Directorate / Event Report / Food Security / ILRI / ILRI40 / North America / Nutrition / Pro-Poor Livestock / Spotlight / USA

Highlights of a special ‘livestock evening’ at the Borlaug Symposium

Two ILRI session panel members at the Borlaug Symposium

Mark Poeschl, vice president of Cargill Premix and Nutrition, and James Kasongo, Zambia country director for Heifer International, two panel members at the ILRI-BMGF special livestock session at the Borlaug Symposium in Des Moines, Iowa, 15 Oct 2014, one of a series of events held to mark ILRI’s 40-year anniversary (photo credit: ILRI/Genelle Quarles).

On 15 Oct 2014, the day before World Food Day and the awarding of the World Food Prize and at the start of the Borlaug International Symposium in Des Moines, Iowa, a special session on livestock for development was held. The two-hour evening event was jointly hosted by the International Livestock Research Institute (ILRI) and the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation (BMGF) as part of a series marking ILRI’s 40-year anniversary this year.

We’ve blogged previously about the keynote presentation of this session made by Chris Delgado, of the World Resources Institute. See: A major presentation on ‘the power of livestock’ to transform today’s resource-scarce agricultural lands, 27 Oct 2014.

Below we offer highlights of a lively panel discussion and dialogue, ‘Livestock-based options for sustainable food systems’, that followed Delgado’s presentation that evening in Des Moines.

The five panelists

ILRI director general Jimmy Smith served as panel moderator and introduced the panel members, global leaders of public, private and non-governmental livestock-for-development organizations.

  • Rob Bertram, chief scientist in the US Bureau for Food Security, which leads the Feed the Future initiative of the United States Agency for International Development (USAID)
  • Mitch Davis, director of global shared values and corporate social responsibility at Elanco, an animal health division of Elly Lilly that develops and markets products to improve animal health and protein production in more than 75 countries
  • James Kasongo, Zambia country director for Heifer International, a charity organization that equips poor families with livestock
  • Mark Poeschl, vice president of Cargill Premix and Nutrition, the world’s biggest premix livestock feed supplier
  • Florence Wambugu, founder, director and chief executive officer of Africa Harvest Biotech Foundation International (AHBFI), a non-profit organization using science and technology to improve the livelihoods of rural communities

Two ILRI session panel members at the Borlaug Symposium
Mitch Davis, director of global shared values and corporate social responsibility at Elanco, and Rob Bertram, chief scientist at the US Bureau for Food Security, two panel members at the ILRI-BMGF special livestock session (photo credit: ILRI/Genelle Quarles).

The panel discussion

Smith (ILRI)
We’ve heard the numbers—animal agriculture contributes 60% of agricultural gross domestic product and growing, yet we’ve heard several times today that investment in the sector is disproportionately small. But the number one commodity in the world is milk, the second is rice, the third is beef and the fourth is poultry and eggs. Why is it that we spend so little time investing in this sector that is so important? And what might we do about it?

Bertram (USAID)
The scenario is changing. We now think about food security as incorporating nutrition much more boldly than we ever did before. In Feed the Future we have two top-line metrics: reduction in poverty and reduction in childhood stunting. The signals are there that we need to think much more deliberatively and proactively.

At the heart of Feed the Future is safe and nutritious foods, in which animal-source foods feature prominently, and advanced technologies to address pests and diseases, again with animal diseases figuring prominently.

We’re not going to help farmers escape the poverty trap unless we also help them either add an additional crop in the year to diversify their cropping into higher value foods such as livestock foods. So the question is, how do we build in livestock in the smallholder context?

When I ask my colleagues what technologies we can scale up, it’s hardest for the livestock people to respond. It’s hard to find ‘quick wins’ in the area of livestock. But at the same time, we know that to succeed we can’t ignore livestock.

So the signals are there, whether we’re talking about poverty, nutrition or gender.  The challenge for all of us is how to do this with a smallholder focus. We’re investing in soy because we believe in the poultry revolution coming to Africa. How can we put smallholders in the middle of that, not just soy producers but also poultry producers?

Smith (ILRI)
We hear these amazing statistics about how much animal-source foods will be demanded—production and consumption of animal-source foods in developing countries overtook that in developed countries back in the mid-1990s. How do you see the private sector becoming engaged in developing economies apart from the ‘BRICS’ [the emerging economies of Brazil, Russia, India, China, South Africa]?

