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Persuasion: Towards a calculus of influence in livestock research for development

Advocacy Wheel

An ‘advocacy wheel’ diagram from the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation—which used it to help improve outcomes for children’s nutrition by way of the UN Sustainable Development Goals—presented by Hien Tran at a Livestock Advocacy and Communications Convening held at ILRI’s Ethiopia campus in Nov 2015.

In November last year (2015), a group of livestock-related communications professionals from non-governmental, regional and international institutions met for 2.5 days in Addis Ababa to begin to think through ‘advocacy-oriented’ kinds of communications to support sustainable livestock development in poor countries worldwide.

Hosted by the International Livestock Research Institute (ILRI) and funded by the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation (BMGF), the 28 participants included several representing non-governmental organizations (NGOs):

plus a few representatives of regional and international organizations and consortia:

  • Africa Union-Interafrican Bureau for Animal Resources (AU-IBAR)
  • International Food Policy Research Institute (IFPRI)
  • ILRI (corporate communications and country heads for Ethiopia, India and Tanzania)
  • International Water Management Institute (IWMI)
  • Global Agenda for Sustainable Livestock (GASL)
  • Livestock Global Alliance (LGA)
  • World Organisation for Animal Health (OIE)

and a few representatives of two donor organizations:

  • Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation (BMGF)
  • International Finance Corporation (IFC)

The participants had three main objectives:
(1) Get a better understanding of the current state of play in advocating livestock as key instruments in alleviating big global problems (e.g. poverty, hunger, malnutrition and attendant illnesses, zoonotic diseases, environmental degradation, climate change)

(2) Identify gaps in pro-poor livestock advocacy and communications and reflect on the reasons for the gaps

(3) Explore communications and advocacy strategies and tactics that have demonstrably advanced the role of livestock in sustainable development of the poor

Co-hosting the convening were Shirley Tarawali, assistant director general of ILRI, and Hien Tran, of the BMGF’s Global Policy and Advocacy division. Discussions over the 2.5 days of the convening were facilitated by ILRI’s facilitator and Engagement and Collaboration team leader Ewen Le Borgne.

Why convene?
The elephant in this room could be viewed as a series of questions: Why, in the face of so many eye-popping stats about the differences livestock make to both global ‘goods’ and ‘bads’, were we communications professionals in livestock for development work not getting more attention? Why, with demand for animal-source foods sky-rocketing in most developing and emerging economies, far out-stripping global demand for grains, and with meat , eggs and dairy making up 4 of the 5 highest-value global commodities, are we having trouble getting heard?

Why, with farm animals still central to the economies of most of the world’s developing nations and a major provider of urban as well as rural household livelihoods, incomes, food, nutrition and health, do we find ourselves so often on a back foot, spending precious communications capital either defending animal husbandry or arguing for its support? Why do we have the nagging sense that we’re mostly playing catch-up to the agendas of others? Why, in brief, aren’t we making a bigger difference?

View a slide presentation made at this convening by ILRI Assistant Director General Shirley Tarawali on Livestock: The Global Context.

Of course, the on-going anti-livestock rhetoric and agendas of groups in industrialized nations—where obesity and its attendant illnesses ascribed to over-consumption of meat, fears of emerging ‘zoonotic’ (animal-to-human) diseases, concerns about animal welfare and factory farming, and livestock-generated greenhouse gases and natural resource degradation often take centre stage in mass media—are surely partly responsible for our sense of communications impotency and defensiveness. But that does not account for us not making more headway in raising awareness among developing-country governments and influencers of the importance of raising their investments in animal agriculture and the research that underpins its accelerated development. Besides, it could be argued that all the anti-livestock talk of ‘the North’ is a perfect opportunity for those of us working in and for ‘the South’ to move our livestock development issues up front and centre in major southern as well as northern media.

So—what’s missing? Is it (or part of it) ‘advocacy work’? Is it time for us communicators in livestock research and development institutions to start discarding our traditional (and time-honoured) reservations about public advocacy and dip our toes in those waters? Could we, by being more explicit about what we’re advocating, based on the knowledge our research colleagues have today, help close the current massive gaps in understanding and investment in the developing world’s smallholder livestock sector? Could we, by (intentionally and carefully) embracing advocacy kinds of communications, start punching above our weight to help the world meet its newly agreed Sustainable Development Goals, such as eradicating poverty and hunger, by 2030?

The small but active group of participants at this first livestock advocacy convening agreed that effective, coherent, planned and joined-up advocacy work for sustainable livestock development was ‘a missing’. The time is ripe, they said, for building and supporting a ‘livestock-for-development group of champions’ to work more closely together to raise the current low levels of understanding and investments in livestock livelihoods of the poor.

Pierre Gerber, of the United Nations Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) and World Bank Group and Livestock Global Alliance (LGA), could not attend the convening in person but was able to make a real-time online presentation from Washington, DC. In summary, Gerber reported the following.

  • In recent years, livestock harms as well as benefits have become more prominent.
  • While negative perspectives about the livestock sector have taken hold in many publics of the North, we have failed to communicate the many benefits of the livestock sector, particularly in the South.
  • Communicating the diversity of livestock issues remains complex and a challenge; we could, and should, do a better job of this.
  • Livestock topics remain extremely underrepresented in global solutions, platforms, fora.
  • The Livestock Global Alliance currently consists of five international organizations with large livestock mandates: FAO, ILRI, the World Health Organisation (WHO), the World Organisation for Animal Health (OIE) and the World Bank.
  • These organizations have agreed to come together to engage decision-makers—in the agriculture sector as a whole as well as in the livestock sector—in developing and promulgating a common global livestock narrative.
  • LGA is supported by the BMGF and other donors.
  • Some of the specific aims of the LGA are to communicate the diversity of systems and circumstances in the global livestock sector, to illustrate why we should care about the sector (such as the many key contributions this sector can make to meeting the UN Sustainable Development Goals), and to ensure that these five participating organizations agree on a few key messages and issues that they can promote individually and with their partners.
  • An initial draft of such messages was recently circulated among members and key partners and will be finalized in early 2016.

