Exceptional International Achievement
James W. “Jimmy” Smith, MS ’84 ACES, PHD ’86 ACES, is the recipient of the 2019 Madhuri and Jagdish N. Sheth International Alumni Award for Exceptional Achievement. Established in 2001, the award celebrates the work of distinguished international graduates who have helped better their own nation or the world through their contributions to science, art or human welfare.
Smith is director general of the International Livestock Research Institute. ILRI—a global research partnership for a food-secure future—is co-hosted by Kenya and Ethiopia and has 14 offices across Asia and Africa.
Smith’s father and mother once raised pedigreed cattle, corn and oranges on their small farm in Guyana. Today, Smith’s mission is to adapt and refine his parents’ self-sustaining practices for farmers in developing countries. “Our top priority,” he says, “is to make livestock more productive.”
He oversees 700 consultants who work throughout Africa and Asia. For these staffers, helping farmers working in a range of conditions and ecosystems means sharing and adapting best practices in feed, immunizations, dairy production and breeding. It also means addressing potential threats such as drought, flooding, disease and pests.
Smith holds livestock to be “a very important means of meeting food and nutritional security” with a singular place in the circle of life that is small-scale agriculture. Cattle, for example, are “not just about meat and milk,” he says. “They provide traction for tilling and hauling goods to market. They provide manure for fertilizer. And they play an important role in African culture.
“I interact with staff a lot even though they are located all over the world. My door is always open,” he says. “I learned that from the great people I worked with at the University of Illinois. It’s the little things—small acts of kindness that were so big for me at that time. So in my life now, I try to always do every act of kindness I can. To everyone. Everywhere.”