17 December, 2012

The first time...

There were lots of musical and food-related Kenyan firsts for me this past week.

I performed for the first time with the Nairobi Music Society choir in their Christmas concert inside All Saints Anglican Cathedral of Nairobi last week end. I was even given a solo and shared the spotlight with three other local singers in a Renaissance quartet. Because the choir and orchestra were already taking up all the space between the elevated Cathedral choir and the audience in the naive, all four soloists were asked to squeeze into the elevated pulpit. It was a snug fit.

On Saturday night I went to see my first Kenyan musical at the National Theatre. ‘Seventeen’ was a show about a class of high school teenagers with a Dr Jekyll-&-Mr Hyde-type girl in the leading role. The lyrics were intelligent, the tunes catchy and arrangements groovy. The strings in the small live orchestra could have done with further tuning practice, but overall, it was a commendable musical performance composed and produced by the staff and students of the Kenya Conservatoire of Music.

I baked my first batch of pastry from my new oven in my apartment. Because I am still waiting for my furniture and cooking utensils to arrive from Paris, all I had were the two sauce trays provided with the oven. So I baked butter biscuits and shared them with colleagues. I am glad to report that the oven is working fine.

I went to the Agha Khan University Hospital on Wednesday to see a doctor. The hospital is supposed to be the best in town; it is definitely not as glitzy as the hospitals I had been to in Bangkok but the staff were competent and I got all the medication I wanted for the small ailments I had. What is the link here with music and food? It was Jamhuri Day, the national day of Kenya. So the television in the waiting room was broadcasting a special programme of whole-day national community-building songs performed by various choirs in different locations of the country. I had a very musical, although rather long, wait to see the doctor. Food: I was given a deworming treatment for my high white blood cell count. Probably some parasite I got because of eating too many good things in other exotic places…

The first time ever I saw your face
Johnny Cash, The man comes around, Universal Mercury records

How can you have any pudding if you don't eat yer meat?

Last week ILRI held its end-of-year party on the Nairobi campus. It was a BIG party: there was food, drink and music for probably 400 people from noon to midnight. Colleagues from other campuses around the world had also joined thanks to meetings they were attending in town on that day. So it was a good opportunity for me to meet new colleagues whom I had not yet been introduced to.

 The food reflected Kenyan party fare: barbequed meat, lots of it. There was grilled mutton, grilled chicken, grilled sausages, even an entire cow slowly roasting throughout the party so that there was food available at all times. I discovered and quite enjoyed the local mutura: grilled traditional Kenyan black pudding sausages made from most of an animal’s bowels and blood, with lots of spices added in to overcome the strong smell and taste. 

We were entertained throughout the party by singing, dancing and drama performed by staff members in the ILRI got talent competition. The DJs did a great job keeping the party spirit alive throughout the day despite the large amount of food and drink we had all ingested. The music and bass loudspeakers pumped until late that night with a mix of African and Dance music.

It was great fun to work for ILRI on that day.

Another brick in the wall
Pink Floyd, The wall, EMI

13 December, 2012

Clip-clop, giddy-up!

Read my latest blog post on ILRI clippings: where I want to go in the next few years of my work life with the International Livestock Research Institute.

Cloud cult, Advice from the happy hippopotamus, Rebel group

16 November, 2012

Lay off of my shoes!

One does not usually eat shoes, but I find they are just as desirable as food.

Click here to learn how this...

    ...can be turned into this.

Blue suede shoes
Elvis Presley, The essential Elvis Presley, Strategic marketing

04 November, 2012

Come on, dance and sing!

Yesterday was the first Friday of the month and like every first Friday of the month, there was a barbeque and karaoke night on the ILRI Nairobi campus, organized by the Housing, catering and conferencing team for the staff, their family and guests. Great food: hamburgers, chicken legs and mutton steaks, all grilled by the chefs upon request. I had the mutton with chips and fresh tomatoes and found they were delicious. The bar at the ILRI Enkare Club would serve you any drink you wanted at a very reasonable price.

And there was music with a DJ. Live music too: we were the ones doing it with the karaoke. After Asian karaoke in Bangkok, I had a great time with African karaoke. I must try to learn the tunes to local Swahili songs as the words are easy to follow because they are written in the Latin alphabet. The closest I could get to singing an African song was The lion sleeps tonight.

