Food Security

Mozambique, Tete province, Pacassa village

Harvested maize in Tete Province, Mozambique (photo credit: ILRI/Stevie Mann).


As part of celebrations in Nairobi last week to mark Europe Day 2015, the Finland-funded FoodAfrica program took part in an exhibition at the residence of the European Union Delegation to the Republic of Kenya where several project outputs were showcased.

FoodAfrica is a research and development program aimed at providing new knowledge and tools for researchers, decision-makers and farmers towards improved local food security. The program works in Benin, Cameroon, Ghana, Kenya, Senegal and Uganda.

Sara Ahlberg, a Finnish associate professional officer and PhD student attached to the International Livestock Research Institute in Nairobi, presented a poster that highlighted research approaches by the FoodAfrica program to reduce the risk of mycotoxins in the feed-dairy value chain in Kenya, namely,

  • Integrated risk and economic assessment of the Kenyan feed-dairy chain
  • Investigation of technologies and strategies to reduce mycotoxin risk in the feed-dairy chain
  • Impact assessment of a package of post-harvest strategies for reducing aflatoxins in maize

View the poster, FoodAfrica – Reducing risk of mycotoxins

Rinsing fresh fish in Accra, Ghana

Rinsing fresh fish in Accra, Ghana. Food safety systems need to be tailored to fit the contexts of different countries (photo credit: ILRI/Kennedy Bomfeh).


Every year, The Chicago Council convenes the Global Food Security Symposium to discuss the progress of the United States government and the international community on addressing global food and nutrition security. This year’s symposium, scheduled for 16 April in Washington DC, will address food systems for improved health.

In the 10-week period leading up the 2015 Global Food Security Symposium, the Chicago Council ran an online campaign, Healthy Food for a Healthy World, with one blog post being published each week to create awareness on the role of agriculture in improving global health and nutrition.

John McDermott, director of the CGIAR Research Program on Agriculture for Nutrition and Health, and Delia Grace, leader of the Food Safety and Zoonoses program of the International Livestock Research Institute, contributed to the awareness campaign through a guest commentary titled Healthy Foods Must Be Nutritious, Safe and Fair.

In their commentary, they argue that to provide nutritious, safe and fair food to all, food safety systems must be tailored for different national and sub-national contexts.

“In an increasingly globalized world, there are dramatic differences in food systems. Policymakers and the public often assume that one universal system should apply everywhere. But what is good for the rich may be bad for the poor and vice versa.”

They also put forward three key lessons for adapting food safety systems, namely, aligning incentives with policy objectives, adopting risk-based approaches to food safety and developing capacity in food safety governance and practice.

To take part in the online discussions, follow @GlobalAgDev on Twitter, join the discussions using #GlobalAg or tune in to the live stream of the event on 16 April.

Farming in the highlands of Ethiopia

Farming scene in the highlands of Ethiopia (photo credit: ILRI/Apollo Habtamu).


Zoonotic diseases, or zoonoses, are diseases that can be passed from animals to people. Nearly two-thirds of emerging infectious diseases affecting people are zoonotic and about 60% of all human pathogens are zoonotic.

Zoonoses such as brucellosis, anthrax and rabies are endemic in eastern Africa and yet formally published research studies on zoonoses in the region are hard to come by; useful research findings remain tucked away in the libraries of universities and other research institutions in form of working papers and students’ theses: the so-called ‘grey literature’.

In order to bring to the fore the wealth of unpublished research on zoonoses from studies carried out in Burundi, the Democratic Republic of the Congo, Ethiopia, Kenya, Rwanda, South Sudan, Tanzania and Uganda, the first-ever regional conference on zoonotic diseases in eastern Africa was held in Naivasha, Kenya on 9-12 March 2015.

The conference brought together academicians, researchers and graduate students from across Africa who presented on topics such as the One Health approach to disease prevention and control, the global health security agenda, the recent Ebola outbreak and its control, and control of rabies in East Africa.

Some 80 oral and poster presentations covered a wide range of aspects of research on zoonotic diseases including epidemiology, antimicrobial resistance, diagnosis, surveillance, outbreak investigations, disease modelling and foodborne zoonoses.

Bernard Bett, a veterinary epidemiologist at the International Livestock Research Institute (ILRI), gave a keynote presentation on behalf of the institute’s director general Jimmy Smith detailing how research by ILRI is contributing towards healthy people, animals and ecosystems.

Food insecurity remains a challenge for millions of people in the region. Animal-source foods can play a role in improving food and nutritional security, particularly in developing countries where demand for meat, milk and eggs is on the rise. Thus, food security is linked to the health of the livestock that produce these food products.

