Effective plant health management requires holistic approaches that focus on preventing entry, establishment, and spread of invasive pests and pathogens, to the extent possible, and mitigation of 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 on containment and management actions (in most cases using pesticides) after the occurrence of an outbreak, might have paid off in the short- and medium-term, but cannot be sustainable.
Robust and resilient agri-food systems begin with healthy crops. Healthy crops are indeed key to ensuring food security and livelihoods for millions of smallholder farmers in the world’s poorest countries. For this reason, the United Nations declared 2020 as the International Year of Plant Health. The recent years have seen a major increase in the spread of transboundary pests and pathogens of crops. International agricultural trade has seen sharp growth since 1990.
Besides air-borne, seed-borne and insect-vector channels, increasing agricultural trade, especially since 1990, travel (although affected in the last two years due to COVID-19), and weak phytosanitary systems in some developing countries are accelerating the global spread of devastating crop pests and pathogens, threatening global agri-food systems and food security.
Each year, plant diseases are estimated to cost the global economy over $220 billion, and invasive insects at least $70 billion. Recent analyses showed that the highest losses due to pests and pathogens are associated with food-deficit regions with fast-growing populations. The situation is aggravated by the effects of changing climate, driving the emergence of new threats.
The combination of modern science, global partnerships, and knowledge may enable the farming communities to be better prepared to counter threats to plant health. Integrated approaches should capacitate the farmers to effectively address the challenges of transboundary pests, and thus, threats to their food security and livelihoods. However, a truly integrated and holistic approach should also ensure sustainable integration of plant health innovations into the agri-food systems and in social landscapes, including gender-responsiveness, so that:
- the technologies indeed reach all those who are in need of them;
- resource-constrained women and men farmers who adopt the innovations are able to increase their incomes; and
- the technologies are congruent with community norms and values as well as with the preferences and needs of the weaker/marginalized sections of society.
This opinion piece is derived from presentations and discussions held during a webinar on Transboundary Disease and Pest Management (March 3, 2021), as a part of the International Year of Plant Health (IYPH) webinar series organized by the Consultative Group on International Agricultural Research (CGIAR).
Prevention is always better than cure
Infected seeds or planting materials, pathogen-contaminated field equipment, insect-vector movement, the strong migratory capacity of some of the insect-pests (e.g., plant hoppers, locusts, fall armyworm), conductive environments, changing climate, and intensive crop production, besides global air and sea traffic, are all major causes of the rapid spread of pests and diseases. Preventing the incursion/introduction and outbreaks/establishment of pests and diseases to new areas is always better than scrambling to find a cure.
In recent years, reports of the introduction of non-indigenous pests into new territories have increased globally, driven by (1) agricultural intensification, (2) international trade, and (3) climate change. The introduction of exotic pests through seed and vegetative propagation material is a major pathway for the spread of devastating pests.
To reduce this risk, nations have established plant quarantine procedures in accordance with the multilateral treaty on plant protection. These quarantine procedures are enforced by national plant protection organizations (NPPOs) and provide a frontline defense to contain transboundary pest invasions.
Integrated management of transboundary crop pests and pathogens
The goal of integrated pest management (IPM) is to economically suppress pest/pathogen populations using techniques that support healthy crops, reduce the use of pesticides, and minimize harm to people and the environment. Host plant resistance and diversification of resistance genes, both in space and time, proved to be a powerful way to proactively tackle the impact of transboundary pest and pathogen invasions. An effective IPM strategy will integrate and employ an array of gender- and culturally appropriate approaches including clean seed systems, host plant resistance, biological control, cultural control or good agronomic practices, and the use of safer pesticides only when absolutely needed to protect crops from economic injury.
Gender issues, and disciplinary gap between social and biophysical scientists
Women play significant roles in pest management in some regions, such as obtaining and planting healthy seed/planting materials, identifying pest symptoms, and participating in crop protection activities, such as pesticide application. However, the lack of gender and social perspectives in plant health surveillance, technology development, access to extension services, and impact evaluation has been one of the major impediments to improving the adoption of IPM strategies.
Effective plant health management requires holistic approaches that focus on preventing entry, establishment, and spread of invasive pests and pathogens, to the extent possible, and mitigation of 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 on containment and management actions (in most cases using pesticides) after the occurrence of an outbreak, might have paid off in the short- and medium-term, but cannot be sustainable. The following are specific recommendations to improve transboundary pest management:
Multi-institutional and multi-disciplinary efforts are required to curb the spread and impacts of transboundary crop pests and pathogens, including
- proactive actions through globally coordinated surveillance, diagnostics, and deployment of plant health solutions;
- effective communication and data sharing among relevant stakeholders;
- epidemiological modeling, risk assessment, forecasting, and preparedness for proactive management as well as rapid response and containment; and
- implementation of context-sensitive, and eco-friendly management approaches.
It is important to recognize that IPM is not only about “Integrated Pest Management”, but also “Integrating People’s Mindsets” i.e., thinking beyond narrow disciplines and institutions, and working together to deliver holistic and sustainable solutions to the farmers’ fields.
Pest management decisions must be improved through evidence-based guidance frameworks, especially for identifying target countries/regions for risk management, and for deploying innovative management approaches, including resistant varieties and biological control, where available.
Understanding gender and cultural influences, besides heterogeneous socio-economic impacts of plant health innovations, and intensively promoting farmers’ collective action can aid in bridging the gender gap, and improving the adoption of IPM by resource-constrained farmers.
Read the opinion piece:
Prasanna BM, Carvajal-Yepes M, Kumar PL, et al. (2022) Sustainable management of transboundary pests requires holistic and inclusive solutions. Food Sec.