Tag Archives: pests

CIP Leads Initiative to Understand how Climate Change Affects Pests


cc1Weather station with farmers and project team members from RAB and CIP

The Paris Agreement of December 2015 heralds a greater global effort to reduce greenhouse gas emissions and mitigate the effects of climate change, yet farmers around the world are already dealing with the consequences of a warming atmosphere. While more frequent droughts and floods are causing widespread crop damage, the greatest threat to farmers from global warming may be the growing abundance and expanding distribution of crop pests and diseases.

“A crop pest that currently produces three or four generations per year may produce as many as six or seven generations per year once average temperatures rise by 2ºC—3ºC,” warned Jürgen Kroschel, Team Leader for Agroecology and Integrated Pest Management at the International Potato Center (CIP).


Pests and diseases already pose major threats to the food security and livelihoods of smallholders in developing countries, yet there is a shortage of information about how much and where climate change will transform those threats. To help fill that knowledge gap, Kroschel is coordinating a CIP-led, multi-crop collaboration with several other international research centers and national programs to predict how global warming will affect some of the most destructive crop pests and diseases in East Africa. The initiative’s ultimate goal is to help local government agencies and the farmers they serve to better assess, prepare for, and confront the risk of crop pests and diseases as the climate changes.

Altitude gradient which covers all RTB crops

Funded by the CGIAR Research Program on Roots, Tubers and Bananas (RTB), the initiative focuses on the critical pests and diseases affecting potato, sweetpotato, banana and cassava in Africa’s Great Lakes Region. It combines the expertise of researchers from CIP, Bioversity International, the International Center for Tropical Agriculture (CIAT), the International Institute of Tropical Agriculture (IITA), the UK’s Food and Environment Research Agency (Fera) and Commonwealth Agriculture Bureau (CABI), US universities and national programs in the region. Some of the tools those researchers are using were developed during a prior CIP project to model climate change’s impact on insect pests in Africa, which was funded by the German Federal Ministry of Economic Cooperation and Development (BMZ).

Researchers have been working in both the laboratory and in the field, namely the Ruhengeri area of Rwanda and Burundi’s Rusizi Valley, both of which hold a wide diversity of farming systems along an altitudinal gradient, and where banana, cassava, potato and sweetpotato are widely grown. CIP, Bioversity, IITA and national partners began there by coordinating a socioeconomic baseline survey of more than 400 farm households in the two countries, and installing networks of weather stations at different altitudes to provide a regional climatic database. The researchers are studying farms at different altitudes to better understand the role that altitude plays in pest distribution and intensity as the temperature rises.


“We are not only studying the impacts of climate change on pests and diseases, but on the livelihoods of farmers in these areas,” said Kroschel.

At the same time, scientists at CIP, Bioversity, CIAT and IITA have conducted laboratory research to better understand how rising temperatures affect the development of specific pests – data that are being used to predict how climate change will increase the risk they pose. To do this, researchers use Insect Life Cycle Modeling (ILCYM) software, which was developed by CIP’s agroecology modeling team under the previous project.

“You need individual assessments for each species to predict changes under rising temperatures. You can’t generalize,” explained Kroschel.

Thanks to the RTB initiative, software that CIP developed using potato pests is now being applied to insects that attack an array of other crops. Kroschel added that researchers are also trying to determine how climate change will affect the transmission of viruses by insects that serve as vectors for crop diseases.


Typical farm households and surrounding crops

An important project goal is to facilitate and improve risk assessments for the most critical insect pests and pathogens, which will help the region’s governments, non-governmental organizations and the private sector to confront those threats. The participating research centers are working with national programs in several East African countries to strengthen pest surveillance and the capacity to elaborate and act upon pest risk analysis (PRA) documents, which can be an important tool in national or regional efforts to help farmers prepare for pest risks.

CIP prepared PRA documents for the Guatemalan potato tuber moth (Tecia solanivora) and tomato/potato leaf miner (Tuta absoluta) that were used and further adapted during a training course for officials from Burundi, DR Congo, Uganda and Rwanda in October 2015. The elaboration of PRAs for several cassava and banana diseases is underway, led by IITA and Fera.

