In a new film tied to the annual release of the Global Agricultural Productivity Report, “Agricultural Productivity in a Time of Pandemics,” Virginia Tech Executive Vice President and Provost Cyril Clarke discusses the linkages between human, animal, and environmental health — a concept known as One Health.

“About three-quarters of emerging infectious diseases in people are actually derived from animals,” Clarke said. “This ability for a pathogen to be transmitted from an animal to a person, that is a zoonotic disease, and zoonotic diseases, like coronaviruses, are immensely important.”

The 2020 Global Agricultural Productivity Report (GAP), produced by CALS Global in the College of Agriculture and Life Sciences, explores the relationship between agricultural productivity and pandemic-scale outbreaks of diseases and pests that sicken and kill people, crops, and livestock. 

The report emphasizes the critical need for public-sector research into technologies and practices that help our agricultural systems prevent, absorb, and adapt to diseases and pest outbreaks. 

Clarke describes Virginia Tech’s approach to solving pandemic-scale challenges.

“You need to convene people with different types of disciplinary experience and knowledge to first study and understand the problem, and then solve it,” he said. “Virginia Tech is standing up a center that will be focused on emerging zoonotic and arthropod borne diseases. And the individuals who are leading that effort are our scholars who have an international reputation for the excellence of their work.”

The film will be broadcast on Oct. 12 at 9 a.m. EDT on the GAP Report website. It will be available on-demand on the website immediately following the broadcast.

Provost Cyril Clarke
“You need to convene people with different types of disciplinary experience and knowledge to first study and understand the problem, and then solve it,” said Provost Cyril Clarke.

The theme of the 2020 GAP Report was inspired by the COVID-19 pandemic, but that is just the tip of the iceberg, according to Ann Steensland, who leads the Global Agricultural Productivity Initiative and authors the annual report.

“Agricultural producers must contend with disease and pest outbreaks with alarming frequency. While most of our current attention is on COVID-19, in East Africa, swarms of desert locust are decimating crops, wiping out a source of food and income for millions of people," Steensland said.

Agricultural productivity growth is critical to cultivating resilience, says the report. Productivity-enhancing technologies and practices help producers prepare for and adapt to pest and disease outbreaks. For example, precision agriculture technologies provide producers with real-time data that can be used to track and isolate disease outbreaks in crops or livestock. 

Unfortunately, agricultural productivity is not rising fast enough to ensure resilience in the face of pandemics. New data from the USDA Economic Research Service will show that global agricultural productivity growth is stagnant, and in low-income countries, it has declined sharply. This has implications not only for resilience, but also global goals for sustainability, food security, and poverty reduction. 

The GAP Report is launched every October as part of the Borlaug Dialogue and World Food Prize events in Des Moines, but this year it will be a virtual event.

“We are disappointed to not be in Des Moines again this year because of the COVID-19 pandemic,” said Tom Thompson, associate dean of the college and director of Global Programs. “However, we’re excited about how this new GAP Report launch format will help us reach more people with our message about agricultural productivity and resilience. For example, this year the launch event will be available not only in English, but also in French, Hindi, Kiswahili, and Spanish.”

Other participants in the film with ties to Virginia Tech are alumni Jewel Bronaugh, commissioner of Virginia Department of Agriculture and Consumer Services, and P.J. Haynie, of Haynie Farms and chair of the National Black Growers Council. Ray McKinnie, dean of the Virginia State University College of Agriculture, and Virginia Cooperative Extension 1890 administrator, is also featured.

“The GAP Report not only provides thought leadership about agricultural productivity, resilience, and food security — it is also key to CALS’ determination to be a leading global college of agriculture and life sciences,” said Alan Grant, dean of the college. “We’re also pleased that Provost Clarke brought his veterinary medicine expertise and insights to the launch event.”

The GAP Report and related activities are funded by its Supporting Partners: Bayer Crop Science, Corteva Agriscience, John Deere, The Mosaic Company, and Smithfield Foods. The GAP Report’s Consultative Partners include ACDI/VOCA, CIP (International Potato Center), Farm Foundation, Harvest Plus, International Institute for Cooperation on Agriculture, The Nature Conservancy, New Markets Lab, Purdue Center for Global Food Security, Sasakawa Africa Association, Sehgal Foundation, Supporters of Agricultural Research Foundation, Tanager, and the Daugherty Water for Food Global Institute at the University of Nebraska.

-Written by Ann Steensland