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More than 100 experts in agriculture, health and food systems reaffirm need for research evidence and interdisciplinary collaborations at second international agri-health workshop

Nutrition-related non-communicable diseases (NCDs) including obesity, heart disease, stroke, cancer and diabetes are the leading causes of death and disability worldwide. Nearly 80% of NCD deaths occur in low and middle income countries. However, the linkages between NCDs and poverty and constraints to development are not universally well-recognised. The bulk of research on the topic relates to a high income country context and is not always transferable to the experience of developing regions.

The second agri-health workshop, The Role of Agricultural and Food Systems Research in
Combating Chronic Disease for Development, organised by the Leverhulme Centre for Integrative Research on Agriculture and Health (LCIRAH) in partnership with LIDC, brought together more than 100 health, food systems, development policy and agriculture experts to explore the latest thinking on these issues, with the objectives of sharpening focus on NCDs as a development problem and identifying a future research agenda cutting across disciplines and sectors.

The first plenary session, with Srinath Reddy (Public Health Foundation of India), Per Pinstrup Andersen (Cornell University) and John Barrett (DfID), aimed to frame NCDs as a development problem. Speakers examined the issue of chronic disease from an agri-food, health and development agency perspective. The discussion showed the need to align health goals with income goals of food producers, presented NCDs as an economic and social problem, and stressed the need to converge policies.

Session two looked at value chain interventions to tackle chronic disease. Robert Mazur (Iowa State University), Spencer Henson (Institute of Development Studies) and Andrew Westby (University of Greenwich) presented case studies of successful interventions involving commodities such as beans, milk and dairy products, and orange sweet potato.

The highlight of the workshop was the Distinguished Lecture on Politics of Food: the View from 2012 by Prof. Marion Nestle, Paulette Goddard Professor in the Department of Nutrition, Food Studies, and Public Health and Professor of Sociology at New York University. Nestle focused on obesity in both high and low income countries, attributing the current epidemic to deregulation in agriculture and the drive for shareholder value. She made a call for more regulation in food systems.

The second day of the workshop started with a session on agricultural and food policy and chronic disease. Corinna Hawkes (City University), Wendy Snowdon (Fiji National University/ Deakin University), Dr. Ballayram (Caribbean Food & Nutrition Institute), and Ismael Thiam (Micronutrient Initiative) presented examples of policy responses from Europe, Africa, the Caribbean and Pacific Islands, addressing both the demand and supply side. The session revealed an urgent need for more evidence on what policy interventions work best.

The workshop was concluded with an expert panel raising the issue of a future research agenda for NCDs, with Srinath Reddy (Public Health Foundation of India), Per Pinstrup Andersen (Cornell University), Ismael Thiam (Micronutrient Initiative), Marion Nestle (New York University), Marie Ruel (IFPRI), Bruce Cogill (Bioversity International), and Gert Meijer (Unilever). Speakers underlined the pivotal role of the private sector and public-private partnerships; and reiterated the need for more evidence of what interventions work, as well as for working collaboratively across sectors and academic disciplines. The panel also stressed that researchers ought to work alongside with policy-makers to ensure that the evidence that is already available is used to inform policy.

LCIRAH is a new Centre established under a five-year £3.5m grant from The Leverhulme Trust to build a new inter-sectoral and interdisciplinary platform for integrating research in agriculture and health, with a focus on international development goals.

Further resources:

Download the programme

To access the speakers’ presentations, click on their names in the text above.

Download the summary report
Watch a video of the lecture by Marion Nestle

Listen to the audio recordings (podcasts):

Welcome remarks by Professor Andy Haines
Session 1: Chronic Disease as a Development Problem
Session 2: Value Chain Interventions and Chronic Disease
Session 3: Agricultural/ Food Policy and Chronic Disease
Expert panel discussion