The relationship between health and agriculture is unmistakable and reciprocal. Intake of nutritious, plant-based foods and medicines enhances health, but agriculture is also an important source of livelihood for many people in developing countries. Expansion of agricultural practices, such as irrigation, use of chemical fertilizers and pesticides, and biotechnology, have increased food supplies and enhanced health for many. But, trade-offs exist in the form of unfavorable environmental health, socio-economic and development consequences like increased malaria carrying mosquitos associated with irrigation, disease causing pesticides, emergence of drug-resistant strains of bacteria and parasites associated with livestock factory farming (Keyamo).
Agribusiness products contribute directly to global food security, poverty alleviation and prevention of disease; whereas agricultural processes create risks to health. Leading companies have shown that industry can and should mitigate these risks, whether through technologic innovation or corporate social responsibility (CSR) (gbchealth.org). As such, agribusiness can help alleviate related health risks, such as malaria, which has ties to agricultural production and is a significant focus of several companies. Ongoing corporate initiatives include educating farmers about improved farming methods, creating new insecticides as a result of insecticide resistance and offering low-cost malaria treatments (gbchealth.org).
Malaria continues to be one of the most significant mosquito-borne parasitic diseases. It affects more than 212 million people, causes 429,000 deaths annually and adversely impacts socioeconomic development in Sub-Saharan African countries. Although the World Health Organization (WHO) says the malaria burden has declined – with morbidity worldwide reduced by 21 percent and mortality by 29 percent between 2010 and 2015 – Sub-Saharan Africa still accounts for approximately 92 percent of all malaria cases and deaths (Kaindoa et.al 1).
Mosquito survival, density and distribution are dramatically influenced by small changes in environmental conditions like temperature, humidity and availability of suitable breeding sites (Junko & Levins). The greatest impact on mosquito activity is deforestation and subsequent agricultural cultivation, which results in increased water exposure to sunlight (Junko & Levins). Unfortunately, in areas like Africa where the limited arable land is too dry for rain-fed agriculture, irrigation is the most effective way to increase crop production (Ijumba, Mosha & Lindsay).
In fact, malaria costs governments and the corporate-sector $US 12 billion annually and inhibits agricultural productivity in the following ways:
- Farm output: Ill-health or premature death of farmers from malaria leads to decreases in farm output or crop production;
- Financial insecurity: Increased expenditure on malaria treatments limits household spending on other essential items like food, shelter and education. To offset medical bills, patients and their families may give up agricultural assets, such as land, livestock or equipment, thus shrinking the agricultural supply chain in a region;
- Agricultural innovation: Premature death from malaria of trained personnel and farmers hinders the use of acquired knowledge to develop new agricultural techniques.
Many companies are now leading the way in supporting the fight against malaria in Eastern Africa (Kenya, Tanzania and Uganda). These include:
- Advanced Bio-extracts Limited, which produces a low-cost artemisinin malaria treatment. Artemisinin is a core component of the WHO recommended Artemisinin-based combination therapies used as first-line treatment of uncomplicated malaria (WHO). In partnership with Action Medeor, a German medical aid non-profit organization, and TechnoServe, a United States-based non-governmental organization (NGO), the program trains local farmers to effectively cultivate the plant Artemisia annua from which Artemisinin is derived. Advanced Bio-extracts Limited then purchases Artemisia annua leaves from local farmers and extracts the active ingredient at its processing plant in Kenya (globalhealth.org);
- International fashion retail company C&A, which has partnered with Textile Exchange and ShellFoundation to provide training for 30,000 farmers in India on the cultivation of organic cotton. This technique helps conserve water and avoid use of artificial fertilizer and toxic pesticides, two methods to prevent increases in mosquito breeding;
- Bayer Crop Science, which is producing public health insecticides administered via aerosol spray, indoor residual spraying or in bed nets. The company launched its innovative LifeNet in 2011, which has the pyrethroid insecticide deltamethrin in its fibers to protect sleepers against mosquito bites;
- Sumitomo Chemical, which is a leading producer of fertilizer, basic chemicals, public health insecticides and long lasting insecticide-treated nets (LLINs). Sumitomo is partnering with Innovative Vector Control Consortium (IVCC) to produce LLINs with alternative active ingredients that combat the growing threat of mosquito resistance to pyrethroid insecticides, which are used in most bed nets.
Ultimately, collaboration between local communities, governments, NGOs and private industry is essential to create the most sustainable impact. Companies can join business coalitions like Corporate Alliance on Malaria in Africa (CAMA), which is managed through GBCHealth. Coalitions like CAMA leverage pooled resources and core competencies to fight malaria and other diseases to enhance collective on-the-ground global health impacts (globalhealth.org).
- Ijumba, J. N., F. W. Mosha, and S. W. Lindsay. “Malaria transmission risk variations derived from different agricultural practices in an irrigated area of northern Tanzania.” Medical and Veterinary Entomology 16.1 (2002): 28-38.
- Kaindoa, Emmanuel W., et al. “Interventions that effectively target Anopheles funestus mosquitoes could significantly improve control of persistent malaria transmission in south–eastern Tanzania.” PloS One 12.5 (2017): 1-19.
- World Health Organization. “Globalization, diets and noncommunicable diseases.” (2003).
- Yasuoka, Junko, and Richard Levins. “Impact of deforestation and agricultural development on anopheline ecology and malaria epidemiology.” The American Journal of Tropical Medicine and Hygiene 76.3 (2007): 450-460.
- Bulletin of the World Health Organization. “Links between Agriculture and Health.” (2006)