CABI has received a US $200,000 grant from the Grand Challenges program, an initiative of the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation, to begin an ambitious undertaking to capture and measure the global impacts of crop pests and diseases with the ultimate aim of helping to improve global food security.
Data and knowledge management experts at CABI will now work with scientists Professor Katherine Denby from the University of York and Professor Sarah Gurr of the University of Exeter, as well as consultant Dr Jeffrey Ried, to develop approaches to measure and estimate the Global Burden of Crop Pests and Diseases.
The grant will enable the team to lay the groundwork for a major initiative to generate comprehensive evidence on the impact of crop pests and diseases, which will be formerly launched in 2020 to coincide with the recently declared UN International Year of Plant Health.
Around the world, an estimated 40 percent of crops are lost to pests - such as the devastating Fall armyworm (FAW) - as well as a range of pathogens and weeds.
The threat of plant pests and diseases, exacerbated by climate change, can have a significant impact on staple crops such as maize and wheat, as well as commodity crops such as banana and coffee, thereby resulting in major impacts on household livelihoods, national economies and, ultimately, global food security.
Modelled after the Global Burden of Disease for human health, led by the Institute for Health Metrics and Evaluation (IHME), the Global Burden of Crop Pests and Diseases is an ambitious step change that addresses and urgent need for authoritative evidence on the burden and drivers of major plant health problems. It is positioned in a context of challenging data gaps - for example, in localities where no formal professionals in plant health exist.
Cambria Finegold, Global Director, Digital Development at CABI, said, "Despite significant impacts on food security, nutrition and livelihoods, data on the scale, scope and trends of the problem are sparse and outdated.
"By developing the Global Burden of Crop Pests and Diseases initiative, we aim to gather sufficient and reliable data to act as evidence to enable the prioritisation of research and policy in plant health and provides the most accurate and relevant information for decision makers to allocate resources between diseases and systematically develop investment in, and capacity of, plant health systems."
In human health, the Global Burden of Disease initiative has transformed the health policy agenda over the past 25 years, providing comprehensive, authoritative data on the impact of hundreds of health problems and risk factors.
Within the initial 18-month project, CABI will seek to characterise stakeholders' evidence needs, define rigorous metrics, evaluate relevant methods, assess available datasets, develop a results dissemination framework, and build a global community of research collaborators.
Building upon this foundation, the team will seek further funding to begin the full study in 2020, with an aim to produce the first estimates in 2023 to show the world where investments in plant health can make significant gains.
Ms Finegold added, "We have identified 2030 as a key year for high-quality crop loss data, as this will allow us to report against both the achievement of Sustainable Development Goal 2: Zero Hunger, and the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation vision of Africa being able to feed itself by 2030. By bridging the evidence gap in plant health we will enable the world to evaluate progress towards plant health goals and give policymakers the insight they need to prioritise investments towards achieving the 2030 targets."
This project is funded by the Grand Challenges program, an initiative of the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation.
University of York: Professor Katherine Denby has extensive experience in plant-pathogen interactions and the molecular basis of disease resistance. She has pioneered systems biology approaches to elucidating regulation of plant disease resistance and pathogen virulence, and the development of novel transcriptome-based strategies for molecular breeding. Katherine is Academic Director of N8 AgriFood, a multidisciplinary programme across eight UK universities driving research and innovation to address the challenges of sustainable food production, resilient supply chains and improved consumption and health.
University of Exeter: Professor Sarah Gurr's expertise is in crop disease, with particular emphasis on fungal infestations and their global movement and control. She has authored or co-authored 136 publications, including a contribution to the recent Government Foresight report on "Biological Hazards". Nine of these papers have been published in Science (2), Nature (2) and Nature Journals (5). She has edited two books and holds seven patents. Of particular relevance to this project, a series of recent papers have highlighted the importance of fungi (Nature, 2012), described the global movement of crop pests and pathogens (Nature Climate Change 2013), the emergence of antifungal resistance (Science, 2018) and a novel mechanistic way of predicting epidemics parameterised by pathogen life-style features (in press).
Dr Jeffrey Ried: Jeffrey Ried has an MS and PhD in plant pathology. He brings over 15 years of experience in building partnerships and catalyzing change in complex, multicultural settings where sensitivity, consideration, and action are called for. He was a partnership specialist at IHME where he helped policy makers understand the Global Burden of Disease. He has held leadership positions in non-profit, philanthropic, and government organizations in the US and Africa including developing and managing projects for BMGF, and as a member of the Senior Leadership team of the Ethiopian Agricultural Transformation Agency within the Government of Ethiopia.