Production without medicalisation: a pilot intervention in global protein production

Lead Research Organisation: University of Exeter
Department Name: Geography


Global stewardship of existing antibiotics within livestock systems is a key component of any attempt to manage the incidence and transmission of emergent and resistant bacteria, resistance conferring genes and mobile elements. Yet, global demand for animal derived protein is fuelling investment in and intensification of livestock systems with resulting increases in use of veterinary medicines. These systems have until now relied on medicinal and other inputs as infrastructure that permits increased stocking densities and livestock throughput, while reducing morbidity and mortality. In this sense, antibiotics have become a key component of livestock agriculture. Decoupling agriculture from the risks of generating greater antimicrobial resistance is a key challenge addressed in this project.

This project focuses on the growing and under-regulated aquaculture (fish and shell fish production) sector within Asia, which is intensifying to meet domestic demand for animal derived protein and worldwide export markets. We aim to to assess the growing use of antibiotics within this important sector of global food production, and experiment with farm based medicine stewardship strategies that promote sustainable and appropriate use. The project has implications for food security, food safety, human and environmental (aquatic) health as well as the livelihoods of millions of people.

The rapidly growing and intensifying global aquaculture industry (the so-called blue revolution) is known to be a major user of antimicrobials and a key gateway for antimicrobial resistance. Reducing or preventing the escalation of non-therapeutic and unnecessary uses of antibiotics requires social innovations that address path dependencies and the socio-economics of livestock production.

Detailed knowledge on the uses and socio-economic drivers of antimicrobial inputs in aquaculture is required in order to
1. Minimise the potential risks of aquaculture expansion for human and environmental health.
2. Develop strategies that allow for the prudent use of compounds, particularly where they increase risks of the emergence and transmission of antimicrobial resistance.

In this pump-priming project we seek to investigate variability in use of antibiotics and AMR-related inputs within aquaculture, and devise a strategy that encourages appropriate and alternative animal health treatments. We focus on the effective stewardship of antibiotics within the rapidly growing, poorly regulated and heterogeneous shrimp and prawn sectors in Bangladesh.

The project involves development of a partnership between UK and Bangladeshi expertise, and involves social scientists, biologists, aquaculture and rural development experts in order to understand the drivers of antibiotic uses and to cooperatively develop with farmers interventions for developing more appropriate treatments and disease abatement strategies. The project will survey shrimp and prawn farmers and hatcheries to develop clear understanding of the relationship between farm inputs, farm sizes and value chain characteristics. This information will be augmented with more detailed interview data with farmers, farm suppliers (those who sell antibiotics and other inputs), market intermediaries, depots and other key actors. The resulting knowledge on the disease as well as socio-economic pressures that farmers face will be used to develop a series of workshops in which farmers will work together to devise a social and technical specification for a farm-based intervention that allows for more sustainable and appropriate development of aquaculture. Once co-developed in the form of an in-principle design, the step-wise approach to design as well as the design itself will be used to seed further funding and impact across the fish and livestock sectors.

Planned Impact

Who will benefit from this research?
Understanding the uses and drivers of antibiotics and other inputs into aquaculture, as well as seeking to generate interventions that can be adopted by farmers, will have impacts on the industry, on farmers and potentially will generate a usable and adaptable tool that can help to improve appropriate uses of pharmaceuticals.
Beneficiaries include:
1. Aquaculture farmers in Bangladesh
2. Broader animal livestock farmers

How will they benefit from this research?
In engaging with this research a range of farmers will co-generate the design for a socially applicable and technically suited intervention tool that will assist farmers in their disease management questions. This could be as simple as devising a question and answer service that relates to the use of pond treatments, or may develop a more interactive IT based tool that matches farmer information to treatment advice. The benefit for farmers will be to potentially reduce costs and to develop more sustainable and resilient aquaculture practices.

The lessons learned from this research will be of interest to a broader community of animal health experts who are interested in the regulation of pharmaceutical inputs in environments where regulation is difficult to enact. Absence of veterinary guidance, highly mediated relations with value chain actors and availability of often cheap medicines requires experimentation in developing farmer actions. The approach taken in this pump-priming project may have potential impacts across other agricultural production systems.

What will be done to ensure that they have the opportunity to benefit from this activity?
Within the life of this pump priming project we will only have the opportunity to ensure that any intervention has been designed cooperatively and carefully so that is technically and socially suited to the context of application. Further funding will be sought to develop the specification and generate field trials.


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