Dec 2, 2008

EMPRES Plant Pest and Disease – managing new transboundary threats

FAO, December 1, 2008

New migratory plant pests are raising concerns about their potential impact on livelihoods, food security and global markets. EMPRES has started to address other invasive plant pests, adopting the successful Desert Locust management model to mitigate these other transboundary threats.

Following a decision of FAO Governing Bodies, the Emergency Prevention System for Transboundary Animal and Plant Pests and Diseases (EMPRES) was established in 1994 with the goal of enhancing world food security and fighting transboundary animal and plant pests and diseases, in particular Desert Locust and Rinderpest.

The plant health component of EMPRES has focused primarily on the Desert Locust, strengthening the preventive Desert Locust management capacity of 18 locust-affected countries in Africa and the Near East to minimize the risk of Desert Locust plagues. The EMPRES Desert Locust programme is reinforced by FAO’s Desert Locust Information Service, which monitors locust and environmental conditions on a daily basis and provides forecasts, alerts and early warning to member countries.

The core principles of the EMPRES programme are: early warning, early detection, contingency planning, early reaction, promotion of environmentally sound control technologies and close collaboration and partnership with affected countries, national and international agricultural research centres and other international institutions.

Although the Desert Locust is the best known migratory pest - because of its fast movement, large swarms and potential for devastating crops - new and re-emerging migratory plant pests have raised concerns about their potential impact on livelihoods, food security and global markets. EMPRES is starting to address other invasive plant pests, adopting the successful Desert Locust management model to mitigate these other transboundary threats.

Recent locust outbreaks in Central Asia, Southeast Asia, and Central and Southern Africa involved other locust species such as Migratory Locust, Moroccan Locust, Italian Locust and the Red Locust. In the Caucasus and Central Asian countries, outbreaks are compounded by other threats such as water shortage that affects the region’s ability to feed itself. Some areas suffer from recurring locust infestations as a result of abandoned agricultural land favouring locust breeding. Uncoordinated locust management among the affected countries can also worsen the problem. A particular problem is indiscriminate used of chemical pesticides using outdated control techniques, contributing to considerable ecological damage. In Uzbekistan for example more than 1.5 million ha were treated against the locusts in the past five years with chemical pesticides and in neighbouring Kyrgyzstan, more than 300,000 ha of land were treated.

To address the root causes and avert food crises in this region, EMPRES is introducing a preventive pest management approach, to stimulate regional cooperation, and to develop less environmentally-harmful locust management systems.

Wheat Stem rust
Another cross-border plant threat emerged in 1999 when a new virulent strain of a fungal disease, wheat stem rust (Ug99) was first characterised in East Africa. This strain is virulent to over 80% of all wheat varieties grown globally and could cause devastating crop losses if its spread is not prevented. Since its emergence, it has been reported in Uganda, Kenya, Ethiopia, Sudan, Yemen, and in late 2007, in main wheat growing areas of Iran. The rust spores are wind-borne and are affected by climatic conditions that are similar to those that influence locust outbreaks and migration. Therefore, similar monitoring mechanisms can be applied to Ug99. The regions of Eastern Africa, the Near East, and Central and South Asia at immediate risk account for some 37% of global wheat production.

Through its Wheat Rust Disease Global Programme (WRDGP) initiated in 2008, FAO is promoting global action to reduce the world’s vulnerability to emerging wheat rust diseases and facilitate a sustainable international system to reduce the threat of these diseases.

The Programme reinforces and compliments the activities of the Borlaug Global Rust Initiative, a research and partnership programme lead by Cornell University with ICARDA, CIMMYT and FAO. Through this programme, the Organisation is taking the lead in supporting national governments and the international community in their preparedness to manage Ug99 and for mitigation of potential future threats.

The WRDGP covers 29 countries in East and North Africa, the Near East, and Central and South Asia. The Programme is focusing on supporting national policy for preparedness and contingency planning, surveillance and early warning, improved national wheat registration programmes for release of resistant varieties, seed multiplication and distribution systems of resistant varieties, and on improved wheat rust management at the field level through farmers’ training.

Other transboundary threats
FAO is currently helping countries respond to other transboundary plant pest and disease emergencies in a number of situations in Africa. Staple crops in East Africa are threatened by serious banana and cassava diseases, spread by farming practices, movement of planting materials, and in some cases insect vectors.

A banana bacterial banana wilt (BBW or BXW) has threatened production in Uganda and neighbouring countries from 2002 onwards. Real progress has been made in understanding the transmission and management of the disease, and farmer field schools have greatly contributed to the control of disease spread and the rehabilitation of banana plantations in many areas of the country.

Cassava Mosaic and Brown Streak virus diseases threaten this key food security crop throughout the Great Lakes region of East Africa. Emergency programmes have attempted to multiply planting materials of disease-tolerant cassava varieties, but the combination of the diseases together is still proving problematic. EMPRES geo-spatial analytical tools and approaches again make a major contribution, while the partnership with local agricultural research systems and large NGO partners (such as Catholic Relief Services and the Great Lakes Cassava Initiative) is also key.
In both the cases - of banana and cassava diseases - work is ongoing to learn lessons and improve early warning and risk assessment, develop monitoring and surveillance programmes at community level, and build rapid response capacity. The aim is to ensure that the production system for these staple crops is more resilient and able to respond to the next pest or disease threat.

CMC-Food Chain
In the effort to address the challenges of large-scale emergencies emanating from transboundary pests and diseases more effectively and to provide better coordinated and more timely assistance to affected countries, FAO created a new Crisis Management Centre along the Food Chain (CMC-FC). EMPRES Plant Pest and Disease will have a primary role in emergency prevention, early warning and risk assessment, and in stimulating synergy with the other EMPRES components.

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