There has been a long presence of ILRI (then ILCA) in West Africa, focusing both on Sudanian and Sahelian mixed crop livestock systems.
A turning point for ILRI research in West Africa was the concentration of ILCA scientists at the ICRISAT Sahelian Center in Sadore, Niger in the early 1990s. The team was led by Mark Powell, then Salvador Fernandez and integrated very well with ICRISAT research on natural resources management. It comprised a good multidisciplinary team: Mark Powell as systems agronomist, Salvador Fernandez as animal nutritionist, Pierre Hiernaux as range ecologist and Tim Williams as agricultural economist.
Young and bright postdocs, among them Matt Turner, who had a unique blend of hard science, anthropology and sociology, completed the team. There were also several PhD and masters students from the region and abroad. Augustine Ayantunde, now with ILRI, was one of them.
It was probably the most successful collaboration between two CGIAR centers in the 1990s and early 2000s. What is striking when looking back is how modern and state of the art the research still appears today. The people involved worked on integrated/economic research, multi-scale approaches including landscape assessments, remote sensing, spatial modeling and participatory components involving farming and herding communities.
Research on crop/livestock interaction
Most of the field work focused on a 500 km2 area 60 km east of Niamey called the Fakara: typical area where crop/livestock interaction is important and rapid changes in the system occurred due to increasing population pressure.
Research findings/proof of concepts/lessons learned were scaled out regionally with collaborating NARS in projects such as NUTMAN (Improving crop-livestock productivity through efficient nutrient management in mixed farming systems of semi-arid West Africa funded by IFAD and IDRC). All that work contributed tremendously to system thinking and positively influenced further projects developed by ILRI and ICRISAT.
Another legacy is an amazing spatial database for the Fakara, which still serves science today.
ILRI is one of the most advanced CGIAR centers in term of systems thinking and systems research. This is very much embedded in the different research themes, which is very promising for ILRI’s future. A group like Sustainable Livestock Futures, tackling important emerging global issues such as food security and global warming, is gaining visibility and is important to steer ILRI’s research agenda.
Diversifying collaboration is a key way to achieve impact: Collaboration with advanced research institutions to fill some expertise gaps, collaboration among CGIAR centers in system efforts, collaboration with NARS which sometimes are by-passed because of short term project efficiencies, civil society, private sector (towards commercialization, market development, value chains), and of course our clients; farmers themselves.
ILRI has been in the forefront with its innovation platform work, but too often we scientists are the ones defining/guessing farmers’ problems and finding our own solutions instead of co-developing solutions.
The CGIAR reform is certainly a challenge but also an opportunity to work better together and achieve a greater impact. The world is changing very rapidly and rural communities in developing countries need solutions to first survive, but equally important to access a better life. Research for Development will play a key role and it seems now that after 20 years of neglect, the agricultural sector is again receiving the attention it merits. We should do everything to keep our promises.
Contributed by Bruno Gérard, Director of the Global Conservation Agriculture Programme at CIMMYT. He coordinated the CGIAR Systemwide Livestock Programme at ILRI from 2008-2011.
On 9 and 10 November 2011, the ILRI Board of Trustees hosted a 2-day ‘liveSTOCK Exchange’ to discuss and reflect on livestock research for development. The event synthesized sector and ILRI learning and helped frame future livestock research for development directions.