Supplying reliable, adequate and safe nutrition for more than 7 billion people is among the most important and complex of human responsibilities. Pre- and postharvest plant disease cause crop losses of around 20% globally, with higher losses in poorer countries. At a time when support for agricultural research and development, essential to overcoming the inadequacies of the current system, has declined markedly, the effectiveness of development programs have come under increased scrutiny.
Many development programs fail to reach expectations because they are narrowly discipline-focussed and ignore the socio-economic, gender and environmental contexts of the research and training provided. Project milestones are often framed as inputs without an adequate evaluation of impacts. For example, increasing cocoa yields requires labour to implement the necessary disease management interventions. Participatory research programs are effective at training farmers, but widespread adoption often remains low, primarily because incentives for labour are limiting due to a range of social, economic and health constraints beyond the expertise of plant pathologists. For example, poor nutrition, infections, child and maternal diseases typically account for 20-30% lost productivity in developing countries. Young, relatively healthy labourers migrate to towns and cities in search of better living conditions and higher incomes, leaving an aging farming population with increasing health problems and poor access to services.
We believe that effective programs to reduce crop losses to plant diseases require interdisciplinary teams including expertise in health, agriculture, environment, marketing and social sciences. We will illustrate our integrated approach to improving plant, animal, human and environmental health with examples from our work with smallholder cocoa farming communities in Bougainville and Sulawesi.