ILRI strategy tough issue: Addressing the interface of animal and human health?

Agricultural innovation has allowed massive expansion in the numbers of people and the animals they keep. Yet as the world human population passed 7 billion in October 2011, and the domestic livestock population passed 24 billion, more than one billion people remain malnourished and more than 2 billion are sickened each year from the food they ate. Millions more die from diseases that emerge from, or persist in, agricultural ecosystems: zoonoses (diseases transmissible between animals and man) and diseases recently emerged from animals make up 25% of the infectious disease burden in least developed countries and kill one in ten people who live there.

There is longstanding consensus on the importance of nutrition, food safety, zoonoses and emerging infectious disease for human well-being and sustainable societies. There Is a much more recent consensus that many health and nutrition problems in poor countries are complex and best solved by integrated solutions bringing together different disciplines and communities. However, these often require new ways of working, which don’t fit well with existing government, donor, academic or private sector structures. To date success has been patchy.

The large complex problems at the interface of animal and human health are: attaining food and nutritional security, managing emerging and multi-species disease, and safeguarding the ‘life support’ systems provided by healthy agro-ecosystems. Our failure to tackle these problems successfully is justification for new approaches; but change requires evidence, incentives, and fundamental shifts in thinking.

Our initial assessment suggests that some of ILRI’s advantages in this area are:

  • LOCATION: ILRI’s long standing presence in developing regions, especially in East Africa, is a unique advantage firstly in terms of juxtaposition to the diseases we study but even more importantly the relationships and links with individuals and institutions in the region. However, we need to build more on our position as a preferred broker for research while avoiding being used as a Launchpad for others’ research agendas.
  • CAPACITY BUILDING: This is considered by many as one of ILRI’s most important impacts. Yet it is still little assessed and not leveraged to improve partnerships and funding.
  • BODY OF WORK: ILRI has a substantial body of research work that we can exploit and make accessible (more…).

This leads to three main questions:

  • Which are the key problems in this area of animal and human health where pro-poor agricultural research will make a significant difference?
  • There is an emerging consensus that agricultural and ecological research and interventions must be a part of the solution to health problems that originate in agro-ecosystems, i.e. the answers are wider than ‘just’ health. There is less agreement how to put this into practice. What is the best role for ILRI? Should we aim to be a broker or entry-point facilitating involvement of advanced ‘agri-health’ research institutes in developing countries or carry out our own specialized research in a few key areas? How do we best engage developing-country national research institutes in this?
  • In the area of food safety, zoonoses, emerging disease and ecohealth/OneHealth, what do you think ILRI should do more of, and what areas should ILRI do less of?

Click this link to comment on the questions


9 thoughts on “ILRI strategy tough issue: Addressing the interface of animal and human health?

  1. Hi addressing the interface for animal health sounds great but i am strongly in favour if ILRI can put affect of climate change on animals to their top agenda. Recently in Yoshu Snow disaster which is said to be the deadliest snowfall in over a decade has resulted in livestock mortality as high as 80% in some areas and widespread cases of frostbite.

    Being an agriculture graduate i know the importance and role of animals for food security in coming decade and we have to think and make strategies right now before it too late for animals too.

  2. Ram Deka – ILRI Office in Guwahati, Assam India

    Working at the inter-phase between human and animal health is an excellent idea as this aspect has largely been ignored in the developing countries. With the growth in income and employment and growing concern for human health, the research and development actions on this area would be increasingly more important.

  3. ILRI Delh Office (Nils Teufel, Arindam Samaddar, Dhiraj Sing, Swain Braja, Paolo Ficarelli)

    • This area is felt to be the biggest windows of opportunities for ILRI, especially in terms of attracting more funding

    • It is felt that food safety research should be pursued with the same intensity, and with focus on food-born diseases

    • The same applies for the control of zoonoses and monitoring of emerging diseases, having livestock as hosts

    • More research in food and nutrition should be done, particularly for its gender relevance

    • Focus is going to be a key criterion to narrow and prioritise the actual ILRI future areas of excellence in this complex research field

    • Bigger complexities are seen in the ILRI role and type of partnerships necessary to advance this key research area. The group insufficient knowledge about stakeholders constellations in each of the above strategic areas prevented from making more concrete suggestions on how to deal with these complexities.

