Symptoms of cassava disease. Photo by: Georgina Smith / CIAT

A global surveillance system will consolidate best practices in preventing crop diseases.

Experts from different regions and disciplines are proposing a global approach that will respond to existing and emerging crop diseases around the world.

During a meeting at the Rockefeller Foundation Bellagio Center in February, the experts — including pathologists, economists, geneticists, geographers, statisticians, and entomologists — developed a framework for a global surveillance system for crop diseases.

The system aims to reduce the global burden of crop diseases by informing, preparing, and enabling response plans for a food-secure future.

The need for a GSS for crop diseases

Throughout history, crop diseases have affected farmers, consumers, and societies.

In the mid-19th century, for example, a potato crop disease led to the Irish Potato Famine. Also known as the Great Famine, it led to about a million deaths in Ireland.

Different crop disease outbreaks constantly threaten global food security, according to experts. Studies estimate that crop diseases account for around 10 percent of farm production losses.

In 2015, for example, a cassava mosaic disease outbreak was reported in Southeast Asia; this viral disease has been affecting cassava farmers in Africa for almost a century.

Later in 2016, a fungal disease outbreak caused by a Brazilian strain emerged in Bangladesh. This significantly reduced the local wheat production that year.

The GSS building blocks

The global surveillance system for crop diseases will function through five interconnected networks:

Diagnostics network. This refers to the regional hubs where all the activities associated with the identification of diseases and pathogens are performed, by moving from traditional to technologically advanced techniques where routine high-resolution genotype data will be generated for each target pathogen in conjunction with expert labs. Diagnostics regional hubs will coordinate and link with additional expert nodes outside the core system. Regional hubs will link with both national research systems and national plant protection organizations.

Risk assessment network. This refers to regional hubs that will set priorities and focus attention on emerging issues for crop health by acquiring data from GSS, assimilating data in risk assessment models, and publishing risk assessment information via the communication network.

Data management network. This refers to the network that collects, filters, analyzes, stores, curates, provides visualization tools, and reports about pathogens and hosts around the world which will be then used by the risk assessment network and the communication network to guide a timely response. Open source data are highly incentive; data that will be publicly available will be decided on a per country or regional basis.

Communication network. This refers to the effective communication of disease outbreak knowledge, connecting all components of GSS, from end to end internally to the system and externally to the public. The output of this building block will be the transfer of knowledge from actor to actor. Tangible components of the building block include standard operating procedures or guidance documents for the global surveillance system’s staff, public-facing documents, and context-appropriate media, such as an app, radio, or word of mouth. The communication network will transfer knowledge timely, responsibly, and securely, providing guidance on how to respond.

Management network. This refers to the group of organizations, networks, institutions, and actors participating in the system and its governance for the coordinated, integrated and functional surveillance system that promotes global preparedness for crop disease outbreaks, lowering risk to food production systems. Its main activities include operating the networks and partners, administrating budget and executing fundraising for the sustainability of the system, and establishing policies and guidelines.

The next steps

The global surveillance system for crop diseases calls for building the capacity across regions and of national plant protection organizations, as well as creating regional hubs to coordinate the activities under the system.

The system seeks to bring together best practices on the different aspects of crop protection.

“Effective measures to control crop diseases already exist at a national and regional level in well-developed countries,” said Monica Carvajal, scientist at the International Center for Tropical Agriculture (CIAT) and organizer of the meeting at the Bellagio Center. “What we need to do is gather those measures and adapt them to different regions and different crops, and implement new diagnostic technologies, especially in less developed countries with limited surveillance capacity to facilitate a prompt recovery response.”

Part of the plan is to release a white paper that spells out the vision, actors, and outcomes of the system.

The experts also proposed to pilot the system for some of the world’s most important crops — potato, cassava, rice, beans, wheat, and maize. The pilot activity will focus on high-risk diseases, or those known to cause massive crop destruction, in various regions.

“The meeting built on multiple national, regional, and international initiatives and will have to be followed by wider stakeholder consultations,“ Joe Tohme, director of the CIAT Agrobiodiversity Research Area. “Creating a global surveillance system for crop diseases, though challenging, is urgently needed. It’s one of the best ways we can ensure that the world can have sufficient food now and in the future, especially as we face serious challenges, such as climate change.”

The experts plan to approach the Group of 20 countries and seek donor support for the system. They intend to convene anew to further refine its strategy.

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Additional information:

Experts from the following organizations met Feb. 12-16, 2018, at the Rockefeller Foundation Bellagio Center, Lake Como, Italy, to devise a global surveillance system for crop diseases:

CABI, Kenya; CIAT, Colombia; Colorado State University, USA; Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency, USA; EPPO/Euphresco, France; Gro Intelligence, USA; Institut de recherche pour le développement, France; International Institute of Tropical Agriculture, Tanzania; John Innes Centre, U.K.; Oklahoma State University, USA; The Sainsbury Laboratory, U.K.; Torino University, Italy; University of Basel, Switzerland; University of Florida, USA; University of Minnesota, USA; University of Twente, Netherlands;  and the U.S. Agency for International Development, USA.

The International Center for Tropical Agriculture (CIAT) develops technologies, methods, and knowledge that better enable farmers in developing countries to enhance eco-efficiency in agriculture. This means we make production more competitive and profitable as well as sustainable and resilient through economically and ecologically sound use of natural resources and purchased inputs. We help policymakers, scientists, and farmers respond to some of the most pressing challenges of our time, including food insecurity and malnutrition, climate change, and environmental degradation. Our global research contributes to several of the United Nations’ Sustainable Development Goals, and cuts across four key themes: big data, climate-smart agriculture, ecosystem action, and sustainable food systems. CIAT is a CGIAR research center.

For more information, please contact:

Joe Tohme (j.tohme@cgiar.org)

Monica Carvajal (m.carvajal@cgiar.org)

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