Asia / ILRI / Indonesia / Interview / Staff / Zoonotic Diseases

The ‘ILRI crowd’ in Asia: Rainer Asse

Each week on this blog, we meet with ILRI staff members, partners and projects in Asia to learn about their work, challenges and the opportunities they face to leverage livestock knowledge in Asia.

These days you’ll find Rainer Asse in Yogyakarta, Indonesia, where he facilitates the Ecohealth Resource Centre located at the University of Gadjah Mada as part of the EcoZD programme. Originally from Boston, Massachusetts – but with Caribbean heritage – Rainer joined ILRI three years ago, where he was initially posted to Mali at the Bamako office. Now one year into his Indonesian posting, Rainer takes some time out to discuss his work and how he is finding his first ever posting in the region.

ILRI Asia: Before coming to Southeast Asia, you had worked with ILRI in Mali. Can you briefly touch on what your work there entailed?

My postdoctoral scientist position in Mali focused on natural resource management strategies for Sustainable Management of Globally Significant Endemic Ruminant Livestock in West Africa (PROGEBE) – a project funded by the Global Environment Facility (GEF) and the African Development Bank (AfDB).

I assisted in designing and conducting research in The Gambia, Guinea, Mali and Senegal to better understand and improve linkages between natural resource use, and sustainable management of local breeds of ruminants which are well adapted to local environmental conditions (for example – the Ndama breed of cattle which is tolerant to trypanosomiasis – a zoonotic disease spread by the Tsetse fly).

Read related stories on the PROGEBE program from ILRI

ILRI Asia: Now as a member of the ILRI EcoZD team, can you tell us a little about your role within the programme?

My primary function within EcoZD is to facilitate the EcoHealth Resource Centre located at the University of Gadjah Mada (UGM) in Yogyakarta. This entails assisting and advising our partners at the Faculty of Veterinary Medicine on research, curriculum development initiatives and outreach using trans-disciplinary EcoHealth approach to investigate and manage zoonotic diseases.

Along with other ILRI staff involved with the EcoZD program – I also serve as the lead person in conducting qualitative assessments of progress and lessons learned by all the research teams working in the six EcoZD countries.

ILRI Asia: How do you see your area of expertise – Natural Resource Management (NRM) – applied in the program?

EcoZD and the EcoHealth concepts have outcome and output goals that essentially stem from NRM theory and practice. Therefore an important goal for me personally is to facilitate interdisciplinary learning and research by the EcoZD units, whilst also ensuring that key concepts from ecology continue to inform our thinking and analyses.

Similarly, I must ensure that key concepts from NRM inform our recommendations for best practices that university, public health, and veterinary personnel can adapt and adopt for local research and management of zoonotic infectious diseases.

ILRI Asia: Being your first time working in the region – can we ask if there was any significant motivation behind your decision to relocate here?

ILRI’s goal of increasing it’s presence in Southeast Asia paralleled my personal goal to work in different parts of the world. In addition, EcoZD’s interdisciplinary research, and action on zoonotic diseases offered me a chance to broaden my application of NRM strategies in a project using an innovative ecosystem-based approach (EcoHealth).

ILRI Asia: Now you’ve been here a year, are there any notable differences between the livestock sectors of Africa and Southeast Asia ?

It is sometimes problematic to make broad comparisons between two very different places such as Africa and Southeast Asia, plus, my experience in Africa is very much limited to French-speaking West Africa.

However, from my brief time here so far, I can say that there are a few general similarities in livestock/agriculture that I see between Southeast Asia and West Africa.

The first similarity I’ve noticed has to do with present-day land use, and the fact that in both regions land use is partly shaped – for good or for bad – by past colonial experiences. An example would be the emphasis placed on land for cultivating agriculture exports.

Secondly, there is also another commonality in the gendered livestock holding patterns that are at times observed in the regions. Specifically speaking – women in these regions tend to own small ruminants or small stock but rarely own large ruminants such as cattle.

And then we have the clear influence of religion and culture on livestock holding patterns in both regions. For example, pig rearing is absent in parts of both West Africa and Southeast Asia where there are significant Muslim populations.

Lastly, I also see an overarching similarly in the significant numbers of small-scale livestock keepers in the regions – as opposed to industrial large-scale livestock enterprises. The socioeconomic importance of this shouldn’t be underestimated, as small-scale livestock keepers generally have a small number of livestock which are very important to them in terms of maintaining livelihoods and household welfare.

Though scales and levels differ, there are also a number of qualitatively similar challenges that local livestock research communities face in both Southeast Asia and West Africa. One common challenge centralizes on how to do ‘pro-poor’ research (research that targets socioeconomically disadvantaged or marginalized segments of the population) that supports livelihood goals, while simultaneously empowering poor farmers and livestock holders to position themselves profitably within increasingly globalized livestock value chains.

Another challenge faced by research communities in both regions is how to best integrate issues of climate change and rapid demographic change (e.g., increased urbanization), as well as food safety and/or food security issues in integrated agricultural research for development (IAR4D) on crop-livestock intensification.

The final shared challenge I’ve noticed, is the varying levels of capacity-building needed for research and livestock personnel in both regions in order to cope with new research and development challenges stemming from linked food security/food safety and climate/demographic changes.

ILRI Asia: Can you tell us briefly about the UGM Resource Centre and how it integrates into EcoZD?

The EcoHealth Resource Centre (EHRC) at UGM is one of two resource centres within the program – the other is at Chiang Mai University in Thailand. The EHRCs are two units among a total of eight EcoZD research units – spread through six different Southeast Asian countries. The centres are unique in that they are university based, and have an education and outreach mission in addition to a mandate to conduct, and support research on zoonotic diseases using an EcoHealth approach.

The central goal of the centres is to increase the capacities of local public health and veterinary personnel who deal with zoonotic diseases. Additionally, with knowledge exchange and information-sharing seen as a major goal of EcoZD, we hope that synergies will emerge from the exchanges among university EHRCs, other research units and local research communities in the EcoZD countries.

ILRI Asia: Does your placement at UGM provide you with significant exposure to the Indonesian livestock sector? If so, have you noticed any significant trends and characteristics in your time so far?

My role actually limits my direct exposure with the livestock sector. My job at UGM is in some ways a classic example of the knowledge-brokering and research capacity-building role that ILRI is increasingly embracing as a strategy for partner executed IAR4D projects. At UGM I mainly work with future and current veterinarians, public health agents, agricultural/livestock extensionists and policy makers.

ILRI Asia: Lastly, can we ask what the remainder of 2012 has in store for you?

This year will see me continue my work at UGM, but I’ll also shift to a greater focus on my secondary role in assessing progress, and lessons learned by the eight EcoZD research units. Hopefully, the assessment and project learning work that I do will contribute to creating the synergies needed for maintaining the regional network of EcoHealth researchers that EcoZD has played a critical role in building.

Visit the EcoZD programme Wiki to learn more about the programme

Read other ILRI Asia posts regarding EcoZD

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