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Volume 20 Issue 6 Nov , pp. Volume 19 Issue 6 Nov , pp. Many in the agriculture sector assumed that producing more staple foods would mean less hunger and improved nutrition and health. However, the evidence for such improvement arising from agricultural development is limited—even for agricultural interventions intended to improve nutrition. This lack of evidence has generated intense interest today in understanding the processes by which agricultural and food system change affects the composition, quality, and safety of diets, and how this can in turn improve nutrition and reduce disease associated with poor diets and unsafe food.

International development has been slow to see the link between agriculture, food, nutrition, and health.

The Millennium Development Goals recognized neither the improvement of agriculture nor nutrition as key development objectives, or as a contributor to obtaining the improved health and education goals on which they were principally focused. Decades of isolation between agriculture and health development communities had generated little interest and no methods to evaluate the effects on health of agricultural investments. Research on the interactions between agriculture, food, nutrition, and health, and the tools to evaluate these and design and test better interventions, were largely lacking.

This has led to new efforts to create an intersectoral and interdisciplinary approach that brings together agricultural and health development research communities and their different disciplinary approaches and tools. In this paper, we describe an initiative to integrate agricultural and health research communities for improved nutrition and health, the Leverhulme Centre for Integrative Research on Agriculture and Health LCIRAH, www. Starting in , LCIRAH has grown from an academic idea into a project funded by the Leverhulme Trust, and then into a diverse programme of integrated research projects, contributing along the way to creating a new field of research, and a new community of researchers that is contributing to this development challenge.

We focus here on how LCIRAH was developed, the challenges we faced and the lessons we have learned that may be of general interest to interdisciplinary research programmes directed at global development. Note that we shall refer to LCIRAH as an interdisciplinary programme, for convenience, to describe work which involves research integration across both sectors e.

LIDC was established in as a formal collaboration between six specialist Colleges of the University of London, and coordinated a programme of intercollegiate and interdisciplinary discussions to identify interest and opportunities for development research collaboration. Through LIDC, researchers from several Colleges discovered a common interest in collaborating across agriculture and health research. Senior researchers from these Colleges agreed to meet regularly to explore opportunities for collaboration. While today the interaction between health and agriculture is well articulated and appreciated, in there was far less understanding of both the problem and its potential solutions.

In our proposal, we therefore identified some key global development issues that we felt would benefit from an integrated approach, and presented these as a graphical argument shown in Figure 1. We proposed that decoupled agriculture and health systems and policies were preventing effective action to address these challenges. Hence change had to start there, breaking down the research silos between these sectors and disciplines. The reader may surmise correctly that our title, the Leverhulme Centre for Integrative Research on Agriculture and Health, was created by a committee, perhaps our first success, along with Figure 1 , in finding a common language with which we could work together across sectors and disciplines.

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Leverhulme Trust support was strongly focused on funding researchers; new academic staff, Postdoctoral researchers and PhDs, but did not extend to research project costs. The MC had the role of developing our programme, agreeing research projects within it, and finding new funding to support this. To plan our initial Ph. Workshops were held to develop research ideas for each of these areas, and it was agreed that all research work carried out by Ph. The first round of studentships and postdoctoral positions was made to teams of MC members in Subsequently, Ph.

In , we established an Advisory Group of leading researchers interested in agriculture and health from different sectors and disciplines. They met with us in and , and then less formally as expert advisors on specific topics, and provided valuable external perspectives that caused us to modify our course on more than one occasion. Monthly MC meetings created a regular opportunity to share new funding opportunities and to decide whether and how LCIRAH MC members would develop new joint research proposals for these.

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LCIRAH was very successful at attracting grants from a growing number of funding agency calls for interdisciplinary research, possibly because we could build more convincing proposals than those from more ad hoc interdisciplinary partnerships created specifically to respond to new calls. Most of our new grants were significantly more restricted than the LCIRAH grant, with very specific activities and outputs expected by the sponsoring bodies. This made developing a portfolio of complementary and interactive projects challenging.

This framework is illustrated in Figure 2. Each block is an area of research, and linking these to existing publications revealed gaps in research studies that took agricultural interventions green through to nutritional outcomes yellow , and a general gap in research on indirect effects of agricultural income orange on improving nutrition by improving health and education. In , the Wellcome Trust, a leading funder of basic health research, started a new interdisciplinary initiative on environmental drivers of health outcomes, entitled Our Planet Our Health.

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LCIRAH's body of work around sustainable and healthy food systems has been an area of particular research innovation, and we highlight some of its outputs in Box 1. Agriculture and the wider food system is a major contributor to environmental impacts. Our early work estimated the greenhouse gas emissions of UK diets and modeled the health effects of dietary shifts toward low emission, healthy diets.

Palm oil confers significant economic benefits as a cheap and versatile food ingredient, but oil palm production has been linked to deforestation and increased greenhouse gas emissions, while palm oil's high saturated fat content has been associated with adverse cardiovascular health outcomes. While much LCIRAH research addresses the effects of agriculture and food systems on nutritional outcomes, there has also been a research focus on how agricultural change affects other aspects of health, particularly infectious disease.

This is a relatively unexplored area and Box 2. They have investigated the relationships between ASF production, distribution, consumption, nutrition outcomes, and health in poor urban communities. ASFs, including meat, eggs, and dairy, provide a range of essential nutrients of high quality and bioavailability, but can also carry food safety and noncommunicable diseases risks that require careful management if ASF is promoted for improving nutrition.

Researchers from a range of disciplines characterized the structure, flows, processes, deficiencies, and potential health or nutrition risks of key livestock chains supplying Nairobi. Other studies analyzed the demand for ASF consumption, including drivers and barriers. This is providing a basis for future work to design nutritious and safe food environments for the urban poor. Using funds remaining from Leverhulme Trust support and contributions from other projects, LCIRAH plans from to maintain its modest, coordinating secretariat activity while seeking new core funding on the basis of its success to date.

A shared workspace was provided to Ph. From to , 22 Ph. We chose instead to develop focused short course training to reach disciplinary specialists and give them new interdisciplinary skills. It required a broader, international dimension. Subsequent annual conferences covered a range of themes, with an emphasis on sharing new methods and approaches to research.


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Papers for presentation were selected competitively by the LCIRAH MC and Junior Team on the basis of their originality and quality, and a large poster session ensured that most participants had a chance to present their work. This attracted over researchers, with a strong African representation.