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CABI - Centre for Agriculture and Biosciences International

Better linkages needed to secure global food supply chain

Who wants to imagine a time when one’s local market stall or supermarket aisle is devoid of staple foodstuffs such as maize, apples and bananas, let alone more ‘exotic’ and luxury products such as chilli peppers or hazelnuts.

While it may seem like fantasy not to be able to fill your usual shopping basket of such goods in most European supermarkets, the prospect of not getting enough of essential food items for families across the rest of the world is very real indeed. And for those who think the Western world is immune to the challenges of the food supply chain: think again.

But what is causing this uncertainty around the world’s ability to maintain effective food security through the global food supply chain? What is challenging the UN’s Sustainable Development Goals of ‘No Poverty’ and ‘Zero Hunger’? The answer lies with a growing biological threat posed by a range of agricultural pests and diseases which already account for close to a 50% loss in global production that is equivalent to $1.4 trillion a year.

The threat presented by invasive species around the world is very real and further exacerbates the challenge of feeding an anticipated global population of nearly 10 billion by 2050. Not only do invasive species affect the ability of farmers to grow more and lose less in the field, they can also cripple a country’s ability to maintain effective supply chains by exporting to global markets.

A case in point is Ghana’s recent ban on vegetable exports, worth $15 million a year, caused by poor phytosanitary systems to manage four quarantine pests including false codling moth, whitefly, thrips and fruit fly. (Thankfully, this ban has since been lifted.)

While there is no particular league table of worst ‘offenders’ in the field of risks posed by various pests and diseases, there are some obvious examples:
  • The Fall Armyworm – CABI’s recently published evidence note on the pest (which feeds on more than 80 crops but favours maize) suggests that it could cut maize yields by up to 60 percent, or in monetary terms a loss of between US$2.2bn to $5.5bn a year in lost harvests to just ten of Africa’s major maize-producing economies. Roughly 900 million Africans depend on maize for food each year.
  • A trio of diseases – Panama disease tropical race 4 (TR4), Banana Bunchy Top Virus (BBTV) and Banana skipper butterfly (Erionota spp) – could decimate around $35 billion worth of banana plantations across Asia, Africa and Latin America. Bananas are a vital part of the diet for more than 400 million people in developing countries.
  • The brown marmorated stink bug (Halyomorpha halys), which has already caused millions of dollars’ worth of damage to hazelnut crops in Georgia and apple production in north eastern regions of the USA. addresses the question: So what are CABI and its partners doing to help combat these and other pests and diseases?
Clearly there need to be greater linkages to secure the global food supply chain; this includes a combination of better monitoring and recording of pests in order to alert authorities to take early action – something CABI is very keen to promote through their Plantwise initiative, which works to help farmers lose less of what they grow to plant health problems.

CABI also recently launched its UK Aid and DGIS-funded Action on Invasives programme, which will champion an environmentally sustainable, cross-sectoral and regional approach to dealing with a range of invasive species. The aim of this unique, global programme is to improve the livelihoods of 50 million poor rural households impacted by invasive species, and ultimately improve the linkages in the global food supply chain.

Other ‘weapons’ in the CABI arsenal to fight global invasive species and diseases which can impinge on the worldwide food supply chain include the recently launched Horizon Scanning Tool (HST) – supported by the US Department of Agriculture (USDA) and the UK Department for International Development (DFID). The HST helps risk assessors, plant protection officers; quarantine officers, protected area managers and researchers identify potential invasive species threats to a country, state or province. It utilises data from the Invasive Species Compendium, which is a repository of the best available science on the invasive species that have the worst impacts in the world.

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