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:
- Do you agree that research on livestock technologies related to productivity needs to be high on the research for development agenda?
- Is there a balance between research on animal nutrition, health and genetics that needs to be aimed for?
- 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?
- 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?
- 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)