The One Health High Level Expert Panel (OHHLEP) defines One Health as an integrative and systems approach to optimize health by recognizing the interconnectedness between the health of humans, animals, and plants in their ecosystems within the environment. 

In 2022, the initial tripartite partnership of Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO), the World Health Organization (WHO) and the World Organisation for Animal Health (WOAH) recognized the need to expand the scope of One Health in the quadripartite collaboration that includes the United Nations Environment Program (UNEP) to guide the environment agenda of One Health. 

However, the contribution of environment sector to the One Health approach is still not well-understood.

In a recent (February 2024) gathering that deliberated on integrating environment and ecosystem health and its practitioners into One Health, organised under the auspices of COHESA – Capacitating One Health in Eastern and Southern Africa, discussions on ecosystem health status focused more on human interference with the natural order and less on innovations that have contributed to ecosystems’ restoration.

The conference was a wake-up call to purposely integrate environment-related disciplines in the quest to inculcate a One Health thinking. It was noted that environmental health was most crucial to the well-being of the other aspects of One Health and had an overarching role. Without it, none could survive.

The advent of modern biotechnology and other emerging plant and animal breeding agri-innovations are developing crop and animal traits to cope with climate change impacts and subsequent intractable diseases (including pandemics). These scientific interventions are providing sustainable One Health solutions and integrating them into agro-ecological approaches could provide a bigger gain for ecosystem health. They need to be deconstructed for accurate representation within the quadripartite partnership for One Health initiatives and perceptions on the same managed through evidence rather than emotions.

Agri-innovations, for instance, contribute to preservation of soil microbiomes thus arresting Antimicrobial Resistance (AMR), a major One Health concern. Conservation agricultural practices and biological control methods for pests offer minimal interference with the soil, reducing pathogen turnover and transfer of genes conferring resistance. These practices are enhanced by agri-innovations such as genetically modified crops which, resistant to specific weeds, eliminate the need for mechanical weeding. 

Further, agri-innovations offer solutions to treating raw animal manure as fertilizer, effectively reducing the transfer of antimicrobial-resistant genes from pathogens. This works to reduce resistance to antimicrobial pesticides which may be transferable to antimicrobials used by humans and animals. 

In addition, certain agri-innovations such as boll-worm-resistance in cotton (Bt cotton) reduce insecticide use significantly. This contributes to a cleaner environment and decreases chemical exposure that could trigger some non-communicable diseases. Brookes (2022) for example showed that pesticide residues have reduced considerably since the onset of cultivating genetically modified food and feed crops three decades ago. These improvements have effectively reduced the number of sprays per cropping season, a major boost to food safety, soil health and water health; another cluster of One Health concerns.

Other studies have found that insect resistant maize (Bt maize) has significantly lower aflatoxin and other foodborne mycotoxins that cause known non-communicable diseases in humans and animals.  

As well, minimal tillage substantively reduces carbon emission thus decelerating climate change.

Agribiotech-innovations have also been shown to protect farmers’ yields against pests’ damage, thus increasing harvests per surface area. This has multiple benefits (beyond directly improving food and feed security) to one health as it reduces encroachment of conserved land that hosts wildlife. It has been reported that approximately 70% of zoonotic diseases, identified from 1940 to 2006, were from wildlife and spillovers attributed to encroachment and land-use changes for agriculture and urban development.

By increasing yields, agri-biotech innovations can cushion communities against human-wildlife interactions, thus the probability of disease transmission between human and wildlife population, all contributing to One Health solutions.

These findings clearly show that supporting integration and responsible use of agri-biotech innovations into our food systems improves ecosystem health, effectively contributing to One Health approach.


Dr Margaret Karembu is a senior level Environmental Management specialist and a member of the COHESA project consortium.