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Partnerships: the effective harnessing of research for the advancement of animal agriculture in developing countries

by John Walsh


The paper summarises how an international research centre may hope to be effective by forging partnership arrangements with national research systems and with research institutions in industrialised countries. A major requirement for an effective partnership is that it is an integral part of the coordinating centre's operational strategies, with the potential partners being closely involved in the development of the strategies. Also, the stakeholders in the partnership should be systematically consulted to check that the strategic choices made during programme formulation continue to be appropriate with regard to the changing priorities and values of the partners.

The focus in the second part of the paper is on the collaborative research networks with which ILCA is associated; networks being the major means by which the Centre forges relationships between and with national programmes in livestock research in sub-Saharan Africa. The functions fulfilled by the networks are highlighted. The experience gained by ILCA in allying itself with national agricultural research systems and international partners in two areas of research - trypanosomiasis control and Vertisols management - is outlined to demonstrate the mode of operation of some networks. In the final section of the paper, the institutional support services required to service the operation of research partnerships are described.


The International Livestock Centre for Africa (ILCA) has, since 1974, been striving to address the problems of how can livestock production in a continent the size of Africa be effectively improved on a limited budget, and how can relevant science from all over the world be effectively brought together to assist in improving livestock production in sub-Saharan Africa.

The chosen strategy of the Centre has been to sharply focus its work and to form partnerships with national and international institutions in collaborative research, training and information exchange. The various mechanisms for collaboration include inter-institutional collaboration, informal consultations, information exchange, joint planning and programming, and full collaboration in research, training and institution building. At ILCA, the focus has been mainly on developing collaborative research networking mechanisms with National Agricultural Research Systems (NARS) in sub-Saharan Africa.


The partnership concept has been part of ILCA's operational modes right from its establishment, but it took a very definite meaning during the formulation of the Centre's focused strategy in 1987, when it became apparent that the institution which is ILCA might be best defined, among other things, by the number and extent of partnerships it can delineate to acquire the ‘critical mass’ necessary to achieve its operational goals.

Collaborating institutions may have distinct and sometimes separate roles to play in the aggregate partnership, but working together towards similar goals minimises institutional boundaries within the partnership. Similarly, there is a need to minimise the demarcation of boundaries in scientific competence or aspirations. Arbitrary decisions about who should do, for instance, basic or fundamental as opposed to adaptive or applied research serve little purpose. Indeed, it is difficult to envisage a sustainable partnership in which one of the partners is confined to a limited, or even limiting, role. In practice, the best partnerships are those where each partner does what he can best accomplish; in other words, what is his area of ‘comparative advantage’.

Partnerships may serve administrative and/or financing needs, but, in research, the primary reason for entering into partnership arrangements is the need to address complex technical problems in widely differing production conditions and with sufficient critical mass.

This is particularly true in sub-Saharan Africa, where livestock are kept in hundreds of micro-environments characterised by different ecological, social, economic and technical conditions, which no single research institute could hope to address adequately on its own. Besides, progress in livestock development is unlikely to come from the isolated interventions made by a single research centre. Rather, what is needed to create impact in a region as ecologically and genetically diverse as sub-Saharan Africa is a harmonised, step-wise effort by many institutions and disciplines pursuing comparable objectives.


The research centres supported by the Consultative Group on International Agricultural Research (CGIAR) have been strongly influenced by the requirements for programme efficiency, transparency and ‘impact’. They have, therefore, closely examined the resources (financial, human and operational) they need to perform effectively those functions which are essential for them to achieve their objectives.

A research centre such as ILCA which has an annual operational budget of about 20 million, has insufficient critical mass to influence meaningfully livestock development throughout sub-Saharan Africa. However, if these resources are augmented by, or can influence, the additional livestock research expenditures by African governments and donors, then its size automatically grows beyond the sphere of impact directly influenced by its own limited resources.

ILCA realised during the strategy formulation in 1987 that if its programmes are to be viable, if it is to achieve impact, then it must extend its programmes into sub-Saharan Africa and try to harness the knowledge, skills and facilities which are there and ready for such an alliance. Thus, the partnership proposition is at the very heart of ILCA's operational strategies.

