The Leverhulme Centre for Integrative Research on Agriculture and Health (LCIRAH) was established in 2011 with a £3.5m grant from the Leverhulme Trust, as a collaboration between Colleges of the University of London who belong to the London International Development Centre (LIDC). Founding members include the London School of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine (LSHTM), the Royal Veterinary College (RVC), the School of Oriental and African Studies (SOAS) and the School of Pharmacy (SoP). The School of Pharmacy left LCIRAH in 2016 when it merged with University College London, while City University of London (City) joined LCIRAH in 2017.
With funding for academic staff, Postdoctoral fellows and PhD students, this intercollegiate consortium created a research programme on interdisciplinary research across agriculture and health, with a particular focus on the challenges in low- and middle-income countries (LMICs). LCIRAH generated a concept of Agri-Health, illustrated in the figure below, and thereby a clear role for academic institutions and research to address the historical disconnect between agriculture, health and environment sectors that has led to many current global problems.
In the course of this work, LCIRAH became a platform for the development of new interdisciplinary projects and programmes between its members and with external partners. The largest of these are highlighted under Programmes on this website. LCIRAH members have so generated over 80 interdisciplinary research projects in agriculture, health and the environment, ranging in size from £100,000 to £7m. Following the end of the Leverhulme Trust funding in 2017, LCIRAH continues as a dynamic interaction between sectors and disciplines, facilitation the generation of new research ideas, findings and projects for its members and their partners around the world.
LCIRAH is led by a Management Committee which has met monthly since 2012 and has comprised about 10-15 researchers from different disciplines and sectors in our member Colleges. Supported by a small Secretariat comprising a Chair and a Coordinator, this Committee makes key decisions about areas for new research collaboration, proposals and projects, and support of the LCIRAH Team, the larger group of academics, fellows and students who also meet monthly to discuss research and collaboration. The LCIRAH Team, including the Management Committee, now comprise about 50 researchers, including Visiting Fellows from non-member Colleges who have worked with LCIRAH and continue to participate. Current Team Members are listed in People.
Through the many project it has generated, LCIRAH has also achieved its ambition to support development of an international research community in agriculture and health. Starting with its own annual international agriculture and health conferences in 2011, LCIRAH and the IMMANA project which it facilitated, joined other international partners in 2016 to incorporate these into a new Agriculture, Nutrition and Health Academy which now meets annually, alternating between Africa and Asia, and includes not only a continuing research conference, but twos days of learning labs to help young researchers development interdisciplinary understanding and skills. More information about IMMANA and the ANH Academy can be found here.
In 2018, LCIRAH’s Management Committee published a paper in the journal Global Challenges, describing the development of LCIRAH as a successful interdisciplinary programme to address a global challenge. Details on LCIRAH’s development, including the conceptual frameworks critical to its agri-health approach, and research and teaching activities can be found here.
More importantly, this paper contains an analysis of the elements of LCIRAH that contributed to its considerable success in growing a single project into a £20m research portfolio in agriculture and health and helping to build an international research community in this new area. In short, this success was due:
- a commitment to frequent interdisciplinary meetings, the value of unifying conceptual frameworks, and a focus on developing novel methods and metrics
- a commitment to training the next generation of agri-health researchers, through strict interdisciplinary leadership of all studentships and a strategy of building interdisciplinary skills on a strong disciplinary skill base
- a commitment to build an international research community in agriculture and health through an inclusive approach to partnerships and a focus on organizing scientific meetings and mentorship in LMICs.
We need a more integrated, intersectoral approach to developing strategies and policies where agriculture and health interact, particularly in an international development context.
In order to build the evidence base for such joined-up policy, we propose development of unifying research approaches and methodologies between agriculture and health, under a new paradigm, “agri-health”.
This approach will help us to better understand problems associated with development, environmental change, and globalization, and give us tools for their solution. But to do this we need to address some historical and institutional barriers. Agriculture and health sectors have developed policies independently over the past century, often with little interaction. This isolation is reflected in government ministries, multinational business clustering, and the present UN system.