Productivity, value chains, and the animal/human health interface: Feedback on some ‘tough issues’ in a new ILRI strategy

In May 2012, as part of its ongoing strategy development process, ILRI asked staff and external stakeholders to give comments and feedback on three ‘tough issues’ it had identified as important to our thinking:

First, we would like to express our great appreciation to the MANY people who gave us their time and feedback.

Alongside these questions on tough issues, we asked for feedback on our overall strategy ‘storyline’ and we are identifying the key external drivers likely to shape livestock development in the next decade. We plan to enrich these virtual conversations with some face to face consultations with partners and stakeholders in some countries where ILRI currently has a physical presence.

This is a structured synthesis of all the comments and feedback we received on these three ‘tough issues’. It tries to capture the main messages and feedback that will help us shape our new strategy. We have done some very basic spellchecking, the comments remain very as they were received.

In general, of the three issues, the questions around value chains attracted most comments, then questions on whether and how ILRI should address productivity challenges, and finally the issue of the animal-human health interface.

Adopting a value chain approach?

  1. Do you agree that the value chain concept is appropriate for helping to define ILRI’s role in research to promote market-oriented livestock production in our ‘inclusive growth’ scenario?
    • If yes, are there any reasons not mentioned above that you think should be highlighted for why it is useful?
    • If no, why do you think it is inappropriate?

We received three types of replies:  ‘Yes’ it is appropriate; ‘yes, if’ certain other factors are taken care of; ‘yes, but’ the approach is not sufficient; and ‘maybe’ there is something else.


Each stage of the value chain has challenges that require attention and all this has to happen simultaneously as opposed to stepwise.

It is a good analytical tool that can lead to targeted interventions in a pro-poor direction. It helps to analyze how benefits are shared by all players in the chain and therefore forms the basis for equitable distribution of benefits to ensure improved productivity from all players and efficient performance of the overall livestock value chain.

It helps targeting and focusing research and developing activities – because eventually, it is always a product that is used/demanded/consumed, hardly ever a system. And the product is at the end of a value chain.
It is identifying the problems, exploring opportunities and addressing the problems of all the key actors from input suppliers to consumers.

Adopting the value chain approach to research will ensure that the most limiting constraints along the value chain are addressed.

It is important to consider the post farm activities, sometimes the work has to be focus on dealers or retailers. If these parts of the chain are weak or missing it will be difficult for small farmers to reach markets.

A value chain strategy helps farmers understand and reach markets; it provides for interactions between ILRI and the farmers

In all this the markets/consumers are central as they determine what kind of product(s), what quality of product(s) must be produced

The additional element that should be stressed is the widespread adoption of this approach by rural development agencies such as the World Bank and IFAD.

We fully endorse and support this approach. Key points for consideration in the future will be extrapolation and further selection of value chains, including the ones we are currently working on. In our view, equity in the value chain will be a very important topic.

ILRI’s research is to create public goods usable widely to empower the livestock industry stakeholders (producers, traders and consumers) in the mostly poor developing economies. Most of these industries are not competitive, lack vertical integration and are dominated by under-productive traditional and emerging (commercially transitional) systems. Where could ILRI research “add value” along the chain that others are not doing? This is easy to explore and to identify (e.g. through fact finding consultations with the NARS) and to establish in its new strategy. Some [ e.g. CRP 3.7) call this Value Chain Development! That is OK, if the aim is to identify weaknesses/ constraints along he chain that research results could overcome. But some could argue that all researchable questions that aim to improve livestock systems fall within the new terminology!

Yes! This should identify where the blockages are in allowing growth and development, and for identifying the specific research needs.

If it is combined with a long-term approach to developing research and development alternatives it becomes more useful and sustainable in ensuring diversity in the basket of choices open to individuals, groups and communities in the future.

If the identification of the chains to work in must be done together with stakeholders.

The value chain approach makes a lot of sense; the benefits cannot be achieved in the absence of enabling development policies, which is properly coordinated.

The emphasis should still be put on increasing production and productivity to ensure food security, without compromising on the quality of the finished product.

Only if it is inclusive and has well developed capacity building among the farmers and strong partnership of stakeholders involved.

