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Agriculture and health: mitigating risks and optimising benefits


Agriculture is a crucial component of our food system, providing nutrition, building materials, and economic stability around the world. These positive benefits of agriculture are those which tend to be highlighted by the agricultural sector. Agriculture and agricultural development can, however, also have negative outcomes on elements such as the environment and importantly on human health. Increases in infectious disease (especially vector-borne disease) risk and transmission are often linked to agriculture. These links can be driven by changes to the environment impacting disease vectors’ ecologies, or socio-economic changes brought about by agricultural development impacting people’s access to protection and healthcare. Although these negative consequences of agriculture on human health are unintended, they have wide-reaching impacts on the health of large, often poor, populations, with vector-borne disease burdens disproportionately higher in low-and-middle income countries. The world’s growing population means that demand for agriculture is only going to increase to ensure food security. If left unmanaged, the vector-borne disease risks linked to agriculture and agricultural development are likely to intensify with this increase. We highlight the connections between agriculture and vector-borne disease, and the barriers which both the agricultural and health sector face in the challenge to tackle this issue. We introduce the co-benefits approach of finding ‘win-win’ solutions which optimize agricultural outputs while minimizing the negative impacts on human health. We provide examples of co-benefit approaches with a focus on agricultural irrigation projects which have reduced vector-borne disease risks and improved agricultural outputs. Finally, we suggest priority actions for both the agriculture and health sectors to overcome the challenges which impede the resolution of this problem

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