Need to step up efforts to fight fast-spreading pests, diseases is urgent

Global meeting assessed impact of three major cross-border pests and diseases.

There is an urgent need to step up collective efforts to fight fast-spreading, cross-border animal and plant pests and diseases that could threaten global food security, according to the U.N. Food & Agriculture Organization (FAO).

This was the core message of representatives of more than 20 countries after assessing the impact of three major pests and diseases. The meeting was organized by FAO, the World Organization for Animal Health (OIE), Bioversity International, the World Banana Forum and donors to mobilize more support to effectively and sustainably prevent, manage and, if feasible, eradicate these major pests and diseases.

Fall armyworm (FAW), peste des petits ruminants (PPR) -- also called sheep and goat plague -- and banana fusarium wilt (FW) are rapidly spreading, cross-border animal and plant pests and diseases that put the food security and livelihoods of millions of smallholder farmers at risk, stymie the economic prospects of entire countries and regions and have the potential to spread to new areas.

"Invasive pests and diseases are the second-most important threat to nature due to their severe impact on populations' livelihoods, on the health of people, animals and plants and on the economy. They are affecting those most vulnerable -- the poorest farmers -- and can ultimately threaten food security on a global scale,” said Ren Wang, assistant director-general, FAO Agriculture & Consumer Protection Department.

"Outbreaks of cross-border animal and plant pests and diseases have been on the rise over the past years. This is due to a range of interlinked factors, including global trade and climate change. Complex issues need complex and timely solutions,” Wang added.

The event paved the way for a more robust and targeted commitment from major resource partners to address the three pests and diseases, with full-fledged donor meetings to take place early next year.

FAW is an insect native to tropical and subtropical America but arrived in Africa in early 2016 and has since spread across all of sub-Saharan Africa, with North Africa now also at risk. It can feed on more than 80 crops but it is affecting most smallholder maize farmers who have no experience with the pest and few resources to manage it.

If left unchecked, FAW could significantly affect the primary food source of more than 200 million people in sub-Saharan Africa and lead to annual economic losses of up to $4.8 billion from maize production alone.

PPR is a fast-spreading viral disease that affects and kills up to 90% of infected small ruminants (sheep and goats). It was first reported in Ivory Coast in 1942. Since then, it has spread at an alarming rate to more than 70 countries in Africa, the Middle East, Europe and Asia.

Today, more than 80% of the world's sheep and goat populations are at risk. PPR causes annual economic losses of up to $2.1 billion and is severely affecting 300 million poor households and their communities that depend on the animals for their very survival.

Banana FW is one of the most destructive banana diseases worldwide. Its new race — Tropical Race 4 (TR4) — has been causing serious losses in Southeast Asia, leading to thousands of hectares of abandoned land. It has recently spread to the Middle East, Mozambique and South Asia and is likely to spread further.

Bananas, together with plantains, are the most exported fruit in the world and the most produced food crop in least-developed countries. Some 400 million people rely on bananas as a staple food and source of income.

FW can cause 100% yield loss in infested fields, jeopardizing the food security and livelihoods of rural communities and the banana value chain.

FAO's fight

FAO has recently developed a five-year program to support farmers and governments sustainably manage FAW in Africa. For implementation of this program, FAO urgently requires $87 million.

FAO also just launched a five-year global program to prevent and manage FW disease, in partnership with Bioversity International, the International Institute of Tropical Agriculture and the World Banana Forum, requiring $98 million.

To eradicate PPR, FAO and OIE launched a five-year global program last October.

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