Keeping an eye on banana disease

The bacterial disease Xanthomonas wilt causes banana fruit to rot.

The bacterial disease Xanthomonas wilt causes banana fruit to rot © Pascale Lepoint / Bioversity International

Dr. Fen Beed is an experienced plant pathologist based at the International Institute of Tropical Agriculture (IITA), Dar es Salaam, Tanzania. He leads research for development activities to mitigate the impact of diseases of maize, soybean, cowpea, cassava, banana and vegetables and promotes plant diseases on problematic weeds.

The first and critical step to manage a disease is to diagnose the causal agent(s). Once this is done, appropriate control methods can be deployed, based on available knowledge or on results generated from targeted research. IITA led an initiative to define the factors required to create a functioning disease surveillance network across a region.

The initiative targeted the two most serious threats to banana in the Great Lakes region of sub-Saharan Africa (SSA); namely banana Xanthomonas wilt (BXW), caused by the bacterium Xanthomonas campestris pv. musacearum (Xcm), and banana bunchy top disease (BBTD), caused by the banana bunchy top virus (BBTV). BXW and BBTD are established in several countries in SSA where banana production is of critical importance. Countries included were Burundi, Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC), Kenya, Rwanda, Tanzania, Uganda and Zambia. In order, to strengthen both national and regional communication pathways, representatives from both national research organisations and national plant protection organisations agreed to form a network for regional surveillance of BXW and BBTD. The specific objectives were to share information on the diagnosis and management of these diseases and to map their distribution across locations that were of strategic importance to the region. Read more of this post

New technology for detecting pests and diseases

by Keron Bascombe, Technology4Agri

IPM Scope for identifying diseases

IPM Scope – a new technology to aid identification of plant diseases © Spectrum Technologies

Much of farm enterprise activity is spent dealing with pests and diseases which significantly lower the yield of produce. For many producers this warrants the use of pesticides of many kinds to deter a wide variety of pests and insects that can either destroy crops or act as vectors that cause disease. Excess use of pesticides can not only harm the plant and its soil (or soil medium) but it is potentially harmful to those labourers applying the chemical and in the long run to those consuming the crop.

In this regard, early detection of pests and disease is paramount when operating a medium to large scale agri enterprise, as pesticide application can be minimised if pests are found before they get out of control. There are numerous technologies, ranging from simple applications to complex innovations, that can be used to identify harmful insects and the like. Currently, some of the more high-tech tools are quite expensive, especially for farmers in developing countries. However, as demand and use increases in countries such as the United States, these tools will become more accessible worldwide. Read more of this post

Helping to Secure Crop Yields Globally with Land Drainage

by Tim Sissons of William Morfoot land drainage, experts based in the East of England.

Water drainage on farmland

© William Morfoot

Along with a combination of other factors, agriculture, and therefore food production depend on the proper management of water to enable crops to develop properly and yields to be healthy.

Globally, ecosystems and environments vary greatly and even the most experienced crop producers can see a drop in yields when dealt a particularly nasty deal by Mother Nature.

To provide them with sustainable agricultural development and to help secure their harvest, farmers often rely on land drainage systems to help them cope with a deluge of rain or even a lack of it.

Although it may seem like an odd statement, a sustainable land drainage system is as important in areas of low rainfall as it is in those where rainfall is high. In the first instance a correctly installed land drainage system can help to minimise soil salinisation and in the second it is necessary to prevent the water logging of soils which can lead to a whole host of difficulties.

In 2002, the FAO estimated that salinity had damaged about 20 to 30 million hectares of irrigated land, resulting in loss of crops for a number of those working in the agricultural industry globally – upsetting food security. A build-up of saline happens more regularly on irrigated land due to the addition of salts in irrigation water where natural drainage is insufficient.

Land drainage is also pivotal for securing the quality of soils, as waterlogging prevents crops accessing the vital nutrients needed to grow to their full potential.

So how is land drainage relevant across the world? And how do different ecosystems use land drainage systems to their advantage? Read more of this post

The Model Plant

Arabidopsis thaliana

Arabidopsis thaliana is a model organism for plant science research

Charis Cook works for GARNet, a BBSRC-sponsored network that supports plant scientists in the UK by, among other things, linking researchers to each other and to the research councils, and providing an information hub for plant scientists. GARNet also has its own blog. Before working for GARNet, Charis was at Royal Holloway, University of London, as a post-grad student and then a post-doctoral researcher.

Arabidopsis thaliana, an unassuming Brassicaceae species with a short life cycle and tiny white flowers, was the subject of nearly 4000 peer-reviewed journal articles in 2011. A. thaliana is also the starting point of much of the research featured on the Plantwise blog, as plant molecular biology depends heavily on resources built on research on this small plant. Read more of this post

Crop wild relatives help adapt agriculture to climate change

Wild Sunflowers (Credit: Luigi Guarino, Global Crop Diversity Trust)

The Millennium Seed Bank Partnership has begun work to collect seed from the wild relatives of 26 crop plants as their genetic diversity may enable us to adapt agriculture to future climates. Guest blogger Dr Ruth Eastwood is Crop Wild Relatives Project co-ordinator, based at RBG Kew’s Millennium Seed Bank at Wakehurst Place, UK.

Read more of this post

The road to sustainable intensification of agriculture

The biodiversity of non-cropped areas can benefit farmers © Maggi_94 (CC BY-NC-SA 2.0 license)

Last week, Professor Tim Benton, the UK Global Food Security programme ‘champion’, wrote a guest blog post about ecosystem services and the need for sustainable intensification of agriculture. This week he follows on from this by looking at how farmers can integrate protection of ecosystem services into their land management without losing out finanically. Read more of this post

Ecosystem services and the need for sustainable intensification

Our first guest blog is from Professor Tim Benton. Tim is Professor of Ecology at the University of Leeds, where his research interests focus around agriculture-ecological interactions.  He also currently has a role as “Champion” for the UK’s Global Food Security programme which aims to coordinate food security related research across the major public funders. Read more of this post

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