If we ‘really’ do it. In many occasions we study the livestock value chain but at the end of the day we suggest/ do only those stuff which we like to do or are comfortable to do, ignoring all other value chain factors/ actors. If that is the case, talking about value chain approach would not add much value.

It is a useful approach if applied sincerely to address all issues in the value chain in the truest sense and not addressing partially, dictated by the expertise present within the responsible team. The CRPs as they stand currently are likely to benefit those having potential to get connected to the market easily and the poorest of the poor will not benefit. In addition, over playing/indulgence with the value chain will erode the science base of the CGIAR, limiting its capability to address future challenges.


The Value Chain approach in ILRI seems more a general framework for ensuring impact of research activities than actually a support strategy for livestock commodities value chain. Is it clear that is the role of ILRI in Livestock Value Chains: VC research, VC support, VC development or VC inclusivity?

VC is more implementation oriented – thus ILRI needs to define its role on the research – development continuum.

Normally value chains are about formal markets (the industry actors for a specific commodity). How does it work for informal markets?

This is very much an ‘approach’, a ‘tool’, part of the ‘how’; and so should not be so upfront in the thinking. It should not be a determining or guiding approach.


ILRI should adopt an approach that has the target clientele at heart. Considering the current complex, dynamic livestock ‘world’ such an approach (es) should be sustainable and should address emerging sustainability challenges. Any approach (or pathway) that ILRI ultimately chooses must respond to (and not overrun) poor livestock farmers’ goals, knowledge and values. Such an approach should not be dictated by narratives developed and being advocated by powerful actors and ‘other’ institutions …. an approach that favours the rights, interests and values of livestock farmers who are currently among the most marginal and excluded. Is the Value Chain Analysis such an approach? if yes, then go for it?

The term “Value Chain” has been over-used (even abused). In reality, agriculture does not function as a chain. It’s a rather nested set of activities which sometimes relate and at times don’t relate. Given that some private sector players appear once and are never seen again, it may not be useful to consider them value chain actors particularly if we take sustainability seriously.

ILRI should boldly embrace Integrated Agricultural Research for Development (IAR4D) as the approach to be used. Although this approach also links partners on the value chain, it has a well elaborated research engagement. In IAR4D, seven research themes are considered- productivity, market, policy, NRM, product development, nutrition and gender. Research theme should go beyond productivity and include the remaining 6 which have been so far marginalized. Also in IAR4D, the market is considered in a slightly different manner. Instead of looking at locations , we look at specific demands or outlets with the agency or person making the demand specified, quantities, qualities and time needed also well specified. In addition to this, IAR4D looks at the three classes of constraints- technological, institutional and infrastructural to ensure that famers do not have any chain tying them to poverty. IAR4D uses the Innovation Platform which brings all partners on the value chain to interact with others including policy makers, researchers, meteorologists, and others including standard boards etc to promote technology development, dissemination and adoption.

  1. If ILRI adopts the value chain concept and approach at the heart of its strategy, what risks might be created?

I do not agree that this approach will result in only dealing with short term interventions but can be useful in determining some long term research activities if the design also looks at trends and what might happen to the industry in the medium and long planning horizon

The value chain approach may disregard the problems faced by environmental changes wrought by agriculture and that in turn effects agriculture. It is important that livestock production ALSO be seen in light of more long- term environmental objectives.

The approach is not necessarily best for all situations; too narrow sometimes – eg on environmental issues? However, if done well, VC approach should take account of all issues

A value chain approach can be too simplifying and misleading. So while rationalizing and focusing through working along a value chain, research should always, at least where needed to generate valid results, look at systems linked to and impacting on the value chain.

For public goods without functioning environment, biodiversity etc), VC is not the best approach. Therefore, farming systems related research remains important in order not to neglect issues critical for long-term system sustainability (incl. exit strategies).

Many (but by no means all) of the solutions to VCs are developmental rather than research. This means that ILRI adopting the value chain approach puts a premium on effective partnerships with the development community, and the private sector. In other words the ILRI uptake pathways would be more complex.

Defining and engaging with partners and defining roles is essential to deliver on selecting the appropriate VC management and governance options to merge commercial interests with social objectives ie inclusive approaches to poorer farmers.