Colleagues were having a great time eating, drinking, singing, and dancing. People would just rise up from their chairs and start swaying their hips in time with the music. It seems they know how to party here. So I am really looking forward to the ILRI Christmas dinner in early December. We may all be committed to improving agricultural systems in which livestock are important at ILRI, but it is still important to relax and enjoy other things than work with colleagues.

Madonna, Madonna, Sire/Warner Bros

16 October, 2012

Gotta go back, back, back to school again

To read about my first experience in teaching animal production systems and markets of developing countries to young postgraduate students, click here.

Back to school again
Soundtrack from the original motion picture Grease 2, Paramount

15 October, 2012

There were hundreds of them

I have just completed my first full week in Nairobi. The most striking feature has been the weather. It started by being relatively hot and humid. I was complaining about it to my new colleagues and they all said: "don't worry; by the end of this week, it will rain." Indeed, on Thursday it started raining hard and the weather has clearly moved on from sunny and hot to rainy and cool. There are at least three downpours every day, which makes traffic even worse than in normal conditions.

I thought I would be able to wait until I had settled down in Nairobi permanently in November before I started looking for a new choir. I guess I really missed singing because on Wednesday night I started to search for the contact details of the Nairobi Music Society, which I had heard of by pure chance when in Paris. After trying out several outdated email addresses and phone numbers I had found on the Internet, I finally got the email of the President of the NMS (it is hidden in About of their Facebook page). So I wrote to Valerie Kent on Friday informing her that I was interested in joining the choir as soon as possible for their next concert.

She called me back late that same evening. I could come and sing with them and several other choirs for a combined choir performance of Messiah on the very next day! Rehearsal started at 9.30 for a 15.00 performance. So I spent my Saturday singing Haendel's Messiah.

We were 400 singers and a full orchestra playing what was probably Mozart's orchestration of the piece, with a complete wind and brass section which I had never heard before. It was really exhilarating to sing and hear close to another hundred tenor voices behind me. After the smaller baroque versions I had sung with Choeur Varenne last year, and my last French concert with only 24 singers in the Métaboles choir last August, it was quite a change. The audience enjoyed it. They got up for a standing ovation as soon as the piece was over and they asked for more after the flowers had been given to the conductor Mark Statler and the commendable local soloists. Of course, we sang the Hallelujah chorus again.

Such a shame that the weather was so bad. There was heavy rain in the morning and a long downpour at lunch time. So instead of enjoying the pilau, chapati, curried stew and mixed salad that had been prepared for us under the sun on the lawn, we were probably a hundred taking turns huddling underneath the marquis to eat while standing in the mud.

Nonetheless, after having sung four years with the Bangkok Music Society, I look forward to equally fulfilling music making with the Nairobi Music Society. The next programme will be the traditional Christmas concert with carols.

Holocaust of giants
Rasputina, Sister kinderhook, Filthy bonnet recording studio Co.

21 September, 2012

How do I feel by the end of the day... of a strategic retreat

I have been involved this whole week in the strategic retreat of the Changing Demand and Institutions Team at ILRI. It has been a very intensive exercise involving all the team members. I got to meet all my new colleagues.

The team leader Derek Baker wanted us collectively to write a conceptual framework for value chain analysis. This document is meant to serve as a common method for the team to respond to the various research questions our development partners will be asking us to solve.

We spent most of the first three days sharing ideas on team building and value chain analysis methods and tools. Epi Katjiuongua, Sirak Bahta and Nadhem Mtimet gave presentations on value chain performance indicators and methods for robust sampling of livestock traders in developing country contexts. But in general, Derek had limited powerpoint presentations to a minimum, preferring more interactive methods of knowledge sharing.

Acho Okike facilitated a workshop on who we were as a team, what we did and who we worked for.

Francis Wanyoike and I held a brainstorming exercise on why it was important to do whole livestock value chain analysis. In just five minutes and only three rounds of interventions from the colleagues present, we managed to fill up two flipcharts.