ILCA's strategic choices were discussed with our potential partners during the selection of our programmes. The validity of the chosen programmes was confirmed at Biennial Meetings between ILCA and African leaders of livestock research, development and training in Addis Ababa. Asked in a 1989 survey how ILCA's priorities relate to those of NARS, 95% of the 34 participants said that “ILCA's programme choices were adequate” in relation to the priorities identified by their own research institutions and nations.


The best partnerships are motivated by common goals, clarity of objectives, mutual constraints, similar priorities, and by a clear understanding of the partners' distinct roles.

International Agricultural Research Centres

An international research centre may coordinate and foster cooperative linkages between national research systems and with institutions in the developed world. It may backstop research by providing information, training opportunities and other services. It may also assist in ensuring funding stability and provide critical evaluation of scientific quality.

As a promoter of collaborative research, an international research centre may be expected to help mobilise financial support for research. At ILCA, the mechanism found to be suitable is that of ‘in-trust’ funding - the mobilisation of funds on behalf of the collaborating partners. An international research centre should also be able to use available resources to achieve scientific excellence, while at the same time promoting operational transparency and financial accountability.

Overseas Institutions

The roles of international agricultural research centres are reinforced by those of the research institutions overseas with which they collaborate. A partnership between the International Agricultural Research Centres (IARCs) and scientific bodies throughout the world benefits the national research system, by bringing the results of research done in the developed world to bear on the problems of the developing world.

This type of partnership also serves the interests of the donor community. Their concerns for such issues as the environment, gender equality, global warming and intellectual property rights are included in the research programmes of IARCs which may be the only group whose interests are sufficiently international to address such global issues. Moreover, developed-country institutions gain in the scope of their scientific experience by exposure to the diversity (for instance, in genetics) of the developing countries.

National Agricultural Research Systems

Despite difficulties, especially in sustained funding and organisational stability, national agricultural research systems contribute to the partnership in terms of their knowledge of diverse production systems, manpower, research-station facilities, and a considerable and still growing capacity in scientific core skills. Moreover, national programmes are closely associated with two essential components of successful technology transfer - namely, the national educational and agricultural extension systems.


Research Expenditure

In its recent publication on resources available for agricultural research, ISNAR (1989) reported that during the period of 1980-85 a total of 7,263 million (in 1980 dollars) was invested on agricultural research world wide. Compared with the developed countries whose share of ‘real expenditure’ on agricultural research was about US$ 4,721 million (or 65%), sub-Saharan Africa's share amounted to US$ 382 million (or about 5%). However, total expenditure on agricultural research in sub-Saharan Africa increased by more than 300% over the period 1960–64 to 1980–85 (ISNAR, 1989). Expenditure on livestock-related research in the region is estimated to be about US$ 105 million.

Research Manpower

Accurate information on the number of qualified agricultural scientists working in sub-Saharan Africa is difficult to obtain. ISNAR (1990) estimated that in the first half of the 1980s there were 4 888 scientists (4.9% of the world total) working in agricultural research in the continent. Among them, 2374 scientists had postgraduate MSc and PhD degrees.

According to ILCA (1988), there are 6700 graduates working in the livestock subsector of sub-Saharan Africa, with only about 1000 of these working in research. This figure can be compared with the estimated 31,750 ‘professionals’ (mainly technical support) working in the whole of the agricultural sector in 1984.

West Africa has the highest proportion of agricultural scientists (49% of sub-Saharan African total). The second best endowed region in terms of scientific personnel is East Africa (27%), followed by southern (17%) and central Africa (7%). The figures largely reflect the regions' population sizes, but other factors (such as greater emphasis on science in education) may be responsible for the rapid growth (by almost 600%) in the number of agricultural scientists in West Africa between 1960–64 and 1980–85 (ISNAR, 1989).

The numbers of agricultural scientists vary by country. For instance, three countries in sub-Saharan Africa have nine (or less) agricultural researchers, while two countries have more than 300 agricultural researchers. Countries such as Mali, Nigeria, Cameroon, Kenya, Tanzania, Zimbabwe and Senegal, each have more than 35 livestock scientists.

