Does irrigated agriculture increase malaria? By April Frake

Monday, June 05th, 2017 | Author:

Are efforts to mitigate food insecurity increasing malaria vulnerability? Irrigation systems are expanding across Africa to improve food insecurity, particularly given changing climate. While research has demonstrated a 2-4-fold boost in crop productivity, the transformation of the landscape for irrigated agriculture is associated with increasing malaria vulnerability for those living within close proximity to irrigated agricultural schemes. The research I am undertaking serves as a critical examination of the dynamic changes in irrigated agriculture on malaria vulnerability across Malawi.


April Frake is a doctoral student in the Department of Geography, Environment and Spatial Sciences. She researchers medical geography, infectious disease transmission in Africa.


In April 2017, I had the opportunity to present the most recent findings of my research at the Association of American Geographers (AAG) conference in Boston. My presentation highlighted the results of three types of surveys conducted at varying times between March 2016-March 2017: Land cover, human malaria, and adult mosquito density. Using these results, historic malaria prevalence data, and locations of sites proposed for the expansion of irrigated agriculture in Malawi, I discussed how these spatial relationships offer predictive power in hypothesizing vulnerability, exposure risk, and malaria transmission driven by irrigated agriculture across scales.


The session I presented in was entirely on research being conducted on human malaria across Africa. As such, I expected to walk away inspired and challenged by my peers. Yet, while sessions directly related to my research interests are always beneficial, my favorite part about conferences is interfacing with others whose interests are wildly different than my own. To that end, poster sessions always rank among my favorite activities at any meeting I’m attending. I liken poster sessions to research grab bags- you never know what you’ll stumble upon. At AAG, one poster in particular stood out to me: a study on the wedding dress industry in Uganda and its implications on femininity and gender identities. I must admit, I don’t recall the technical details of the project, but the conversation I had with the student presenting the work was stimulating. I spent the better part of that afternoon thinking about the role that gender plays in shaping vulnerability to malaria infection across my study site, a consideration I had given little thought to previously.


Inspiration comes from a multitude of places. While its always tempting to stick with what you “know” at conferences, my advice to students is to make it a point to attend a talk, poster session, or meeting on some topic(s) different from your own. These are opportunities to listen and learn from others, to discover new methodologies, and generally to consider new ideas and perspectives.


April Frake is a doctoral student in the Department of Geography. Her trip to present her research at the American Association of Geographers in Boston this spring was funded in part by ESPP. 

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