However, because of the threat of endemic and emerging zoonotic diseases, human health is influenced by animal health. Furthermore, changing patterns of land use, such as irrigation and intensified farming, can have an impact on the life cycles of vectors that spread diseases that affect both animals and people. Therefore, the impact of agriculture on ecosystem health also needs to be considered when tackling animal and human health challenges.

View the presentation “Healthy people, animals and ecosystems: The role of CGIAR research

Food Safety and Informal Markets: Animal Products in Sub-Saharan Africa

Animal products – meat, milk, eggs and fish – are vital components of the diets and livelihoods of people across sub-Saharan Africa. However, these nutritious food products are also the most risky. Most food-borne disease is caused by perishable foods: meat, milk, fish, eggs, fruits and vegetables.

Food borne-disease can be serious. In a minority of cases, it can cause epilepsy, paralysis, kidney failure and death. In addition, the global economic burden of food-borne disease is significant. Annually, food-borne disease is estimated to cost US$78 billion in the United States of America, US$14 billion in China and US$3 billion in Nigeria.

Over 80% of the meat, milk, eggs and fish produced in developing countries is sold in traditional or informal markets. These markets are accessible, sell affordable food and provide market access to small-scale farmers. However, informal markets often lack adequate refrigeration, inspection and control of food-borne disease.

For over a decade, the International Livestock Research Institute (ILRI) and partners have been conducting research on food safety in informal markets to support intensifying livestock production by building capacity for better management of the safety of animal food products.

A newly published book launched two weeks ago (27 Jan 2015) at ILRI’s Nairobi headquarters presents a review of food safety in informal markets and 25 case studies of the meat, milk and fish sectors in eight countries in East, West and southern Africa, as part of the Safe Food, Fair Food project.

A key finding from the book is that in low-income countries it is important to distinguish between the potential food-borne hazards (such as harmful bacteria, chemicals and toxins) and the actual risks they are likely to present to consumers.

For example, data from East Africa show that although the raw milk available from street vendors and traditional markets may contain many health hazards, the actual risks to consumers may be negligible due to the common practice of boiling milk before consuming it.

“Food safety policy should be guided by rigorous research to understand the ways food is produced and consumed in different societies so we can devise strategies that are most likely to reduce the risks, particularly to poor consumers,” said Kristina Roesel, coordinator of the Safe Food, Fair Food project.

“Improving food safety in informal markets will require policies that are guided by an understanding of producer and consumer behaviour, local diets and customs, and interventions that can reduce illness without imperilling food security or increasing poverty,” said Delia Grace, program leader for food safety at ILRI.

Download the book, Food Safety and Informal Markets: Animal Products in Sub-Saharan Africa, edited by Kristina Roesel and Delia Grace.

Delia Grace in ILRI's Guwahati office

Delia Grace, veterinary epidemiologist at the International Livestock Research Institute (photo credit: ILRI/Susan MacMillan).

We are pleased to congratulate Delia Grace on being announced as the winner of the British Veterinary Association’s (BVA) Trevor Blackburn Award in recognition of her multiple outstanding contributions to animal health, animal welfare and food safety in Africa and Asia.

In particular, she was recognized for her work with community health programs and research into public health and food safety; her pioneering work highlighting the benefits and risks of the engagement of women in livestock farming in developing countries; and the delivery of training and studies in numerous African countries.

The announcement was made today, 25 September 2014, during the awards ceremony at the BVA Members’ Day in Manchester, United Kingdom.

Grace is a veterinary epidemiologist with nearly 20 years’ experience in developing countries. She leads the Food Safety and Zoonoses program at the International Livestock Research Institute (ILRI) and the Agriculture-Associated Diseases theme of the CGIAR Research Program on Agriculture for Nutrition and Health (A4NH).

She has previously worked in various capacities and settings including general practice in Lancashire; voluntary service in rural Bangladesh; exploring the roles of community animal health systems in eastern Africa; undertaking applied research addressing the enormity of trypanosomiasis control in West Africa; advising the World Health Organization and high-level policy engagement at national and regional levels in Africa and Asia.

On learning that she was to receive the Trevor Blackburn Award for 2014, Grace commented:

“I am delighted to receive this award. I have been working since 1995 on animal health problems and their solutions in different countries of Africa and Asia.

“Around one billion poor people depend on livestock for their livelihoods and livestock disease is one of their greatest concerns and constraints. As much as a third of the value of livestock is lost each year from largely preventable diseases.

