Connecting Livestock Production to Improve Economic Growth, Nutrition and Resilience
By Joy Wanja Muraya and Josphat Muema
The livestock sector supports the nutrition, food security and livelihoods of millions of small-scale farmers in low- and middle-income countries. For pastoralist communities that primarily depend on livestock, unacceptably high levels of undernutrition, particularly among women and young children, are observed whenever livestock health and productivity is negatively affected.
Livestock can play a strong role in improving human nutrition by being a direct source of high-quality, nutrient-dense animal-source foods vital for optimal health, growth and development especially in the first 1,000 days of a child’s life. The contribution may also be indirect through improving household socio-economic status and consequently, the social determinants of health.
The consequences of malnutrition extend from negative effects on the individual to broad negative effects including on the country’s gross domestic product as malnourished children fail to reach their full physical, cognitive and economic potential.
East Coast Fever (ECF), a tick-borne disease affecting cattle in eastern, central and southern Africa is a major impediment to the establishment and growth of cattle in the region. It is estimated that economic losses due to ECF are up to $300 million annually.
Director of the Animal Health Innovation Lab, Professor Thumbi Mwangi (left) and AHIL Programme Manager Dr. Josphat Muema at the launch of the Feed The Future Innovation Lab for Animal Health in Nairobi, Kenya.
The Animal Health Innovation Lab (AHIL) is supporting research for technology development and testing of new, improved animal health interventions such as vaccines and diagnostic tests focused on ECF. AHIL has strong human capacity development for strengthening linked animal-human health research training up to 10 PhD fellows covering multiple disciplines including economics, nutrition, epidemiology, anthropology, molecular biology, and vaccinology. AHIL combines laboratory and field intervention studies aimed at improving the adoption of animal health innovations and interventions, and the measurement of their effects on household economics, food consumption and nutritional status of children and women.
To improve the institutional capacity to conduct animal health research in East Africa, AHIL has supported the renovation and equipping of a molecular and diagnostics laboratory at the Faculty of Veterinary Medicine, University of Nairobi.
Equipment from the new and refurbished Feed The Future Innovation Lab for Animal Health at The University of Nairobi.
The launch of the newly refurbished and equipped lab was attended by participants from government. Representatives from USAID, AHIL-collaborating institutions — Washington State University (WSU), University of Nairobi (UoN), International livestock research institute (ILRI), Kenya Agriculture and livestock research organization (KALRO) and Kenya Medical Research Institute (KEMRI) — were present.
The molecular and diagnostic lab at the University of Nairobi Faculty of Veterinary Medicine will provide training and world-class research aimed to reduce ECF incidence; therefore, connecting livestock production to improved economic growth, nutrition and resilience.
Dr. Ernest Njoroge, the USAID Kenya and East Africa Resilience and Livestock Specialist.
In his comments, Dr. Ernest Njoroge, the USAID Kenya and East Africa Resilience and Livestock Specialist remarked that, of all the Innovation Labs, AHIL is the only Innovation Lab whose director is based in the focus country together with local collaborating institutions and stakeholders. This allows for a unique understanding of the local context and an excellent opportunity to design innovative solutions to address unique local challenges in the region, such as the ECV burden as well as its economic and nutritional consequences in Kenya and East Africa.
During the launch, Dr. Njoroge noted that reducing animal disease incidents connects livestock production to improved economic growth, nutrition and resilience.
Dr. Njoroge lauded the Animal Health Innovation Lab as an excellent example of USAID’s priority of localization and shifting more leadership, ownership, decision-making and implementation to the local people and institutions who possess the capability, connectedness and credibility to drive change in their own countries and communities.
“The renovated and newly equipped diagnostic lab will contribute to developing improved East Coast Fever vaccines and diagnostics, improving their availability, accessibility and adoption by smallholder farmers. This will increase livestock productivity, improve access to and affordability of animal-source foods, enhance economic growth and reduce malnutrition among vulnerable populations,” said Dr. Njoroge. He added that this will strengthen the resilience of livestock-dependent communities to shocks associated with animal diseases.
Dr. Meera Chandra, a Food Safety Advisor in USAID's Bureau for Resilience and Food Security.
Dr. Meera Chandra, a Food Safety Advisor in USAID's Bureau for Resilience and Food Security based in Washington, DC, added that the launch of the lab will improve the local capacity for animal health research leading to better animal health and production, which in turn contributes toward Feed the Future's goals of reducing hunger, poverty and malnutrition.
Prof. Julius A. Ogeng'o, The University of Nairobi Deputy Vice Chancellor, Academic Affairs, hailed the Animal Health Innovation Lab, which in its second year of implementation has already been a game changer in research and capacity development.
“I am optimistic that the research exposure of the eight AHIL fully sponsored PhD students will have a lasting mark to catalyze research in Kenya and Eastern Africa by equipping the young researchers with the right skills to produce interventions and innovations to address challenges in the communities,” said Prof. Ogeng’o.
The official launch of the molecular and diagnostic lab was presided over by Kenya Director for Livestock Policy Research and Regulation — Dr. Christopher Wanga, on behalf of the Principal Secretary State Department of Livestock. Dr. Wanga lauded the molecular and diagnostic laboratory noting that it marked a great milestone in animal health research in Kenya providing solutions to local problems.
“The losses caused by East Coast Fever are particularly enormous for the small holder farmers, negatively impacting on their household nutrition, particularly among women and children, as well as other aspects of household well-being and poverty," Dr. Wanga said.
Dr. Christopher Wanga, Director for Policy and Research at the Ministry of Agriculture, Livestock and Fisheries.
Dr. Wanga pledged to support the Animal health innovation lab research to improve ECF diagnosis and control.
“The state department of livestock pledges to support the implementation of the Innovation lab through providing conducive policies and ensuring the output of the research under the innovation lab can be upscaled,” Dr. Wanga said.
The Director of the Animal Health Innovation Lab, Prof. Thumbi Mwangi, described AHIL’s primary role as to improve human nutrition and household economics by removing constraint to cattle health due to ECF and improving availability and consumption of animal source foods among rural farming communities in the region.
If you protect cattle health and improve production, families enjoy higher incomes, have better access to education and health and escape the long-term consequences of undernutrition, he concluded.
About Feed the Future Innovation Lab for Animal Health
The Feed the Future Innovation Lab for Animal Health (AHIL) is a five-year cooperative agreement funded by the USAID Bureau for Resilience and Food Security.
The vision of AHIL is to improve human nutrition, economic welfare and resilience by removing constraints to cattle health and production in Kenya and the East Africa region.
The AHIL consortium is led by Washington State University with Kenya-based partners including the University of Nairobi, the International Livestock Research Institute, and scientists from the Kenya Medical Research Institute and Kenya Agricultural and Livestock Research Organization.