The Launch of the Feed the Future Innovation Lab for Animal Health
Every day, the whispers from the trees combined with birdsong made her days very exciting. Her time spent in western Kenya as a young U.S. Peace Corps volunteer in the mid 1980s shaped her early years and nurtured her interest in one-health.
At the launch of the Feed the Future Innovation Lab for Animal Health (AHIL) in May this year, Maura Barry, Senior Deputy Assistant Administrator USAID’s Bureau for Resilience and Food Security, took a minute to share this personal reflection on the connections among human, animal and environment health.
“I shared a compound with a family who kept a few cows. These cows were an important source of milk and a critical part of her family’s diet, especially the young children," says Barry.
Barry noted that the technologies developed through AHIL will have a sustainable impact in reducing the burden of East Coast Fever in Kenya, East Africa and beyond.
“The success of this innovation lab will increase livestock productivity, improve access to and affordability of animal source foods, enhance economic growth and reduce malnutrition. This in turn will strengthen the resilience of livestock-dependent communities to shocks associated with animal disease,” she says.
Dr. Ernest Njoroge, Resilience and Livestock Officer in the USAID/Kenya and East Africa Office, congratulated the Washington State University, the University of Nairobi and the International Livestock Research institute for the collaborative program aimed at removing one of the main constraint to cattle production in the region. East Coast Fever is a fatal cattle disease caused by a parasite transmitted by ticks when they take a blood meal from an animal.
AHIL Director Professor Thumbi Mwangi noted that the program will combine the use of cutting-edge laboratory methods to develop and improve livestock vaccines and diagnostics. They will be combined with field intervention studies to improve the uptake of animal health interventions while measuring the impact of these interventions on household economic growth and the nutritional status of women and children.
What’s the link between livestock health and the wellness of families and communities?
“We are not only developing vaccines and diagnostics and training the next generation of animal health researchers, but we are also looking improve the lives of people who are dependent on livestock for their livelihood through better nutrition and household economics,” says Professor Thumbi.
“If you protect cattle health and improve production, families enjoy higher incomes, have better access to education and health and escape the long-term deleterious consequences of undernutrition,” says Professor Thumbi.
Harry Kimtai, principal secretary at the State Department for Livestock at Livestock, Fisheries and Co-operatives within the Ministry of Agriculture, noted that East Coast Fever has devastating effects on farmers and their families.
“More than a million cattle die from East Coast Fever annually in eastern, central and southern Africa,” Mr. Kimtai said at the launch.
Smallholder farms particularly vulnerable
Mr. Kimtai added that the economic loses are particularly enormous for smallholder farmers. This negatively impacts household nutrition, particularly among women and children, as well as other aspects of social well being and poverty.
Mr. Kimtai encouraged the PhD fellows and the AHIL scientists regarding development of the field-based diagnostic test for the disease. He characterized it as an important tool to ensure a faster and easier way to identify the disease early enough to ensure better treatment and management of animals and save cattle from the deadly disease.
Noted University of Nairobi Vice Chancellor and Professor Kiama Gitahi, "We are committed to generating high-quality research and producing highly skilled and competent researchers and graduands to produce interventions and innovations that address challenges within our communities,”
Washington State University President Kirk Schulz said that such collaborations will make significant strides in improving animal health, human nutrition, economic welfare and resilience in Kenya and East Africa.
“Our training programs, research, and global initiatives work to improve the quality of life for animals and humans. By focusing on the animal-human interface, our work advances science, people and policy to discover novel approaches for disease intervention and delivery of preventive health care for animals and humans,” President Schulz said at the launch event.
President Schulz noted the the Feed The Future Innovation Lab for Animal Health is an opportunity to find lasting solutions that have an impact on animal and human health.
“Washington State University has believed in the power of possibilities. We embrace challenges, and plunge into tackling the issues of the day with bold and innovative ideas. When the world calls for better solutions, we rise to the occasion. It’s part of our DNA,” President Schulz concluded.
Partnerships and collaborations anticipated
International Livestock Research Institute Director General Dr. Jimmy Smith appreciated the role of USAID in supporting agricultural science and innovations, adding that the training of the PhD fellows in the multisectoral collaboration is a landmark program to improve the control of East Coast Fever.
“The launch of the Innovation lab for Animal Health allows us to pursue the science but also encourages us to build partnerships. The advancement of East Coast Fever research will use genomic approaches to develop modern technologies in vaccines and diagnostics that will benefit 20 million small household farmers,” said Dr. Smith.
Dr. Smith noted that this collaborative project will also explore the impact of East Coast Fever on nutrition, gender dimensions, equity issues. It will allow further capacity development through the training of PhD fellows, Dr. Smith said.
Tom Kawula, director of the Paul G. Allen School for Global Health, noted that the goals of AHIL are extraordinarily significant, and the research has potential to create impact both in human and animal health. “The collaborative nature of the AHIL program and the interdisciplinary nature of the parties involved can make extraordinary progress in a very short time," said Dr. Kawula
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 the 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.
AHIL research is focused on:
Development and improvement of vaccines and diagnostics for East Coast Fever – a fatal disease and major impediment for dairy and beef industries in east, central and southern Africa;
Development of a sustainable model for production and scale-up of East Coast Fever vaccines, and improving their availability and accessibility to farmers;
Improving the adoption of animal health innovations and interventions, and the measurement of their effect on household economics, food consumption and nutritional status of children and women; and
Strengthening the capacity for linked animal–human health research in the East Africa region through training of the next generation of researchers at masters, PhD and post-doctoral levels and development of research infrastructure for animal health.