How will climate change affect crop diseases?

Argentina and Brazil join efforts to assess the impact of climate change on plant health and adapt to possible future scenarios.

“Every year up to 40 percent of food crops is lost to plant pests and diseases” (FAO, 2022). These losses have a major impact on small-scale food producers in the poorest communities.

Global warming facilitates the introduction of unwanted organisms. “A single, unusually warm winter may be sufficient to assist the establishment of invasive pests” (FAO and IPPC, 2021). This not only poses a threat to climate-dependent agricultural production, but also to the environment in general, as pests can cause a major loss in biodiversity (FAO, 2022). The incidence, severity and geographical distribution of plant diseases are altered by climate change (EMBRAPA, 2022), and this may deepen even further in coming years.

A recent paper prepared by the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations (FAO) and the International Plant Protection Convention (IPPC) concluded that “despite the wealth of studies on climate-change biology, there are still prominent gaps in research into the impact of climate change on pests” (FAO and IPPC, 2021). This challenge is being addressed by the Bilateral South-South Cooperation project between Argentina and Brazil “The impact of climate change on crop diseases”, which started in 2018. The initiative is carried out by the Brazilian Agricultural Research Corporation (EMBRAPA by its Portuguese acronym) and the National Institute of Agricultural Technology (INTA by its Spanish acronym) of Argentina, and is supported by the Brazilian Cooperation Agency (ABC by its Portuguese acronym) and the Argentine South-South and Triangular Cooperation Fund (FO.AR by its Spanish acronym).

The aim of this project is to assess the impacts of climate change on diseases of two crops of agro-industrial importance for Argentina and Brazil: sugarcane and peanut. In particular, it seeks to characterize climatic conditions that favor the development of diseases in these crops in the main producing regions of both countries (orange and brown rust, leaf scorch, black spots) and to anticipate future scenarios in which these conditions may occur (EMBRAPA, 2022). All this is essential to be able to adopt adaptation measures (e.g., through the development of resistant varieties), avoiding severe crop losses in the coming decades (SIDICSS, 2022).

Both research institutes have previously participated in another initiative, implemented between 2011 and 2014, which produced information on epidemiological scenarios of pests and diseases in common industrial crops in Argentina and Brazil. Through this second initiative, still underway, they seek to deepen these findings and also prioritize the scientific and technological dissemination of its results (SIDICSS, 2022).

EMBRAPA and INTA’s collaborative work is long-standing (more than 15 years). Throughout these years, they have carried out more than twenty joint projects. At the end of 2020, they signed a new Memorandum of Understanding (valid for 5 years), which includes various topics such as biotechnology, biological control, genetic engineering, strategic intelligence, animal and plant breeding, among others (EMBRAPA, 2020).

July 2022


Sources: EMBRAPA (2020 and 2022), FAO (2022), FAO and IPPC (2021) and SIDICSS (2022).