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?