What to advocate and how
Hien Tran of the BMGF gave a slide presentation on what to advocate and how, using experiences and cases from BMGF. She said they start with defining a specific a goal, such as changing a policy or mobilizing resources. They then generate any needed evidence, which may take the form of a gap or budget analysis, modeling, sampling public opinion, researching messages or markets or media work, and use this evidence in analyzing policy gaps. They follow this with building coalitions and setting agenda and working to get policies adopted, resources mobilized and political leaders engaged. Finally, they support delivery and implementation. (See above the BMGF ‘advocacy wheel’ used to help improve outcomes for children’s nutrition by way of the Sustainable Development Goals.)

Participants of this livestock advocacy convening took a close look at several case studies in livestock advocacy (see presentations made by Heifer Tanzania, ILRI India and the Ethiopia Agricultural Transformation Agency). They also made a practical start in developing livestock advocacy strategies for specific countries and regions and for a global campaign. They ended by discussing and prioritizing some next steps.


  • ILRI held a livestock advocacy convening in November 2015 pulling together about 30 folks primarily from NGOs. Participants included those who work on livestock programmatically as well as those who work on agriculture advocacy but not on livestock issues.
  • From the Livestock Global Alliance (LGA) were participants from ILRI, OIE, and BMGF. Pierre Gerber could not attend in person for LGA but joined for a Skype presentation and Q&A. A representative from the NGO cluster of the Global Agenda for Sustainable Livestock (GASL) also attended.
  • The purpose of the meeting was to better understand what NGOs are doing in the livestock advocacy space, if anything, what gaps there are, and what opportunities might exist for livestock advocacy at a country-level (focused on Tanzania, given representation at the convening) as well as continental and global levels.
  • Participants heard case studies from agriculture advocacy folks on how they achieved particular advocacy goals—the approach taken, the stakeholders, the time needed, etc.
  • At the global level, there was a discussion about the possibility of producing a ‘shadow’ report, perhaps published every two years, that focuses on livestock’s contribution to progress on a few specified targets of the UN Sustainable Development Goals in a few countries. This would provide illustrative examples of the importance of livestock to development despite being essentially left out of the goals/targets (and possibly even the indicators). There was also a suggestion to address the importance of investments in livestock by climate funds.
  • The convening revealed that there is a real appetite by NGOs and other non-state actors to engage in livestock advocacy but that no one organization was in a position with the capacity to engage immediately in an advocacy initiative. There was also an appetite for ILRI to hold follow-up convenings as a space for exploring ways to work together and/or coordinate livestock development advocacy efforts.
  • ILRI will be following up with ideas on next steps.
  • This effort involving primarily NGOs would complement the messages of LGA and help a group of actors (in addition to international public institutions) push specific outcomes to increase attention and resources to smallholder livestock systems in developing countries.

Next steps

  • Establish an informal livestock communications and advocacy ‘champions’ group to take this work forward
  • Elaborate some specific global, regional or national actions—around engagement or capacity development for instance—that could be developed with a wider group of people beyond the event participants

These next steps are still being finalized with event participants and sponsors; more details are on the event web page.

In closing, ILRI’s Shirley Tarawali said that this group could make use of its diverse strengths and experiences to advance the advocacy agenda. She cautioned participants about engaging rather than hijacking existing initiatives, agenda and organizations working in this area. ‘The idea is to build on and add value to rather than create anew’, Tarawali said.

Hien Tran of the BMGF closed by saying that her foundation is increasing its investments in livestock for agricultural development and is therefore listening to what others are saying and doing in this sector. The foundation plans to take livestock issues to those fora where engagements in development are already happening. She and her BMGF colleagues see the challenges in getting the smallholder livestock sector the attention and funding it deserves and are committed to helping make this happen.

In Ewen Le Borgne’s words, summing up the proceedings on the last day:

There seems to be a large appetite to skill ourselves up in intentional and joint livestock advocacy work. There seems to be a strong sense of ‘The time is now’.

Note: If you or your organization is interested in joining this groups’ discussion about livestock advocacy, or have a contribution or critique to make, please let us know in the Comment Box below.

For more detailed information about the convening, visit the wiki page for this event:

Photos from the event are here.

Read a recent related article on this subject:
ILRI News Blog, 13 Jan 2016: What we talk about when we talk about ‘evidence-based’ advocacy communications

2 thoughts on “Persuasion: Towards a calculus of influence in livestock research for development

  1. Thank you Shirley & team for this interesting initiative. Surely the selection of NGO representatives is important as you stated in the article. In your selection I miss however global advocacy actors of dry lands / pastoralist, such as Oxfam, Save the Children, Vets Without Borders. There are very interesting initiatives out there investigating exactly these pathways you are looking for, such as CELEP (EU), DLCI (Oxfam & Save), Pastoralist Knowledge Hub (FAO), Farmers’Day pastoralist consultation process (VSF-IFAD), WISP (IUCN), instead you seemed to focus on the high potential agricultural zones. I find it promising for an academic body to focus where the gap is: pastoralism & dry lands. Your colleagues from CCAFS tested methodologies to understand actors influence which could be interesting ( (see works of Sova 2014)

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