Scientists Propose for Global Surveillance System for Crop Diseases

July 3, 2019

Scientists at The Sainsbury Laboratory, along with partners at the International Center for Tropical Agriculture (CIAT), and the John Innes Centre,  warned that the world is not prepared for the next plant health emergency, including the rise in new epidemics and plant diseases.

In a paper published in Science, the scientists propose the creation of a Global Surveillance System (GSS) that will extend and adapt established biosecurity practices and networking facilities. The model for GSS comes from lessons gained from previous outbreaks such as the wheat blast outbreak in Bangladesh in 2016 and the bacterial outbreak of Xylella fastidiosa that started affecting olive trees in Europe in 2013. The proposal comes from a multidisciplinary group of experts from academia, research centers, and funding organizations that work on issues related to plant and human health.

The group hopes that the GSS framework they propose gains traction in 2020, designated as the International Year of Plant Health by the United Nations. The system would prioritize six major food crops – maize, potato, cassava, rice, beans, and wheat – as well as other important food and cash crops that are traded across borders. Aside from tapping cutting-edge technology for rapid disease diagnostics, GSS would also take advantage of communications networks, including social media, to rapidly share information.

"A lot of collaboration and discussion is needed to improve existing systems so we can avoid outbreaks that could negatively impact food security and trade" notes Mónica Carvajal, a researcher at CIAT and lead author of the paper.

For more details, read the articles in Science, CIAT, and The Sainsbury Laboratory.