This year, hardly a week seems to have gone by without the release of another report on global food systems and food security. Each has a different focus: in May there was an FAO report highlighting the problem of food waste, while earlier in the year I posted articles on the ‘Hand Picked’ CABI blog on reports arguing for agricultural innovation and proposing changes to the global food system. This week’s report, from the UK-based development charity Oxfam, has as its’ main focus rising food prices, and the impacts of climate change and the structure of agricultural production and trade. But all the reports share one common theme: that unless there is radical reform of global food systems, then the pressures of rising populations and prices will lead to more of the world’s population going hungry. Continue reading
Emerging strains of stem rust disease of wheat, such as Ug99, are spreading out of East Africa and threatening the world’s wheat supply. But the fight against this disease received a boost this week from a collaboration between the UK’s Department for International Development (DFID) and the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation. The organisations have combined to fund Cornell University with US$40 million (£25 million) to continue its work to develop wheat varieties that are resistant to the new rust strains.
The Ug99 strain of rust was discovered in Uganda in February 1999 (Pretorius et al., 2000). Before that, scientists had made great strides in combating stem rust using multi-genic resistance. With the introduction of major resistant gene Sr31 and a number of other minor genes, stem rust became less of a problem to world agriculture. But now it is back with renewed virulence, and Nature reported on 28 February that in Kenya last year, Ug99 destroyed around 80% of the wheat crop. Spores have also spread to Ethiopia, Sudan, Yemen and Iran. Scientists fear the other major wheat-growing regions of the world, including North America and South Asia, will be next. Continue reading
The detection of the Asian citrus psyllid (Diaphorina citri) in a citrus grove in Ventura County, California, has set alarm bells ringing in the Californian citrus industry, and led to the imposition of a quarantine in the County just as the citrus harvest was getting under way. The psyllid, now found throughout Florida and present in a number of other U.S. states, is a serious pest of citrus, and is the primary vector for citrus greening (also called Huanglongbing or HLB), one of the more serious diseases of these fruit crops. All citrus and closely related species are susceptible hosts for both the insect and the disease, and there is no cure once a tree is infected with HLB.
As weather patterns shift around the world due to changing climates, so this brings new challenges to crop protection. Pests and diseases can become a problem in new areas, or appear earlier, making it necessary to change crop protection practices. Conversely, some pests and diseases may become less of a problem as conditions become less favourable to them. In Brazil, the Climapest project is examining the potential effects of climate change on crop health, in order to guide policies and provide options enabling one of the world’s biggest agricultural producers to adapt to changing conditions. As IPS (Inter Press Service) reports, the project recently brought together 134 researchers from 37 institutions to discuss the issues.