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Plant health matters

29 April 2011 8,779 views No Comment
To ensure food security in Africa, plant health matters need to be given immediate attention. Photo by J. Oliver, IITA.

To ensure food security in Africa, plant health matters need to be given immediate attention. Photo by J. Oliver, IITA.

Efforts by national and international research systems during the last two decades have contributed to nearly doubling the production of major staple foods including cassava, maize, yam, and banana in Africa. Most of these gains, however, have come about as a result of an expansion of the planted area, but crop production per unit area of the land is lower than anywhere else in the world.

Yet the continent is expected to improve food production dramatically, doubling or tripling the existing capacity, to feed over 200 million undernourished people1. Although new varieties have contributed to improve crop production, productivity, and quality, their performance has been constrained by suboptimal conditions, such as declining soil fertility, drought, attacks by pests and diseases, and lack of good quality planting material.

The current approach—expanding the area under agriculture to increase food production—is unsustainable and results in significant ecological damage. This realization worldwide is driving the search for newer options to intensify agriculture within the existing area.

We believe that ensuring plant health is pivotal to increase productivity and the strategy of intensifying sustainable agriculture2. The compelling reason for this is that biological threats, such as diseases, pests, and weeds are directly responsible for reducing crop yields by at least one-third3, and at least half of these losses could easily be averted using simple and affordable technologies and practices that prevent diseases and pests from affecting plants and produce. Ensuring plant health, therefore, is one of IITA’s most important R4D strategies to improve agricultural productivity and food security and reduce poverty.

This issue highlights some of the technologies and strategies developed and promoted by IITA and its partners for plant health protection.

The value of plant health management cannot be underestimated given the precarious nature of agricultural systems in Africa with the evolution, establishment, and quick spread of pests and diseases, such as fruit flies, cassava brown streak and banana bacterial wilt.

Although plant health protection measures are relatively easy to adopt, considerable training, awareness creation, and financial support are required to improve skills and infrastructure in national systems to foster the technology transfer to farms where plant health matters.

True national defense is a huge offensive force against biological threats to food systems.

1 FAO. 2010. The State of Food Insecurity in the World 2010. FAO, Rome.
2 www.bis.gsi.gov.uk/foresight
3 Oerke EC. 2006. J. Ag. Sci. 144: 31–43.

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