Understanding the interactions between agriculture and health

photo of Per Pinstrup-Andersen and Robert Bos

Per Pinstrup-Andersen and Robert Bos

During the first lead-in policy seminar for the conference, Per Pinstrup Andersen of Cornell University and Robert Bos of the World Health Organization examined opportunities to strengthen the linkages between the agriculture and health sectors. The speakers emphasized the need for a paradigm shift within research and policy, calling for the sectors to step out of their “silos.” Only with the power of inter-sectoral cooperation, they insisted, can we improve global health.

Pinstrup-Andersen described a strong “single-sector orientation,” a trend that is perpetuated by specialization of disciplines in academia, competition among sectors, and limited resources. Deliberate collaboration is the immediate answer to sectoral division, said Pinstrup-Anderson. In the long-run, however, the solution is educating the next generation of researchers and practitioners in multi-disciplinary analysis and functional team work.

Bos identified several key changes that need to happen within the health sector, including allocating resources to public health actions that are truly intersectoral, anchoring health impact assessment in agricultural development, and researching the economic benefits of joint sector approaches. He explained that the goal should not be to promote generalists, but to create incentives for researchers and practitioners who have both in-depth knowledge of one field and the ability to understand their colleagues in other fields.

Both speakers called for more evidence. Bos noted that we need to demonstrate the productivity and economic growth that stem from linking agriculture and health. When attention and economic evidence are combined, Pinstrup-Andersen added, governments will see that the linkages will “increase their legitimacy.”

Reported by Zhenya Karelina and Jennifer Anderson.