Structure of the ISTVS Reference Centre
The IGAD Sheikh Technical Veterinary School and Reference Centre (ISTVS-RC) mandate is to undertake training, research and knowledge management in collaboration with other tertiary and research institutions in the region in order to facilitate the sustainable use of resources in the arid and semi-arid lands of IGAD countries. Its vision is to be the premier regional institution and centre of excellence in human capacity building in order to promote and manage drylands and livestock development in arid and semi-arid lands. The schools’ mandate and vision are being realised by supporting the provision of technical and professional personnel and facilitating IGAD regional networking to strengthen resilience and upgrade pastoral and agro-pastoral communities’ livelihoods. The contribution of ISTVS to the human resources development in the Somali ecosystem has seen Somalia emerge as the world leading exporter of live animals ahead of dominant players like Sudan, Australia and Syria.
The research wing of the school (i.e. the reference centre) aims to be a centre of research for the region. The reference centre collates and stores an invaluable anthology of information, supports the training programmes of the school and plays a vital role of managing and disseminating ISTVS knowledge generated from its projects and programmes. This knowledge resource is designed to meet the information needs of individuals and organizations working in the livestock sector including researchers, policy makers, managers and local communities. The centre was set up with the following objectives:
- To establish a repository system of knowledge retrieving relevant documentation on different aspects of Somali pastoral society destroyed or lost due to the civil war.
- To develop/ carry out/ promote an applied research system addressing major challenges for pastoral communities.
- To undertake research that can support quality control and standard setting services in the livestock industry.
- To provide a forum for discussion to relevant stakeholders involved in pastoral development within the Greater Horn of Africa.
- To develop and implement tailored training packages for continuous professional development and distance learning.
Currently, only a few of the above objectives are being addressed. They include: (i) the on-going process of restocking the library as a way of contributing to the preservation of knowledge; and, (ii) implementation of new research to generate new knowledge on regional livestock production, ecology, socioeconomics and marketing.
This strategy is developed as a blue print to broadening the scope of the reference centre in light of its expanded mandate that includes training in dryland agriculture, economics, extension and natural resource management. The strategy aims to:
- offer guidance on how to reorganize the reference centre into different research programs/themes, stating the objectives and functions of each theme, and how they will relate to one another;
- provide suggestions on any additional research augmenting offices and/or committees that will be required to be constituted to enable the research programs achieve the intended goals;
- provide advice on how some of the concept notes developed by the tutors/researchers will fit into the proposed themes, and where not, offer guidance on how they can be reviewed to make use of the available research grant; and,
- provide initial suggestions on how staff currently employed at the school can be assigned to different themes as part of their career growth.
PROPOSED RESEARCH PROGRAMS
The Intergovernmental Authority on Development was established in 1996. It succeeded the earlier Intergovernmental Authority on Drought and Development (IGADD), a multinational body founded in 1986 by Djibouti, Ethiopia, Somalia, Sudan, Uganda and Kenya, with a focus on development and environmental control. IGADD’s headquarters were later moved to Djibouti, following an agreement signed in January 1986 by the member states. In April 1995, the Assembly of Heads of State and Government met in Addis Ababa, where they agreed to strengthen cooperation through the organization. This was followed with the signing of a Letter of Instrument to Amend the IGADD Charter / Agreement on 21 March 1996. The revitalised IGAD, a new organizational structure, was eventually launched on 25 November 1996 in Djibouti. It covers an area of about 5.2 million square kilometres and a population of about 227 million people in 2012.
According to the Horn Economic and Social Policy Institute (HESPI – http://www.hespi.org/) report of 2012, the region has been associated with famine, inter-state and intra-state conflicts, drought and chronic poverty for a long period of time. But the gloomy picture of the region is changing following its recent economic growth performance. In 2000-11 the IGAD sub-region as a whole has shown remarkable economic growth and resilience to shocks (like drought and commodity price fluctuations). The average annual real GDP growth of IGAD was at 5.9 percent compared to an average annual growth rate of Sub-Saharan Africa countries of 4.7 percent in the same time period. In 2002-04 and 2011, Sub-Saharan Africa recorded higher annual growth than IGAD sub-region.
