What about One Health approach to plant health for feeding a growing population expected to reach ten billion by 2050? Well, a group of researchers argue that this approach is vital.
The researchers, who published a commentary in the CABI Agriculture and Biosciencejournal, suggest that a One Health perspective can help optimize net benefits from plant protection to realize greater food security and nutrition gains.
One Health is defined as an approach to the pursuit of public health and well-being that recognises the interconnections between people, animals, plants, and their shared environment. It recognizes that the health of humans, domestic and wild animals, plants and the wider environment are closely linked and inter-dependent. However, the concept of One Health is often discussed in the context of zoonosis control, with plant health and environmental concerns typically receiving less attention.
On the claims, the researchers said “we argue that a One Health perspective can help optimize net benefits from plant protection, realizing food security and nutrition gains while minimizing unintentional negative impacts of plant health practices on people, animals and ecosystems.”
Dr Vivian Hoffmann, Senior Research Fellow at the International Food Policy Research Institute (IFPRI), is the lead author of the commentary which focuses on two primary trade-offs that lie at the interface of plant health with animal, ecosystem and human health.
EFFECTS OF PLANT HEALTH
The researchers argue that measures to keep plants healthy can impact human health both positively and negatively. Protecting plant health through use of agrochemicals versus minimizing risks to human health and antimicrobial and insecticide resistance is one consideration, they said.
They note that human health, and ecosystem health, and farmers’ incentives are aligned for many plant health practices.
The scientists said “One Health also frames the complex interaction between human well-being and plant health at a higher level. Increasing crop yields through healthy plants is critical to achieving food security for a growing global population.”
But with agricultural production posing threats to environmental processes that underpin human health, the researchers underscored the importance of sustainable agricultural intensification for One Health, i.e. increasing production from the same area of land at lower environmental costs. Some of the threats posed by agriculture are that they contribute 34% of greenhouse gas emissions, consume 84% of fresh water, and is the single biggest source of eutrophication causing nitrogen and phosphorus pollution in aquatic systems. Further, agriculture leads to soil degradation and erosion and drives biodiversity loss through encroachment on natural areas, disrupting ecosystems, and thereby increasing the risk of new emerging zoonotic pathogen.
The commentary, which stems from a webinar organized by CGIAR and attended by over 200 participants from around the world, discusses challenges and opportunities for advancement associated with each of these trade-offs – by taking account of how the priorities and constraints of stakeholders may vary by gender.
It stresses that building the capacity of regulatory bodies in low and middle-income countries to conduct cost-benefit analysis has the potential to improve decision-making in the context of these and other multi-dimensional trade-offs.
The webinar included presentations on sustainable intensification, benefits to plant health, and risks to human health, of using manure and wastewater to fertilize food crops; Tanzania’s experience with pesticide regulation’ management of plant associated food safety hazards where regulatory capacity is weak, and the role of gender in One Health.
Webinar participants made the point that farmers and other stakeholders of limited means, and women in particular, may not have the luxury of prioritizing environmental sustainability.
Dr Hoffmann said, “This points to the need for external financing, perhaps through international green development or climate funds, to promote ecologically sustainable agricultural practices.”
The scientists also believe that trade-offs are expected to depend critically on the intensity of exposure to environmental hazards, food security status, and income levels – all of which vary across countries. There therefore a need, they say, for context-specific analysis and, as such, greater capacity for cost-benefit analysis in low land middle-income countries as a matter of priority.