Many plants are able to protect themselves from attack (being eaten) in different ways. However, through domestication and/or use of pesticides and other protectors, plants may loose their natural defenses – their resistance and resilience – as these protective traits are no longer needed. Here is an example with maize:
In a similarly way, the most important livestock breeds in central Africa – Central African Goats and Ankole cattle – exhibit unique resistance and resilience to a variety of tropical diseases and harsh climatic conditions. However, when these animals are crossbred with northern hemisphere breeds, which lack these protective traits, the resulting offspring exhibit higher rates of morbidity and mortality.
One major difficulty in training and applied research in Africa is the generally dismal state of available literature regarding these elements. It is, as the following video shows, often a question of Closed Access to most recent findings and resources – and this is why Open Access is so important in Africa and other developing areas:
During my years in Kenya, among other activities I participated in the SR-CRSP in western Kenya – the Small Ruminant Collaborative Research Support Program. While the results of our applied research were readily available locally, means of ongoing dissemination through private or public channels were quite weak. Consequently, results in cross-breeding, husbandry, and health remained primarily in the reports, although regular workshops that included a variety of east African scientists disseminated results further.
Another major issue during the decade of its work (1980’s) involved the difficulty of incorporating social scientific data and environmental context with that of biological science, the unexamined attitude being that the former two were secondary to the latter. That was 20+ years ago, and these problems are no longer as difficult. But as Mike Nolan, Principal Investigator, exclaimed in 1989:
… We have helped raise the consciousness of colleagues outside the social sciences, demonstrating that the social sciences can and should make contributions beyond the roles traditionally assigned to them. Social science research can assist in implementing policies, programs or innovations, and at its best it can provide original data to help define and refine programmatic research objectives.
Further, we have played a major role in insisting that development efforts be contextualized in terms of the people they are meant to serve. We act as reminders to ourselves and to our colleagues that our aim is not to do research for the sake of research, but rather it is to help farm families live better lives…
Source: Nolan et al.-Sociology in the SR-CRSP: research highlights and dilemmas of participation
As mentioned, these issues are no longer so difficult, with researchers becoming more resilient and less resistant to dimensions of research not their own. Hence, here in Burundi we’ve developed multidisciplinary approaches to identify smallholder livestock and cropping issues and related assessments, and some of the results from the SR-CRSP program have been quite useful. One of the training courses that I held recently is briefly discussed below, with pictures.
However, the issue of ‘Closed Access’ to so many scientific findings available on the NET continues to haunt work not just here but in most of the countries in which I’ve worked in Africa and the Middle East. But efforts to make data and related interchange more accessible are in progress. Here is the way one global program that is working in genetic research with goats is currently addressing the issue of breed-environment interface in ways that may achieve global Open Access:
…participants … share data with goat researchers worldwide through a new project called ADAPTmap, a collaborative effort by universities and research laboratories to create a central database for trait and genetic information on goats. This “open data” resource will make it easier for scientific institutions in developing countries and around the world to use the most up to date information for research on the goat genome, in order to accelerate progress on breeding goats for increased climate resilience. Source: Genetic Research Aims to Build Climate Resilience in African Goats
Another recently developed technology that is ‘Open Access’ is the FAMACHA system of managing haemonchosis [a type of internal parasite] in sheep and goats. The system is easily understood by most smallholders and requires very little by way of technical input other than a brief training. Dr. Bath and other colleagues at University of Pretoria, Onderstepoort, South Africa, are the developers and have been most helpful in addressing some of our own difficulties working with small ruminants here in Burundi over the years.
An Open Access article by Dr. Bath et al. explaining the system is available here: The FAMACHA system for managing haemonchosis in sheep and goats by clinically identifying individual animals for treatment. As the authors state:
The main benefits of the system are the reduction in treatments, its use for discriminating between animals of varying ability to cope with infection (thus allowing genetic selection), and its lowering of selection pressure on H. contortus for anthelmintic resistance … With sufficient training, clinical evaluation of anaemia was found reliable for practical use. The overwhelming majority of trainees (some poorly literate) were able to implement the FAMACHA© system successfully.
So in bits and starts, and with a little humor, inroads to better crop and livestock practices are being made in ways that not only rely on sound research that is more easily accessed – but that also incorporates all key actors – including the smallholder – into the venture.
- Burundi Song and Dance at The Hotel Club du Lac and Beyond (dianabuja.wordpress.com)
- Livestock present Africa with huge – ‘right now!’ – opportunities for food, prosperity, environment (ilri.org)