“British and Irish veterinarians have had a long history of working overseas to improve animal health and I am proud to be part of this tradition.”

Iain Wright, ILRI’s interim deputy director general, also expressed his delight upon hearing the good news.

He said: “Delia is recognized as a global leader in research on food safety and zoonoses in developing countries and is a strong supporter of the ‘One Health’ approach.”

“Having worked with community animal health care workers, she appreciates the realities of delivering animal health care services on the ground and brings this experience to bear in ensuring that her research is practical and relevant.”

The Trevor Blackburn Award recognizes contributions to animal health and welfare in a developing country by BVA members and was set up in memory of Trevor Blackburn who was president of the BVA 1984 to 1985, Commonwealth Veterinary Association 1988 to 1991 and World Veterinary Association 1991 to 1995.

View some of Delia Grace’s research publications here

Aflatoxins are cancer-causing mycotoxins produced by the mould Aspergillus flavus. Aspergillus can grow in a wide range of foods and feed and thrives under favourable conditions of high temperature and moisture content.

Aflatoxin contamination can occur before crops are harvested when temperatures are high, during harvest if wet conditions occur and after harvest if there is insect damage to the stored crop or if moisture levels are high during storage and transportation.

Aflatoxins in contaminated animal feed not only result in reduced animal productivity, but can also end up in milk, meat and eggs, thus presenting a health risk to humans.

The poster below, prepared for the Tropentag 2014  conference, presents an overview of a research project led by the International Livestock Research Institute (ILRI) aimed at measuring and mitigating the risk of aflatoxins in the feed-dairy chain in Kenya.


Aflatoxins: serious threat to food safety and food security, but is it related to livestock?

This week, ILRI staff are participating in the Tropentag 2014 International Conference in Prague (17-19 September 2014). There is also a dedicated ILRI@40 side event on livestock-based options for sustainable food and nutritional security and healthy lives.  See all the posters.

Aflatoxin-contaminated groundnut kernels

Aflatoxin-contaminated groundnut kernels from Mozambique. The Partnership for Aflatoxin Control in Africa has identified five priority strategic areas for action towards control of aflatoxins in Africa (photo credit: IITA).

Regional and international experts in agriculture, health, research and trade have drawn up a plan of action for the control of aflatoxins in Africa, following a strategy development workshop organized by the Partnership for Aflatoxin Control in Africa held on 10-12 April 2013 in Dar es Salaam, Tanzania.

“Control of aflatoxins is needed to achieve greater agricultural development, food security and improve health, particularly in Africa where contamination is widespread and often acute,” said Yemi Akinbamijo, head of the Agriculture and Food Security Division of the African Union Commission.

The workshop participants identified five priority strategic thematic areas for action:

  • Research and technology for control of aflatoxins
  • Legislation, policies and standards in the management of aflatoxin in Africa
  • Growing commerce and trade while protecting lives from aflatoxins
  • Enhancing capacity building on aflatoxin management, control and regulatory processes to ensure reduced exposure
  • Public awareness, advocacy and communication

Aflatoxins are highly toxic metabolites produced by the mould Aspergillus flavus and known to cause suppression of the immune system, liver disease and death in both humans and animals.

Aspergillus can grow in a wide range of foods and feed and thrive under favourable growth conditions of high temperature and moisture content.

The Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) estimates that 25% of the world’s food crops are affected by aflatoxins, with countries in the tropics and subtropics at most risk.

Aflatoxin contamination can occur before crops are harvested when temperatures are high, during harvest if wet conditions occur and after harvest if there is insect damage to the stored crop or if moisture levels are high during storage and transportation.

In Africa, aflatoxin contamination of cereals, groundnuts and dried fruits leads to an estimated annual loss to food exporters of 670 million US dollars.

Among the over 110 experts who attended the strategy development workshop were three scientists from the International Livestock Research Institute (ILRI) involved in food safety research as part of the agriculture-associated diseases component of the CGIAR Research Program in Agriculture for Nutrition and Health (A4NH).

Benoit Gnonlonfin and Jagger Harvey of the ILRI-Biosciences eastern and central Africa hub are involved in a collaborative project, Capacity and Action for Aflatoxin Reduction in Africa, aimed at establishing a regional mycotoxin analytical platform with state-of-the-art diagnostic technology that will enable better detection and control of aflatoxin contamination in maize in Kenya and Tanzania.

Delia Grace is a veterinary epidemiologist and food safety expert and leads of ILRI’s Food Safety and Zoonoses Program as well as the agriculture-associated diseases component of A4NH.

