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Food Security

Current Issues
Is GM technology "utterly safe"?
Food Security Sessions at ICPP 2013

Abstracts (see pp 7-9)
Global Food Security: Challenge Project in South Africa
Global Food Security: Challenge Project in Ghana
Plant Disease: A Threat to Global Food Security.
Postgraduate training for plant pathologists in developing countries.
  ISPP Commission on Global Food Security
Formerly (1998-2018) ISPP Task Force on Global Food Security


  The enormity of the problem of global food security        
  Why do plant diseases matter?        
  Historically, plant diseases have had catastrophic impact        
  At present, food security is threatened by plant diseases        
  What ISPP's Commission on Global Food Security can do ... some examples        
Food security focus at plant pathology congresses
  A new journal, Food Security        
  Knowledge base on plant diseases and food security        
  Supporting cassava farmers in Ghana        
  Raising public awareness of plant diseases in Southern Africa        
  Aim of the Commission        
  The Commission in the history of ISPP        

  At the 7th International Congress of Plant Pathology (Edinburgh 1998) a Special Public Meeting was convened on ...    
  Global Food Security: The Role for Plant Pathology    
  It was addressed by five speakers including Norman Borlaug, plant pathologist and winner of the Nobel Peace Prize in 1970 for his work on food security (he died in 2009). He challenged ISPP to take action to support global food security through control of plant diseases. ISPP's Task Force on Global Food Security was set up in 1998 in response to his challenge.    
  ISPP provided a background brief for the 1998 meeting. It is developed here with content updated to 2016, and compared with background material prepared for later Congresses.    
     1998 (Edinburgh)
   2003 (Christchurch)
   2008 (Torino)
   2013 (Beijing)
   2018 (Boston)
     Of the global population of more than 7 billion people, some 800 million do not have enough to eat today. The vast majority of these people live in developing countries (FAO 2015). By 2050, the global population is expected to exceed 9 billion (US Population Division).    
     It has been estimated that pathogens and pests reduce global production of the five major crops (wheat, rice, maize, potato and soybean) by 20-30%, and that the greatest losses are associated with food-deficit regions (Oerke & Dehne 2004; Savary et al. 2019).     
  Plant pathologists cannot ignore the juxtaposition of these figures for food shortage and the damage to food production caused by plant diseases.    
  During the World Food Summit in Rome in 1996, Heads of States agreed to halve the number of hungry people by 2015, relative to 1990-92. Significant progress has been made, despite substantial increase in the global population, but there are still 800 million hungry people. The Millennium Development Goals of 2000 set a target of halving the proportion of the world's hungry people by 2015. This target has almost been achieved. But despite overall progress, much remains to be done to eradicate hunger and achieve food security (FAO 2015).    
  Global crop production needs to be substantially increased to meet the demands of a growing population.    
  For the 11th International Congress of Plant Pathology 2018, the Task Force led the development of three sessions devoted to food security under the overall theme:  

Emerging Plant Diseases: The Threat to Global Food Security

   Public Meeting at Harvard Museum of Science - Crop Diseases Threaten Global Food Security and Your Breakfast
   Emerging Plant Diseases and Global Food Security (Keynote Session)
   Innovative Technologies for Monitoring Emerging Diseases (Concurrent Session)

The content of the presentations under these three headings was representative of issues limiting food security in 2018. They form the outline of an ISPP book to be based on presentations at the Boston Congress, Plant Diseases and Food Security in the 21st Century, one of a series on Plant Pathology in the 21st Century. One of its chapters includes this summary of some challenges of food security at that time.

The uncertainty of food security calls for innovative solutions in order to meet the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development and in particular the United Nations Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs). The 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development, adopted by all United Nations Member States in 2015, is based on 17 SDGs, requesting global partnerships across developed and developing countries to create strategies that improve health and education, reduce inequality, and increase economic growth (Sustainable Development Goals, 2017).  