Kroschel noted that this project complements efforts by the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations (FAO) to promote the production and use of PRA document’s by African ministries of agriculture.

While the threat that pests and diseases pose to crops is bound to grow under climate change, the good news is that there is a concerted effort underway to help farmers in East Africa to prepare for it.

By: David Dudenhoefer

Fera visit: throwing light on LAMP

 By Graham Thiele, RTB Director

 The Food and Environment Research Agency (Fera) is the primary provider of plant health advice to the government of the United Kingdom, yet it has a surprisingly international feel. Fera plays a key role in supporting the global identification service of CABI, and works with a myriad of projects and commercial companies that involves their staff in a breadth of activity overseas.  Fera also has a good track record for working with RTB crops and centers: they led in developing diagnostics for cassava brown streak viruses with IITA, collaborated with Bioversity International on a lateral flow diagnostic for Banana Xanthomonas Wilt, and has experience in ISO accreditation helping CIP in 2007 along with current support with SASHA.

I was therefore delighted to receive an invitation from Julian Smith last July to visit Fera in York, England and explore additional collaboration options. Julian has been actively collaborating with CGIAR for many years, and is currently contributing to our ‘Pest risk and climate change’ project. In fact, just prior to my visit five of our researchers spent a week at Fera learning more on Pest Risk Analysis, and we have future related activities planned for national partners in 2015.  During my visit I got a chance to meet scientists and see the areas that RTB could gain experience from.

Diagnostics of pests is a mainstay for Fera, and they are global players in development, validation and deployment. The newest technology in their labs is Loop Mediated Amplification (LAMP).  Neil Boonham, Lead for Diagnostics, illuminated the advantages of LAMP in the development of affordable, rapid diagnostics suitable for non-technical staff that can also be deployed in the field.  This offers real potential for ‘decentralised’ services at port-side with import trade, seed certification and in managing outbreak events at the site of incursion.

Philip Abidrabo of NaCRRI, Uganda, showing how LAMP is formatted as a lateral flow devise at GCP21 in Kampala, 2011

Commercialisation of Fera’s LAMP-based diagnostics as kits is well advanced.  Julian would like to ‘roll out’ a testing platform/kit for all major RTB diseases, standardising the purchase of molecular reagents and primers which is currently a bottleneck in our priority countries.  These kinds of kits for viruses and other pathogens could support a field level capability to monitor seed production and use as part of a local quality declared seed system.

Neil also explained how Fera is developing the use of next generation sequencing (NGS) and is closing in on offering a routine test for all microbial biota in a plant sample.  This would enable plant quarantine services to provide phytosanitary certificates of pest free-status including potential unknown pathogens.  NGS can be used to look at the endophytic population of plants (microbial populations that exist within plants and that are often beneficial to plant health) and potentially help increase the productivity of RTB.

I also met Glynn Jones, a social scientist and we discussed options for land use, economics and sustainability.   Glynn described how the UK government had recently developed a risk register for UK plant and tree pests, ranked according to their potential for entry, establishment and economic impact.  In theory RTB researchers could develop a similar tool for pre-emptive action to avoid catastrophic losses from the entry of a new pest.

Another focus for the Land-use team is the UK’s ‘Sustainable Intensification Platform’.  This platform currently has 5 case study farms, involving 20 partners looking at multiple levels from crop coverage, landscape connectivity to supply chain.  As a social scientist the whole systems approach, looking at the trade-off across natural, economic and cultural dimensions was intriguing; a concept of smart design at the landscape scale is perhaps a goal for the RTB to consider.

My very full day finished with a meeting with Rick Mumford, the Head of Science for the Plant Protection Programme.  As I left I passed posters on biopesticide discovery using fusion proteins as the delivery system of a toxin across the insects’ digestive cell wall and on metabolite screening for abiotic stress factors in fast-tracking plant breeding. So I guess I just scratched the surface of what was going on at Fera, and look forward to learning more as our collaboration with Julian and his colleagues continues to develop.