Emerging plant diseases are growing in frequency and are expected to become even more severe because of increases in global commerce and climate change. In turn, that is predicted to affect crop yields, taking a toll on farmers, reducing the availability of staple foods, and harming both small farmers and large agricultural producers.
Population growth means it will be more important than ever to ensure a stable global food supply. The United Nations forecasts that the world population could reach 11 billion around 2100.
The effects on the economy and on individual access to food could be disastrous, the researchers write, affecting “food security, national security and human health, with serious economic implications for agriculture.” Better monitoring of emergent plant diseases could help — and recent analyses suggest that even though many plant pests and pathogens have not been observed, they are probably already present and waiting in the wings. But underfunding, policy challenges and a lack of data sharing hinder attempts to gain a real-time perspective on plant pathogens.
To bolster surveillance and monitor outbreaks, the researchers say, real-time geographic information systems should be boosted and provided to developing countries. Everything from disease sensors to data mining could be used to shore up scientists’ view.
The proposal is ambitious, and the researchers say more global coordination and funding will be necessary to make progress.
But it’s important to make the stakes clear, says corresponding author Jean Ristaino, a professor of plant pathology at North Carolina State University, in a news release.
“There is a need to link human global health and plant global health researchers to work together,” she says. “Food security and livelihoods are linked to agriculture and human health is linked to the food we consume.”