Member Spotlight

Making livestock data come “aLIVE” in Ethiopia

Z. Sewunet (ILRI)

The Ethiopian government has an ambitious project to consolidate livestock data for better decision-making

“There is a sense of urgency to mobilise critical stakeholders to unleash the potential of the Ethiopian livestock sector and improve the productivity and wellbeing of the Ethiopian people.”

These words from the former Ethiopian Minister of Agriculture, H.E. Oumer Hussein Oba, paint a clear picture. The agriculture sector is critical to the country’s economic well-being, with livestock, in particular, a core component of the government’s plans to boost food security and decrease its reliance on agricultural imports from elsewhere.

With 70 million cattle, 42 million sheep, 52 million goats, 8 million camels, and 56 million chickens, Ethiopia has the largest livestock population across the African continent. In fact, its agricultural sector accounts for 40% of the country’s gross domestic product and employs 75% of the country’s workforce. Over 80% of Ethiopia’s population relies on the agriculture sector for income, employment, nutrition, and livelihoods. 

Fragmented data

And yet, despite its richness in livestock and over half the population working in the agriculture sector, productivity across the country remains low. One of the primary reasons for this is that fragmented data and systems are hindering Ethiopia’s ability to unlock its potential to boost agricultural productivity levels to where they could be.

The combination of poor-quality data, disconnected systems, and limited analytical capacity is impeding the government’s ability to “plan, implement, and monitor livestock growth strategies,” according to H.E. Oba.

Until recently, livestock data in Ethiopia has varied in terms of quality, availability, and analytical input. This is largely due to limited capacity and resources. It can also be incomplete due to variations of sources being used, such as how the data is being collected, stored, and coded. For example, datasets on vaccination levels in cattle in a particular region can exist across more than one system, resulting in miscommunications and difficulties around coordination.

Take, for example, a policymaker who is looking for specific data on cattle vaccinations, only to find different data systems using a myriad of coding systems for livestock identification. Or elsewhere, an investor or donor is forced to make critical decisions on animal health investments based on limited information.

Against this backdrop, a holistic, integrated approach was needed so information could flow more smoothly between stakeholders, and so that governments, policymakers, and development partners can more easily set priorities when it comes to designing programmes, implementing policies, or determining investments.

Such an “umbrella system” could ensure that relevant data – currently spread across several separate databases – could be available in one place. That’s where the “A Livestock Information Vision Ethiopia” (aLIVE) programme has come in.

Empowering Ethiopia’s stakeholders

Set up in 2017 with support from the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation, the first phase of the aLIVE programme involved conducting a landscape analysis of the data ecosystem in Ethiopia, together with the Ministry of Agriculture, the Livestock Investment Corporation (LIC), and International Center for Tropical Agriculture (CIAT). The next – and current – phase, led by Development Gateway: An IREX Venture, is all about equipping the Ethiopian Ministry of Agriculture to effectively use livestock data in its planning, policy making, and resource allocation.

Beyond seeking to empower Ethiopia’s stakeholders in the livestock sector to make data-informed decisions to increase productivity, aLIVE is helping to streamline supply chains and improve smallholder farmers’ access to information, markets, and resources. Essentially, the programme is making it as easy as possible for decision makers to understand where priorities need to be placed to avoid duplicating or missing investments.

Bridging the gap

So, how does aLIVE actually work? It looks at the livestock ecosystem through multiple workstreams. These include data standardisation, capacity building, and developing policy frameworks at the programme, ministry, and government levels.

It bridges the gap between building behavioural change around data use among stakeholders and implementing technical rigour in the development of robust datasets. It does so in three ways. First, it aggregates livestock data that comes from multiple sources. Second, it makes data is easy to understand through data visualisations, and third, its platform is set up such that the data can be kept up to date.

What’s next?

Through the programme, the aLIVE team aspires to create a space for all stakeholders across the sector – from farmers to ministers – to communicate and engage with each other around livestock data and, in particular, the value of using data to make informed decisions.

In addition, given its close affiliation with the Ethiopian Ministry of Agriculture, the team also hopes to address challenges around resource and availability and is helping the Ministry to develop a resource mobilisation strategy to support the country long-term in its journey to transform its livestock data ecosystem.

“Supporting the development of a resource mobilisation strategy for the Ministry of Agriculture ... is a big part of what we think is ultimately going to make this work,” notes Beverley Hatcher-Mbu, Development Gateway Deputy Director of Programs and member of the aLIVE team. “It can't be successful if it's not sustained.”

The aLIVE team is hopeful that the programme can contribute to enhancing the livelihoods and incomes of livestock producers in Ethiopia as well boosting food security for all.

Beyond this, the team would like to connect, collaborate, and share knowledge with other LD4D members who might be working with similar data ecosystems. They hope to achieve their vision of the programme acting as a blueprint for improving other national low- and middle-income country databases, eventually including systems beyond the livestock sector. “We would love to hear from you,” says Beverly. “We would love to understand what you're doing and how we can build on it.”

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