Key research themes

LCIRAH's work, including its workshops and research, revolve around six areas of thematic interest:

Agriculture, diet and NCDs in development

Research on the nature of changing diets in LMICs, their agricultural basis and health impacts is very limited. This is in part due to the reluctance of the international development community to see “over-nutrition” as a problem of the poor, despite growing evidence to this effect. LCIRAH sees a particular evidence gap in this area and is addressing it through a number of studies which will address how diets are changing, why and with what effect.

Agriculture, poverty and health

This research theme examines the relationship between rural communities, agricultural production, poverty and health. Agricultural development, by increasing food production in rural communities, where most under-nutrition and poverty is concentrated, has long been presumed to improve nutrition and health. However, there is in fact very little evidence for this relationship. To examine it, we are integrating anthropological, nutritional, economic and modelling approaches. In most cases, the rural household serves as the unit of study, but some research is directed at examining national level changes resulting from specific policies and interventions to reduce rural poverty and under-nutrition.

Emerging food borne and zoonotic diseases

Food chains provide a conduit for the emergence and movement of infectious diseases from agricultural production to human populations. While much attention is paid to the risk of zoonotic diseases arising from human-livestock interactions, such as avian influenza and SARS, LCIRAH’s initial work suggests that a much less well known problem, of equal or greater significance for development, is the growth in food borne diseases in evolving food chains in LMICs. Therefore its work on food-related diseases focuses on both food borne and zoonotic disease in LMICs.

LCIRAH has also built, with the help of its host institution, LIDC, a strong presence in research to link animal and human health, now known as “one health” or “eco-health”, and is directing this growing field in a more “agri-health” direction, introducing economics, other social sciences, and the need to consider nutrition as well as disease in one health thinking.

Innovative metrics for agriculture and health research and evaluation

Cutting across LCIRAH research and the agri-health landscape is a challenge to develop methods to measure the health benefits of agricultural interventions for development. Accordingly, LCIRAH has developed a “metrics” research area, and initiated its work with an international, two-day workshop, “Measuring the effects of integrated agriculture-health interventions” co-hosted with the International Food Policy Research Institute (IFPRI) and held in May 2011. This meeting brought together 120 participants from Asia, Africa, Europe and USA and encouraged thinking “outside of the box” about measuring health effects. It identified opportunities for modifying existing metrics to be useful for agri-health systems, for modelling agri-health effects, and for extending current work on health economics into agricultural impacts.

Value chain approaches in agri-health research

As LCIRAH was being developed, the concept of applying food value chain theory to the understanding of agri-health processes has been emerging. A value chain approach examines the flow of money, information, inputs and food products along the sequence of actors from farmers through intermediaries to consumers. LCIRAH is now exploring how value chain approaches can be used to understand relationships between agriculture and health.

Impact of the environment and climate change on agriculture, health, and nutrition

Agriculture both affects and is affected by the environment. Food production contributes to about one quarter of global greenhouse gas emissions, more than two-thirds of water use, and occupies more than one-third of all cultivatable land. On the other hand, climate change, soil degradation, and biodiversity loss, among others, limit our ability to produce food. Connections between healthy and environmental sustainable diets are not always clear, and research is required to highlight the synergies and trade-offs. LCIRAH has been awarded several of the Wellcome Trust’s Sustaining Health grants to look at these intersections between food, health, and the environment.