International Agriculture Conference Highlights Need To Connect Health, Agriculture

Participants at the recent three-day International Conference on Leveraging Agriculture for Improving Nutrition and Health in New Delhi, India, highlighted the broken links between health and agriculture, IRIN reports (2/14).

The conference, which was organised by the International Food Policy Research Institute (IFPRI), convened experts from three sectors – agriculture, health and nutrition – “to examine ways that agriculture could enhance the health and nutritional status of poor people in developing countries,” PANA/Afrique en ligne writes (2/13). “More than 900 farm, health and nutrition experts from over 60 countries” attended the conference where they discussed “how agriculture can help meet the needs of the world’s poor people. The experts are calling on nations to incorporate health and nutrition as a goal in farming,” VOA News writes (Pasricha, 2/11).

Shenggen Fan, IFPRI’s director general, “who addressed the closing session,” called for support to further policy makers’ understanding of the links between agriculture, nutrition and health, PANA/Afrique en ligne writes. “Most of us here at the conference were converted, so we have to do more to communicate the importance of the links between agriculture, nutrition and health to others,” Fan said (2/13). He also called for incentives aimed at encouraging farmers to grow crops with higher levels of micronutrients, such as iron and Vitamin A, VOA News reports.

“Bio-fortification or fortified food is one of the options in improving human’s health and nutrition,” Fan said. “One of the innovative approaches is through breeding, you can bring micro-nutrients to crops. So you are not only going to grow more food, more crops, but more nutritious crops,” he said.  

David Nabarro, the U.N. special representative on food security, highlighted the 2008 food price spikes, which he said focused attention on “structural defects in world agriculture systems.” According to Nabarro, “[f]ood production and distribution does not really reflect what humans need to eat and instead tends to reflect more what farmers and larger food buying and selling organizations want to make money from” (2/11). John Hoddinott, a senior researcher at IFPRI, said, “agriculture, health and nutrition are tightly wedded,” IRIN writes. “Health status is … affected by the consumption of goods that directly improve or worsen health. Nutritional status affects health – for example, severe vitamin A deficiencies lead to blindness,” according to Hoddinott, who developed a framework conceptualizing the links between these areas.

The article notes some of the other major themes discussed at the conference, including the role of women in agriculture. It also highlights some models of success (2/14).

News Outlets Examine Research Presented At Conference

A paper (.pdf) presented the conference examined the relationship between agriculture and the spread of malaria and “said health considerations still played little part in governments’ agricultural policy decisions,” PANA/Afrique en ligne writes. “Because malaria and agricultural development have a well-integrated relationship, integrated policies are best suited to address them,” according to the paper, which was co-prepared by Kwadwo Asenso-Okyere, director of the International Food Policy Research Institute’s Eastern and Southern Africa Regional Office.

“[The paper] said while there is widespread recognition among African leaders and international organizations as well as the donor community that improving agriculture’s productivity and income-generating capacity is essential to poverty reduction and economic growth, there is still need to underscore the importance of addressing malaria,” the news service writes. “The construction of access roads through the forests to the farms, the building of milldams on rivers and the massive deforestation, among other factors, have caused a drastic change in the ecology, making it suitable for the breeding of malaria-carrying mosquitoes. Similar observations have been made in the Amani hills of Tanzania, the Rukungiri and Kabale districts of Southwest Uganda and the Rwanda highlands,” the paper stated of the eastern African region. The paper argues that increasing incidence of malaria in the region’s highlands is the result of some agricultural methods.

“Since many agricultural practices increase the spread of malaria; the paper suggested that in order to truly combat the disease, the risks involved in these practices must be managed and effective policy initiatives must take into account the two-way linkages between malaria and agricultural development,” the news service writes (2/13).

Another paper presented at the conference argues that if people in wealthy countries and developed emerging economies “were to start eating less meat now,” it could reduce the pressure on the price of some staple grains in the next 15 years, “but would not enhance food security in most poor countries in the immediate future,” IRIN reports. The study also found that “in Sub-Saharan countries, where maize is a staple, lower meat consumption could reduce the number of malnourished children younger than five by a million by 2030.”

The study by Mark Rosegrant, a senior researcher at IFPRI, and colleague Siwa Msangi, also of the IFPRI, “was prompted by an ongoing debate on the pressure of a surging demand for meat and dairy products on the supply and global prices of staple grains, particularly in developing countries,” the news service writes before noting the findings from another study and reporting on different perspectives about meat consumption (2/14).

Possible Drought In Afghanistan; Development Expert Warns Rising Food Prices Could De-Stabilize Regions Outside Middle East

Reuters examines concerns among U.S. officials about the possibility of an upcoming drought in Afghanistan and looks at how it could affect the country. “Low rainfall early in the wet season will likely threaten Afghanistan’s irrigated harvest, U.S. forecasts show, which with a surge in global grain prices could be devastating for a nation already ranked as having the world’s worst food security,” Reuters writes, noting that the nation could face a “serious drought in 2011.” The news service adds: “U.S. officials are concerned drought, which could be averted if rain and snow fall heavily in coming weeks, could further destabilize Afghanistan as Washington races to prove it can turn back a tenacious Taliban before an initial withdrawal in July.”

Challiss McDonough, a spokesperson for the World Food Programme; Mohammad Asif Rahimi, Afghanistan’s agriculture minister; and a senior U.S. defense official and a U.S. agriculture expert are quoted in the article (Ryan, 2/11).

Jeffrey Sachs, the director of Columbia University’s Earth Institute, said Saturday that poor states could see uprising like the ones in the Arab world unless the world addresses the rising cost of food globally, Reuters reports. “Sachs, a long-time adviser of governments and world agencies on the fight against poverty, said the root causes applied right across an already unstable belt of states stretching from Iraq through the Sahara to the shores of West Africa,” the news service writes. “This isn’t just about the Muslim Brotherhood and it isn’t just about politics,” Sachs said. “This is about hunger, about poverty, about food production about a change of world economy,” said Sachs.

He also highlighted the G8’s $22 billion food security initiative. “‘The rich countries have recognized this reality in rhetoric but they haven’t followed through in practice,’ he said, calling on U.S. President Barack Obama and other players including China to put their weight behind a new push to tackle hunger,” according to Reuters (John, 2/12).

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