Grace is involved in the project Measuring and mitigating the risk of mycotoxins for poor milk and maize producers and consumers in Kenya (MyDairy), which aims at improving food safety through reducing the risk of mycotoxins within the feed-dairy chain in Kenya.

The key aspects of the MyDairy project are:

  • integrated risk and economic assessment of the Kenyan feed-dairy chain;
  • investigation of technologies and strategies to reduce mycotoxins risk in the feed-dairy chain; and
  • impact assessment of a package of post-harvest strategies for reducing aflatoxins in maize.

Erastus Kang’ethe, a meat and milk expert at the University of Nairobi, who also attended the workshop, is one of the partners in the MyDairy project.

Access the workshop documents and presentations

Typical mixed crop-livestock farming in western Kenya

Typical mixed crop-livestock farming in western Kenya. Mixed crop-livestock farming systems currently produce most of the world’s meat, milk and staple crops (photo credit: ILRI/Pye-Smith).

The January 2013 issue of Animal Frontiers, the world’s premier review magazine in animal agriculture, features a series of articles on the contribution of animal agriculture to global food security.

The International Livestock Research Institute (ILRI) has contributed to this series with a position paper that highlights the direct and indirect effects of livestock on food and nutrition security. The paper also considers the future prospects of mixed crop-livestock farming systems that produce most of the world’s milk, meat and staple crops.

The paper by ILRI director general Jimmy Smith and colleagues begins with a brief overview of the global challenge of food and nutrition security and the net impact of livestock on global food supply. This is followed by a review of the direct contributions of livestock to nutrition security and the indirect effects of livestock on food security.

Food security is said to exist when “all people at all times have access to sufficient, safe, nutritious food to maintain a healthy and active life”. In development discourse, the term ‘food security’ is often used to emphasize the aspect of food quantity while ‘nutrition security’ captures the quality dimension.

The position paper offers a balanced analysis by exploring both the beneficial impacts (e.g. improved nutrition and health, income from the sale of animals or produce, draught power and provision of manure) and the harmful ones (e.g. zoonotic diseases, health risks from over-consumption of animal-source foods and production of greenhouse gases).

“Livestock contribute to food supply by converting low-value materials, inedible or unpalatable for people, into milk, meat, and eggs; livestock also decrease food supply by competing with people for food, especially grains fed to pigs and poultry. Currently, livestock supply 13% of energy to the world’s diet but consume one-half the world’s production of grains to do so.

However, livestock directly contribute to nutrition security. Milk, meat and eggs, the “animal-source foods,” though expensive sources of energy, are one of the best sources of high quality protein and micronutrients that are essential for normal development and good health. But poor people tend to sell rather than consume the animal-source foods that they produce.

The contribution of livestock to food, distinguished from nutrition security among the poor, is mostly indirect: sales of animals or produce, demand for which is rapidly growing, can provide cash for the purchase of staple foods, and provision of manure, draft power, and income for purchase of farm inputs can boost sustainable crop production in mixed crop-livestock systems.

Livestock have the potential to be transformative: by enhancing food and nutrition security, and providing income to pay for education and other needs, livestock can enable poor children to develop into healthy, well-educated, productive adults. The challenge is how to manage complex trade-offs to enable livestock’s positive impacts to be realized while minimizing and mitigating negative ones, including threats to the health of people and the environment.”

On the future role of mixed crop-livestock farming systems, the authors note that it is important to look into issues related to production efficiency as well as market engagement in defining how these systems are to evolve in order to remain competitive, equitable and environmentally stable while continuing to contribute to human nutrition and health.

The paper concludes:

“Many poor livestock keepers report that a key motivation for keeping livestock is to earn income so their children can attend school and, perhaps, go on to benefit from further education. By providing essential nutrients, especially in the first critical 1,000 days from conception, animal-source foods can help ensure normal physical and cognitive development.

The combined impacts of meeting nutritional needs and providing income make livestock a powerful force for the poor. Well-nourished and well-educated youngsters can grow up to be healthy young adults who are able to realize their full potential and earn higher incomes, in the process enhancing the well-being of their families, communities, and society. The impact of this on food and nutrition security at household, national, and global levels cannot be overstated and demands innovative research, development, and policy approaches.”

Read the full article here

Citation: Smith J, Sones K, Grace D, MacMillan S, Tarawali S and Herrero M. 2013. Beyond milk, meat, and eggs: Role of livestock in food and nutrition security. Animal Frontiers 3(1): 6-13.

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