 I also facilitated a workshop on the different methods we could use to respond to value chain issues. We held two subgroup discussions too. The first was to come up with an outline for our conceptual framework. During the second subgroup discussion  we projected ourselves in three years time to decide who we wanted to be, what we would do, and who we would be working for. This was the mirror exercise to the first one facilitated by Acho. We all hope our team's work will be clearly focused on solving the issues of the poor and livestock value chain actors in three years' time.

Thursday and Friday was extremely studious. Derek had booked three meeting rooms in ILRI campus where he virtually locked us up for the collective write up of our conceptual framework. Colleagues passing by the meeting room were surprised to see a group of scientists gathered around a meeting table, but each one of us was bent over our laptop computers typing out our ideas without exchanging a word. Perhaps a result of too much discussion over the previous three days?

Derek had also ordered sandwiches into the meeting room so that we did not have to go to the canteen for lunch breaks. Motivated by the deadline of Friday 17.00 for the first draft of our conceptual framework, I guess we all kept on going, fueled by a generous provision of coffee, tea and biscuits.

I am delighted to say that we made it! Our conceptual framework for value chain analysis has been written up by 14.30 today. We will all go back to our respective duty stations with the first draft to read and improve upon. I look forward to using it to respond to the research questions of our institutional partners. 

I also look forward to the week end... This has been focus-intensive teamwork conducted under a tight deadline.

With a little help from my friends
The Beatles, The Beatles 1967-1970, EMI

All photos except coffee break: Nadhem Mtimet

18 September, 2012

This littly piggy went to market

I have just joined ILRI’s Changing Demand and Institutions Team as an Agricultural Economist based in Nairobi, Kenya. I am delighted to be back in the development business and to be able to blog about it!

Only two days into my new position I joined a team of colleagues already working in rural Uganda on the Livestock Data Innovation Project (LDIP). The objective of this project is to strengthen the capabilities of national statistical and veterinary services in collecting and analysing livestock data. The project is funded by the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation and implemented by ILRI, the World Bank and FAO, in collaboration with the African Union Interafrican Bureau of Animal Resources

ILRI’s contribution to this project is to develop the methods and tools that will enable local development partners, veterinary services and statistical departments to understand better the structure of livestock production and marketing systems in their country. The objective of this trip to Uganda was to continue testing the group interview workshop method to collect quantitative data and the constraints analysis workshop method to collect more qualitative data on local dairy and pig production and marketing systems. The ILRI team comprised animal breeding experts Julie Ojango and Ben Lukuyu, the animal health expert Henry Kiara, and my economist colleagues Derek Baker and Nadhem Mtimet. The workshops with producers went very well thanks to the logistical support of ILRI’s Diana Oduor and facilitation and translation help from our local consultants and project partners. Despite the important human resources mobilized for this exercise and some more work needed to strengthen the sampling method, Derek believes this method is a cost-effective way to collect reasonably robust statistical data from farmers.

The concept is to gather around 35 producers dealing with the product we are interested in from one area into one large room so that they may complete the interview questionnaire individually, though with the help of the research team and their producer friends and local veterinarians. We had asked the local veterinary counterparts to sample the producers for us in order to get a wide selection ranging from smallholders to medium-sized agribusinesses. The questionnaire filling exercise took around four hours including a tea break and we are confident the data collected is robust as the research team was assisting all the time. 

On Friday afternoon I facilitated a value chain constraints analysis workshop with a group of six pig producers from Wakiso District. The objective of the workshop was to identify the marketing constraints the producers were facing to develop their pig production enterprises. We first started by mapping out the pig value chain in the district. 

I then asked the producers to state their objectives in terms of developing their pig enterprise.

Finally, I invited the farmers to list the one most important constraint they were facing to reach their development objective. I narrowed down the list to four items by asking the farmers to identify the most important and the second most important constraints. We then linked these to ILRI’s hypotheses of five major constraints faced by livestock producers: land and water, labour, capital, knowledge and information, and other (government policies, institutions, infrastructure etc.).

Further analysis of all the data collected through these producer workshops will enable us to identify the constraints faced by livestock producers in Uganda and Tanzania, and to link these with their general characteristics and choices of production systems.

This little piggy
Traditional nursery rhyme
This little piggy - 30 favourite songs and rhymes about animals on 1 CD, BBC Audiobooks