The CGIAR GHUs: Making plants and the world safer through phytosanitary interventions

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Pandemic! That word strikes at the heart of global sensitivities right now. But while most people are thinking of the coronavirus disease 2019, a.k.a. COVID-19, this post is focused on something else. In a just-published paper, CGIAR scientists talk about the risks of globalization of pests and pathogens and their impact on food systems.

Imagine if a pandemic or epidemic affects a crop with disastrous consequences on food production, livelihoods, and environmental biodiversity. This scenario is not hypothetical. As was the case in the Irish potato famine of the 1840s, to the most recent examples of severe pandemics of the maize lethal necrosis in East Africa, cassava mosaic in East Asia, fall armyworm in Africa, to list a few examples. These epidemics, caused by introduced pests and pathogens, have devastated crop production, caused food shortages, constrained market access, and destroyed biodiversity, causing severe impact on farmers’ livelihoods and economies.

Plant pathogens and pests that are already established within countries around the world are known to be responsible for about 40% crop yield losses worth about US$ 220 billion globally. The last thing countries expect is an addition of another pathogen or a pest. For instance, the spread of fall armyworm into Africa resulted in additional losses running into millions of dollars due to direct loss of produce and indirectly from expenditure incurred for pest control.

Pests spread through several pathways, some natural and some human-made. Plants and their propagative material, and vegetative propagules, have the inherent ability to harbor pests and disease-carrying organisms. Because of this, transferring germplasm (seed) between geographies carries a simultaneous risk of moving pests across boundaries and their introduction in territories where they are not known to exist.

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