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Scientists take on global livestock threat to reduce poverty and increase food security

15 February 2010

£13M of new research is being launched today to tackle the significant and growing threat posed by livestock diseases to global food security and livelihoods in developing countries. More than 900 million people in the developing world live below the poverty line in rural areas. Just one animal can meet a whole family’s needs, offering individuals a way out of poverty. But deadly and debilitating livestock diseases jeopardise this and lead to an increase in food prices.

The Biotechnology and Biological Sciences Research Council (BBSRC) and the Department for International Development (DFID), with a contribution from the Scottish Government, have joined forces to fund 16 new projects that bring together world-class UK researchers with institutions in the developing world. The projects aim to find sustainable solutions to the animal disease threat to improve food security and help to build scientific capacity in the developing world to meet future challenges. Each project has a UK and an international partner, bringing together scientists in 15 UK institutions with researchers in countries including India, Ethiopia and Kenya.

As animal diseases do not respect international frontiers the research announced today will also have significant benefits for UK farmers and consumers. Livestock diseases such as foot and mouth disease, bluetongue, African swine fever and peste des petits ruminants virus are a global concern. Over the past 15 years livestock diseases are estimated to have cost the UK economy over £15 billion.

Commenting on the new initiative, Development Minister Mike Foster said: "Smallholders from developing countries face a daily struggle. Healthy animals can mean the difference between feeding a family or being plunged further into poverty and malnutrition. This new research will reduce poverty, increase animal welfare and ultimately improve the quality of life for some of the world's poorest people."

Welcoming the research, Science and Innovation Minister Lord Drayson said: "This collaboration demonstrates the UK's determination to share our world-leading science in the search for improved treatments and diagnostic tools in animal health. Animal disease is a deadly threat that leaves no corner of the Earth untouched. This research will allow communities to protect food chains and economies at home and in developing countries."

BBSRC Chief Executive, Professor Douglas Kell, said: “Joining with partners from developing countries, UK science can provide a solid platform for providing disease management solutions from better vaccinations through to more sophisticated diagnostic techniques which will not only transform the lives of millions across the developing world, but also generate a more stable livestock infrastructure globally for the benefit of us all.”

Richard Lochhead, Cabinet Secretary for Rural Affairs for the Scottish Government, said: "We are proud that our world class science base in animal health is helping to address such important global issues. The challenges are immense but by working together we can make a real difference to the long term prospects and wellbeing of communities throughout the world."

All of the projects unveiled today involve unique partnerships between UK scientists and researchers from institutions in Africa, Asia and elsewhere.

Examples include:

Dip-stick test for ‘Goat Plague’
Sheep and goats are the main source of income for herders and livestock keepers in the developing world. Peste des petits ruminants virus (PPRV), also known as ‘Goat Plague’, causes a serious disease in these animals leading to major losses. Vaccines against PPRV exist, but they do not allow people to distinguish vaccinated animals from animals which have had the disease and recovered. This is a problem for trade, as farmers cannot prove that an animal has only been vaccinated and not had disease. Alongside developing a new vaccine, researchers from the UK and Uganda will also design new diagnostic tests, including a 'pregnancy test' style device to enable the diagnosis of PPRV in the field, without the need for a laboratory.

Comparing Foot and Mouth disease in wildlife and livestock
Foot and Mouth disease (FMD) is one of the most devastating animal diseases worldwide, affecting all cloven-hooved animals including cows, sheep, pigs, goats and deer. Researchers from the UK and Tanzania will spend the next four years looking at developing effective strategies for controlling FMD in Africa.  A major problem is the genetic variation in the FMD viruses across the continent which makes vaccination difficult. To address this, the researchers will sample wildlife, mainly buffalo and livestock - domestic cattle, sheep and goats - to map the genetic diversity of viruses across Tanzania.  