    • Facilitating involvement of high profile eco-health organisations and ILRI role as knowledge broker, seems one of the best strategic bet.

  4. I really wonder what measures would have been taken if there was a week prediction in Yushu Tragedy to reduce the mortality of these animals.

    Some GCMs suggests that climate change could impact the economic viability of livestock production around the world.The IPCC in its fourth assessment report 2007 indicated that many of the developing countries tend to be vulnerable to extreme climatic events as they largely depend on climate sensitive sectors like agriculture, livestock and forestry.

    The potential of livestock to reduce poverty is enormous. In Indian States, Livestock are important means of livelihood which provides income to almost 20 plus millions people (Max % are poor) especially in the drought prone areas and peri-urban poor. Livestock play an important role
    in significant contribution to food production via high value protein-rich animal products and they also support crop production through drought power and manures and hence ensuring towards food security.

    The impact of climate change on livestock is a matter of serious concern as majority of livestock in India are been taken care by poor. Recent studies carried out at National Dairy Research Institute gives clear picture of temperature variations impact on Indian livestock greatly affects its functions and milk production of indigenous and cross bred cattle & buffaloes. even a small rise in temperature can negatively impacts the production,growth & reproduction Further, climate change is likely to cause a rise in animal diseases that are spread by insects and vectors mainly due to temperature and humidity rise that favour their spread and growth.

    It is believed that that if the poorest of the poor who have nothing and if, they acquire an animal will surely lead them to out of poverty. So an effective mechanism for mitigating the climate change livestock risk is very much needed before its too late..

  5. On 18 May a group of scientists (from ICARDA, ILRI and CIMMYT) met to reflect on the questions posed. Here are the main comments, in bullet format.
    1. It’s not obvious how much ILRI should really get into human nutrition issues. So many others already
    2. In onehealth/zoonosis/health areas, there is MUCH we can borrow from elsewhere – especially developed countries.
    3. Product quality an important aspect to add to issues of food safety
    4. Again, brokering role important; need to pick partners very carefully – with a view to influencing others and other larger agendas
    5. Is ILRI thinking to do anything with disease forecasting/early warning?

  6. A very important topic, however, there is also a relation with environmental health which could be explored.

  7. ILRI must be in position to work closely with the African NARS and RECs on the OneHealth issues. There is already a coordination mechanism on the try. The RECs are developing policies and approaches to integrate animal , human and ecosystems health institutions and early warning tools. The NARS could be supported to establish methodologies for researching best bet approaches for policy/ strategy mainstreaming and for verification of impact. Models could be developed by ILRI scientists to assist in addressing the interface and in providing research result based arguments and possibilities.

  8. I am pessimistic that ILRI have the capacity or even the motivation to address issues arising from problems at the animal health-human health interface. For them to record any significant successes in this area there is an urgent need to encourage veterinarians to practise in the field, so that a steady stream of information can be obtained in respect of zoonotic infections. Secondly highly competent public health personnel need to work actively with pastoral communities so that detailed studies of the diseases prevalent in this ecosystem can be done. Certainly, in collaboration with Field Clinical veterinarians, a lot can be learned about problems that these pastoral communities face and how best to address them. ILRI however have always had an historical preference towards Animal Scientists, Agricultural Economists and Veterinarians masquerading as the latter because they do not want to get their hands dirty. Therefore ILRI are doomed to continue to make hardly any impact. In Nigeria ILRI have collaborated actively in the marginalization of the Transhumant Pastoralist Fulani and therefore ILRI cannot be exculpated from the raging violent standoffs that have been occuring between the Fulani and various farming communities.

  9. If our ulitmate aim is to manage livestock better and to enable the target communities to benefit in terms of greater productivity and well-being, then we need to research solutions to the problems of animal diseases and how they affect productivity of livestock, including the limitations placed on marketing opportunities. We also need to research the risk and effects of diseases transmitted by animals to people and vice versa, and effective ways to prevent these dangers.
    These questions are in line with the directions we are taking with the Institute for Food, Nutrition and Well-Being at the University of Pretoria ( How can we work together?

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s