The effects of climate change favor the spread of increasingly destructive pests and threaten the survival of the most economically important plants and crops, a situation that poses an increasing danger to food security and the environment. This is indicated by a new study by FAO, the UN agency in charge of agriculture and food issues.
The Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations (FAO) estimates that pests destroy up to 40% of global crop production each year, while plant diseases cost the world economy more than 220,000 annually. million dollars, and invasive insects at least 70 billion dollars.
“The main conclusions of this evaluation should alert us all to how climate change can affect the degree of contagion, spread and severity of pests around the world,” said the director general of the Organization in the presentation of the study.
Qu Dongyu highlighted that the analysis, carried out by Professor Maria Lodovica, from the University of Turin, in Italy, and ten co-authors, clearly shows that the effects of climate change are one of the biggest challenges facing the phytosanitary community.
Migratory pests can change their geographic distribution
The scientific study concludes that climate change will increase the risk of the spread of pests in agricultural and forest ecosystems, especially in colder Arctic, boreal, temperate and subtropical regions. For example, it is suggested that a single unusually warm winter may be sufficient to encourage the establishment of invasive pests.
Some pests, such as the fall armyworm, which feeds on a large number of crops such as corn, sorghum, and millet, and the Tephritid fruit fly, which damages other crops in addition to the fruit, have already spread due to to the warmer climate.
But they are not the only ones, and other epidemics such as the desert locust, the most destructive migratory pest in the world, could change their migration routes and geographical distribution due to climate change.
The report looks at 15 of the most widespread pests of plants or that may spread due to climate change.
A farmer amid a cloud of desert locusts in Kitui County, Kenya. Insects feed on crops. (Photo: FAO / Sven Torfinn)
Travel and global trade favor plant diseases
The study also highlights that half of emerging plant diseases are spread through global travel and trade, the volume of which has tripled in the last decade, while climate is the second most important factor.
In addition, it highlights that when pests have established themselves in a new territory they are often impossible to eradicate and their control is long and expensive.
The spread and intensity of pests caused by climate change threaten food security as a whole.
Invasive pests are also one of the main drivers of biodiversity loss.
International collaboration is the best tool to end pests
Among the series of recommendations that the study proposes to mitigate the impact of climate change on plant health, the most important is the increase in international cooperation, since the effective management of plant pests of a farmer or a country affects the success of others.
It is also important to improve measures to reduce the international spread of pests through trade and travel, and to adjust plant protection protocols.
The study underscores the need to further investigate the impact of climate change on pests and, therefore, on plant health; and to invest more in strengthening national phytosanitary systems and structures.
“Preserving plant health is essential to achieve the Sustainable Development Goals. Maintaining plant health is an integral part of our work towards more efficient, inclusive, resistant and sustainable agri-food systems”, underlined the Director General of the Organization.
FAO will support the international response to prevent the spread of pests
The organization considers it essential to establish a simultaneous response to the challenges related to climate change, biodiversity loss and environmental degradation.
This includes the application of the international standards of the International Plant Protection Convention (IPPC) on phytosanitary measures to prevent the introduction and spread of harmful plant pests, and to preserve biodiversity.
“We are prepared to strengthen collaboration with the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change and others to ensure that phytosanitary issues are better reflected on the international climate change agenda,” Qu Dongyu said.
The Organization will continue to support member countries with technical and scientific advice, as well as in the fight against plant pests that pose a threat to world food security. (Source: UN News)