These innovations have legs: Meeting with ILRI and IFPRI in Addis

Co-written with Bernard Pollack

We hit the ground running in Addis Ababa, Ethiopia. On Friday, October 23, we traveled across town to the campus of the International Livestock Research Institute (ILRI), where the offices of the International Food Policy Research Institute (IFPRI), the International Water Management Institute (IWMI), and International Maize and Wheat Improvement Center (CIMMYT) are also housed.

Alan Duncan of ILRI, a member of our Advisory Group (stay tuned for a video blog about Alan’s work), organized a roundtable and meeting with colleagues on campus, giving us an opportunity to brief them about the project and, most importantly from our perspective, to get their guidance, ideas, and thoughts on projects to visit and ways to frame State of the World 2011: Nourishing the Planet. We also listened to them talk about the challenges farmers face not only in the field, but in getting access to markets.

David Spielman of IFPRI, another member of our Advisory Group (watch for his video blog, as well) and author of an upcoming report on agricultural innovations called Millions Fed, said that “farmers are now faced with decisions that it would take a Ph.D. to solve.” He’s right. Farmers confront more challenges than ever before: climate change, increasing malnutrition, urbanization, conflict, and gender inequity all make their jobs harder than ever before. But along with these challenges, there are enormous opportunities for creative innovations that can help lift farmers’ incomes, protect the environment, and increase food security.

One way is by making mixed crop-livestock systems better for farmers, animals, and the environment. In fact, raising animals may be the one of the best ways to cope with climate change. “It’s a good coping strategy to have legs,” said Shirley Tarawalia, Theme Director of the People, Livestock, and the Environment program at ILRI. Crops, unlike livestock, can’t get up and move around to where there’s more water.

ILRI’s Addis office has been very helpful in providing contacts and research. But they also urged Worldwatch not to “blame” livestock for environmental problems (something they think we’ve done recently with Goodland and Ahung’s feature article on livestock and climate change, as well as Danielle’s work on industrial livestock production). They have a point. Livestock are an integral part of people’s livelihoods here in Ethiopia and elsewhere in sub-Saharan Africa, and highlighting innovations in rotational grazing, zero-grazing, and better feed for livestock will be an important part of State of the World 2011.

Bernard Pollack is a labor and political strategist and Danielle’s companion as they travel around sub-Saharan Africa documenting agricultural innovations.

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