The ISTVS-RC was however intended to serve the largely desert, arid and semi-arid lands on the eastern side of the region, comprising of the Horn of Africa (Figure 1). The Horn of Africa is one of the poorest regions in the world, with high population growth rates and chronic food security problems. The rural poor depend heavily on income from livestock production and to a limited extend on small scale dryland crop farming. However, most households can seldom afford to eat animal products; they must trade them for staples with lower costs per calorie, signifying the key role of markets. This is reflected by the fact that even though all IGAD countries have large live stock herds and high numbers of ruminants per capita, average annual per capita consumption of animal products is extremely low even by developing country standards.
Furthermore, even though the poor depend most heavily on livestock income, marketing is done, not where trade is easy and cheap (like in densely populated areas or near urban centres), but in sparsely populated drylands where trade involves high transaction costs. Besides, growth in livestock production has barely kept pace with the growth in demand for food of animal origin (and of plant origin), and per capita production is either declining or only marginally increasing due a myriad of factors. These include degradation of the natural recourse base, weather variability and poor policies, all which lead to low productivity levels.
Research undertaken at ISTVS will need to redress these constraints taking cognisance of the circumstances local communities face. These rural communities are unable to escape from the impact of two fundamental features of their production ecosystem. First, the ecosystem is dry, and, secondly its rainfall is unreliable. Leaving aside the arid zone where rainfed farming is impossible, the semi-arid zone receives from 250 to 700 mm of rainfall each year, and may have one or sometimes two short rainy seasons which provide a length of growing season of between 75-179 days. This implies there is little or no rain for about five months. This leads to situations where domestic animals lose weight and have to be watered from wells, consuming much of the farm labour. Rainfed farming is episodic, with periods of intense and exhausting work separated by periods of relative inactivity.
Rural communities survive in these environments because of their well tested and grounded local technical knowledge about natural resource management. The producers know many aspects of the local environment and draw on a range of indigenous technological and management options that are known in the community. Before any attempt is made to manipulate this production environment, ISTVS and its partners will need to inventorise and appraise existing options as well as the indigenous knowledge that is currently applied.
To effectively address the constraints of the communities, ISTVS will most likely use the adaptive research model. Adaptive research is defined by UN Food and Agricultural Organisation (FAO) as “the use of research in enhancing productivity or solving problems.” The research approach will be participatory and on-farm and not carried out solely on research station. In general, participatory research and development involves rural people in the design, execution and application of trials or experiments. Such methods will be better at accommodating the realities of the natural resource system. Simplistically, the science will need to be brought into the system, rather than the system into the science. Indeed this will pose a challenge for the scientist, who will be required to learn to begin with the end-user and apply his knowledge to his/her system, rather than working towards a scientific transformation of the system along externally determined lines. It must be pointed out that while this challenge is increasingly recognised, it is complex to meet.
The proposed ISTVS-RC research programs are designed to redress some of these constraints and challenges. These programs include:
a) Research theme 1: Animal science for sustainable productivity
Animal Science for Sustainable Productivity (ASSP-Program) will aim to increase the productivity of livestock systems in IGAD pastoral and agro-pastoral systems through high-quality animal science (breeding, nutrition and animal health) and livestock systems research. The program will also aim to develop appropriate animal breeding strategies that are suitable for livestock keepers and identify and control diseases that impair animal health. It will also tests how new approaches to increasing animal productivity can be implemented in different livestock and farming systems.
The program will be created to bring together ISTVS-RC researchers working on animal feeding, animal breeding, animal health and livestock systems. This integration will allow a more unified approach to bringing applied animal sciences to bear on the challenge of sustainably increasing livestock productivity. Within the context of livestock systems, it is rarely possible to isolate the different aspects of animal science. For example, introduction of more productive genotypes usually requires better feeding and animal health care. On the other hand improvement in feed availability opens up opportunities for smallholders to keep more productive breeds.
b) Research theme 2: Plant science for sustainable productivity in marginal areas
The semi-arid dryland areas in the IGAD region are usually seen as resource-poor and perennially beset by shocks such as drought, trapping farming communities in poverty and hunger and dependent on external aid. The plant science for sustainable productivity (PSSP) program will identify scientific innovations in biotechnology and genetic improvement, natural resource management (soil and water), and plant health in order to increase crop productivity and incomes of farmers, while improving the resilience of their lands and livelihoods. The program will also aim to increase the supply and quality of animal feed from forage and crop residues.