As it is mostly referred to formal markets, the question of the public good needs to be well defined, as also the private sector can (and does) undertake VC approaches to develop markets. Therefore, the role of the private sector and ILRI/NARS need to be defined if public funds are being used.

Addressing the risks in improving chain efficiency covers managerial, financial and marketing risks, and problems are often incurred because of failure of coordinated delivery of services and inputs.

Beware … we as research are very small to try and steer markets

The risk of adopting this approach is in taking scarce resources and spreading them even more thinly by adding a suite of research activities without any reduction in current activities/areas of focus. What does ILRI see as its comparative advantage? What activities should be done in-house and what kinds of activities can it undertake through partners/strategic partnerships? It’s possible that the best approach is to look for such partnerships to take over the elements of the value chain in which ILRI does not currently have a comparative advantage in order to build networks that cover the spectrum of activities rather than by trying to manage it all in-house. This would imply building a greater awareness of how research activities link together between institutions to ensure coordinated efforts influence development outcomes rather than building a bigger barn, as it were.

The only risk I think value chain concept and approach can pose to the heart of ILRI research is the cost of executing the project, maintaining the project, future sustainability and finally, general norms of the stakeholder’s involved.

One of the risks that came with the approach is the planning cycle is longer as you need to carry stakeholders along.

A greater focus on livestock productivity?

  1. Do you agree that research on livestock technologies related to productivity needs to be high on the research for development agenda?

Stongly agree

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.

Currently: It seems that ILRI wants to ‘sell animals not produce them’ [this needs to change!]

In Africa, livestock production is largely undertaken by traditional pastoralists. Overall low productivity is a result. Increased productivity and healthy livestock are key to poverty alleviation. Main need of pastoralists is grazing resources, water, livestock diseases control and profitable market for livestock and livestock based products. Solutions to grazing resources/feeds and water scarcity is to increase productivity of land resources to have enough carrying capacity and water sources development, which are dwindling. More productive and healthy livestock (increased live weight, milk, etc) and strategies for ensured profitable marketing, which meet needs and improve pastoral communities livelihoods are the ways to go.

We believe that animal productivity is still a limiting factor in many countries for the improvement 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. It means that the participatory and the multidisciplinary approach for the research programs must be applied: we must start from the farmers and we must return to the farmers for the transfer and the adoption and adaptation of the technologies.

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.

NARS 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 programs (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

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.

The three key areas are to my mind very important. The most important is a clear focus on PRODUCTIVITY, not with production, but instead of … Productivity implies an economic reality as it is a ratio between cost and benefits. Food safety is another important aspect, often neglected but closely linked to the productivity in a family based livestock system.

  1. Is there a balance between research on animal nutrition, health and genetics that needs to be aimed for?

The three aspects are inter-related in achieving maximum productivity.

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 diverse and complex; service delivery systems incapable to deal with complexity etc.)

Need to get a balance, what’s ILRI niche? Much of this work is better done by others

  1. 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 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 technologies developed by the institutes are not economically viable or technologically feasible for smallholders.

ILRI could 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.

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.)

Platforms only work if they have good content and real added value

In cutting edge science ILRI can’t compete, but ILRI needs to make sure the cutting edges are applied (through eg. alliances)

ILRI Niche is perhaps broker role between high end science and farmer application? Is this mainly ‘up’ or ‘down’? Does ILRI ‘just’ broker?

  1. 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?

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 fulfill their export aspirations rather than support their smallholder systems. Their scenario: today’s smallholders will be the consumers of tomorrow, maintaining commodity prices high. Is this the ILRI scenario as well?

  1. 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)

Human capacity building should be encouraged to improve knowledge and know how

ILRI may work with R&D organisations to develop simplified concepts/ technologies useful for the smallholders based on the existing high-end research findings.

Increase of productivity is a strategically risky area for livestock research, when addressed through technology alone on the ground.
Many NARS still need connecting to advanced research institutes (ARIs); ILRI may also need to help them find their balance between higher end research and farm-oriented application/uptake

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

ILRI needs to be ‘ahead’ of the game …. Which game? – the development game (rather than the high science game!)

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. Can ILRI help here?

The bottom line: impact plus appropriate and relevant technologies and approaches are needed. Too much technology is already not used. We need to understand the application environment; really understand the real adoption rates/reasons behind so-called ‘successes’

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

ILRI, and others, tend to research what is needed now … how can we be forward looking?

