Lessons learned

As we move into our second decade, we build on our experience to accelerate delivery and increase our impact. We have always sought to learn from our successes and failures to improve our effectiveness and efficiency in making products sustainably available to smallholder farmers. The critical insights that have informed and continue to shape our approach include the following.

1. Broader portfolio offerings

Our initial strategy of seeking ‘low hanging fruit’ obscured the obvious but longer-term requirement of focusing on what products were needed most by smallholder farmers. Recently, substantial efforts have been made to address this through market and field assessments. Whereas in the past we used a single product/disease approach, our commercial development initiatives now focus on a broader range of animal health products than just essential vaccines. For example, over 10 million doses of de-wormer have been sold to smallholder poultry farmers alongside the ND vaccine. A de-wormer does not affect mortality rates but it improves smallholder productivity. Going forward, the ‘offer’ to smallholder farmers will no longer be a sole vaccine/product but a portfolio of products.


We collect data from field studies to increase understanding of the distribution of benefit and impact of our work on smallholder households. These data are useful to commercial partners as they promote better understanding of the customer/beneficiary base. There is a clear division between monetary and care-giving tasks.

Division of tasks – Ethiopia

Age distribution – Ethiopia

2. The need for a strong smallholder field focus

GALVmed works across a very broad landscape that spans a diverse range of disciplines and activities as illustrated in the figure below.

While each of these areas requires specific knowledge and expertise they must all be informed by the ultimate, and arguably greatest, barrier within this landscape – the ‘smallholder field’. This is the final interplay between rural retailers, veterinarians, vaccinators/paravets and smallholders. It is here that the critical product demand and supply factors are at play and ultimately determine the success or failure of our efforts. In the early stages, we were slow to develop an adequate learning agenda around the smallholder field. The lack of existing available data meant that general perceptions and anecdotal evidence frequently held sway and there was little effort to build a better understanding systematically based on evidence from the field.

More recently, we have commenced a substantial and ongoing programme of field studies to build the necessary understanding. Information on these and many other aspects of the smallholder field now actively underpins our strategy. This detailed understanding is also increasingly sought after by commercial partners in the animal health industry to enable them to invest in the smallholder sector.

Supply chain

3. Optimising vaccination through combination vaccines

In product development, we have recognised the benefit of moving from monovalent to combination vaccines because these can cover a wider range of diseases without the need for accurate diagnosis, which is widely lacking. Our product development work in the next decade will incorporate a wider range of diseases that have a significantly detrimental impact through the development of vaccine combinations. This broadening of disease scope reflects the need for a syndromic approach to disease control in the absence of reliable diagnostic capabilities.


We have also been conducting market characterisation studies. These are primarily aimed at demonstrating the underlying principles of commercial viability and sustainability of our work. Such studies are of great value in positively engaging the animal health industry and demonstrating the potential of the smallholder market segment. In 16 months in an ND vaccine project in Odisha, India, the average household poultry income almost doubled and expenditure on animal health products nearly quadrupled.

Poultry income and vaccine expenditure – Odisha, India

4. Sustainability through bundling of services

Pilot projects implemented at the start of the decade have provided us with an opportunity to go back years after a project’s end to assess the long-term commercial sustainability. Not having received any further form of assistance in the intervening period, three project areas have showed a surprising degree of commercial durability with continued strong demand from smallholders and an active supply chain through retailers and vaccinators. With commercial sustainability at the heart of GALVmed’s commercial development work, these results are most encouraging and have increased our understanding of what drives sustainability. We have learned that all players in the supply chain need to make a meaningful profit to remain engaged, particularly vaccinators, and that this is best achieved through offering the farmer a suite of products and bundling services at the ‘last mile’. Profitability increases the likelihood of sustainability.

5. The need for appropriate partner selection

A fundamental requirement for success in any GALVmed project is a strong implementing partner. Our modus operandi is delivery through partners and a critical success factor common to all projects is the quality, capability and commitment of the implementing partner.

In the formative stages of GALVmed, there was a strong focus on smaller, local partners in both product and commercial development projects. This was partly a natural response to the limited number of potential partners in certain disciplines, but also a desire to build capacity in the countries where we operate. The results achieved with these partners were mixed. In response to this, our strategy has evolved towards partners with a proven track record in delivery. This does not mean just the global multinational companies but also the regional companies that are often based in emerging market countries. These regional companies are often highly motivated to target the smallholder segment seriously as part of their ongoing corporate growth strategies. The latter part of the decade has therefore seen a gradual evolution in the type of GALVmed partner and these changes have been mirrored internally with our personnel capable of steering, guiding and influencing these commercial entities.

6. The need for focused policy and advocacy work in support of market needs

In the first half of the past decade, our policy and advocacy objectives were broad and wideranging. Originally, some of these encompassed livestock as a whole and not just animal health-related issues. However, the ability of an organisation like GALVmed to influence these broader livestock policies and issues was felt to be somewhat limited. Progress has been made in some areas (notably mutual recognition in regional registration of livestock vaccines) and it was felt that the best prospects for success lay in a focused approach towards a few specific elements of policy and advocacy. This narrow policy and advocacy focus will continue to serve product and commercial development projects in the next decade. We now believe that we can achieve localised success in some policy activities but long-term success requires wider and sustained engagement by appropriate policy-focused organisations. GALVmed’s role in this area is therefore to catalyse, stimulate and advocate for wider regulatory initiatives to be undertaken by appropriate organisations.


While the penetration of cold chain facilities into rural areas is not ideal, it is far from non-existent. The majority of animal health inputs are sold to smallholder farmers in sub-Saharan Africa and South Asia through rural retailers (agrovets) of which there are considerable numbers. Some of these have a relatively comprehensive product offering and have cold chain facilities for vaccine storage. Future commercial development initiatives will focus on such retailers and work with them to improve the level of information and service provided to smallholder customers.

7. Strengthening project management capacity and increasing programmatic flexibility

Over the past two years, substantial efforts have been made to improve the efficiency with which projects are managed. The initial absence of product development plans and general lack of visibility had previously made for an ambiguous environment where real progress was difficult to monitor. The creation of a portfolio function within GALVmed’s organisational structure and the incorporation of industry-based work practices are successfully addressing this shortcoming.

By being flexible, we are able to recognise failure early and shut down projects while adapting to new opportunities by channelling funding into other areas of opportunity. Our approach to budgeting, particularly for product development activities, reflects our appreciation that projects do not always succeed and that we can learn from these failures as much as we can learn from successes.

8. Managing expectations in regulatory matters

Initial expectations for project development timelines proved to be over-optimistic, a recurrent theme being delays in achieving regulatory approvals. This was, in part, due to a limited understanding of the complexities and inherent inefficiencies of national regulatory processes. With an increased focus on registering products, we are now factoring in timelines that are more realistic. Through our interaction with regulatory agencies, we have a better understanding of how they work and the main causes of delays and inefficiencies in regulatory matters. Our work on mutual recognition in particular seeks to address this challenge in the EAC.

Many of the lessons learned over the course of the years have informed our thinking and have resulted in new and revised work streams and projects. Our donors’ flexibility has allowed us to continue adjusting our approach as we seek the most effective ways to deliver our mission.