Donors' Involvement

According to World Bank (1986), the focus of national livestock research in sub-Saharan Africa until 1983 appeared to be on veterinary work and animal breeding. However, a 1989 report on Bank lending in sub-Saharan Africa shows that the emphasis is shifting from animal health services and parastatal ranching towards smallholder-oriented activities such as mixed crop - smallstock production, animal traction, smallholder dairying and steer fattening. In the dry areas, management of range resources is the primary concern.

Developmental Agencies

Livestock research in the region has been influenced by the work of the OAU's Inter-African Bureau for Animal Resources (IBAR), the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations (FAO), the United Nations Environmental Programme (UNEP), and such intra-African organisations as CILLS in West Africa, SADCC/SACCAR in southern Africa, IGADD in East Africa and SAFGRAD (OAU). Cooperating with these agencies, national systems have, for instance, been able to mount a transnational campaign to control livestock diseases and make some progress in the classification and conservation of breeds.

The International Livestock Centre for Africa

ILCA can bring to the partnership evolving in livestock research in sub-Saharan Africa about US$ 20 million annually and 65 to 70 international scientists. It has research teams in seven research sites outside its headquarters in Addis Ababa, Ethiopia, and two liaison facilitating offices; one in Bamako, Mali, for West and central Africa, and another in Harare, Zimbabwe, for East and southern Africa.

ILCA's involvement in sub-Saharan Africa dates back to the early part of the 1970s, when it set up its first research site at Debre Zeit in Ethiopia. Today, much of the research relevant to livestock production in the higher altitudes of East Africa is conducted at this site. After 1987, another site was set up in the sub-humid coastal zone of Kenya to complement the work in Debre Zeit. The complex problems presented by West Africa's harsher environmental conditions have been studied at five research sites.

In order to avoid spreading its resources too thinly, ILCA formulated in 1987 a research programme which focused on increasing the output of milk, meat and traction from cattle, sheep and goats. The work was to be done in three commodity thrusts (the Cattle Milk and Meat, Small Ruminants Meat and Milk and Animal Traction thrusts) and three ‘strategic’ thrusts (the Animal Feed Resources, Trypanotolerance and Livestock Policy and Resource Use thrusts).

Research planned under each thrust was subdivided into several themes, one of which is a theme of partnership. Grouping research priorities into thrusts and themes has two advantages: it indicates the dimensions of the task that the Centre hopes to accomplish, and how this might be done. More important, however, such delineation affords transparency and provides a framework for shared prioritisation to both NARS partners and ILCA's own programme implementers.


As indicated, ILCA uses networking to align its research with that of the national or regional institutions working in sub-Saharan Africa. Collaborative research networking is seen as a suitable structure to service the requirements of research partnerships.

Network Characteristics

The common characteristics of viable network operations are that they:

Networking improves the effectiveness of research because problems are studied under different environmental conditions by many disciplines. It also promotes research planning and reviewing. By working together on a research problem of mutual interest, network members can overcome the limitations of national boundaries. Finally, networking helps channel additional resources to national programmes, thereby enhancing their stability.

ILCA-Associated Networks

Most of the networks ILCA sponsored before 1989 were information-sharing rather than research collaboration networks. The exceptions were the African Trypanotolerant Livestock Network, which was established in 1980 and is sponsored jointly by ILCA and the International Laboratory for Research on Animal Diseases (ILRAD), and the African Research Network for Agricultural By-products (ARNAB) which was launched by ILCA in 1981.

By 1989, three new commodity research networks were set up to work on problems related to milk and meat production from cattle and small ruminants, and animal traction.

The Cattle Research Network (CRN) was established in 1989, at two sub-regional workshops. The Network comprises 67 NARS scientists from eight West and central African countries, and 48 NARS scientists from seven countries in East and southern Africa.

The Network's medium-term objectives are to assist NARS in the improvement of research on cattle milk and meat, while in the long run, it aims to assist sub-Saharan African countries to strengthen national cattle research and develop programmes for sustainable milk and meat production at the smallholder level.

