ILRI strategy tough issue: Greater focus on livestock productivity?

Livestock productivity is fundamental to the roles that animals play – from household livelihoods to national economies.  For decades, much research has focused on the technical aspects of livestock productivity, attempting to solve challenges related to animal nutrition, health and breeding.

In developed countries, combining research results for these three areas has generated significant impacts on livestock production – increasing for example, milk yield by at least fourfold over a 60 year period (Capper, J.L., Cady, R.A., Bauman, D.E., 2009.  The environmental impact of dairy production: 1944 compared with 2007.  Journal of Animal Science 87, 2160-2167).

In developing countries there has been no shortage of research on diverse technical aspects of animal nutrition, genetics and health, but the impact of this work on overall livestock productivity has been patchy.  On the whole, despite the strong contributions of livestock to local livelihoods and national economies, productivity levels remain low.

There has been considerable speculation about the reasons behind this, including for example, lack of connection between farmers and markets, inappropriate technologies that do not take account of farmer needs or circumstances, focus on often single (“silver bullet”) technologies to the exclusion of other innovation processes needed for sustainable changes, lack of attention to service and delivery mechanisms, isolation of technological fixes from other dimensions (e.g. feed research not combined with genetics and health).

In recent years, ILRI thus worked on various dimensions of livestock productivity including nutrition (especially food feed crops, feeding strategies, fodder innovation systems, forage diversity), genetics and breeding and health (vaccines, diagnostics), with in many cases limited on station or laboratory based research in these areas in the past 10 years.

The potential growth scenario of the livestock sector and implications for smallholders means that strategies to improve productivity are again high on the research agenda, but the lessons learned regarding productivity and technological solutions need to be explicitly embedded in this agenda.  This would mean:

  • Ensuring that productivity enhancement is placed in the context of specific livestock commodity value chain opportunities;
  • Combining in realistic and practical ways research on technologies addressing all dimensions of productivity – feed, breed and health;
  • Factoring in service and input delivery mechanisms and the diverse actors involved through innovation systems approaches in relation to value chains;
  • Linking ‘high end’ biosciences research on productivity solutions with on the ground realities.

We are seeing a growing demand from many national and international partners for ILRI to increase its efforts in livestock technology research for productivity and not least, the capacity development activities that were associated with this.  Clearly there is a challenge to determine the appropriate balance here and the importance this issue needs to have in the institute’s new strategy.

This leads to five main questions:

  1. Do you agree that research on livestock technologies related to productivity needs to be high on the research for development agenda?
  2. Is there a balance between research on animal nutrition, health and genetics that needs to be aimed for?
  3. ILRI could focus more on the high-end biosciences research for animal nutrition, health and genetics, or strive to balance with on the ground applied research – what do you consider the priority?
  4. In your view, how should ILRI respond to strong demand to support technology development in a way that complements and builds upon the strengths of national livestock research organizations in these areas?
  5. What are appropriate strategies to ensure that technological research to increase productivity is connected to the in-country delivery of services (veterinary, artificial insemination … etc)

Click this link to comment on the questions


12 thoughts on “ILRI strategy tough issue: Greater focus on livestock productivity?

  1. Stongly agreed to the first question, reasons because development in every sectors apart from agriculture needs a higher level of technological, innovative and scientific approach, so, human capacity building should be encourage to improve knowlege in technicality know how on livestock production.

  2. For the second question, i believe the three aspects are inter-related in achieving maximum productivity. Feeding, health and genetic should be brought together and a research program should be aim at achieving the accrued benefits found in these three areas.

  3. from economic point of view, the research must directed to efficiency of production related to conversion rate specially under these climatic change regarding the pastoral mode of production putting in mind other likelihoods assets.

  4. In fact there is less done on livestock research compared to crops in Africa. Much needs to be done.

  5. By Ram Deka, ILRI Office in Guwahati, Assam, India

    I agree that we should focus more on increasing the productivity and efficiency of smallholders’ production system.

    I think, we should have a two-pronged approach- (a) continue to do high-end bioscience research at the Headquarter/Principal campus and (b) applied/ action research in other target areas outside HQ/PC.

    In the developing countries, especially in Asia, there is no dearth of high-end bioscience research on animal nutrition, health and genetics but the issue is transforming these high-end research findings/ technologies to simple concept/ technologies useful for the smallholders. Many of technologies developed by the institutes are not economically viable or technologically feasible for smallholders.

    I think, ILRI may work with the R&D organisations in the region for developing simplified concepts/ technologies useful for the smallholders based on the existing high-end research findings.

