual training workshop. The training is strengthening the capacity of researchers in Africa to apply an in-depth understanding of livestock genetics to the design of livestock breeding programmes.

Early this month (8–12 May 2017) over 250 experts from the public and private sectors in more than 50 countries across the globe gathered in Addis Ababa, Ethiopia to discuss the benefits and potential of livestock during the Global Agenda for Sustainable Livestock (GASL). The increasing demand for animal protein in emerging economies in Africa presents the challenge of sustainably improving livestock productivity while at the same time maintaining genetic diversity.

Since 2012, the BecA-ILRI Hub has been conducting research to improve performance of indigenous goats using their genetic diversity. Working in Cameroon and Ethiopia, the “Harnessing genetic diversity for improved goat productivity” project looked at the genetic adaptation of goat populations in the two countries to environmental challenges including drought and disease.

To Getinet Mekuriaw, an assistant professor at Bahir Dar University in Ethiopia and a visiting scientist at the BecA-ILRI Hub, the key to sustainable development of livestock in Africa is in the optimal exploitation of genetic resources to improve indigenous breeds.

‘We have the evidence of a rich genetic resource in livestock in Africa, and particularly in indigenous goats,’ Mekuriaw said ‘the next step is investing in research that will link this intelligence to the design of trait-focused breeding programs.’

Mekuriaw’s PhD contributed largely to establishing the extent of diversity among indigenous goat breeds in the two countries of interest for the BecA-led research. He also investigated the genetic potential of the goat populations in adaptation, disease resistance, reproduction and hair fibre production.

Strategies to enhance livestock production–including exploiting the natural potential of local breeds–could greatly contribute to the realization of the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development through increased agricultural capacity in developing countries.

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Read more about the 7th Multi-stakeholder partnership meeting of the Global Agenda for Sustainable Livestock

Read related post – Cooperating with the future: Towards multiplying the multiple benefits of sustainable livestock 

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In an unconventional approach to science communications, a diverse group of scientists at the Biosciences eastern and central Africa-International Livestock Research Institute (BecA-ILRI) Hub take to the stage to illustrate their role in the march towards a food secure Africa.

Performed by the BecA-ILRI Hub staff, research fellows from African national programs and international collaborators, this 25 minute skit sheds light on how technology, partnerships and increased research capabilities of national agricultural researchers and institutions can bring about agricultural development in Africa.

The play dramatizes the role of the BecA-ILRI Hub and its national and international partners in bridging high-end research with practical solutions for smallholder farmers. Established as an African centre for excellence for agricultural biosciences, the BecA-ILRI Hub supports African national agricultural research institutes and universities enhance in harnessing bioscience technologies for sustainable agricultural development in Africa.

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Written by Milcah Kigoni – Africa Biosciences Challenge Fund fellowship program alumni

Cattle at a livestock market in eastern Kenya. Over one million cattle die of East Coast fever each year resulting in annual losses exceeding $300 million (photo:  ILRI/Susan MacMillan)

Cattle at a livestock market in eastern Kenya. Over one million cattle die of East Coast fever each year resulting in annual losses exceeding $300 million (photo: ILRI/Susan MacMillan)

As part of ongoing research to develop an effective vaccine for East Coast Fever (ECF), I conducted a study on the interactions between the parasites that cause disease and vectors that transmit them. East Coast Fever is a tick-borne disease that kills over 1 million cattle in East, Central and Southern Africa annually, devastating the livelihoods of smallholder livestock farmers. I would like to develop a vaccine that can block transmission of this disease at the vector level.

My quest to apply computational methods to identify potential ECF vaccine candidates however requires a more in-depth understanding of parasite and vector biology, and interaction. A travel scholarship from the BecA-ILRI Hub enabled me attend the 2016, the NIH-Global Infectious Disease Training Program’s Workshop on Biology of Parasites and Disease Vectors. This presented an opportunity to progress my search for a solution to ECF which begun through a fellowship under the Africa Biosciences Challenge Fund (ABCF) program at the BecA-ILRI Hub (October 2014–March 2015).

The workshop took place at Gulu University in Uganda, one of the regional institutions whose capacity has been strengthened by the BecA-ILRI Hub. It was organized by Gulu University in partnership with Yale University and Biotechnology Research Institute-Kenya Agricultural and Livestock Research Organization (BRI-KALRO). It was a good opportunity to share the outcome of my work, build my capacity and network with fellow researchers that share similar interests.

I gained different perspectives to approaching my research. For instance, I learned how  vector physiology, ecology, immunity, evolutionary biology and genetics studies are applied in development of effective disease control strategies. Through group discussions, I got new ideas for future ECF vaccine development studies.

Of course, at the end of the workshop, I gave a brief oral presentation about the BecA-ILRI Hub, and the opportunities available for African scientists to build their research capacity while solving major food insecurity causes such as livestock diseases on the continent.

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Read related story by Milcah Kigoni: Opportunities In Research And Beyond: The Africa Biosciences Challenge Fund Fellowship Program

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Smallholder livestock farming in sub Saharan Africa is associated with considerable risk and vulnerability. The challenging environmental conditions and limited resources available to support large livestock production present a major constraint to the development of this sector on the continent. Yet, Africa holds up to 70 percent of the livestock diversity in the world.

