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Data and Farming Innovations Aiding Crop Pest Risk Prediction and Management in Low Income Countries

Data and Farming Innovations Aiding Crop Pest Risk Prediction and Management in Low Income Countries

By  Airca Alliance

Novel Solutions in the form of pest risk alert systems now present a unique opportunity for low income countries to better predict, prevent and manage pests that are estimated to cause between 20%-40% crop losses annually, threatening the food security of millions. This has been highlighted in a United Nations Food Systems Summit (UNFSS) 2021 brief prepared by scientists working for member organisations of AIRCA.

In the brief titled ‘Leveraging data, models and farming innovation to prevent, prepare for and manage pest incursions: Delivering a pest risk service for low-income countries,’ scientists outline how increasing data availability, management and modelling, plus recent advances in technology can support the development of plant health early warning and risk mapping systems in low income countries. This can potentially improve food systems and contribute towards the realisation of the UN Sustainable Development Goal 2 “End hunger, achieve food security and improve nutrition”. 

Data and Pest Risk Prediction

Many low-income countries, economies and people globally rely on agriculture as the mainstay but many risks such as crop pests, climate change, weak phytosanitary systems, insufficient financial, human and infrastructure capacity among many others, impede crop production. 

For example, crop losses from pests and diseases are predicted to further worsen due to climate change with a projected 10-25% yield loss for major grain crops per degree of global mean surface warming. 

Notably, significant progress has been made by numerous initiatives that continue to empower plant health system stakeholders, including farmers with solutions aimed at mitigating such risks. However, solutions in the form of pest risk alert systems remain rare. According to the brief, pest risk alert systems have mostly been developed in high income countries and applied in low income countries for a few transboundary pests or those pests that threaten high value crop for export markets. 

Evidence now suggests that a combination of the latest advances in data availability , management and use, availability of cutting edge technology plus innovative extension approaches now present a real opportunity for low income countries to prevent, prepare for and manage pest incursions via pest risk services. These systems provide alerts about near future potential geographical hotspots of transboundary pests or build-up of local pests that can be used for warning of potential pest outbreaks and appropriate targeted interventions.

Surveillance and Early Warning Systems in Action 

The desert locust is one of the most destructive transboundary pests affecting Africa and parts of Asia. Between 2019 and 2020, favourable conditions enabled rapid reproduction and migration of the pest over large geographies that consequently impacted food production. 

Systems such as the Desert Locust Information Services (DLIS) are being used to alert authorities of favourable conditions for desert locust swarm formation, enabling timely intervention. PRISE (Pest Risk Information Service) uses state-of-the-art technology to inform farmers in sub-Saharan Africa of pest outbreaks that could devastate their crops and livelihoods. Combining satellite data, field observations, and crowdsourced data from subscribers, PRISE models pest populations on key crops and automatically generates risk messages and mitigation measures that are communicated to users as alerts.

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