Smallholder farmers in developing countries, who produce enough food to feed their families with some surplus to sell at the local market, comprise one of the main groups to be affected by emerging plant pests and diseases, with subsequent yield loss. Approximately 500 million smallholder farmers provide over 80% of the food for a large part of the developing world (International Fund for Agricultural Development, 2013).  

Achieving a world without hunger by 2030 depends on increasing the productivity of smallholder farmers; however, their crops face significant threats. Yearly, an estimated 25-40% of six major crops grown worldwide is lost to pests (Oerke, 2006; Savary et al., 2019). If crop losses were reduced by as little as 1%, millions more people could be fed. A key challenge is to deliver appropriate, actionable extension advice to farmers, at the right time, to help them reduce crop losses.
  Pathogens and pests reduce production of the five major crops by some 20-30% (Oerke & Dehne 2004; Savary et al. 2019).    
  Historically, plant diseases have had catastrophic impact    
     Potato blight caused the Irish famine in 1845
   Brown spot of rice caused the Great Bengal Famine of 1943
   Southern corn leaf blight caused a devastating epidemic on the US corn crop in 1970
  At present, food security is threatened by plant diseases    
     Wheat blast
   Banana xanthomonas wilt

Potato blight, caused by the fungus Phytophthora infestans

Potato blight struck Europe like "a bolt from the blue" in the 1840s. In Ireland, about a million people died of starvation and rather more than a million attempted to emigrate. The reasons for this calamity were the arrival in Europe of a virulent strain of the pathogen, the high dependence of much of the Irish population on potato for sustenance, the lack of resistance in the plant to the pathogen, and weather conditions favorable to epidemic development (Strange & Scott 2005).


Brown spot of rice caused by the fungus Cochliobolus miyabeanus

Brown spot of rice was a major cause of the Great Bengal Famine of 1943, in which at least 1.5 million people died. Favourable weather conditions for the fungus resulted in an epidemic which reduced the yield of rice crops by 40-90%. Most of the population was dependent on rice as a single crop. The devastating famine that followed was exacerbated by hoarding and over-pricing in the prevailing atmosphere of political uncertainty and fear.


Southern corn leaf blight of maize caused by the fungus Cochliobolus  heterostrophus

A devastating epidemic of southern corn leaf blight occurred on the maize crop in the USA in 1970, due to the rapid evolution of a new race of the pathogen, Race T. This race was specific for maize cultivars with T-cytoplasm, which was in widespread use because it conferred male sterility, thereby facilitating the production of hybrid seed. The resulting genetic uniformity of the maize crop rendered it extremely vulnerable to the new race.

  Some diseases are critically threatening now    

Wheat blast caused by the fungus Magnaporthe oryzae

One of the most fearsome wheat diseases in recent decades, according to CIMMYT, wheat blast can shrivel the grain in less than a week. First sighted in Brazil in 1985, blast is now widespread in South America. In 2016 there was a severe outbreak in Bangladesh. The spread of wheat blast could be devastating to South Asia, home to 300 million undernourished people. There is an urgent need for better understanding of this emerging threat, with the development of control measures and especially selection of resistant cultivars of wheat.


Banana xanthomonas wilt caused by the bacterium Xanthomonas campestris pv. musacearum

The banana crop provides more than 25% of the food requirements of 100 million people, mostly in Africa. Since the discovery of the banana xanthomonas wilt (BXW) bacterium in 1968, and its rapid subsequent spread, production has been severely threatened. BXW kills the mother plant which cannot then produce the subsequent ratoon crop by vegetative reproduction. Infected areas cannot be replanted due to carryover of soilborne inoculum.

