Roadside market. Mozambique, Angonia province (photo credit: ILRI/Stevie Mann).

As the impacts of COVID-19 spread across the globe, the virus threatens more than health systems worldwide. It also poses serious risks to food security, local businesses, national economies and hard-fought progress by stakeholders at all levels towards the Sustainable Development Goals. The global response to the pandemic must be swift and science-based, harnessing knowledge for emergency response, recovery and resilience.

Research leaders in health and agriculture have launched a new COVID-19 Hub to consolidate existing scientific evidence and help support response, recovery and resilience measures in the face of the coronavirus pandemic. As United Nations Secretary General António Guterres warned recently, immediate action on food systems is needed to prevent a global food emergency that could have long-term health effects.

The CGIAR COVID-19 Hub, coordinated by CGIAR, the world’s largest publicly funded agricultural research network, brings together the latest science on agriculture and health to inform a research-based response to the pandemic.

The International Livestock Research Institute joins the International Food Policy Research Institute, the CGIAR System Organization and the London School of Hygiene & Tropical Medicine as co-implementers of the CGIAR COVID-19 Hub.

Hosted by the CGIAR Research Program on Agriculture for Nutrition and Health, the Hub provides a coordinated research response to the pandemic, convening researchers, funders and key stakeholders.

It focuses on supporting national response and recovery work across CGIAR research themes through the response, recovery and resilience phases of the pandemic, with work from across CGIAR’s global network of 14 research centres and 15 research programs and platforms, in close collaboration with other research organizations, policymakers, non-governmental organizations and many other stakeholders.

Photo credit: Fresh produce on sale at a roadside market in Angonia Province, Mozambique (ILRI/Stevie Mann)

Sheep market in Doyogena, Ethiopia (photo credit: ILRI/Zerihun Sewunet).

To tackle a growing problem of rising antimicrobial resistance in low- and middle-income countries, CGIAR, a global research partnership for a food-secure future, is forming an international hub to help integrate and channel research and development efforts.

The hub, launched on 21–22 February 2019, in Nairobi, Kenya, will be led and hosted by the International Livestock Research Institute (ILRI).

Antibiotics and other antimicrobial drugs are among the most important tools available to medical and veterinary professionals for curing human and animal diseases and improving their welfare, yet these drugs are increasingly failing. Development of resistance to these drugs in disease-causing bacteria and other microbes poses a major threat to global development; the World Bank estimates that annual global gross domestic product could fall by more than 1 trillion United States dollars (USD) by 2030 because of it.

While the World Bank also estimates that investments of USD 6 to 8 billion annually could mitigate this loss, at present, it seems the antimicrobial resistance problem will get rapidly worse before it gets better. Large quantities of antimicrobial drugs are used to cure human illness and provide healthy livestock and fish for food.

Though specifics are unknown, use of antimicrobials for livestock and in aquaculture, is rising, particularly in low- and middle-income countries. These antimicrobials are often used in suboptimal ways, such as applying dosages too little to be effective or over too long a time period to be environmentally healthy, or the wrong drugs are used, or antibiotics are used for diseases not caused by bacteria. Humans, livestock and fish excrete these drugs, which leads to environmental contamination, including that of water systems.

Globally, the main driver of the growing incidence of antimicrobial resistance in humans is overuse and misuse of antibiotics in human medicine, which applies selective pressure for resistant pathogens. But antimicrobial use in agriculture to control animal and plant diseases also contributes to this growing drug resistance problem, although experts don’t know the contribution of agriculture to the problem in humans.

The greatest challenges and burdens of antimicrobial resistance will be felt by the poorest in poorer countries. While these countries with their rapidly growing populations face the greatest and rising demand for increased food production, their populations also tend to have poorer access to relevant knowledge, veterinary and health services. The countries face challenges in enforcing regulations and understanding and implementing effective antimicrobial resistance surveillance.

With its mandate to improve the livelihoods of poor people, improve food and nutrition security and improve natural resource management through agriculture and food research, CGIAR is ideally positioned to tackle agriculture-related antimicrobial risks in developing countries and to develop, test and promote solutions to mitigate these risks together with its partners.

Like climate change and malnutrition, two other global challenges CGIAR works to address, antimicrobial resistance challenges us to use evidence and find ways to change the knowledge, attitudes and behaviors of people. Any solutions will require combining technical, institutional and policy innovations and leveraging the contributions of different sectors and disciplines, and both public and private actors.

The new CGIAR Antimicrobial Resistance Hub will work to foster learning from past experiences, support research excellence in the global south and ensure a critical mass of coordinated research to find suitable and sustainable solutions. ILRI will be joined in this effort by three CGIAR research programs—Agriculture for Nutrition and Health, FISH and LIVESTOCK—along with three CGIAR centers—the International Food Policy Research Institute, the International Water Management Institute and WorldFish. Together, these seven research programs and institutions with their national partners and partner research organizations outside CGIAR, will support global research efforts among experts the world over—from low- to middle- to high-income countries.

For more information about the CGIAR Antimicrobial Resistance Hub, contact Barbara Wieland at b.wieland@cgiar.org or Delia Grace Randolph at d.randolph@cgiar.org.

Working in the maize field in Malawi

Working in the maize field in Malawi (photo credit: ILRI/Stevie Mann).

The CGIAR Consortium, made up of 15 research centres, carries out agricultural research to contribute to the global effort to find solutions to the problems of poverty, hunger, food and nutrition insecurity, and environmental degradation.

Although there is still some disconnection between agriculture, health and nutrition, it is recognized that agriculture does indeed have important effects on human health. Aflatoxins, for example, pose significant health risks in tropical and subtropical regions.

Aflatoxins are highly toxic fungal by-products produced by certain strains of Aspergillus flavus in more than 40 susceptible crops including maize and groundnuts. Aflatoxins cause around 90,000 cases of liver cancer each year and are strongly associated with stunting and immune suppression in children. Aflatoxins in contaminated animal feed not only result in reduced animal productivity, but the toxins can end up in products like milk, meat and eggs, thus presenting a health risk to humans.

A new research paper published in the journal Food Security (20 May 2015) discusses how agricultural research by CGIAR can reduce the health risks from aflatoxin exposure for poor consumers while increasing the opportunities for poor farmers.

The paper, International agricultural research to reduce food risks: case studies on aflatoxins, begins with an overview of the evolution of CGIAR research on food safety and aflatoxins.

It then presents case studies to show how risk-based and market-based approaches as well as crop genetic improvement and biological control can help provide justification for and add value to future CGIAR research on aflatoxins.

In conclusion, the authors present five priority research activities:

  1. Generating evidence on the human and animal health impacts of aflatoxins
  2. Understanding the potential of improved technologies and good agricultural practices to reduce aflatoxin exposure in farm households and communities
  3. Assessing the costs and benefits of proposed strategies on aflatoxin reduction as well as other goals such as income and food security
  4. Assessing how costs and benefits are distributed across men and women in households and across different types of households in communities
  5. Understanding factors that facilitate and constrain adoption of aflatoxin control strategies would also be assessed, with particular emphasis on gender issues, incentives and on the role of health information and communication.

The paper was written by scientists from the following CGIAR centres: the International Livestock Research Institute (ILRI), the International Institute of Tropical Agriculture (IITA), the International Food Policy Research Institute (IFPRI) and the International Crops Research Institute for the Semi-Arid Tropics (ICRISAT).

Citation
Grace D, Mahuku G, Hoffmann V, Atherstone C, Upadhyaya HD and Bandyopadhyay R. 2015. International agricultural research to reduce food risks: case studies on aflatoxins. Food Security 7(3): 569-582.