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

A Tale of Two Worlds: Favourable Projections, Looming Dearth

It is the best of times, it is the worst of times, it is the season of plenty, it is the season of famine – in short, it is that time when the positive medium term outlook for world agriculture is tempered by the “usual suspects.”

For the fourth month running, the FAO Food Price Index – a measure of the monthly change in the international prices of a basket of food commodities – dropped in August reaching its lowest level since 2012. The decline in the index was the result of sustained falls in the international prices of cereals and oils. Together with the Food Price Index, FAO also released a new forecast of world cereal production in 2013. In this forecast, world cereal production was raised to 2,492 million tonnes, up 14 million tonnes (or 0.5 percent) from the July forecast. The rise is predicted to be driven by an expansion of coarse grain output as well as a rise in wheat production. Paradoxically, as FAO was giving relatively favourable prospects for world agriculture, there was a mood of gloom and despondency in Kenya and Zimbabwe! Read more of this post

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

Research Projects Into Improving Crop Plants Receive Major Funding

The University of Illinois has received a five year, $25 million grant from the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation to improve the photosynthetic properties of key food crops, such as rice and cassava. The project, entitled ‘RIPE- Realising Increased Photosynthetic Efficiency’ has the potential to benefit farmers by improving the productivity of staple food crops. Increasing photosynthetic efficiency has the potential to increase yields and reduce the use of irrigation and fertilisation, however to date there has been limited research on photosynthetic properties of crop plants. The University of Illinois research team will apply recent advances in photosynthetic research, model simulations and crop bioengineering to the RIPE project. Stephen Long, the Project Director and Professor of Crop Sciences and Plant Biology at Illinois said:

The UN Food and Agriculture Organisation predict that the world will need to increase staple crop yields by 20% by 2050. Photosynthesis promises a new area, ripe for exploitation that will provide part of the yield jump the world needs to maintain food security”

Women oversea cassava harvesting in Nigeria, the largest producer of cassava © IFDC Photography, via Flickr (License CC-BY-NC-SA 2.0)

Women over look cassava harvesting in Nigeria, the largest producer of cassava © IFDC Photography, via Flickr (License CC-BY-NC-SA 2.0)

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Cassava virus resistance breakthrough for Africa

Cassava roots

Cassava is a staple food for millions but is susceptible to viruses that make it unpalatable © Seth Anderson (CC BY SA license)

One of the worst diseases of the tuber crop, cassava, in sub-Saharan Africa is Cassava brown streak disease (CBSD). Since its resurgence in East Africa in recent years, it is now spreading to Central and Western Africa. The other major disease of cassava in this region, Cassava mosaic disease (CMD), can also cause widespread damage to the crop, however there already CMD-resistant varieties of cassava available. Until now, very little natural resistance to CBSD has been found. Plant scientists at the Swiss Federal Institute of Technology (ETH) Zurich have combined natural resistance to CMD with modifications of the cassava genome to develop a variety of cassava resistant to both CBSD and CMD that can be grown in Africa. As cassava is a staple food to millions of people, this new variety has the potential to halt the spread of the disease and prevent famine from crop losses. Read more of this post

Solution to devastating weed draws closer for sub Saharan Africa

Yield reductions due to highly invasive parasitic Striga may soon be a thing of the past. (Flickr, CIMMYT CCBY-NC-SA 2.0)

Striga, commonly known as witchweed, is a group of parasitic weeds found in over a third of cereal crops in sub Saharan Africa (SSA). Crops typically yield at least 40% less when they are parasitised by Striga, causing an estimated US$ 7 billion loss and reducing the food security of millions.  Read more of this post

Climate change to affect agriculture

Sorghum is likely to be badly hit by climate change. Flickr Bob Nichols CC BY.

With the Rio +20 conference occurring just last month, the world leaders have been encouraged to take notice of the global poverty and environmental concerns. Climate change was a key issue and with the population set to reach 9 billion by 2050, the impact this will have on food security is of paramount importance, especially with only a finite amount of land suitable for crop growth. The focus is therefore on finding ways to increase yields from the existing agricultural land. Read more of this post

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