  Faced with the huge challenge of global food security, ISPP's Commission of some 20 people has to focus its resources on realistic aims. Guided by Norman Borlaug's challenge, the Task Force aims to take action to support global food security through control of plant diseases. Some examples follow.    
  Food security focus at plant pathology congresses    
  At the series of International Congresses of Plant Pathology, the programmes have featured plenary discussion sessions on Global Food Security, normally open to the public. Follow the links to see the detail.    
     1998 (Edinburgh)
   2003 (Christchurch)
   2008 (Torino)
   2013 (Beijing)
   2018 (Boston)
  A new journal, Food Security    
  This journal is the initiative of a distinguished international group of scientists, sociologists and economists who hold a deep concern for the challenge of global food security, together with a vision of the power of shared knowledge as a means of meeting that challenge. It has been commended by Norman Borlaug for addressing the constraints - physical, biological and socio-economic - which not only limit food production but also the ability of people to access a healthy diet.    
  Supporting cassava farmers in Ghana    
  More than half of the farming population of Ghana are cassava growers. The ISPP Congress Challenge Award was won by the Crops Research Institute (Ghana) to help farmers in the Volta region to recognize when their crops were diseased and then to develop disease control strategies to improve food security and enhance income generation. The project Report describes how 60 farmers participated in farmer field school activities and were encouraged to transfer skills and techniques to their neighbours. A Disease Guide was published and a DVD on cassava diseases and their identification for schools and agricultural extension agents.    
Raising public awareness of plant diseases in Southern Africa    
  A further Challenge Award was won by the University of Pretoria for a project to improve awareness of the impact and importance of plant disease for food security. A mobile lab, "Plant Pathology on Wheels", was developed for use in schools and at public. The project report features a tour with undergraduate plant pathology students to Mozambique, Swaziland and South Africa. A DVD on "Plant pathology as a career" was produced.    
  Reviews and Position Papers on food security issues    
  The Commission supported a widely cited review "Plant disease: a threat to global food security" in Annual Review of Phytopathology. There are sections on: What are the threats? How serious are the threats? How can the threats be minimized? The challenge of the future. The summary includes these two quotations: "Catastrophic plant diseases exacerbates the current deficit of food supply." "At the political level, there is a need to acknowledge that plant diseases threaten our food supplies and to devote adequate resources to their control."

A chapter on "ISPP and the Challenge of Food Security" was published in the book The Role of Plant Pathology in Food Safety and Food Security. It is noted that "Although there are many reasons for food insecurity such as inhospitable climate, poor soil, inadequate access to food, trade barriers and political constraints, plant diseases have a fundamental role to play as they decrease yields, destroy crops or make their cultivation impossible".
  Members of the Commission have published the first of a series of Position Papers on current issues: "Genetic modification for disease resistance: a position paper". It concludes: "The ISPP Task Force on Global Food Security considers that there is untapped potential for using GM to introduce resistance to more pathogens in a wider variety of crops. The Task Force advocates an objective approach to assessment and application of the potential of GM, as one means of addressing the severe impact of plant disease on food security".

Further Position Papers are planned on Fungicides and on Phytosanitary Issues.
  Knowledge base on plant diseases and food security    
  A series of databases concerned with plant pathology food security is under development at the University of Pretoria on:    
   Funding Sources
   Think Tanks
  AIM OF THE COMMISSION, updated 2015    
  Formerly (1998-2018) ISPP Task Force on Global Food Security    
  The aim of the ISPP Task Force on Global Food Security is to foster linkages between plant pathology and key food security challenges, to promote understanding of the issues and to facilitate action to sustain global food security.  

This is to be achieved through a balanced program including the fostering of institutional linkages and action-based projects. The Task Force will serve as a platform for information exchange, for example through the Food Security journal, and through knowledge bases, position papers, think tanks and conferences. Progress towards the aim will require funds to be raised.  

The aim reflects the activities proposed at the formation of the Task Force in 1998 - responding to Norman Borlaug's challenge to action by ISPP and now forming part of the workplan of ISPP - including action to influence public policy and opinion on global food security through increased awareness of the significance of plant diseases.
  The development of the Commission as a distinctive element in ISPP's programme is covered in detail in History of the International Society for Plant Pathology.    
  Members of the Commission    
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