A new initiative aims to improve health, reduce malnutrition and food insecurity and promote pro-poor agricultural development through closer collaboration between the agriculture and health sectors.
Research at the crossroads of agriculture and health conducted by the 15 centers of the Consultative Group on International Research (CGIAR) has been building and increasing in recent years. The CGIAR centers have a long tradition of working on nutrition, and now conduct a wide range of health-related work in the context of agriculture, such as malaria, HIV/AIDS, food safety and the health effects of pesticide use.
Since 2004, steps have been taken to co-ordinate the health-related work conducted by the 15 centers. This included the founding of a committee of the directors general of the centers, a stock-take of the centers existing health-related work, a workshop on agriculture-health research in the CGIAR and the publication of a series of briefs on ‘Understanding the Linkages between Agriculture and Health’.
In 2006, the Alliance Executive of the CGIAR endorsed the concept of a research platform on Agriculture and Health as a way to move forward.
The ‘Resource Guide on CGIAR Research on Agriculture-Health Linkages’, hosted on the website of the International Food and Policy Research Institute, is a portal to the work conducted in this area by different CGIAR centers, showing who is doing what on health.
The International Livestock Research Institute (ILRI) now has a webpage on IFPRI's website highlighting the following areas of ILRI's research in relation to human health:
Livestock keeping and human health
As part of its People, Livestock and the Environment Theme, ILRI conducts research to protect and enhance the physical human capital of the poor by developing strategies to reduce health risks and improve nutritional benefits associated with livestock keeping. Other projects focused on the use of water and feed for livestock also consider human health impacts.
Impact of livestock production on human health and nutrition
ILRI is working to improve understanding of the links between livestock keeping and the health and nutrition of poor people, particularly those engaging in smallholder livestock production and marketing. Activities under way include field studies, literature reviews and explorations of the ways in which livestock keeping might benefit the care of people with HIV/AIDS.
Poor people in developing countries have a high risk of exposure to zoonoses—diseases transmitted from animals to people. ILRI is helping to bridge the artificial divide between animal and human health. With over 75% of human infections having a zoonotic origin, the need to examine the epidemiological relationships between pathogens and their animal and human hosts is paramount. ILRI is putting specifically focusing on a major neglected zoonoses, Cysticercosis, a highly complex disease affecting both people and pigs. ILRI is participating in a Cysticercosis Working Group of Eastern and Southern Africa (CWGESA), which promotes effective communication, collaboration and coordination of integrated research and control activities aimed at combating cysticercosis. CWGESA and ILRI have recently developed a Cysticercosis Prevention Poster which is currently available in English, Xhosa and Afrikaans. This poster is being used for a rapid information campaign in Eastern Cape Province, South Africa where a neurocysticercosis outbreak among children has been reported.
Livestock, water quality, and human health
ILRI has recently initiated limited research on water-mediated impacts on human health and on INRM approaches to reducing health risks. Most of this research falls within ILRI’s collaboration with the CGIAR Challenge Program on Water and Food and the CGIAR Comprehensive Assessment of Water Management and Agriculture. Key issues include the transmission of water-borne pathogens such as coliform bacteria, cryptosporidium, and Fasciola that result from animal manure contaminating domestic water supplies and where simple remedial interventions are feasible
Wastewater is increasingly used for irrigation of fodder crops that fuel the growing urban and peri-urban dairy production in mega cities such as Hyderabad (India) and Faisalabad (Pakistan). ILRI in collaboration with IWMI and Indian and Pakistani public health institutions and municipal water authorities is investigating the relationship between water – soil – produce quality (fodder and milk) to assess the chain of possible contaminations (heavy metals, nitrate, parasites) and ultimately the hazards to producers (farmers, dairy producers) and consumers of livestock products in these urban areas.
Livestock feed quality and human health
Aflatoxin in milk – a possible hazard to human health: ILRI in collaboration with ICRISAT is investigating aflatoxin contamination of fodder (mainly crop residues) as a source of aflatoxin content in milk. In selected sites in Andhra Pradesh, India, close to 50% of the milk samples contained non-permissible levels of aflatoxin. At the same time, only one of the collected fodder samples (groundnut cake) contained non-permissible levels of alflatoxin. Aflatoxin in milk can clearly present a health hazard to the consumer.
