Almost 40 Per Cent of Worldwide Crops Lost to Diseases

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With extensive experience in plant pathology, Prof. Richard Strange’s research activity is based mainly on the interaction between plants and pathogens and the impact their illness can have on human health.

Professor Richard Strange

Prof. Strange has published two books and over 100 scientific papers along his career, besides being editor in chief of the scientific journal “Food Security: the Science, Sociology and Economics of Food Production and Access to Food” since 2009.

Prof. Strange’s lecture in the Lleida congress is on the “Losses and degradation of crops during pre and post-harvest; causes, prevention and control.” Could you advance the most important items of your paper?

My contribution to the International Conference on Post-harvest will address essentially the problem of global food supply. According to some estimates, our planet will have a population of over 7 billion people at the end of 2011. Currently, about one billion people are in a situation of malnutrition, and nearly twice do not have access to sufficient nutrients and vitamins to meet their daily nutritional needs. Losses caused by plant diseases that manifest during pre and post harvest treatment inevitably contribute to these deficiencies, especially in developing countries. I think, therefore, that governments should encourage the training of farmers in agricultural schools to improve the control of the aforementioned diseases.

To what extent is plant pathology important for food security?

Pathogens are responsible for the most damaging diseases of plants so, when they attack crops, they also represent a threat to the foods that reach our tables. One of the most insidious factors for consumer safety is that of mycotoxins produced by certain organisms of the Kingdom Fungi. Some of these chemicals are not only poisonous but also carcinogenic. It is essential therefore that we find ways to limit the contamination of food by these fungi to ensure our food security. This necessarily involves the constant monitoring of plantations.

Which are the most significant advances in recent years to control pre and postharvest diseases?

The opportunity to modify the genetic material of plants, giving them better endurance to the effects of pests is surely worth mentioning. In the future, we hope to control a large number of serious diseases through sensible selection of appropriate genetic material and its incorporation the most vulnerable crops.

What is the impact of plant pathology in the economies of developing countries?

In the eighties, a plague of the chickpea, a major component of the diet of the population of Pakistan, also known as the “meat of the poor”, caused losses to half the harvests and it is still wreaking havoc in those regions. Currently, some varieties of wheat grown in the Indian subcontinent are threatened by the parasite Puccinia graminis f. sp. tritici, discovered in Uganda and also known as Ug99. In most cases, information on the magnitude of losses caused by diseases in plants is, however, limited. Nevertheless, it is estimated that 30 to 40% of harvests is lost each year throughout the production chain. Disease development in plants continues having great impact on these societies. Despite repeated cuts in the last three or four decades, research could undoubtedly contribute greatly to limit these losses and help solve the global food crisis.

March 2012

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