Agriculture is critical for human welfare, providing food, employment, income, and assets. In the past, agricultural research and development largely focused on improving production, productivity, and profitability of agricultural enterprises. Nutrition and other benefits of agriculture were not always optimized, while the negative impacts on health, well-being, and the environment were often ignored. This was especially problematic for livestock systems, with especially complex negative and positive impacts on human health and well-being.
An important negative effect of agricultural intensification is disease. Highly pathogenic avian influenza (HPAI) is a notorious example of a disease that was fostered by intensified agricultural production and spread through lengthened poultry value chains and the global movement of people and animals. Large-scale irrigation projects, designed to increase agriculture productivity, have created ecosystems conducive to schistosomiasis and Rift Valley fever.
The responses to disease threats are often compartmentalized. Instead of analyzing the tradeoffs between agricultural benefits and risks, the agriculture sector focuses on productivity, while the health sector focuses on managing disease. A careful look at the epidemiology of diseases associated with agriculture, and past experience of control efforts, shows that successful management must be systems-based rather than sectorally designed.