Food safety associated with livestock and livestock products
This research program has focused on identifying the public health risks associated with the marketing of unpasteurized milk, with an emphasis on developing policies and technologies for improved quality and safety without jeopardizing market access for the poor. An outcome of this work has been changes in government policies towards more acceptance of raw milk marketing in several East African countries, based on the identified low risks and high dependence of resource poor people on these markets. This work is being expanded, in cooperation with IFPRI, to examine the marketing of other livestock and livestock products, particularly in South Asia. Studies provide policy-relevant analyses of the risks and economic benefits to poor farmers, market agents, and resource-poor consumers.
Demand for better quality and safe food is increasing among urban consumers, especially among affluent ones. This poses threats to the market opportunities of smallholder producers who often are unable to access technology, inputs and services to produce high quality products demanded by the market chains serving high-end consumers. ILRI research is trying to understand the nature of quality and safety attributes demanded by consumers, their willingness to pay for such attributes and how smallholders may respond to these through participation in market chains.
Vaccines, diagnostics and disease resistance
ILRI research on livestock vaccines has direct and indirect links to medical vaccine and diagnostic research. One aspect of this work involves host functional genomics as it relates to livestock diseases that can be transmitted to humans.
A project investigating resistance to trypanosomosis in cattle is shedding light on some of the basic questions of disease resistance, which may have implications for human medical treatment. ILRI researchers first identified several regions of the cattle genome in which genes contributing to resistance or susceptibility must lie. They then identified genes within a part of the bovine genome that affects anemia, a characteristic of the disease. Remarkably, significant differences between cattle breeds that are susceptible and resistant to the disease were found in one of the candidate genes. Such a result makes it possible that the gene in question is responsible for the difference in susceptibility to anemia in the two breeds. This is now being further investigated. More recent results of this trypanosomosis genomics research appear to have implications for medical research on cholesterol. For more information, contact ILRI’s Steve Kemp at email@example.com
Initiatives and Networks
Urban Harvest Programme
ILRI is a member of Urban Harvest, a CGIAR initiative to use the collective knowledge and technologies of the CGIAR Centers to strengthen urban and peri-urban agriculture (UPA) practiced by the poor.
System-wide Initiative on Malaria in Agriculture (SIMA)
ILRI backstops a CGIAR-wide initiative addressing malaria in agricultural communities. The System-wide Initiative on Malaria in Agriculture (SIMA) focuses the combined skills and abilities of the agricultural and health research communities, government agencies and community-based organizations. Water- and land-use and crop- and livestock-production practices are studied across a range of agro-ecosystems in Africa to identify farming activities that encourage and discourage the breeding of the mosquito vector or alter the transmission of the disease. Research-based guidelines and tools are developed and tested for use by poor communities and the non-governmental organizations and governments that serve them.
Outreach and Events
CGIAR Challenge Program on Water and Food
ILRI, IWMI and the CGIAR Challenge Program on Water and Food is inviting individuals and organizations located in any of the ten riparian countries of the Nile River Basin to submit short well-written case studies describing traditional or contemporary innovations in technologies, in community and household practices, and in policies that result in better management of water and livestock resources. Relevant topics include the prevention of transmission of waterborne and water related zoonotic and animal diseases such as Cryptosporidiosis and Fasciolosis. This contest is offering USD 1000 for first prize, USD 500 for second prize and USD 250 for third prize. For more information, contact ILRI’s Don Peden at firstname.lastname@example.org
CGIAR Science Award for Promising Young Scientist
In 2005, ILRI scientist Simon Graham won the CGIAR Science Award for Promising Young Scientist for research leading to the development of a sensitive and robust system for identifying vaccine candidate molecules from Theileria parva that causes East Coast fever, a fatal disease of cattle in sub-Saharan Africa. Graham’s research may also contribute to ongoing efforts to control tropical theileriosis, a cattle disease which puts 250 million cattle around the world at risk. Furthermore, by using genomics to understand and fight T. parva, scientists may make advances against related parasites that cause malaria, tuberculosis, and other diseases in which killer T cells also play a role in immunity. And because T. parva launches a cancer-like illness inside the white blood cells of cattle, it may provide a model system for understanding the mechanics of cancer biology.
Visit http://www.ifpri.org/themes/aghealth/aghealthrg.asp for the resource guide on IFPRI's website.