CGIAR / Engagement / Fish / Livestock

Cees de Haan on the livestock fish research proposal

Earlier this month, we submitted the ‘livestock-fish’ research proposal to the CGIAR. We greatly benefited from comments on the draft by several people, including Cees de Haan of the World Bank. We share his comments below as  we believe they provide a valuable commentary on the overall proposal as well as some of the specific details.

In general the proposals are well written, and I am impressed by the enormous amount of work done since we met in Addis. It is also much clearer now what you propose, and, within the confines of pro-poor livestock development, most of it makes sense.

My main concern is that there is very little attention to the negative externalities that operate also in smallholder livestock systems, and, in some aspects, such as in non-point source pollution and in GHG emission per kg product, are even stronger than in industrial systems. These are legitimate public good issues (some global in nature), and deserve a place in international livestock research.

I like the quantification of the overall benefits on page 16. This is, as we discussed in Addis, quite courageous. However, except for food-feed crops on page 35 and feed transformation on page 38, none of the others give any quantified impact. It would be useful, if also the other programs in Theme 1 and 2 would give their estimated on when some of the technologies (vaccines, diagnostics, breeding technologies) would be available, and when.

While the vision focuses on availability of animal source food and therefore the consumer, the actual proposal under themes 2 and 3 seem to forget the consumer. See also below.

I still get somewhat confused with the sequence of the three themes. To me, the most logical flow would be: value chain assessment and identification of gaps (part of theme 2), then technical research (theme 1) and the integration of 2.3 and 3. A clear statement why this is not done might help.

The technical programs in theme 1 read too much as a shopping list, and priorities have to be set. Developing the tools to set priorities could be one of the most important global public good, and I fully support the effort on page 42 (Value chain 2.2) to do so. Some reference under theme 1, that this will be done, would be useful.

More specific comments

In chronological order, I have the following specific comments:

Balance of introduction: The amounts needed to provide the essential nutrients to vulnerable groups are small, and could probably be produced without any additional research input. I feel the introduction is too much focused on the nutritional aspect and not enough on the potential impact of the livestock sector on poverty reduction and economic growth.

Page 9: There are also quite a number of successes in smallholder livestock development, besides East Africa and Indonesia. Operation Flood, dairy and beef in Central America, poultry in West Africa, etc, are others. As you know, I have some problems with the Indonesian poultry example, as the large protection and the regulatory limits on scale of farm increased the price of eggs and poultry to the urban poor. In a document focusing on the entire chain, the consumer side has to be taken into account.

Page 11: Wouldn’t the poverty reduction aspect also be included in the vision? As it reads now, the best way to realize the vision would to focus on industrial systems.

Page 12: Can you provide a reference that small scale value chains are more effective? In any case, it would be useful to make a differentiation between commodities. In dairy they are easier competitive than in monogastrics.

Page 12: The program objectives are fine, but shouldn’t there be a discussion on the trade-offs between those objectives?

Page 15: Selection of value chains: (i) shouldn’t the representativeness, number of small holders affected and the potential for up-scaling be included? (ii) Maybe it is too late, but it would have been nice to have some measure of comparative advantage, such as the DRC included.

Page 16: Impacts: (i) it would be useful to have a figure on the current status; (ii) an impact of 50 percent in livestock production in LA seems overly optimistic. Wouldn’t it be useful to post also some risk factors and “killer” assumptions?

On the technical research programs

The animal health program seems very ambitious. I take the point that (page 25) that new tools and a more “generic approach” can speed up the process and allow an attack on a broad front, but the list of activities seems excessive, and priorities need to be set.

In the animal breeding program, pigs seem to be absent from the program (also in the chains on page 32). I would argue also on page 31 for the evaluation of simpler technologies such as room temperature semen (until recently one of the most used methods in China). And maybe even more importantly would be work on cloning. In most environments there is a specific level of exotic blood (25,50,75), which fits best into that particular environment. Further breeding with any of the two parent breeds would make the offspring either too sensitive of too low producing. Mating inter-se with the best fitting crossbred gives large variation and some hybrid vigor is lost. If we could clone the best fitting level of crossbred animal, this could have tremendous impact. For India I would add on page 32 the potential of using sexed semen. Imagine if all bull calves, which are now wasted and cause overgrazing, could be avoided. Finally, there seems to be excessive attention to farmers and farmer’s organizations for example on page 30. Most of the breed improvement and the decision about them are in the hands of private commercial breeding companies.

In feeds, I would argue for more economic evaluation of the food-feed crop approach, before we spend too much time and resources on it. Some methodological work (along the line of a performance/selection index with economic values, as done in animal breeding) might be useful. I feel that an international institute such as ILRI should also work on rumen manipulation to increase the digestibility of the high fiber tropical grasses. Imagine the potential for say the Guinea Savannahs of Nigeria, if the millions of tons useless grass there could be converted in the rumen to high quality energy. This would reverse the monogastric Livestock Revolution to a ruminant Livestock Revolution.

On value chains: Aren’t the first four bullet points on page 41 part of the analysis already done to select the chains now retained? It now gives the impression that the initial selection was haphazard. I don’t understand the reference to theme 1 at the bottom of the page. Maybe, they will emerge from the chain analysis, but in the questions on component 2.1 (Policy and Sectoral Analysis), I miss questions of issues such as access to land and credit. I like the discussion on scaling up and out, although this part is still somewhat vague on what is exactly going to be done. Especially here, I miss the consumer perspective in the discussion. Somewhere the entire document gives the impression to stop at the processing side. The Livestock Revolution is demand and consumer driven….

On gender and targeting: The write-up seems quite long, and some of the discussion on monitoring could be reduced, as these are generally accepted principles. Component 1.1 in activities (page 47) seems rather global and divorced from the value chain focus. Pages 58-61 seem to repeat parts of the introduction and theme 3.

On partnerships: On page 56 CG centers (especially adaptive research)? Where are the development banks? They are important investors. Similar as in the value chain: Where are the consumers?? The question of the role and comparative advantage of CGIAR viz-a-viz the NARS and Universities, a long-standing issue, which is not resolved, if I look at the respective descriptions of their role on page 56. A discussion on how to reduce the transaction costs of partnerships would be useful. It is conceptually sound to involve as many partners, but any additional one increases the transaction costs, to the extent that I can see the scientists involved doing nothing else than networking and meeting with the partners. I see it is mentioned on page 72 as the high risk factor, but the mitigation seems vague. What are the incentives mentioned under the mitigation column?

On Communication, advocacy and data-management, again I miss the consumers. For the rest, it seems to be well focused.

Watch a video interview with Cees de Haan

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