In addition to great diversity, African livestock includes species which possess attributes that give them resilience to diseases and other stresses that present a challenge to livestock production. During the fourth session of the International Fund for Agricultural Development (IFAD) AgTalks, the Biosciences eastern and central Africa-International Livestock Research Institute (BecA-ILRI) Hub director Appolinaire Djikeng gave his perspective on a fresh approach to livestock production which will help poor and vulnerable farming households in Africa climb up the livestock ladder out of poverty.

The N’dama cattle of West Africa are known to be trypanotolerant, and as such are able to populate tsetse fly infested regions of the continent where the tick-borne trypanosomiasis disease poses a significant challenge to livestock keeping. Still in West Africa, the prolific dwarf goat which produces up to four kids in one kidding has proved to be a great asset to smallholder farmers, enabling them to build large flocks for quick access to financial resources and nutrition. The Red Maasai sheep which are indigenous to East Africa possess resistance to endoparasites and thrive in very challenging arid environments, common in sub Saharan Africa.

In this nine minute video, Djikeng draws lessons from his childhood experience of the difference it made to own Cameroon’s unique ‘ugly’ pig during an Africa swine fever outbreak to address the issue of providing better opportunities for smallholder farming communities by utilizing the diversity of livestock as well as developing alternative livestock production systems in Africa.

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Read the full transcript here: http://ifad.org/agtalks/apollinaire.htm

Read related story here: Livestock, a lifeline for smallholder farmers

 

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Farmer harvesting Brachiaria grasses in Kenya

Albernus Mulwa harvests Brachiaria grass at his farm in Machakos County, eastern Kenya
(photo: Nation Media Group\ Sarah Ooko).

The meat and milk production of a cow is only as good as the feed it gets. Through a project led by the Biosciences eastern and central Africa-International Livestock Research Institute (BecA-ILRI) Hub, dairy farmers in the semi-arid regions of Kenya are discovering that Brachiaria, the grass which transformed the livestock industries of Brazil and Australia, can turnaround their low production levels.

Brachiaria grasses are highly nutritious, possessing about 12 per cent protein at harvest which can be sustained over a long period as compared to the commonly used Napier grass whose protein concentration starts diminishing after about four months. The leaves, which form a greater proportion of the plant, are also more palatable and easily digestible. Since Brachiaria grasses thrive all year round, farmers are able to enjoy a constant supply of animal fodder. After a bumper harvest, Brachiaria can easily be dried in the sun and conserved as hay for sale or future use.

Brachiaria grass is not only good for livestock, but has proven useful in the alleviation of the effects of greenhouse gas emissions and ground water pollution. The high amounts of biomass produced by the grass sequester carbon and enhance nitrogen use efficiency through biological nitrification inhibition (BNI).

Through the Swedish funded research project, scientists from the BecA-ILRI Hub, Kenya Agricultural and Livestock Research Organization, Rwanda Agriculture Board, International Centre for Tropical Agriculture (CIAT), Grasslanz Technology Limited and AgResearch (New Zealand), are developing varieties of Brachiaria grasses that are well suited to different local environments across eastern Africa. The project aims at promoting the mass cultivation of the grass in Kenya and other African countries so that the continent can eventually also reap the benefits of her native grass.

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For information on the Brachiaria grass planting materials and the field trials being coordinated by KALRO Katumani research center, call Tel: 0722206986

For more information on the research project, contact program leader Sita Ghimire — s.ghimire@cgiar.org

Read original story by Sarah Ooko: Wonder grass back in Africa, opens new horizon for Kenya’s livestock sector
Read related story: Change of diet opens cash taps for milk producers
Visit the project page: Climate-smart Brachiaria grasses for improved livestock production in East Africa

 

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Approximately 95 per cent of livestock keepers live in extreme poverty despite the increased demand for animal products such as milk and meat. While it is recognized that livestock keeping offers a promising opportunity to combat poverty in many developing countries, most livestock policies and services tend to favour large-scale production.

Appolinaire Djikeng at the Annual Bioforsk Conference in NorwayJoin Appolinaire Djikeng, the Director of the Biosciences eastern and central Africa – International Livestock Research Institute (BecA-ILRI) Hub on 9 July 2015 during the fourth session of AgTalks as he gives his perspective on what it will take to reverse this trend.

Djikeng will be sharing his vision on why Africa’s untapped animal genetic diversity, particularly of mini livestock, holds the key to helping poor and vulnerable households in rural and peri-urban African climb up the livestock ladder out of poverty.

Djikeng is a strong proponent of capacity-building in Africa. His focus is on building the next generation of African scientists and tapping on bioscience to address agricultural development and public health issues. Djikeng has led the domestication of ruminant species in Africa, including the grasscutter, to create sustainable sources of protein.

