By Joyce Ojanji

With up to 40% of the world’s food supply already lost to pests, mapping of weather and climate services and digital tools for crop pest and disease management is crucial.

This is according to participants at the Centre for Agriculture and Bioscience International (CABI) stakeholder consultation workshop, held in collaboration with the Community Network for Vector-Borne Plant Viruses (CONNECTED, University of Bristol, UK) project which aims to better understand weather and climate services, information and tools, to tackle crop pests and diseases in Kenya.

During the event, held in Nairobi, plant health extension and quarantine officers worked together to identify gaps in the current provision that new information tools might be able to fill.

This included considering short-term (weather/seasonal) perspectives alongside longer-term (climate change and future climate projections) time scales to understand risks, drivers and needs.

According to Florence Chege, Project Scientist at CABI based in Nairobi, Kenya, weather and climate are influencing the distribution of diseases borne by vectors and the outbreak of pests in a vast range of crops.

‘’There is a need to adopt climate-smart pest management approach that considers climate projections alongside pest surveillance, detection, management and advice to farmers, she noted.

Furthermore, according to the International Livestock Research Institute, many crops foundational to African diets, such as wheat, maize, sorghum and millet, will struggle to survive rising temperatures brought about by climate change.

Under warming of 2℃, crop yields across sub-Saharan Africa will decrease by 10 percent. Warming beyond the 2℃ mark will cause crop yields to fall by up to 20 percent. If warming is allowed to hit the 3℃ mark, all present-day cropping areas for maize, millet and sorghum in Africa will become unsuitable.

In addition, Henry Mibei, CABI’s Manager, Digital Development noted that the need to map Africa’s weather and climates services and digital tools is very acute in need when you consider the growing need to feed a population expected to double by 2050 – eventually climbing to over 4 billion by the end of the century.

“This is particularly so when you consider the impact of crop pests and diseases – which severely impinge upon the continent’s ability to grow enough healthy crops amid rising political, society and climatic concerns,’ he said.

CABI scientists, in a paper published in CABI Agriculture and Bioscience, revealed that pests such as the fall armyworm (Spodoptera frugiperda) causes annual yield losses in Africa of around USD $9.4 billion.

Recent CABI-led projects where data has helped farmers mitigate crop pests and diseases using weather-related information has included the Pest Risk Information Service (PRISE).

PRISE predicts the timing of the most effective and efficient control against pests using a novel combination of earth observation technology, real-time field observations and plant-pest lifecycle modeling to deliver a science-based service.