Bringing a relevant policy framework to a hitherto neglected peri-urban domain
As cities expand, frontiers between urban, peri-urban and rural activity blur and merge, presenting opportunities for beneficial linkages in the way businesses are transacted, be it setting up small holder dairy farms, livestock keeping and rearing, or other cottage industries. Since most peri-urban areas lie outside the legal jurisdiction of cities and municipal boundaries, they are cropped out from the responsibility frame of city authorities. With municipal departments not having specific laws to govern them, managing them becomes complex,creating growing tensions between peri-urban dwellers and municipalities on issues related to land-use, food safety,waste management, pollution, and disease control, amongst others. While it is difficult to regulate the unabated growth in urban population in the short-to-medium term, it is critical to study linkages and intersectoral collaborations between health, animal husbandry and agriculture, and environment ministries, with better disease surveillance and reporting. This will minimise potential hazards of contributing to what is fast turning into a dangerously unstable human-animal-environment interface.
Against this backdrop, it is vital to study models of existing periurban food production systems and evaluate their contribution to food security. Simultaneously, identify gaps and areas of concern, linking them to existing human and animal health, food safety and sustainable livelihoods.
Strong policy environment, a vital link in creating a healthy peri-urban ecosystem
Peri-urban areas often share the territory of more than one administrative unit. Weak links and limited municipal power in transport, water, energy, solid and liquid waste management, and land-use planning create confusion and overlap as to which institution will administer which specific area or activity. The problem of fragmented policy implementationis particularly relevant for understanding constraints faced in environmental planning and management of these spaces Systemic weaknesses and limited evidence to inform policy further makes peri-urban interfaces more vulnerable, especially with respect to those that live and work here.
From the policy perspective, recent responses are of interest to peri-urban ecosystems and intensive agriculture/disease risks. Jawaharlal Nehru National Urban Renewal Mission (infrastructure), National Urban Health Mission (health), Integrated Disease Surveillance Project and National Animal Disease Referral Expert System (disease surveillance/response to human and animal disease events), and Food Safety and Standards Act (food safety) and Intensive Dairy Development Programme and Dairy Entrepreneurship Development Scheme, 2010 (animal husbandry), are relevant frameworks.However, benefit of these policies rarely reach peri-urban dwellers due to lack of awareness, but mostly because they are not tailored to their specific needs. Poor penetration of outreach services on both human and animal health side andabysmal levels of delivery of municipal functions makespeople in these settingshighly vulnerable. To address challenges that arise from limited availability and pressure on resources within these ecosystems, an intersectoral and multi-disciplinary approach is needed to bridge the gap between risk drivers and risk management.
Complex interactions of economics, amenities and disease
With new farming practices, greater mobility and intensive production and demand on food, water and social systems in peri urban ecosystems, new evolutionary niches are forming thus resulting in emergence of pathogens, including rapid expansionof drug resistance in a wide variety of clinically important microbes as well as in those that are commonly encountered circulating in the community. Peri urban interfaces are at high risk of zoonoticdiseases that emerge from changing landscape-livelihood interactions that threaten not only occupational groups but also larger communities that inhabit in areas surrounding the high risk foci.
Increase in demand for meat, milk and dairy products in urban areas is met largely by peri-urban sector where livestock farming is a common livelihood option.Done under severe constraints of space and amenities, yet, with a view to maximise productivity, livestock farmerssometimes espouse practices (like non-therapeutic, non-prophylactic use of hormone and antibiotic supplementation for growth promotion)that are detrimental to human and animal health, environment, and livelihood sustainability. Poor infrastructure mutates these living spaces into miserable slums marked by limited outreach and low awareness of disease transmission risks.
These threats to public health and environmenthave far reaching consequences for emerging zoonotic diseases and agricultural sustainability, food security, and climate change effects.Livestock keeping has been largely neglected by policymakers and suffers from limited availability of systematically collected data, despite its significant contribution to poverty reduction. Further, livestock-related policies are often designed in isolation and tend to favour commercial enterprises rather than smallholders, partly due to limited participation of institutions that represent the poor within the policy makingmachinery. Lack of appropriate policy frameworks is thekey reason why scaling up of pro-poor livestock interventions fail or do not happen at the expected scale.
Rapid changes in globalisation; impact of climate change on food production, distribution and consumption; emerging biological and environmental contamination of the food chain; and new food technologies are closely related to food safety. Food safety standards traditionally have been in place for export oriented produce. The Food Safety and Standards Authority of India (FSSAI) has been established under Food Safety and Standards Act (FSSA), 2006. The Act replaces Prevention of Food Adulteration Act 1954 and consolidates other food acts like Fruits Product Order (FPO), Meat Food Products Order, Vegetable Oil products (control) Order and Milk and Milk Products order. These Acts, earlier handled by different ministries, now fall in the ambit of FSSA.
Apart from harmonisation of laws relating to food quality and standards with established international norms, FSSAI aims at regulating food hygiene and safety laws to systematically and scientifically develop the food industry.Clearly, cogent policy frameworks are now in place following establishment of FSSAI and FSSA Act 2005, however domestic consumption still takes a back seat due to implementation challenges. While practical application of this legislation will take time to come into full force, improved infrastructure for testing along with a policy to promote good food practices is needed.
Way forward & RCZI response
An enabling environment with clear, focused and implementable policies and well-thought-out strategies will help translate policy into bankable output. Central to the success of any policy intervention is the fact that it has to be pragmatic. Policies have hitherto been framed without taking into account their impact on livelihood of the targets, or the absorptive capacity of the systems for certain intense policy recommendations.
It is likely that many of these interventions for the periurban interface will have no precedent. All the more reason that policies and systems learn from global best practices while generating more evidence that can be adapted to ensuring peri-urban fringes evolve into healthy and sustainable ecosystems. While many policies at the human-animal-interface exist, they must be implemented, monitored and regulated in a way that reach peri urban settings. Suggestions on how the two major concerns of these settings can be addressed by policy makers include:
Making sure that systems, laws and regulations work
The India Research Initiative on Peri-Urban Human-Animal-Environment Interfaceaims to not only characterise problems on the interface but also identify linkages, models and frameworks to ensure better policy formulation, coordination and implementation. At the end of the 4-year Initiative, the research team will adapt standards, guidelines and best practices from around the world to identify, implement and rigorously evaluate solutions relevant to India’s peri-urban context. Proof of concept evaluations for different interventions will be undertaken to improve factors related to human and animal health, food safety, and secure livelihoods in thesesettings. Advocacy for modification of current husbandry practices to lower disease incidence and risk on the farms will also be devised.
The Initiative will streamline the process of policy making by conducting detailed stakeholder mapping and analysis, providing a common platform for intersectoral collaboration, and generating the evidence base for making incisive, directed, focussed policies intent on solving problems within the local context, utlising local infrastructure, systems and human resources. It will perpetuate benefits accrued during the project period in a self-sustaining manner by actively promoting capacity building of human resources, especially related to research and policy making in the context of prevention and control of zoonoses. In the long term, the Initiative will provide a platform for cross-sectoral dialogue – an essential component if India is to holistically deal with the emerging problems plaguing its peri-urban areas.
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