I thought they worked together easily. But the further they climb the academic ladder and the more responsibilities they take on, the scarcer their interactions become.
And nothing, at this meeting, illustrated it as vividly as today’s session on Addressing Agriculture-Associated Diseases.
This international conference, organised by the International Food Policy Research Institute (IFPRI), is aimed at initiating conversations between experts in agriculture, nutrition and health, since they have complementary roles. Rajul Pandya Lorch, of IFPRI, calls it finding synergies for the three to leverage agriculture, nutrition and health.
“Our experience is that farmers appreciate collaboration but scientists work in isolation,” said Kabba Joiner, a health consultant from Burkina Faso.
There are few areas where experts work together. Srinath Reddy, president of the Public Health Foundation of India, taught me that one of them is in climate change.
“This is one of the few areas with a multi-sectoral approach,” he said.
John McDermott, deputy director general for research at the International Livestock Research Institute (ILRI), says that disciplines only come to consensus when there is a serious crisis. Then, you see some semblance of collaboration. Otherwise, in normal, day-to-day activities, even within an institution, it is difficult to find it.
Very few research institutions, he said, share facilities. They are full of compartmentalisation. “From the young at universities we need to get people out of their silos. The young also quickly learn to pick it up,” said McDermott, adding “we are best friends at big meetings like this but then it ends there”.
Even with intradepartmental collaborations, like those between malaria, TB and HIV/AIDS departments in the ministry of health, working together is like undertaking the energy-sapping stunt of climbing a tall mountain from the rear, according one delegate from Ghana.
“The higher you go, the more impossible working together becomes,” he said. That is the dilemma that experts in agriculture, nutrition and health face – yet their roles are complementary.
Dominique Charron, Programme leader at the International Development Research Centre, prays that experts will change from collaborating only at meetings.
McDermott finds few successes, among them the 2008 avian flue pandemic when animal and human health experts came together. But still, he says, it is doable
Ochieng’ Ogodo, Sub-Saharan Africa News Editor, SciDev.Net