African countries must improve livestock data

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Courtesy of SciDev.Net

Africa still suffers from a lack of good quality data on livestock that could be used to measure and improve progress as well as inform policymaking processes, scientists have said.

Good data are crucial for identifying effective public and private sector investment opportunities, and in helpling to improve the livelihoods of smallholder livestock producers in Africa, according to 'Livestock Data Innovation in Africa' initiative.

The initiative is jointly run by UN Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO), the International Livestock Research Institute, the African Union (AU) and the World Bank with the support from Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation.

At a media briefing on the progress of the initiative, earlier this month (3 May), Ibrahim Gashash Ahmed, manager at the AU's Interafrican Bureau for Animal Resources, told the media there is a large amount of data on livestock but the quality is still poor in Africa.

For instance, the last livestock census done in Uganda was in 2008, he said.

'We are striving to improve data information on livestock in Africa so as to exploit the continent's potential in livestock for improved exportation of livestock products,' said Ahmed.

And according to Ugo Pica-Ciamarra, an FAO livestock economist, improving the quantity and quality of livestock data for decision-makers, better policies and investments, will not only ensure livestock sector development and bring benefits to many livestock keepers in Sub-Saharan Africa, but also make the sector economically and environmentally sustainable.

Pica-Ciamarra says their initiative, which ends at the end of 2013, has two main spheres of activity: data collection, analysis, use and distribution; and sector advocacy, communication and database development.

'Data doesn't only measure progress but also improves it,' he tells SciDev.Net.

Kiama Stephen Gitahi, a professor of animal production at the University of Nairobi, agrees there is a lack of relevant data necessary for policy development and strategies to improve livestock production and to harness potential.

But he notes that the nomadic lifestyles of livestock keepers poses great challenges to initiatives like this, as researchers may not be able to reach many of them.

'This provides a challenge, as the animals keep moving and most communities are normally not willing to provide the correct number of their animals,' he says.

The project is being piloted in Tanzania, Uganda and Niger. It was launched in January 2010 and the pilot stage is due to end in December 2013, but will be extended to the rest of sub-Saharan Africa up to 2020.

Link to project brief

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