Monday, November 13, 2006 - 11:25 AM

Balancing Agriculture, Environment and Health Sciences in the Millennium Villages.

Cheryl Palm1, Sonia Erlich Sachs1, and Fabrice DeClerck2. (1) Earth Institute at Columbia Univ, PO Box 1000, Palisades, NY 10964-8000, (2) Centro Agronomico Tropical de Investigacion y Ensenanza, 19-7170 CATIE, Turrialba, Costa Rica

Declining agricultural productivity, poor human health, and land degradation are interlinked, making it difficult to distinguish cause from effect. Solutions are often sought independently among the agricultural, health, and environment sectors and approached from a single-sector perspective. But increased food production must be achieved with farm families that are often living on soils that can no longer produce sufficient food and that face labor shortages due to malnutrition and debilitating diseases. These problems are often heightened by agro-ecosystems that have lost many ecosystem functions, impacting both human health and agricultural productivity. The mainstream approach —wherein agriculturalists focus on increasing yields, nutritionists focus on food supplementation, and ecologists and agronomists work in direct opposition to each other — will no longer work and will in fact exacerbate many of the problems. New integrated approaches in tune with landscape and human ecologies that foster interdisciplinary dialogue and creative problem solving have a better chance to succeed. These approaches aim to understand the synergies, as well as the conflicts, among disciplines — taking advantage of the former, and seeking novel solutions to the latter — and show greater promise in balancing cross-sectoral development goals. In the Millennium Villages Project we use an integrated approach that addresses rehabilitation and diversification of agroecosystems, leading to increased food production, increased human nutrition and an enhanced natural and human resource base. Such systems should also be more adaptable and resilient to climate variability as well as economic and social changes.