Disease epidemics are not limited to humans ~ other animals and plants are also vulnerable to outbreaks of diseases that spread more quickly and more extensively than would normally be expected.

What is alarming though is that it is estimated that pests and pathogens destroy between 10% and 40% of food production globally. For this reason the UN has declared this the International Year of Plant Health.

Covid19 and lockdown restrictions have hampered scientists in their research and battle against invasives such as the Fall Army Worm and the Polyphagus Shot Borer Beetle or pathogens such as Xanthomonas vasicola which causes Bacterial Leaf Streak in maize.

Bacterial Leaf Streak

Causes of plant epidemics can be viruses, bacteria, fungi, nematodes or insects and the pressure on global biosecurity systems is relentless. The fight against epidemics includes prevention, preparedness, response and recovery.

There are different ways of dealing with these threats and Dr Astrid Jankielsohn, of the ARC suggests that we should look to conservation agriculture as a solution. She points out that the whole system should be viewed holistically

Conservation growing practices start with composting decayed organic matter, in order to fortify the soil. No-till farming increases earthworm populations and the amount of organic matter, while retaining nutrients in the soil and removing carbon dioxide from the atmosphere. Maintain a permanent organic soil cover. Diverse cover crops are planted, which reduces erosion and compaction, improves soil structure and increases organic matter. Cash crops are also rotated.

If practices are applied correctly, pest control should not be necessary. Conservation agriculture creates ideal conditions for natural predators by establishing an increase in plant diversity and density. The crops are strengthened due to distribution of nutrients throughout the soil web and the plants are then able to better withstand pests and diseases.

Jankielsohn concludes, “It is important to limit external disruptions, such as the use of chemicals, as they will have a negative impact on organisms that perform vital ecological functions. It will weaken the entire system and prevent it from functioning efficiently.”

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