World hunger: what the Ebola virus can teach us about saving crops

Rapid genetic disease screening will be the key to saving East Africa’s crops – just as it was during West Africa’s ebola crisis.

When the deadly Ebola virus struck West Africa last year, one thing that became clear was that the region lacked access to quick diagnostic toolsthat could help identify those infected and help contain the virus’s spread.

As the world swung into action to combat the emergency, one crucial factor that helped to curb the epidemic was the arrival of backpacks containing portable genetic sequencing computers – a technology not readily available in the affected countries.

What has that story got to do with world hunger, beyond the fact that both hunger and disease are featured in the United Nations’ Sustainable Development Goals?

If we can bring the same technologies to bear against crop diseases as well as human ones, we can help eradicate hunger – a less newsworthy and more slow-burning problem than Ebola, but far more deadly in terms of the human toll.

Sourced through Scoop.it from: theconversation.com

Interesting insight – because in 2007, some of the same folk who wrote this were involved in two workshops that I attended, in Bellagio and in Zanzibar, on setting up a plant disease diagnostic network for Africa.  We had folk from the Rockefeller Foundation there, Gates Foundation too, and we did a lot of good work – to no end, because the proposal did not fly.

Their points are highly valid: I have pointed out elsewhere, and others too, that plant diseases can kill people just as human diseases can.  Indirectly, maybe, and due to lack of food caused by plant pathogens, but taking a deadly toll nonetheless (see here: https://rybicki.files.wordpress.com/2012/01/plvidis-final-11-6-99.pdf).

The sad fact is that there is next to nothing in place in most of Africa for the kinds of molecular diagnostics that folk working with human diseases take for granted.  Oh, there are a few centres in the more sophisticated African countries where ELISA kits can be used, and places like Uganda, Kenya and even Malawi have labs and dedicated people – but these are the exceptions, and the overall picture is dismal.

What we need are comprehensive surveys of crops across Africa, in all of the breadbasket countries that supply most of the maize, cassava, sweet potatoes and the like, and of vegetable-growing areas in all countries, to see what is there.

Once that is known, then surveillance programmes could be set up, to monitor outbreaks of dangerous diseases, insect vector populations and their role in spreading plant disease – and provide information to assess real and potential crop losses.

All it would take is money – and some of the kit that came to Africa for the Ebola outbreak in West Africa recently.  We even have a plan that could be dusted off – and a good Africa-wide network to help make it happen.

Oh, and some political will, and some planning.  That’s the difficult bit….

See on Scoop.itVirology News

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