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As nations rapidly develop, agriculture intensifies, providing numerous economic benefits. But intensification can also damage the environment and pose serious health risks. Human health depends on the well-being of surrounding ecosystems. This has led to an area of study called “eco-health”.

The Field Building Leadership Initiative, supported by IDRC, aims to address the associated health risks of intensive agricultural practices in Southeast Asia and China. Over the past five years, the international group has investigated specific problems and potential eco-health solutions in China, Indonesia, Thailand, and Vietnam. The scientists tested urine samples from farmers in Yuanmou, a key vegetable-growing region in China, where 28% of the samples contained traces of at least one pesticide, even though the region switched to “low toxic” pesticides in the early 2000s. The team distributed informational calendars and performed street theatre in villages to educate the farmers about how to reduce pesticides and use them safely.

Another team found an increase in the incidence of dengue and chikungunya around the rubber plantation areas in eastern Thailand, and the rubber workers had limited knowledge of these vector-borne diseases. Heavy metals and the bacteria E. coli and Salmonella were also found to be contaminating water in the area. Inappropriate disposal and handling of chemicals, including poor self-protection and sanitation, were observed. Apart from providing health education, the research team promoted the use of insecticide-impregnated screen jackets as one self-protection measure. A pilot vector-control intervention introduced super-sterile male mosquitoes into the environment to reduce vector populations and risk to the diseases they transmit.

In Vietnamese communes, the group tested biogas — fuel produced using human and animal waste — and found the wastewater resulting from its production exceeded standards for the bacteria E. coli and Salmonella, the parasite Giardia, and other harmful contaminants. Biogas wastewater used as fertilizer also put farmers at high risk of diarrhea. Villagers appreciated having a biogas expert speak to them about proper management, and some villages implemented new sanitation rules as a result of the project.

Almost 30% of Indonesia’s milk production occurs in West Java. However, research in the West Java district of Pangalengan revealed that smallholder dairy farmers struggled with low milk yields and quality, and poor farm sanitation practices. The researchers developed ways to convert cow waste and earthworm feces into fertilizer. They also developed a food supplement for cows made of molasses, probiotics, turmeric, the leaves of star gooseberry and earthworms. These not only created a new source of income for farmers, they also proved effective in increasing farmers’ yields.

While influencing decision-makers to adopt eco-health policies remains a challenge, the Field Building Leadership Initiative underscored that headway has been made through networking and engaging with local communities and other stakeholders. As a result of the Field Building Leadership Initiative, eco-health has been integrated into the curricula of four universities in Southeast Asia (Vietnam, Thailand, Indonesia) and China. More than 400 professionals and graduate students attended workshops across the region to learn about eco-health and leadership, building a new generation of eco-health professionals.

The original version of this article was published in the 2017 edition of Asia Research News.

Photo: International Livestock Research Institute



Country Profile

Although economic growth and government strategies have reduced poverty in China, rural and minority populations still endure hardship. Our funding helps researchers find solutions — for economic growth, governance and justice issues, health concerns, and a changing climate.

As the country’s political influence in the world increases, we’ve supported the Chinese government’s interest in designing policies based on evidence and public input. For example, research on public participation in budgeting led a number of local governments to adopt more transparent and accountable budgetary processes.

Preventing HIV transmission

To reduce HIV transmission, IDRC-funded research is using mathematical modelling to influence local and national policies in China. This support helps prevent HIV-positive individuals in China from infecting others. The Ministry of Health and the Centre for Disease Control in China scaled up prevention treatments to reduce HIV transmission.

Research-generated mathematical modelling has also helped public health officials improve their evidence-based decision-making, to determine whether HIV infection rates are increasing or declining. Researchers developed models to better predict incident rates. Results pointed to higher annual HIV incidence than national estimates and led China’s Ministry of Health to re-evaluate their 2013 estimates.

Innovations in farming

Our research support over two decades has introduced innovative farming practices in China. For example, Canadian and Chinese researchers developed a mobile phone technology that supports applications to make valuable information, such as wholesale food prices, accessible to poor farmers. Researchers are also developing ways for farmers to adapt to water-related stresses, including drought and flooding.

Research throughout the previous decade has forged partnerships between state plant-breeders and farmers with knowledge of local corn and rice varieties. Together they have improved yields, incomes, and caloric intake in farming communities. Chinese authorities promoted these methods nation-wide.

Total IDRC Support

260 activities worth CAD $54.2 million since 1981

Children reading books in a classroom in China.

IDRC support is helping

  • increase local researchers’ economic analysis and applied research abilities 

  • build skills and knowledge to communicate research results and contribute to public debate 

  • develop effective water resource management in the Asian Highlands in response to climate change 

  • maximize the benefits and mitigate the negative impacts of Chinese investment in Laos and Cambodia 


Explore research projects we support in this region.

Photo: Dominic Chavez / World Bank