Developing a vaccine to control deadly Liver Fluke
Tropical liver fluke worms cause serious losses in cattle, buffaloes, goats and sheep and are a serious threat to the livelihood of farmers in many areas of Asia and Africa. In the developed world liver fluke worms are mainly controlled using drugs which kill them. However, drug resistance is spreading, meaning that these drugs are becoming less effective, and thus undermining their potential as a long-term, liver fluke control strategy. Instead, a new cost effective, single-treatment control strategy based on vaccination is urgently needed and this is exactly what researchers from the UK and India are looking to develop over the next three years. 



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    African goats being herded in Mali. Copyright: Ashley Banyard. (286KB)
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    Horro sheep feeding. Copyright: Adugna Tolera (320KB)
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    A buffalo liver infected with liver fluke. Copyright: S.M. Abbas Abidi (73KB)
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    The wildebeest calving season on the Serengeti plains. Copyright: Sarah Cleaveland. (112KB)
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    Women often own and manage chickens. Copyright: Tadelle Dessie. (151KB)
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    Sample collection from FMD infected cattle in Zimbabwe. Copyright: Satya Parida. (109KB)
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    A healthy Boran bull - an East African Bos indicus breed of cattle. Copyright: Ivan Morrison. (72KB)
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    Cow with acute CBPP, showing the characteristic posture adopted by these animals. Copyright: Declan McKeever. (97KB)
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    A cow showing severe generalized lumpy skin disease. Copyright: Institute for Animal Health. (293KB)
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    A smallholder in the Democratic Republic of the Congo transporting a pig to market. Copyright: Leopold Mulumba-Mfumu. (256KB)
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    A goat displaying classic symptoms of peste des petits ruminants virus. Copyright: Peter Roeder. (196KB)
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    Parasitic worm (Haemonchus contortus) with characteristic 'barber's pole' appearance and filled with host blood. Copyright: David Knox. (26KB)
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    Blood samples from cattle will provide information about which types of foot and mouth disease virus are occurring in different parts of Tanzania. Copyright: Sarah Cleaveland. (258KB)
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    Blood-feeding Culicoides biting midges that are responsible for transmission of bluetongue virus. Copyright: Steven Archibald and Eric Denison. (474KB)
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    Nomadic Fulani Herdsman carrying a young calf to keep up with the herd. Copyright: Ayodele Majekodunmi. (79KB)

Media briefing

Combating Infectious Diseases of Livestock for International Development - media briefing (PDF 3.43MB)

Notes for editors

UK Universities and Institutes involved in the new projects are:

  • Centre for Ecology and Hydrology
  • Institute for Animal Health
  • Institute of Biological, Environmental and Rural Sciences Aberystwyth
  • Moredun Research Institute
  • Queen's University of Belfast
  • Rothamsted Research
  • Royal Veterinary College
  • Scottish Agricultural College
  • University of Bristol
  • University of Edinburgh
  • University of Glasgow
  • University of Liverpool
  • University of Nottingham
  • University of Oxford
  • University of Warwick
  • The Jenner Institute
  • Veterinary Laboratories Agency


BBSRC is the UK funding agency for research in the life sciences. Sponsored by Government, BBSRC annually invests around £450 million in a wide range of research that makes a significant contribution to the quality of life in the UK  and beyond and supports a number of important industrial stakeholders, including the agriculture, food, chemical, healthcare and pharmaceutical sectors.

BBSRC provides institute strategic research grants to the following:

The Babraham Institute, Institute for Animal Health, Institute for Biological, Environmental and Rural Studies (Aberystwyth University), Institute of Food Research, John Innes Centre, The Genome Analysis Centre, The Roslin Institute (University of Edinburgh) and Rothamsted Research. The Institutes conduct long-term, mission-oriented research using specialist facilities. They have strong interactions with industry, Government departments and other end-users of their research.

For more information see:

About DFID

DFID is the part of the UK government that manages Britain's aid to poor countries and works to get rid of extreme poverty. It works in 150 countries and has 2,600 staff.

For more information see:

About Scottish Government

The Scottish Government is the devolved government for Scotland and is responsible for most of the issues of day-to-day concern to the people of Scotland, including health, education, justice, rural affairs, and transport.

For more information see:

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