Poeschl (Cargill)
Working for a family-owned private company, Cargill, we recognize that we serve, in addition to our shareholders, a greater good. There is an important place for us to bring our technology, knowledge and solutions to developing parts of the world.

We see ourselves as bringing nutritional solutions to the market. We recognize that we play an important role in helping smallholders and developing parts of the world become more efficient and effective in agricultural production overall but, especially where I work, particularly livestock production.

We do that in a number of ways: through links with NGOs, with the public sector, as well as with direct investments we’re making in these markets to be more effective at advancing solutions so that our customers, both smallholders and large-scale producers, can be more efficient and effective in the ways they produce meat, milk and eggs.

In addition to seeing smallholder markets as having great potential, we have a social responsibility as a company to help smallholders improve their livelihoods.

Smith (ILRI)
Heifer is well known for working with smallholders. We hear there is going to be a lot of rapid growth in the smallholder livestock sector. How are we going to ensure there will be growth with equity?

Kasongo (Heifer)
Growth with equity is possible but is not easy. It will require us to come up with strategic interventions, which will in turn require heavy investment, especially by the private sector. What is driving livestock value chains is profitability and financial value at each stage of the value chain. Producers and buyers will have to come to the table and negotiate decisions that benefit all of them.

To ensure fairness and transparency for the small-scale farmer, we need to do quite a lot. Most agricultural extensions services are not responding to the needs of small-scale farmers. To be equitable we have to address social capital development, bringing small-scale farmer together in strong cooperatives and providing them with credit, nutritional and other information and veterinary services via mobile apps, appropriate policies, and so on.

Smith (ILRI)
How is working with the private sector going and what can we do to make it a greater reality?

Wambugu (AHBFI)
I’ve not worked in the livestock sector very much, but our experience is that every time a small-scale farmer starts making money, the first thing they buy is livestock, whether a cow, chicken or goat, so livestock becomes part of the value chain. To deliver to them we first need livestock research­—improved breeds, vaccines, etc. Then we need to scale these interventions up, which can be done mostly with the support of the private sector. Third, we need to disseminate information on better feeds, etc. to livestock producers and cooperatives. Fourth, we need better milk and other livestock processing. Then we need better marketing. And finally we need to improve food safety for consumption of livestock products.

Our experience is that every time a small-scale farmer starts making money, the first thing they buy is livestock, whether a cow, chicken or goat, so livestock becomes part of the value chain.

Men look at livestock as a bank on four legs and as dowry. Women look at the animal as food and nutritional security.

Smith (ILRI)
There are those who say if you want to save the planet you should get rid of all the livestock. And if you want to maintain your health, you should stop eating livestock products. So whether it’s the planet or the individual, livestock gets a bad rap. Is this really true? Chris Delgado showed us there are large misconceptions. How can we change the image of the livestock sector?

Davis (Elanco)
If we want to have an impact on the international policy environment, maybe it is through the smallholder farmer, through developing countries, to really shift productivity, because if that’s the low-hanging fruit, we should go after that.

I was in Honduras a few weeks ago, seeing how the collective impacts of small businesses, NGOs and farmers were making a significant difference to the economy of small communities. It all started with livestock. With the cow. And then it grew into chickens—layer production—and then became fruit trees and then youth getting trained. People pay attention to that kind of collective impact. And when they pay attention to it, their minds shift.

At the same time, we have to challenge the media, to look at the facts; we have to challenge ourselves, to stand up to what we hear that is not true. We have to speak.

We’ll reduce our impact on the environment if we help countries with environments that lend themselves to raising livestock get the resources they need to raise them, and we help that food move from the places where it’s easily produced and get it into the hands of the people who need it.

We’ll create a very loud voice if we work together for collective impact. None of us can do this alone. We cannot operate in silos. We have to say that we believe this—it’s the one thing we hold to be true—and go after that.

Some remarks/questions from the audience

Former ILRI board chair Neville Clarke at Borlaug Symposium

Former ILRI board chair Neville Clarke at the ILRI-BMGF special livestock session (photo credit: ILRI/Genelle Quarles).