Twitte handle: @BecAHub

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About AgTalks
As a contribution to the International Year of Family Farming (IYFF), the International Fund for Agricultural Development (IFAD), a specialized United Nations agency and the only international financial institution within the UN family, launched the AgTalks series. IFAD is exclusively dedicated to investing in rural people and working with smallholder family farmers. The objective of AgTalks is to present the human face of family farming by sharing the latest policy research findings, as well as different viewpoints on smallholder farming.

The fourth session of AgTalks brings together Appoliniare Djikeng,Director, BecA-ILRI Hub; Emma Naluyima, smallholder farmer and private veterinarian, Uganda; Robyn Alders, Associate Professor, University of Sydney and Director, KYEEMA Foundation; and Guillermo Vila Melo,agronomist engineer, who will share their perspectives and views on the critical importance of livestock to smallholder farmers

Follow the proceedings and interact with the prominent guests  via webcasting.
Share your views and insights on social media with the #agtalks hashtag. 

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K24 Journalist Violet Otindo highlights the changing fortunes of dairy farmers using Brachiaria grasses to feed their animals in Kenya.

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Preliminary data from dairy farmers participating in on-farm evaluations of Brachiaria grasses in Kenya shows that the nutritious grasses contribute to increased milk production.

The on-going research program on Climate-smart Brachiaria Grasses to Increase  Livestock Production in East Africa conducted by the BecA-ILRI Hub in collaboration with the Kenya Agricultural and Livestock Research Institute (KALRO); Rwanda Agriculture Board (RAB) ; International Center for Tropical Agriculture (CIAT), Colombia; and Grasslanz Technology Limited, New Zealand has engaged smallholder farmers in cultivating the grasses as major livestock feed sources and as a source of household cash income through the seed production.

The Swedish funded program has been successful in, together with farmers, identifying best bet varieties for different agro-ecological regions and creating awareness among the farmers, researchers, extension agents, policy makers and politicians on the significance of Brachiaria grasses to support a growing dairy industry. Through the project, farmers have discovered that the Brachiaria grasses not only preferred by animals but  also grow better than most forage in marginal soils of semi-arid and sub-humid environments that are common in most of Sub-Saharan Africa.

In this four minute video, K24 journalist Violet Otindo talks to Albanus Nduva from Kanzalu village of Machakos County in eastern Kenya, one of the 1200 farmers in Kenya who have been involved in participatory on-farm evaluations of Brachiaria grasses as pasture and recording the milk production data Otindo also gets insights from BecA-ILRI Hub scientist Sita Ghimire who leads the program and Donald Njarui from KALRO, Kenya as to why Brachiaria grasses are good for the environment.

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Often, adoption of new technologies or practices designed to improve people’s, lives does not take place due to various factors including lack of understanding by communities and the absence of support for the innovations from leadership. Félix Meutchieye, Cameroon national coordinator of the “Harnessing genetic diversity for improved goat productivity” project speaks about the strides being made by the project in involving communities and increasing the chances of adoption of research findings through innovation platforms.

Felix Portrait_Issue3Harnessing the diversity of native livestock in Africa is becoming a pressing need as continual changes in the environment exert pressure on small holder livestock farmers. The higher temperatures and changing rainfall patterns are contributing to the increased spread of existing vector-borne diseases and the emergence of  new diseases as well affecting the feed production.

Small ruminants play a significant role in livestock production systems throughout the wide range of agro-ecological regions in Africa. For many rural farmers, they are a critical resource of nutrition and income, and goats in particular are more resilient and adapted to different husbandry conditions. It is well documented that genetic variation in ability to various infections and diseases as well as to adapt to harsh environments with higher temperatures and less water, exists between and within different breeds of goats.This adaptation is especially evident in indigenous breeds, but gaps still exist in the knowledge available.

The “Harnessing genetic diversity for improved goat productivity” project is focused on bridging this knowledge gap by helping farmers take advantage of the best genetic resources locally available. Our strategy involves working closely with the goat keepers, traders, policy makers and all other stakeholders so that there is collective ownership of the existing problems and in the approach to finding solutions. Through the innovation platform (IP) system, the project is drawing from the existing indigenous knowledge, receiving guidance in terms of farmers’ actual needs and preferences and establishing effective channels that act as vehicles for information on research findings and promotion of sustainable livestock keeping practices.

Already in Cameroon, one regional IP in Kouoptamo (West Highlands) has identified high fecundity as a desirable trait in their goats and are promoting their animals as high value breeding stock for proven twinning ability. Additionally, as a result of close engagement with the project through the
Cameroon National goat IP, the Ministry of Livestock, fisheries and animal industries has recognized the importance of goats and small ruminants as an important resource to grow the country’s rural economy and has started a program to revitalize three small ruminant breeding and multiplication
stations in different agro-ecological regions.

Our counterparts in Ethiopia have established a community based goat breeding initiative where a group of 50 farmers have formed a cooperative society to drive the breeding activities. The cooperative members brought their goats for selection to form the next generation of goat parents in their village and in the neighbouring villages as well.

I see this active participation by communities as a very exciting and practical way of doing research. Through community involvement, the project has been able to stay relevant and ensure that good science supports the things that are most relevant to Africa’s development.