  6. ILRI Delh Office (Nils Teufel, Arindam Samaddar, Dhiraj Sing, Swain Braja, Paolo Ficarelli)

    • Crop technologies (e.g. better seeds increase yields) have different impact than livestock technologies (e.g. better animal breeds often fails their genetic potential) on smallholder farms

    • Who benefits from applied research in feeding, breeding, health? It depends on the type of technologies. In general, there is a greater risk in this area of failing to show impact, (smallholder systems too divers and complex; service delivery systems incapable to deal with complexity etc.)

    • High tech bio-science seems to be a better window of opportunities for ILRI in responding to pressing increasing productivity agenda (e.g. gene-technology vaccine and diagnostic, GM for breeding and feeding etc.)

    •In this scenario the issues are on how ILRI can achieve this. More importantly: who will pay for it and wait for its long term results?

    • It is a catch 22 situation, especially because intensive, high–input technologies offer better quick wins to national Governments to respond to national supply demands and fulfil their export aspirations than smallholder systems. Their scenario: today’s smallholders will be the consumers of tomorrow, maintaining commodity prices high.

    • Increase of productivity is a strategically risky area for livestock research, when addressed through technology alone on the ground.

  7. On 18 May a group of scientists (from ICARDA, ILRI and CIMMYT) met to reflect on the questions posed. Here are the main comments, in bullet format.
    1. Currently: It seems that ILRI wants to ‘sell animals not produce them’
    2. Need to get a balance, what’s our niche? Much of this work is better done by others
    3. Niche is perhaps broker role between high end science and farmer application? Is this mainly ‘up’ or ‘down’?
    4. Important is to connect on the ground technology service delivery with technology development; get the technologies into use, a lot about extension, KM … Key bottleneck is delivery of technologies
    5. Many NARS still need connecting to advanced research institutes (ARIs); we may also need to help them find their balance between higher end research and farm-oriented application/uptake
    6. Do we ‘just’ broker?
    7. We need to be ‘ahead’ of the game …. Which game? – the development game (rather than the high science game!)
    8. Cutting edge science – we can’t compete, but we need to make sure it is applied (through eg. alliances)
    9. We observe that a lot of the productivity research is not well documented from an analytic/science perspective; there’s a lot of ‘process’ research on making things work… which is often a bit lost.
    10. On platforms – these only work if they have good content and real added value
    11. The bottom line: impact plus appropriate and relevant technologies and approaches. Too much technology is already not used. Must understand the application environment; really understand the real adoption rates/reasons behind so-called ‘successes’
    12. Technologies are tricky, sometime systems are not yet ready so we need to accept some ‘waste’ until time is right. Some playing and experimenting is ok
    13. We tend to research what is needed now … how can we be forward looking?

  8. Focusing only on productivity is narrow. Tough issue could be rather making the ‘changes needed instead of expanding’.

  9. We beleive that that animal productivity stay until today a limitant factor in many conutries for the improvement of sector of animal production. However, to know more and more the different components of the productivity, it will be better that the researchers must have a direct relationship with farmers, to listen to the laters. It means that the participory and the multidisciplinary approach for the research programs must be applied: we must strat from the farmers and we must return to the farmers for the transfer and the adoption and adaptation of the technologies.
    Dr. Amor Chermiti. INRA. Tunisia

  10. I believe the ILRI strategy while targeting the livestock productivity and production should also enhance the sustainable use and conservation of forage and pasture species occurring in Africa and beyond. Natural factors such as climate change as well as anthropological factors are threatening biodiversity, ecosystem and plant diversity including that of pasture and forage which are indispensible part of the livestock industry and production system. Although a limited number of forage/pasture species have been captured and conserved in various national genebanks, their systematic evaluations and research (nutritive, molecular, etc) are inadequate curtailing their potential use especially in the context of local farmers and pastoralist among others. ILRI may need to consider to bolster its collaborative work and partnership with NARS and local communities on unlocking the potential uses of local plant diversity for sustainable livestock productivity and production.

    Abebe Demissie (PhD)
    Regional Project Coordinator
    P.O Box 765
    Entebbe, Uganda

  11. NARSs have evolved greatly over the past few decades to handle site specific strategic and adaptive productivity research. ILRIs role here should focus on developing the bigger picture ( e.g. such as the poverty mapping task of the early 2000s). This should involve maintenance of the traditional NARS capacity development programmes ( internships, post doctoral fellowships, training sessions, expert consultations ). ILRI’s research should mainly focus on high end ( blue sky) productivity enhancing research ( biosciences). A more complicated downstream research could be in the areas of knowledge management and dissemination, mainstreaming productivity enhancing innovations and wider use of research results

  12. Our research should always have a practical application to meet a specific development problem for the target communities as the desired outcome. We should always be thinking that in the end, we will be managing livestock better for the benefit of the communities with the greatest need. We should not waste our time or resources at aiming for the wrong priorities.
    These questions are in line with the directions we are taking with the Institute for Food, Nutrition and Well-Being at the University of Pretoria ( How can we work together?

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s