c) Research theme 3: Farming/livestock systems and environment
Livestock and crops are produced in well defined farming/livestock system typologies that are dictated by climate, production goals and culture. A system can be described as unit consisting of human groups (usually a households) and the resources they manage in their environment, involving the direct production of plant and/or animal products. It is important to note that the some elements of the production environment (or context) are not static, buy dynamic. For example, climate variability and climate change does influence production decisions of households and output realized. Towards this end, the ISTVS farming systems and environment program (F/LSE-P) will seek to:
- provide accurate and relevant information about the impact of livestock/crop on the environment;
- place this impact in a context that gives adequate recognition to the important benefits of livestock/crop; and,
- mitigate the impact of current and future environmental change on livestock/crop production systems.
It is envisaged that this will support the uptake of strategies for the sustainable intensification of livestock and crop production by producers, policy and other decision makers, across semi-arid areas of the Horn of Africa. It must be recognized that these strategies ought to be viable in the face of future changes and that trade-offs amongst development objectives are inevitable. It is arguable thus, that these trade-offs can be more strategically resolved with scientific evidence. F/LSE’s research will therefore take an integrated systems approach to analysing the interactions among livestock/crop systems and the environment at a range of scales, from global to local. A cornerstone of the program’s research will be the combination of quantitative and modelling approaches with qualitative approaches, spanning the biophysical and social sciences.
d) Research theme 4: Policy, trade and value chains
The economic environment influences the production process in a way similar to the physical environment. The focus of the policy, trade and value chains program (PTV-P) will be to understand how public policies on the one hand, and institutions and organizations created by market stakeholders on the other hand, impact on the performance of domestic and international value chains for livestock and crops and their products. By bringing about change in policies and institutions, the program will help to improve the way markets function and enhance peoples’ capacities to reach better lives through livestock and crop production.
e) Research theme 5: Livelihoods, gender and impact
Just like the F/LE-P, the Livelihoods, Gender and Impact Program (LGI-P) will be another integrated science program. The program objective will be to provide high quality, relevant research that is able to guide research and development initiatives aimed at improving the livelihoods of women and men operating in livestock and crop value chains. Working with other programs, LGI-P will work toward identifying promising technological, organizational and institutional innovations; assessing their likely impact on women and men; building strong partnerships with other research institutes, the private sector and government agencies (including line ministries and local government authorities), and to test interventions in order to assess their impact and potential for scaling.
One area of research to be pursued under the program will be to evaluate producers’ capacities, assets and activities so as to increase their competitiveness through increased integration in value chains. The second area of research will look at relations between women and men as social construct, and how these could be transformed for improved livelihoods. The third research area will be Monitoring, Evaluation and Learning, which will focus on the development of outcome and impact systems and analysis. The primary objective of MEL will be to measure the results of ISTVS-RC research interventions and demonstrate their development impact; and in addition, to facilitate learning among the stakeholders throughout the research programs’ phases.
The last area to covered by the program will focus mainly on food safety and zoonoses in the livestock value chains. It is important to note that in the GHA, diseases associated with livestock have important human health impacts. Food that nourishes can also sicken and kill. This program will focus on assessing and managing the health risks associated with food safety, zoonotic diseases (transmissible between people and animals) emerging diseases, and diseases associated with livestock intensification. A major focus of the research will be approaches to food safety and disease control that can work in informal markets and marginal areas. This program will combine risk analysis, epidemiology, socio-economics and gender analysis to identify, test and adapt appropriate options for food safety assurance and control of zoonotic diseases within the context of developing countries.
