Malaria, Climate, & Agriculture: History and Implications for a Warming World

Friday, September 6, 2019 - 2:00pm


Steffen Eikenberry
Arizona State University


The dramatic changes in land use and energy systems of the last several centuries have driven unprecedented trends in capital accumulation, population growth, and urbanization, but have also degraded natural ecosystems, and continue to dangerously alter the climate.  Capital, energy, and agriculture all interact to determine disease patterns in human populations, with malaria a canonical example.  Malaria, a deadly parasitic disease spread via the Anopheles mosquito, has historically, from decadal to millennial timescales, and at local to global spatial scales, exhibited a dynamic where agricultural expansion and economic development initially drive an increase in disease, followed by a decline as these activities mature.  This pattern is only partly observed, however, in tropical Africa, where over 90% of global malaria deaths occur, and the climate is especially conducive to malaria.  Africa is dominated by smallholder subsistence agriculture with low access to modern inputs, and agricultural expansion may exacerbate, rather than alleviate poverty.  Moreover, ongoing climate change will have broadly negative effects on Africa, including declining agricultural productivity, and may favor the spread of malaria mosquitoes into areas previously less affected.  Mathematical models can help elucidate the direct influences of climate and malaria control efforts on malaria potential, and the historical development of such models and their application to the eastern African highlands is presented.  Such modeling can in turn help inform a broader understanding of the nexus of climatic, agricultural, and socioeconomic factors that may increase disease risk and poverty in a warming world.