Managing plant pathogens by enhancing ecosystem services

 

Pollination, an example of an ecosystem service  © Reinhold Stansich

Pollination, an example of an ecosystem service © Reinhold Stansich

From the 8th-12th April experts met in Bellagio, Italy to develop a strategy to mitigate the effects emerging plant diseases are having on crops in sub-Saharan Africa. Among these experts were Plantwise staff. A major theme throughout the conference was ecosystem services and how agricultural biodiversity can enhance the provision of these services, creating resilient agro-ecosystems.

Click on the link below to read more about the conference:

Bellagio Center conference on dangerous plant pathogens

The world’s last meal- what does a homogenous global diet mean for food security?

CAB Abstracts Globe_plusDietApple

You’d think, from the vast variety of international cuisines that line our high streets and supermarket shelves, that globalisation was widening the global palate. Recent evidence suggests it’s just not the case. As the global diet narrows, concerns are growing for the world’s food security and the ecological implications of setting up a ‘global monoculture’.

A recent PNAS study found that the variety of crops we are eating is narrowing. It found that in the last 50 years the global diet has homogenised on average by 16.7%. The highest rates of homogenisation are being seen in East and Southeast Asian and sub-Saharan countries. Diets are tending to ‘westernise’ with wheat, rice and oils becoming much more popular. More traditional local foods like sorghum, cassava and millet are contributing less to the global diet. Read more of this post

Tackling food insecurity with mobile technologies

It is important for farmers in developing countries  to have access to the best agricultural information available to prevent crop losses and boost food security and wider livelihoods. Under the Plantwise programme, CABI helps local governments and extension workers set up plant clinics where farmers can come for unbiased and practical agricultural advice helping them to “lose less and feed more”. Farmers come with their crops and the trained plant doctors diagnose plant pest and disease problems and give them tailored recommendations. These clinics have a range of hard copy resources to help the plant doctors make diagnoses and recommendations. Data on the problems are also collected via paper prescription forms- the analysis of these data could allow countries to map the spread of pests and diseases and feed back critical advice. This model has been working well for a number of years but as technologies have evolved they are opening up new opportunities for getting even more resources to farmers and ensuring data is collected and fed back even more quickly potentially making it far more useful.

In response to the new opportunities Plantwise are introducing mobile technologies (tablet computers and SMS messaging) into clinics through a number of pilots. These pilots will test how and in what ways mobile technologies might place plant doctors in the best possible  position to help farmers prevent crop losses and boost food security.

Mobile training workshop: teaching plant doctors to use tablets, the Factsheet app and how to fill in 'e-rescription forms'.

Mobile training workshop: teaching plant doctors to use tablets, the Factsheet app and how to fill in ‘e-rescription forms’.

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Finding ‘a way forward’ at Sri Lanka’s national Plantwise forum

Over 60 stakeholders from Sri Lanka’s agricultural sector came together in the hilltops over Kandy in Sri Lanka recently to exchange experiences and discover strategies for implementing the Plantwise model on the ground. Video also available on Vimeo here.

Coming from extension, research, private enterprise, academia and policy-making, attendees at this national forum represented the top tiers of the plant health system, and were led by guest of honour Dr. D. B T Wijeratne , the Additional Secretary (Agriculture Technology) of the Ministry of Agriculture. The ‘Review and Way Forward Workshop’ was aimed at all those who are directly responsible for agricultural development, encouraging them to create concrete ideas for to ensure sustainability for plant clinics, or ‘crop clinics’ as they are known in the country.

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Plantwise 2013 Highlights

PW collage

As we move into the New Year and all that 2014 has to offer it seems like a good time to review some of the achievements of 2013. Here are a few of the Plantwise highlights of 2013!

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UK Needs Increase In Agriculture Graduates To Tackle Global Food Security

Giving children the opportunity to learn more about insects at a young age may create the interest and enthusiasm required for a subsequent career in entomology. Photo taken at Penn State's Great Insect Fair, 2012 hosted by Penn State's College of Agricultural Sciences' Entomology Department © Penn State (CC-BY-NC 2.0)

Giving children the opportunity to learn more about insects at a young age may create the interest and enthusiasm required for a subsequent career in entomology. Photo taken at Penn State’s Great Insect Fair, 2012 hosted by Penn State’s College of Agricultural Sciences’ Entomology Department © Penn State (CC-BY-NC 2.0)

Increasing the production of food in an environmentally sustainable way is a major global issue. A report produced by the UK Cabinet Office in 2008 predicted that the global population will rise to 9 billion by 2050 from a current 6.8 billion. This increase in population will substantially increase demand for food, with food production needing to increase by 70% in the next 40 years whilst using the same agricultural footprint and without depleting natural resources. This challenge will require collaboration between universities, research institutes and industry in order to make the considerable advances in technology required to feed a growing population. There is now increasing concern that there are too few specialist graduates in the UK with the expert knowledge and skills required to tackle the issues surrounding global food security.

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Update: Plant Health News (18 Dec 13)

New technology can improve the detection papaya viruses © Prato9x

New technology can improve the detection of papaya viruses © Prato9x

Here’s a taste of some of the latest stories about plant health, including the use of technology to improve the detection of papaya viruses, toxins discovered in banana root tissue kill root pests and the vital importance of water conservation in Nigeria to avoid food crises.

Click on the links to read more of the latest plant health news!

 

 

 

 

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Typhoon Haiyan Devastates Agriculture in the Philippines

Typhoon Haiyan  ©NASA Goddard MODIS Rapid Response Team

Typhoon Haiyan ©NASA Goddard MODIS Rapid Response Team

Typhoon Haiyan, one of the most powerful storms on record tore through the Philippines on 8th November. With a confirmed death toll of 4,460, 4 million people displaced and 13 million people affected, the typhoon has undoubtedly caused widespread destruction and devastation. The destruction to the country’s agricultural sectors is becoming increasingly evident. An estimated 153,495 ha of crops have been damaged causing losses of $225 million and the livelihoods of over 1 million farmers adversely affected.

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The Bird, the Borer and the Bean

Yellow Warbler © Tom Tetzner

Yellow Warbler © Tom Tetzner

A recent study carried out in Costa Rica found that insectivorous birds such as the Yellow Warbler help to reduce infestations of the Coffee Berry Borer Beetle on coffee plantations by 50%. This free pest control service is estimated to save a medium sized coffee farm up to $9,400 per year. The study carried out by biologists from Stanford University could provide incentive for biodiversity conservation and enhancement of ecosystem services and also offer hope to coffee farmers devastated by the beetle.

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Could Spider Venom Be Used As A Novel Insecticide For Major Crop Pests?

Could spider venom be used as a new novel insecticide? Image ©giovzaid85 via Flickr

Could spider venom be used as a new novel insecticide? Image ©giovzaid85 via Flickr

A new protein discovered in the venom of Australian tarantulas can also kill insect pests that consume the venom orally. The protein known as orally active insecticidal peptide-1 (OAIP-1) was found to be highly toxic to insects that consumed it, with a similar efficacy to the neonicotinoid insecticide imidacloprid. In particular, the protein was found to be highly toxic to the cotton bollworm, Helicoverpa zea.

Many spider species have evolved insecticidal toxins in their venom, which they inject into the prey through their fangs. Consequently it has often been presumed that the venom would not be toxic when ingested orally by insects pests, and therefore would not be suitable for use as an insecticide. Conversely, the scientists in this study discovered it is possible to isolate spider venom peptides with high levels of oral insecticidal activity. The team used the venom from Selenotypus plumipes which is a large tarantula native to Australia which despite its large size is not harmful to humans.

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