The Small Ruminant Research Network (SRRN) was preceded by an information-exchange network serving national scientists from all over Africa. In 1988/89, this very effective information network was extended into collaborative research whose main objectives are to improve the general awareness of the importance of small ruminants as a basic resource for smallholder farmers and agro-pastoralists throughout Africa. The Network comprises NARS scientists from 23 countries, of which 15 have decided to participate in the collaborative research programme planned for 1991.

The West African Animal Traction Network (WAATN) grew out of activities being carried out in West Africa since 1985, in order to promote more efficient and more rapid progress in animal traction research and development.

The Network has 13 member countries of which 11 have committed themselves to the research protocols developed for 1991.

Feed Resources Networks. There are three feed resources networks operating in sub-Saharan Africa - ARNAB, the Pasture Agronomy Network for East and Southern Africa (PANESA) and the West and Central African Forage Network (WECAFNET).

The Pasture Agronomy Network for East and Southern Africa (PANESA) was established in 1987, developing over the next two years into collaborative research with 10 participating countries, but serving as many as 32 countries with information. Its main aims are to strengthen national pasture research capabilities and encourage dissemination and exchange of pasture plant germplasm.

The West and Central African Feed Network (WECAFNET) was established in Avetonou, Togo, in 1989, by West and central African NARS, ILCA, the Institut d'élevage et de médicine vétérinaire des pays tropicaux (IEMVT) of France and the Centro Internacional de Agricultura Tropical (CIAT).

The steering committees of ARNAB, PANESA and WECAFNET met in early 1990 to discuss a possible merger of the three networks into one network called the Animal Feed Resources Network.

The African Livestock Policy Analysis Network (ALPAN), which is basically an information-sharing network, was strengthened in 1989 by the establishment of the Sahelian Pastoral Monitoring Network which provides specialised information on range trends and resources.

Network Organisation

ILCA-associated networks generally have active steering committees which liaise with ILCA and network coordinators in guiding the networks when defining their strategies, policies and research programmes. The committees also play a leading role in information dissemination through network newsletters and in identifying training opportunities for network participants.

The network coordinators are ILCA staff members, funded by ILCA.

The financial Alliance. Funds for network coordination may come from ILCA's core budget or through special donor funding. Coordination support may also include ‘seed’ money to start collaborative research projects which are implemented by NARS. In 1989, ILCA used about US$ 1.5 million of its core funds in support of network activities.

Where network projects require additional funds for costs not included in the national budget, the networks' steering committees or ILCA may seek such funds through ‘in-trust’ arrangements with members of the donor community. This may require rigorous programme prioritisation by the steering committees and network coordinators. After funds have been allocated, careful monitoring of the progress made as a result of the funds obtained is necessary.


In pursuing its goal to contribute to improved livestock production in tsetse-infested Africa through better understanding of the factors affecting the performance of trypanotolerant and susceptible animals, ILCA's Trypanotolerance Thrust does, in conjunction with ILRAD, all its research in collaboration with national scientists participating in the African Trypanotolerant Livestock Network.

In 1990, the Trypanotolerance Thrust has an annual operating budget of US$ 901,000 and two senior scientists based at ILCA's office on ILRAD's campus in Nairobi, Kenya.

The collaborative research within the Network is executed on sites in Gambia, Senegal, Côte d'Ivoire, Gabon, Zaire, Ethiopia and Kenya. The research in The Gambia and Senegal focuses on nutrition, reproduction and milk extraction, and is done by scientists from ILCA, the International Trypanotolerance Centre (ITC) and the Institut Sénégalais de Recherches Agronomiques (ISRA).

At the Boundiali site of the Société de Développement des Productions Animales (SODEPRA) in Côte d'Ivoire, scientists work on interactions between trypanosomiasis and other diseases and on aspects of tsetse control. Genetics and animal breeding are studied at sites in Gabon and Zaire, while in Ethiopia and Kenya, the focus is on the trypanosomiasis control measures required by susceptible livestock.

Thirteen professional staff in NARS were involved in the collaborative research on trypanosomiasis in 1989. The research was reported in 24 papers authored jointly by 30 national and 19 ILCA researchers and 18 scientists from other international research centres or from overseas research institutions. The results published by national scientists associated with the African Trypanotolerant Livestock Network have been widely recognised and acclaimed for both relevance and scientific quality.

