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Agriculture for Improved Health and Nutrition

February 11, 2011

H.E. Manmohan Singh, Prime Minister of India

Agriculture can reduce poor people’s vulnerability to malnutrition and ill health by offering them reliable supplies of more nutritious foods. But it can also make them more vulnerable by providing unsafe foods and by increasing the spread of disease.

In search of ways to better realize agriculture’s potential to improve human nutrition and health, a major international conference got under way this week in New Delhi, India. Organized by the International Food Policy Research Institute (IFPRI) under the auspices of its 2020 Vision Initiative, the event will bring together ideas, identify best practices, build consensus and reinforce networks, with the aim of catalyzing well-informed actions and investments.

During the inaugural session of the conference, Indian Prime Minister Manmohan Singh underlined its particular importance for his and many other developing countries. He and other panelists called for stronger investment in research and education to fill glaring gaps in our knowledge of the linkages between agriculture, nutrition and health.

One of these involves complex connections between livestock diseases and human well-being, as reported this week in an Economist magazine article. It warns that, as food production is intensified in Asia and other regions, this could “create ‘hotspots’, where a huge amount of germs circulate among thriving livestock and human populations, especially near cities.”

This is but one part of the “double trouble” signaled by new assessments reported at the conference by scientists from the International Livestock Research Institute (ILRI). The other concerns the enormous impact of livestock diseases on the food and nutrition security of the hundreds of millions of people who depend on farm animals for both food and income.

Particularly as the “wild cards” of climate change and rapid urban expansion come into play, ILRI scientists explained, developing countries need to adopt more effective approaches for containing livestock epidemics before they become widespread.

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