These research themes are proposed with the knowledge that they are intended to contribute to realization of the IGAD mission that seeks to assist and complement the effort of member states to achieve through increased cooperation, among other outcomes, food security and environmental protection. Besides, the themes will contribute to operationalisation of the agricultural development and food security program which has three components, viz. boosting agricultural production in livestock, fish and crops; improving the efficiency of agricultural and food marketing; and, strengthening the food security safety net. Last but not least, livestock research envisaged under these themes will contribute to the IGAD Livestock Policy Initiative (IGAD LPI) that envisages to enhance the contribution of the livestock sector to sustainable food security and poverty reduction in IGAD region. Towards this end, ISTVS-RC will work closely with other research and training organisations found in IGAD member states. It should however be emphasised that at local level, the research undertaken at ISTVS-RC will conform to the priorities and strategies outlined in the Somaliland National Development Plan for crops and livestock.
The relationship between the five proposed research programs is schematized in Figure 2.
RESEARCH SUPPORT UNIT
A research support unit (RSU) will be formed to provide support to research themes. The RSU will provide services to researchers covering all aspects of the research cycle including design of surveys, experiments and research activities related to impact assessment and monitoring and evaluation, research computing including data management, statistical and geographical information systems (GIS) analysis. At the onset, it is envisaged that the unit will comprise of three persons comprising of head of unit and two assistants. One of the assistants will specialise in study design including design of survey tools, data base design and data analysis. The other will work on GIS analysis.
Figure 2: Relationship between the proposed research programs
ISTVS-RC will be committed to promotion of the highest standards for research by ensuring both ethical and legal obligations are met. This will be accomplished through consultation and educational programs for all researchers. This will be supported by constitution of several committees to facilitate the research process.
The Scientific Review Committee (SRC) will be formed to facilitate ISTVS-RC research compliance by providing guidance on technical content and scientific soundness of the research projects. The SRC will also to provide oversight and coordination of research compliance for research projects involving animals and human subjects, as well as those using hazardous agents. Lastly, the SRC will offer supervision to curtail incidences of research misconduct, i.e. ensuring ethical requirements such as those guaranteeing anonymity of respondents and confidentiality in social science studies. Some of the specific tasks of the SRC will be to review project proposals prior for submission for funding as well as review technical and journal article before submission for publication. The SRC will comprise of the head of the reference centre as the chair, and theme leaders as members. One of the theme leaders will act as secretary to the committee.
In line with international requirements that requires the establishment of specific research committees to ensure the safety and welfare of research subjects, those conducting research, and others who work or study within the research environment, the following committees will also be established to oversee these particular research areas:
- The Institutional Animal Care and Use Committee (IACUC), animal subjects.
- Institutional Research Ethics Committee (IREC), human subjects.
- Institutional Biosafety Committee (IBC), biohazards and hazardous chemicals.
The IACUC will be set up by the Principal and will review proposals that use animal subjects to ensure that the implementation protocol adheres to conditions set under the IACUS regarding the ethical and sensitive care and use of animals in research, teaching and testing.
IREC will be set up by the Principal and will review proposals using human subjects with the goal of ensuring that they meet both local and international regulations for protection of human subjects in research. Its purpose will be to protect the rights and welfare of human subjects recruited to participate in research activates conducted under the auspices of ISTVS-RC. Research involving human subjects includes the collection of data about or from human subjects (including surveys) and the use of existing data (including specimens). Any change to a project after the IREC approval will need to be re-submitted for review and approval before implementing. Continuing review will also be required at regular intervals for certain protocols. It is important to point out that IREC will develop its operational guidelines once constituted.
Laboratory research may involve the use of a wide range of substances, which can be considered hazardous to laboratory personnel, animals, plants or the environment. Such hazards include biohazardous materials, chemicals, and radioactive substances; use of such hazardous materials in the laboratory is regulated by oversight committees, i.e., the IBC. For purposes of the IBC, biohazards will be defined as potentially infectious agents, organisms or materials, biological toxins, organisms containing recombinant DNA and other genetically altered organisms and agents. Using these materials in laboratory settings will require the prior review and approval of the IBC as well as the IACUC.
Failure to obtain the required approvals prior to the initiation of research activities or procurement of animals, and failure to conduct research activities in accordance with the approved protocol will jeopardize the ability to conduct research and receive funding.
These committees will be constituted with the understanding that research compliance will promote a culture of compliance, research integrity, and high quality research This is accomplished through consultation and educational programs for all researchers.
THE ORGANOGRAM OF THE REFERENCE CENTRE
The Reference Centre Organogram will appear thus: