With the opening of the latest high-tech forage genebank and bioscience research facilities, the International Livestock Research Institute (ILRI) in Ethiopia is well on the way to realizing its dream of becoming a major science and agricultural research hub in Africa. Speaking at the launch yesterday, Siboniso Moyo, representative in Ethiopia for the ILRI director general, spoke of the new genebank as the beginning of a drive to upscale facilities on the campus.
We have identified accessions held in the ILRI Forage Genebank that are both tolerant to drought and resistant to the main diseases affecting Napier grass. Having improved forages that perform well in the face of drought stress would be particularly significant for Ethiopia at this moment. We are currently establishing a drought trial with that in mind. These are the sorts of challenges—relevant to the lives of millions of smallholder farmers—which will guide our future research priorities.
On 24 April 2017, ILRI officially opened state-of-the-art facilities for genebank and bioscience research. The facilities will help protect a crucial component of the planet’s biodiversity—the diverse grasses and legumes that feed the world’s food animals. Research conducted here on livestock feed materials improves the sustainability and productivity of the livestock sector in many low-income countries across the world.
Addressing an audience of government, embassy, donor and civil society officials, ILRI director general, Jimmy Smith, highlighted the potential importance of the role of the new facilities in the future collection, conservation, multiplication, distribution and quality control of forage seeds, crucial to promoting the higher productivity of livestock.
‘Lack of adequate year-round feeding of livestock is widely accepted as one of the key constraints in livestock production systems in the tropics. ILRI has recognized this by establishing the Feed and Forage Development Program, led from the ILRI Ethiopia campus’, Smith added.
The ILRI Forage Genebank is one of 11 genebanks within CGIAR, a global partnership of 15 international research centres working with national and other partners for a food-secure future. The CGIAR genebanks are located in countries that are ‘centres of origin’ of key food crops so as to make optimal use of the natural diversity of indigenous plants. Researchers use the tens of thousands of diverse crop materials stored and conserved in these genebanks to discover and develop high-yielding crop varieties well adapted to diverse tropical agro-ecologies. All the germplasm stored in the CGIAR genebanks, including ILRI’s, is held in trust under an International Treaty on Plant Genetic Resources for Food and Agriculture. This germplasm, safely stored for use by researchers today and by those in future generations, is made freely available to all.
Feed constraints were also high on the agenda of the government of Ethiopia. Representing the minister of livestock and fishery, HE Fekadu Beyene, his state minister for livestock, Gebregziabher Gebreyohannes, stressed the crucial need to increase productivity in the sector. If the targets set by the government for increasing meat, milk and egg production are to be met, a secure supply of high-quality year-round feed is a prerequisite.
State minister Gebregziabher welcomed the opening of the centre and the opportunities available to build the capacity of Ethiopian scientists and research facilities. But we should not stop at feed development, he said; there are also needs in the areas of animal health and genetics. Advances in all these areas are crucial to building the capacity of the country to guarantee the food security needs of its growing population.
‘The task is made more difficult by the frequent droughts that are causing loss of biodiversity and environmental degradation, especially in lowland rangelands’, according to the director of the Ethiopian Biodiversity Institute, Melesse Maryo, speaking on behalf of HE Gemedo Dale, minister for the environment, forest and climate change.
Even in good years, livestock feed is in short supply leading to overdependence on natural pastures and overgrazing of rangelands. ILRI has a large collection of dryland forages, with many grasses from the drylands of sub-Saharan Africa. Developing these resources offers Ethiopia and other countries in similar circumstances huge opportunities.
Accessing good-quality forage seeds is critical and the time is right to enhance the support provided to the national agricultural system, the director of the livestock directorate of the Ethiopian Institute of Agricultural Research, Getnet Assefa, said, reiterating the state minister’s call for capacity building.
One low hanging fruit, said Chris Jones, leader of ILRI’s feeds and forages development program, is the work on Napier grasses being undertaken at the institute.
‘We have identified accessions held in the ILRI genebank that are both tolerant to drought and resistant to the main diseases affecting Napier grass. Having improved forages that perform well in the face of drought stress would be particularly significant for Ethiopia at this moment. We are currently establishing a drought trial with that in mind. These are the sorts of challenges—relevant to the lives of millions of smallholder farmers—that will guide our future research priorities’.
ILRI gratefully acknowledges the donor organizations that have contributed to the construction of ILRI’s new genebank and bioscience facilities and those donor organizations that have generously supported ILRI’s Forage Genebank in the past. These organizations are: Bioversity International, Bundesministerium für Wirtschaftliche Zusammenarbeit und Entwicklung (BMZ), CGIAR Genebanks Platform, CGIAR Research Program for Managing and Sustaining Crop Collections, Deutsche Gesellschaft für Internationale Zusammenarbeit (GIZ) GmbH, European Union, Global Crop Diversity Trust, UK Department for International Development, World Bank and World Vision. ILRI also thanks the countries, organizations and individuals that support its other livestock-research-for-development work and all the investors that globally support its work through their contributions to the CGIAR system. Without this intellectual and financial support, ILRI could not make a difference in helping people make better lives through livestock.