Neville Clark (Texas A&M University)
I’d like to tell you about an initiative in the US that is supportive of the overall objective of ILRI to gain better visibility for livestock generally, and to be more effective in advocacy for resources. I work with a group of heads of departments of animal science who have formed a coalition that oversaw the production of a report coming out soon on how animal agriculture intersects the environment, on one-health approaches that unite human, animal and environmental health, and on ways to reduce environmental harm of livestock production. We believe this report will be a strong statement supporting the kinds of things we need to be doing at ILRI and elsewhere; we hope to work with you and make that useful.

Davis (Elanco)
The more we can get data that crosses boundaries—from social to farm needs, from social to animal sciences—and put them in front of community and other leaders, the more we can be effective.

Kasongo (Heifer)
Elanco and Heifer are working in Zambia to get facts that livestock do change livelihoods of the poor.

Bertram (USAID)
I heartily endorse the comment promoting social science. For example, one of the big ‘wins’ we can introduce quickly in smallholder poultry is a vaccine against Newcastle disease. When we do that, however, the men immediately become interested, because no longer are 80% of flocks dying off every year. It’s something we need to understand.

I tell people that our investments in small-scale irrigation are as much about animals as they are about crops, because we think livestock-keeping is one of the pathways out of poverty. But I’m concerned about the push on ‘climate-smart agriculture’. It needs to be communicated very clearly. Integrating ruminants into systems by increasing the availability of forage is an area where we have a long way to go, frankly. I hope we can make some progress on that.

Smith (ILRI)
Regarding productivity in the context of equity and reducing greenhouse gas emissions, what is the private sector thinking about technologies and how we can use livestock for both greater equity and reduced emissions. To do that we need technologies, no?

Poeschl (Cargill)
Look at the improvements that have been made in animal productivity.

Take dairy production in 1944 versus 2007. To produce similar amounts of milk, it now takes 20% of the cows, 10% of the land, 1/3 of the water, and generates about 1/3 the emissions that it did in 1944, with tremendous benefits for the environment.

We have products available that will reduce methane [greenhouse gas] emissions from ruminants. The problem is that we’re not able to show an economic benefit to the producer. Until we are able to refine those products so that there is an economic benefit or until there is a mandate stipulating that those types of products need to be in place to reduce emissions, we’re a bit stymied. But we’re not giving up. We’re active in those areas. We spend a great deal of time working on programs to improve the nutritional efficiency of the animal, which has a positive impact on the environment and overall sustainability. But we’re not there yet.

Bertram (USAID)

There’s a big communications challenge here, particularly around climate issues. The risk is that this potentially could put wind in the sails of those who want to argue against livestock. I challenge us all to think about how we can deal with livestock in smallholder systems.

Major societal/socioeconomic changes need to accompany technical changes. I don’t think we should slow down on the science side at all. If anything, I think we need to redouble our efforts, and the one-health agenda underscores the urgency of that. But let’s accompany that work with knowledge of systems and their players.

Max Rothschild (Iowa State University)
I commend the Gates Foundation and USAID and others for upping their budgets for livestock work. They’re still a bit low and I still encourage them to finance more. But I think a bigger concern is that the only livestock session at this Borlaug International Symposium this year is this one. And it’s a ‘side event’. And in fact, at today’s earlier nutrition panel there wasn’t one mention of livestock. Not one. Ken Cassman gave a great talk about crops, but the take-home message is that crops are plateauing.

We’re not plateauing in production of livestock products. In fact, we’re going through the roof in milk production, growth rate of chickens, pigs, etc. And yet we’re not (so to speak) at the table. How do we get to be a session at the World Food Prize? How come we’re not centre stage? Our productivity has not levelled off! We should be a part of the discussion.

We’re not at the table. How do we get to be a session at the World Food Prize? How come we’re not centre stage?

Poeschl (Cargill)
As an industry, we do a fairly miserable job of representing ourselves. And we do a fairly miserable job of responding to livestock-related issues. We just hope things will get better. We have to commit ourselves as an industry to collectively respond in a more science-based way, recognizing that we’re not going to win every argument—social media and the press are going to win some of these—but we have to make a much more concerted effort or we’re not going to be on the program.

Kasongo (Heifer)
That’s an important issue. Every year, 90% of Zambia’s funds for agricultural support goes to crop improvement. In drought years, there are massive crop failures while livestock farmers are more resilient. The government has now recognized this and made livestock and veterinary a full department with full directors. But we still need to do more, because livestock can make a difference in the lives of the poor.

