Protecting Food Security from Transboundary Pests and Building Resilient Agrifood Systems
Robust and resilient agrifood systems begin with healthy crops. Healthy crops are indeed key to ensuring food security and livelihoods for millions of resource-constrained smallholder farmers in the world’s poorest countries. Globalization and changing climates are exacerbating the occurrence and spread of devastating crop pests, threatening agrifood systems and food security of farming communities. Protecting genetic gains from transboundary pests through innovative plant health solutions is, therefore, as important as our intensive efforts to increase genetic gains using novel breeding tools/technologies.
Implementing a Proactive and Holistic Plant Health Management Strategy
Effective plant health management requires holistic approaches that focus on preventing entry (to the extent possible), establishment and spread of invasive pests, and mitigating the impacts of the outbreaks through eco-friendly, socially inclusive and sustainable management approaches. The “reactive approach” followed, in general, by most institutions and countries, focusing mostly on containment and management actions (especially using pesticides) after the occurrence of the pest outbreak, might have paid off in the short- and medium-term, but will not be sustainable on a long-term basis. It has become imperative to take “proactive actions” on transboundary pest management through globally coordinated surveillance, diagnostics and deployment of plant health solutions, besides dynamic communications, and data sharing among the relevant stakeholders.
The national plant protection organizations (NPPOs) provide the frontline defense to contain transboundary pest invasions. However, many low- and middle-income countries (LMICs) are unable to implement adequate quarantine measures due to poor technical capacity and a lack of resources to adequately test and monitor biological material. The Consultative Group on International Agricultural Research (CGIAR) Germplasm Health Units (GHUs) work in close collaboration with NPPOs, contributing to the knowledge on pest/pathogen distribution, development and application of diagnostics for pest/pathogen identification and seed health certification, and use of phytosanitary methods to generate pest- and pathogen-free germplasm for safe international distribution. Under the One CGIAR Plant Health Initiative, together with international partners, we aim to significantly strengthen the capacity of the national partners, especially NPPOs, to implement a holistic, multi-institutional strategy, including surveillance and diagnostics, epidemiological modelling, risk prediction, early warning and capacity to implement rapid response whenever a new threat emerges. At the same time, emphasis will be on empowering local communities in pest surveillance (often referred to as “crowdsourcing”) to inform national and regional networks.
Accelerating Adoption of Integrated Pest Management (IPM)
The goal of IPM is to economically suppress pest populations using techniques that support healthy crops, reduce the use of pesticides and minimize harm to the people and the environment. An effective IPM strategy will judiciously use an array of appropriate approaches, including clean seed systems, host plant resistance, biological control, cultural control and the use of environmentally safer pesticides to protect crops from economic injury without adversely impacting the environment. Implementation of multidisciplinary and multi-institutional plant health management strategies have enabled protection against some of the most devastating transboundary insect pests and diseases, including wheat rusts, maize lethal necrosis (MLN) in Africa, banana bunchy top virus in Africa and cassava mosaic viruses in Africa and Asia.
The fall armyworm (FAW), or Spodoptera frugiperda, is an important example that highlights the need for more effective national, regional and transcontinental coordination in managing a highly destructive and invasive pest. The pest poses a serious threat to the food and nutrition security and livelihoods of hundreds of millions of farming households. FAW invasion has also resulted in heavy use of pesticides, posing a serious threat to natural enemies (parasitoids and predators of FAW), human health and the environment. Although there is a wide array of proven technologies for the control of FAW (and other lepidopteran pests), these are not equally accessible, affordable or scalable to diverse farming communities across Africa or Asia. It is, therefore, critical that researchers design, validate and scale-up appropriate IPM packages suitable for smallholders’ farming contexts, especially based on five criteria: cost, efficacy, safety, accessibility and scalability.
IPM Is Also about Integrating People’s Mindsets
The lack of gender and social perspectives in plant health surveillance, technology development, access to extension services and impact evaluation is one of the major impediments in improving adoption of IPM strategies. Equitable and inclusive innovations need to start by involving female farmers in pest surveillance and technology development, especially by learning from their experiences and knowledge. The combination of modern science, global partnerships and knowledge sharing is the only way forward to be better prepared to effectively counter existing and emerging crop pests, and for building resilient agrifood systems. We must recognize that IPM is not only about integrated pest management, but also “integrating people’s mindsets,” thinking beyond narrow disciplines and institutions and working together to deliver integrated and holistic solutions to the farmers’ fields.