Addressing the interface of animal and human health?

  • Which are the key problems in this area of animal and human health where pro-poor agricultural research will make a significant difference?
  • There is an emerging consensus that agricultural and ecological research and interventions must be a part of the solution to health problems that originate in agro-ecosystems, i.e. the answers are wider than ‘just’ health. There is less agreement how to put this into practice. What is the best role for ILRI? Should we aim to be a broker or entry-point facilitating involvement of advanced ‘agri-health’ research institutes in developing countries or carry out our own specialized research in a few key areas? How do we best engage developing-country national research institutes in this?
  • In the area of food safety, zoonoses, emerging disease and ecohealth/OneHealth, what do you think ILRI should do more of, and what areas should ILRI do less of?

Working at the interface between human and animal health is an excellent idea as this aspect has largely been ignored in the developing countries.

With the growth in income and employment and growing concern for human health, the research and development actions on this area would be increasingly more important.

This area is felt to be the biggest windows of opportunities for ILRI.

Research on the control of zoonoses and monitoring of emerging diseases (having livestock as hosts), and food safety (focus on food-borne diseases) should be pursued with the same intensity

Product quality an important aspect to add to issues of food safety

In onehealth/zoonosis/health areas, there is MUCH that ILRI can borrow from elsewhere – especially developed countries. But how to make the connections?

Focus is going to be a key criterion to narrow and prioritise the actual ILRI future areas of excellence in this complex research field

Bigger complexities are seen in the ILRI role and type of partnerships necessary to advance this research area.

Brokering role important for ILRI; But it needs to pick partners very carefully – with a view to influencing others and other larger agendas

Facilitating involvement of high profile eco-health organisations and ILRI role as knowledge broker seems one of the best strategic bets.

A very important topic, however, there is also a relation with environmental health which could be explored.

ILRI must be in position to work closely with national and regional partners on OneHealth issues. There is already a coordination mechanism – regional organizations are developing policies and approaches to integrate animal, human and ecosystems health institutions and early warning tools. The NARS could be supported to establish methodologies for researching best bet approaches for policy/ strategy mainstreaming and for verification of impact. Models could be developed by ILRI scientists to assist in addressing the interface and in providing research result based arguments and possibilities.

I am pessimistic that ILRI has the capacity or even the motivation to address issues arising from problems at the animal health-human health interface. For them to record any significant successes in this area there is an urgent need to encourage veterinarians to practise in the field, so a steady stream of information can be obtained in respect of zoonotic infections. Second, highly competent public health personnel need to work actively with pastoral communities so that detailed studies of the diseases prevalent in this ecosystem can be done. Certainly, in collaboration with Field Clinical veterinarians, a lot can be learned about problems that these pastoral communities face and how best to address them. ILRI however has always had an historical preference towards Animal Scientists, Agricultural Economists and Veterinarians masquerading as the latter because they do not want to get their hands dirty. Therefore ILRI is doomed to continue to make hardly any impact.


2 thoughts on “Productivity, value chains, and the animal/human health interface: Feedback on some ‘tough issues’ in a new ILRI strategy

  1. I have just read the above summary and like the thinking that is coming through. I would like to add that from my experience, the biggest challenge with livestock production is the people involved within the value chain and in support services. At primary level, there seem to be certain behavioural issues that limit the smallholder farmers (subsistence & entrepreneurs) from taking advantage of existing opportunities or that seem to keep them locked up in certain behaviours and they don’t break free and open up new opportunities, even where such potential exists. So I think one aspect that should be factored in strongly at producer level is the behavioural aspect with regards to livestock ownership and entrepreneurship for the various communities on the continent; with a main focus on how this could be changed/adapted/enhanced to increase livestock productivity and market access.
    Secondly it is the support services. In RSA, we say that 85% of agricultural land is suitable for grazing but most of the agricultural talk is not about livestock. Even in government policy and strategy documents, one has to decipher the implications on livestock; they are never directly spelt out, which to me is rather worrying for a sector that uses such a huge chunk of the national asset (land). I think that there should therefore be strong research on policy research, development and analysis for agriculture.

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