Authors: Alessia Maira and Moritz Fegert
In the context of increasing food security threats, more sustainable and resilient food systems will be key to ensuring people have access to safe, nutritious, and healthy food while preserving the environment. In an online workshop organised with its partner Youth Café at the beginning of October 2022, foraus discussed local challenges and policy solutions in the Eastern African region with local food system-, health- and other practitioners working towards natural habitat protection. This article states the main challenge areas and solution pathways for decision-makers.
Food security and One Health: why it matters
Food security is a crucial issue in East Africa in 2022, with over 50 million people expected to face acute food insecurity as reported by leading UN bodies and specialized news outlets. This is not only due to the geopolitical crisis situation the world is facing since the Russian aggression in Ukraine but is linked more largely to the predominant approach in exploiting natural habitats and negative externalities resulting from conventional agri-food systems. In this context, One Health offers interesting perspectives for a more holistic approach.
While One Health is not a new concept, it has become increasingly relevant in recent years as a consequence of global population growth, increased movement of people and animals, climate change, and the growing exploitation of land through practices linked to intensive farming causing deforestation and biodiversity loss at large. In short, the “One Health” approach is meant to address public health from a perspective that encompasses the well-being of every living organism: as human health is closely connected with the health of animals and the environment, considering the interlinkage between these three is key in defining sustainable policy solutions.
Challenges actors in the region are facing
- Acaricide failure
As reported by participants, acaricide resistance, pesticides used to kill ticks and mites, is a major challenge in Uganda as it is associated with economic losses in farming as farmers face increasing costs to buy acaricides and treat sick animals. This natural phenomenon is accelerated by several factors such as improper dilution of acaricides, improper storage, prolonged use of a specific class of acaricide, and the use of counterfeit products. Farmers are reported to have doubled the concentrations used and added herbicides to acaricide formulations. These concentrations can be destructive to the environment and even cause cancers in livestock and humans who are exposed.
- Demographic pressure and related consequences for natural habitat and protected areas
Eastern Africa’s population is expected to double by 2050 (together with the Southern African region). This demographic pressure has direct implications for human habitat destruction as more land is needed for food production (according to FAO agricultural expansion accounts for nearly 90 of global deforestation), destroying wildlife habitat, generating more interactions with humans, and increasing the likelihood of spread of diseases between wild animals and humans.
- Antimicrobial resistance (AMR)
AMR is common in both humans and livestock and has been accelerated by factors like; antimicrobials being readily available over the counter in pharmacies, people not adhering to recommended dosages, and people not adhering to livestock withdrawal periods after administration of the drugs. AMR has led to people suffering an increased burden from diseases that could have otherwise been avoided.
- Communication and awareness
Local farmers and communities can play a relevant role in nature conservation and sustainable land use. However, poor community engagement and awareness, non-acknowledgment and understanding of the One Health concept, lack of consideration for intergenerational equity, trust issues, and a spread perception that conservation practices are expensive to render it difficult to convince local farmers to take measures to preserve nature and practice sustainable land use. Lack of awareness in these areas might negatively affect current and future health issues and negatively impact the next generations. In relation to this, the concept of how agricultural land use affects health and development is not fully incorporated in government deliberations and is not a public policy priority. Last but not least, corruption linked to the attribution and use of land is another challenging factor for a One Health approach to natural habitat management.
- No “one size fits all” solution
Another challenge in the region is the lack of diversity in projects and policies proposed by foreign organizations such as NGOs, which often do not take into consideration the very different types of biodiversity present in a given area: One Health policies in East Africa should not be thought of and executed with a “one size fits all” approach.
Measures to be taken
- Fight acaricide failure: Acaricide failure should be fought against via (1) education programs for farmers to develop more targeted approaches against acaricide (e.g. through rotational use of herbicides) and (2) via enhanced laboratory capacity for the control of ticks.
- More protected areas: The size and amount of protected areas should be increased in the region with adequate accompanying measures regarding the resettlement of potentially affected populations (e.g. financial compensation, retraining, and alternative livelihood programs), building on experiences by non-governmental organizations such as Conservation Through Public Health.
- Regulate access to antimicrobials and increase laboratory capacity: The usage of antimicrobial drugs should be better regulated and laboratory surveillance of AMR should be enhanced in the region (more funding for laboratory equipment and education of personnel).
- Support sustainable farming: Food system actors should receive better education offers about sustainable farming methods and the use of less water-intensive agricultural practices
- Empowerment of local communities: In order to address communication and awareness issues and promote One Health and sustainable land use, it is important to build trust and empower local communities to understand that their actions today will affect the next generations. Local One Health community champions could for instance be hired through publicly funded awareness-raising campaigns.
- Civic education: Civic education programs for youth should be established in partnership with AFROHUN, a network of universities in Africa working on One Health-related issue.
Stakeholders to engage with:
- Ministries (Agriculture, Environment, and Health) and other governmental entities (e.g. national centers for disease control).
- International organizations such as FAO and the African Union.
- NGOs and civil society organizations.
- Academic institutions
In conclusion, the successful implementation of the One Health approach is extremely important for sustainable and resilient food systems. The above-mentioned recommendations following a One Health approach have the potential to promote sustainable and balanced land use and farming while ensuring community agency.
The authors would like to thank participants for their contribution to the workshop, notably Dr. Mark Okot, Sali Ronald Ogwa, and Stephen Rubanga from Conservation Through Public Health (Uganda) as well as Ms. Edwinah Atusingwize from Makerere University School of Public Health (Uganda), and our partners from the Youth Café.
This article and the workshop it is based on, are part of foraus' One Health for the Future project and have been made possible thanks to the generous support of the Rosa-Luxemburg Stiftung with funds of the Federal Ministry for Economic Cooperation and Development of the Federal Republic of Germany.