Many of the global challenges we face are interconnecting and complex. They require interdisciplinary solutions. For example food supply chains, from producer to consumer, are long and formed of many actors, processes and locations. Often the agricultural development sector focuses on short chains in rural communities in developing countries where much of the food produced locally is also consumed locally. While this may be advantageous to small-scale farmers, it does not address the global issues of trade and food prices which can have severe impacts on small value chains.
One such multidisciplinary challenge is the double burden of non-communicable diseases and malnutrition across the world, a challenge which the Leverhulme Centre for Integrative Research on Agriculture and Health (LCIRAH) is trying to address.
At the 2nd Annual LCIRAH Agri-Health Workshop, entitled The Role of Agricultural and Food Systems Research in Combating Chronic Disease for Development, participants and researchers were invited to step out of their disciplines in order to share knowledge and learn from others. The aim of the workshop was to identify an interdisciplinary research agenda in order to understand the role of the food system in combating chronic disease.
And the workshop was a success. Meaningful collaboration between research partners included identification of key research areas identified and discussion as to where institutions would be working within this agenda.
There is still a long way to go though. As yet very little collaborative research around the agriculture, nutrition and health nexus has occurred and what has is often from individual disciplines resulting in a variety of perspectives.
Three of the key discussion points at the conference centred on: 1) the route to achieving a multidisciplinary research agenda; 2) the links between food, nutrition and health and 3) what future research is needed.
On the first the need for multidisciplinary journals and researchers was noted but it was accepted that students still require a ‘home’ discipline to ensure both depth and breadth of knowledge. Inclusivity was also seen as crucial: involving all the actors such as government, healthcare and the food industry, particularly as in the past the food industry have been a barrier to government regulations on unhealthy foods.
Links between food, agriculture, nutrition and health are complex and need investigating. Per Pinstrup-Andersen of Cornell University noted the need to investigate both dietary and non-dietary pathways between the food system and health. He also said investigation into new ways of thinking about public-private partnership was required, seeing it less as a partnership in the classic sense of the term and more as a sequential process whereby the public sector determines the foundation within which the private sector operates before stepping aside.