Davis (Elanco)
I think we do have to communicate more. At Elanco we have one hundred people around the world who talk about facts, about what’s going to feed 9 billion people, about what’s going to make a difference in the growing middle class around the world. Every time we’re on a stage, that’s what we say. We tie down the facts.

You have to go out there and speak over and over and over again to get the facts in front of people. We do a lot of talking to ourselves, which tends to get people who already know the truth excited but does little to change public sentiment.

Bertram (USAID)
We hear a lot about the double burden of nutrition around caloric, chronic, diseases, but the people eating too much meat are not thinking about the people in the world who would desperately be better off if they could have a couple of eggs a week, children especially.

Three or four years ago I was at the IFPRI Conference in New Delhi on agriculture, health and nutrition. There was hardly any discussion of animal-source foods. Now we have a CGIAR nutrition program that’s headed by an animal scientist and it involves ILRI as one of its major partners.

We’ve got to keep communicating the critical role that animal-source foods play in development, especially in child development. We’re certainly very cognizant of that in Feed the Future.

Wambugu (AHBFI)
Livestock is taken for granted. When people think of poverty reduction, what comes to mind immediately is crops. But livestock are absolutely important for people. Without livestock as part of the equation, we can’t get people out of poverty.

Alex Osanya (Boehringer Ingelheim Vetmedica)
My name is Alex Osanya. I’m a poster child of ILRAD and ILRI. I did my master’s at ILRAD [International Laboratory for Research on Animal Diseases] and my PhD at ILRI.

I was brought up in Nairobi and my family is from rural western Kenya. Talking of gender and livestock, my mother got me through school through raising chickens and a little milk we got from our African cows. I’m a trained veterinarian now, but I know what we need to do to get our technology to farmers is to engage local people.

Alice Pell (Cornell University)
We need to make sure that the conversation between the livestock people and nutritionists takes place. Half of the women in India and many in sub-Saharan Africa have iron deficiencies. What’s the best sources of iron? Meat. How do we make those links? Protein-quality issues are not in the forefront. I’ve gone to too many meetings where nutritionists favour pills for nutrition problems. That’s crazy.

Bertram (USAID)

The protein issue has come back. We couldn’t even say it 10 or 15 years ago. That’s good news. And it’s good news for the livestock community.

ILRI board member Suzanne Petersen at the Borlaug Symposium

ILRI board member Suzanne Petersen gave a summing up (photo credit: ILRI/Genelle Quarles).

Some last thoughts

Some last thoughts to close the session were provided by Suzanne Petersen, an ILRI board member and marketing, brand, business and product manager for Land O’Lakes Purina Feed.

This has been an exceptional event highlighting how livestock can help us obtain and sustain food and nutritional security. It’s clear that if we want to enhance the contributions of livestock, we need to—and this is because I’m living in Minnesota, you understand—we need to ‘skate to where the puck is going, not where it is now’.

Livestock is a dynamic force; it’s not in a vacuum. We’re going to have to think more deliberately about livestock, whether in mixed systems, in policy, in education, in media. Only 2% of Americans are in farming, so we have a lot of educating to do.

Nothing happens in silos. We need to think about incorporating the power of livestock in more sustainable systems, whether it’s improving the contribution of livestock through trade or incorporating livestock in the World Food Prize event.

We need to talk more and get it out there and make a lot of noise.

Finally, we’re asking guests at all of our ILRI40 events two questions:

  • What are the two most critical livestock-related challenges we must answer through research?
  • What’s the best bet that we should invest in to achieve better lives through livestock in the next 40 years?

Please give us your answers to these questions before you leave. [Web readers: please post your responses in the Comment box below this article.]

We thank the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation for co-hosting this event; Christopher Delgado for his great presentation; our esteemed panel members; the Borlaug interns who spent high school summer internships working at ILRI; and of course all of you, our guests here tonight.

Jimmy Smith and guest at the Borlaug Symposium

ILRI director general Jimmy Smith with Linley Chiwona-Karltun, of the Swedish University of Agricultural Sciences, at the ILRI-BMGF special livestock session (photo credit: ILRI/Genelle Quarles).

More information

Visit to find out about all the ILRI@40 events.

Here are blog posts about other the ILRI@40 events:


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