Monday, July 19, 2010

Prevention is the Cure to Africa’s Fight Against Plant Pests

When it comes to suffering losses to plant pests and weeds, Sub-Saharan Africa leads the world and by a large margin. Damage to crops in the region is 40 to 60 percent higher than anywhere else on the planet, with most of the problem—which cost farmers millions of dollars— caused insects, bacteria, aphids, virus and fungi.

Disease experts meeting at the 5th Annual African Agriculture Science Week and Forum for Agricultural Research in Africa said its time to make the region less inviting to these crop killers by focusing on prevention.

“The signature of a developed agriculture system is one characterized by its emphasis on prevention and not reaction” said Julian Smith of the Food Environment Research Agency in the United Kingdom, which is working with partners in Africa to stop pests moving so quickly to epidemic proportions.

Smith and other experts said pests are particularly a threat to realizing the potential of new, high-yield crop varieties being developed for Africa. But as these new crops become available they need to be protected from pests. For example, plant breeders recently waited to distribute new varieties of cassava until they had been screened for the brown-streak disease that has emerged as a major threat to cassava production in East Africa.

Conversely, several years ago due to a failure to understand disease threats, promising new banana varieties were released to farmers and subsequently succumbed to a banana wilt disease.
Disease experts at the meeting agreed that it’s time to move away from an approach focused on fighting diseases when they emerge to better monitoring and surveillance systems that can contain outbreaks and give new, improved crops the maximum opportunity to realize their potential to boost yields in Africa.

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