The Network maintains close links with the Organization of African Unity's International Scientific Council for Trypanosomiasis Research and Control (OAU - ISCTRC). It uses its biennial meetings as a forum for an exchange of results and ideas, and to reach all those concerned by, or working on, trypanosomiasis in sub-Saharan Africa.


The Vertisol Management Project is cited as an example of direct collaboration between the scientists of many national and international institutions. At ILCA, the work has been part of the Animal Traction Thrust, since the major input of animals in managing Vertisols is draught energy.

In 1990, ILCA contributed US$ 454 000 from its core budget to finance a senior scientist, support personnel, and infrastructural and logistical support for the Project. In addition, about US$ 400,000 were secured as ‘in-trust’ funds to support national collaborators.

Within the Project, a series of integrated research protocols were executed by ILCA scientists and their partners in Ethiopia - the Alemaya and Addis Ababa Universities, the Institute of Agricultural Research (IAR) and the Ministry of Agriculture (MOA).

Major inputs in developing improved implements came from the UK Agricultural and Food Research Council's Institute of Engineering Research (AFRC Engineering) in Silsoe. The two other international institutions collaborating in the Project were the International Crops Research Institute for the Semi-Arid Tropics (ICRISAT) and the International Board for Soil Research and Management (IBSRAM).

The research was conducted in the Ethiopian highlands and included:

In 1987, the Project held an international conference on Vertisols management in sub-Saharan Africa, which was attended by 500 participants from 21 countries. The published proceedings of the conference contained 46 papers by 65 authors of whom half were national scientists. The technologies developed are now increasingly used and thus offer a very considerable potential for quickly increasing food production from the Vertisol soils of the Ethiopian highlands.


The sometimes complex environment of livestock research in sub-Saharan Africa has necessitated the establishment of considerable infrastructure to service partnership arrangements.

Memoranda of Agreement

To date, ILCA has signed memoranda of agreement with 13 African countries: Benin, Botswana, Cameroon, Ethiopia, Guinea, Kenya, Mali, Nigeria, Niger, Senegal, Sudan, Rwanda and Zimbabwe - and others are under preparation.

ILCA's Research Sites

In addition to collaborative research networks, ILCA's headquarters and zonal research sites are the Centre's outreach points for collaborative research.

By 1989, ILCA formed direct collaborative research links with national research institutes in 12 sub-Saharan African countries. They are mainly countries where the Centre has zonal research sites. The strongest links are with Nigeria (15 collaborating institutions), Ethiopia (14 institutions), Zaire (9 institutions) and Kenya (9 institutions).

The collaborative links with sub-Saharan African countries and institutions are strengthened through ILCA's collaborative research with 19 universities based in Australia, Germany, Italy, The Netherlands, Norway, the United Kingdom and the United States. The Centre also works with eight research institutions and development agencies from Australia, France, Finland, Germany and the United Kingdom.

Liaison/Facilitating Offices

ILCA's liaison/facilitating offices in Bamako and Harare service network coordination and maintain good communication links with all the parties involved in collaborative research. Each office is staffed by one senior person whose duties are to help develop the programmes of NARS and help identify national priorities in research.

Other Support Links

Over the years, ILCA has developed a number of services to NARS. Among these are the various library and documentation services, as well as training activities and low-level aerial surveys.

ILCA's Computer Unit staff run courses on data analysis and train national scientists in the use of computers. Attempts have also been made to develop suitable software for data analysis, such as the IDEAS package which has been used successfully by national scientists for several years. National research systems often require assistance in data analysis. Therefore, statistical analyses of national data sets have been carried out in collaboration with national scientists in several sub-Saharan African countries.

Information dissemination. ILCA's documentation centre in Addis Ababa, Ethiopia, supplies a range of information services, either directly or through its libraries in the research sites and facilitating offices.

A popular service is the Specialised Dissemination of Information (SDI) service, which, in 1989, was used by 1015 national scientists from 46 African countries. Another service, the current titles service is provided quarterly to over 100 collaborating libraries in sub-Saharan Africa. Individual searches on specific topics are provided from ILCA's database.

