Dr. Purvi Mehta
India has the highest concentration of human and animal interaction, contributing to strong human-animal-environment dependence vis-à-vis livelihoods and food and nutritional security. India is also a hotspot of several neglected zoonoses like Zoonotic Tuberculosis and Brucellosis besides various food borne diseases. This scenario has compounded the problem of Agriculture Associated Diseases (AAD), making it both complex and multifaceted, calling for interventions from different sectors.
Dr. Purvi Mehta, former Head, Asia Region, ILRI, shares her views on peri-urban farming in India and suggests ways to address the growing vulnerability of humans and animals. According to her, the livestock sector contributes nearly 27% to the national Gross Domestic Product (GDP) which is growing at a rate of 3-4% per annum. This indicates strong linkage of income and livelihoods with livestock marked by rapid growth in domestic and export markets for livestock in India. According to her, the intense interaction of humans with livestock in the country gives rise to many AADs, including zoonoses. Excerpts from the interview:
Q1: How is the livestock peri-urban farming scenario emerging in mega cities, across the world?
The problem exists, moreso in developing countries and transition economies where rural to urban migration is higher. Lack of infrastructure impacts cost effectiveness of trade in perishable products. Also, shift from rural to urban areas has led to flourishing of peri-urban farming. Growing environmental threats, especially zoonotic, owing to close proximity of humans and animals, spiralling land prices and increased demand for milk have contributed to mushrooming of peri-urban farming.
Q2. What are the health risk factors for livestock raisers and animals, involved in livestock peri-urban farming, in countries like India?
60% diseases in general are shared between humans and animals, making emerging diseases far more intense. According to global data, top 13 zoonoses are responsible for 2.5 billion illnesses and 2.2 million global deaths. Our concern must go beyond animal handlers and include consumers, with attention to issues like food safety.
Q3. Is enough being done at the policy level to ensure healthier and safer peri-urban settings?
Most policies are rural-focused. Urban policies exist but peri-urban again tend to fall through the cracks. More linkages are needed, calling for greater intersectoral collaboration between health-animal husbandry-agriculture-environment ministries. Better surveillance (disease) and disease reporting is imperative. Impact of zoonoses on economy and trade and resultant cost implications must feed into policy frameworks.
Q4: How do diseases associated with agriculture pose a serious threat to human health in developing countries?
Food borne/zoonotic/other diseases associated with agriculture have great impact on the health and livelihoods, regardless of which part of the world they reside in. South Asia, and in particular India, faces a high challenge of AAD owing to the phenomenal number of agriculture-dependent people as also livestock population that lives in these settings. Further, intense interactions between human and animals, fragile food safety standards and rapid intensification of agriculture across the country, just exacerbates this problem.
Q5: What would be the most appropriate way to resolve issues relating to health and agriculture in South Asia?
The time is right to address issues concerning health and agriculture in South Asia and India using cross-sectoral approaches. A holistic understanding of key policy issues that concern agriculture and public health is needed before effective solutions can be designed through collaborative efforts. Adoption of an all encompassing approach like One Health/EcoHealth is being increasingly recognised as a probable way of studying the complex linkages between human/animal/environmental health. Using synergistic efforts for disease control and health risk management on part of the Departments of Health, Animal Husbandry, Environment and Forests, amongst others, communities at risk from AADs will be linked with policymakers, public services, NGOs and researchers in a more efficient manner.