Several other services have been welcome by NARS as effective means of improving the information flow in sub-Saharan Africa. Among these, the retrieval, microfiching and publishing of ‘grey’ literature on livestock development and compilation of ‘quick’ bibliographies have proved useful in that they augmented the stock of reference materials available in the continent and provided indicators of the type of science being done at the national level.

Publishing. A new venture which ties in well with the requirement for improving scientific peer contacts is the new journal of African Livestock Research. To date, over 100 papers have been submitted for publication from national scientists in Zimbabwe, Nigeria, Ghana, Kenya, Zaire, Tanzania and other sub-Saharan African countries.

Sub-Saharan African Database. ILCA's sub-Saharan African database includes national- and institutional-level information collected from reports, surveys, through contacts with trainees and visitors, and by other means. Additionally, the Centre publishes a directory on ‘who-is-who’ in livestock research in sub-Saharan Africa, which currently contains 800 entries.

Training. ILCA's training programmes focus on training national staff how to use modern, standardised research techniques and new technology. In 1989, the Training Section offered 12 group courses, of which five were new. In the same year, 42 scientists completed individual study programmes with ILCA. The Section received a total of 857 applications for group training of which 216 applicants were selected.

In 1990, ILCA had 67 positions for long-term and 32 for short-term individual training. By October 1990, twenty-three of the long-term individual trainees completed their training, 37 trainees were still at ILCA, 4 were expected to join towards the end of the year, and only 3 positions remained unfilled. The situation for the short-term individual training programme was similar, with 13 trainees completing their programme, 15 either still working or expected to arrive at ILCA, and 4 unfilled positions.

Most individual trainees (33) did work related to the Cattle Milk and Meat Thrust and fewest (2) were trained in research done within the Animal Traction Thrust. The Small Ruminant and Feed Resources thrusts were involved in the training of 20 and 17 individual trainees, respectively. In comparison, the Policy and Resource Use Thrust trained six researchers.

During 1990, nine visiting scientists worked at ILCA. Seven of them were seconded from national universities and two from national research institutions. Compared by country of origin, three visiting scientists came from Nigeria, two from Kenya, and one each from Ghana, Sierra Leone, Zimbabwe and Zambia.


At ILCA, we recognise the many restraints to progress in livestock research in sub-Saharan Africa, such as limited finance and infrastructure, fluctuating manpower levels, difficulties in the political environment and others. However, we have been encouraged by the progress made, especially by the ready acceptance by NARS of the collaborative approach adopted to alleviate some of these restraints which affect research. We have also been impressed by the excellent results that can be achieved in NARS, especially if small amounts of carefully targeted funds are provided. This is most probably due to the considerable capital and manpower resources which exist at the national level in many countries.

Partnerships require special care in implementation; transparency, sharing of rewards and recognition, as well as full participation by collaborators in the formulation of strategic and operational policies. A less widely recognised requirement is the need for the coordinating institution to provide considerable and efficient infrastructural, policy, financial and administrative support for the development of the diverse and often complex partnership arrangements which may be formed.

Despite these difficulties, there are many considerable possibilities in the partnership approach to develop livestock production in sub-Saharan Africa. Livestock agriculture interacts with the economic, financial and social aspects of development in many African nations. These interactions are so pervasive as to give the prospect of effecting profound economic progress in Africa for those who can develop sustained improvements in livestock production.


ILCA (International Livestock Centre for Africa). 1988. Sustainable production from livestock in sub-Saharan Africa: ILCA's programme plans and funding requirements, 1989–1993. ILCA, Addis Ababa, Ethiopia. 93 pp.

ISNAR (International Service for National Agricultural Research). 1989. Human resource management in national agricultural research. Report of a Workshop, The Hague, The Netherlands, 7 – 11 November 1988. ISNAR, The Hague, The Netherlands. 270 pp.

Jain H K. 1990. Organization and management of agricultural research in sub-Saharan Africa: Recent experience and future direction. Working Paper No. 33, International Service for National Agricultural Research (ISNAR), The Hague, The Netherlands. 57 pp.

World Bank. 1986. West Africa agricultural research review. World Bank, Washington D.C., USA. 413 pp.

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