Crop production and livelihoods of smallholder farmers are often threatened by crop insect pests and diseases worsening the insecurity of food. Globalization has rapidly increased the introduction and threats of invasive pests. Climate change results in a changed suitability of landscapes to pests, further increasing the threat and uncertainty of their impact. Providing innovative technologies for sustainable pest management to smallholder farmers is urgently needed for food security and eliminating poverty.
The most devasting diseases and insect pests to major crops such as rice, wheat, maize and potato contribute to the largest yield losses in the world. Under the support of the Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO), Chinese plant protection scientists, in collaboration with experts of different regions, carried out a specific project to prioritize top crop diseases and insect pests that affect smallholder farmers’ production globally. After evaluation by relevant global experts, top 10 crop diseases and insect pests have been assessed as six crop diseases and four insect pests, namely cereal blast disease, potato late blight, wheat rust disease, Fusarium head blight, maize lethal necrosis disease, banana Fusarium wilt (TR4), rice planthopper, wheat aphid, whitefly, and oriental fruit fly. Integrated pest management (IPM) guidelines for the identified diseases and insect pests have been formulated, and will be shared through a global knowledge platform. To share the knowledge with more researchers, the IPM of four major diseases including cereal blast disease, Fusarium head blight, maize lethal necrosis disease and potato late blight were further reviewed and presented in this special focus.
The first case study is cereal blast disease caused by fungal pathogen Magnaporthe oryzae (Zhang et al. 2022), which is a destructive filamentous fungus that infects many plants including most economically important food crops, rice, wheat, pearl millet and finger millet (Chakraborty et al. 2021; Hossain 2022). Different pathovars of M. oryzae often infect different host plants with high specificity. The rice blast disease caused by the Oryza pathotype (MoO) of M. oryzae can result in 10–30% yield loss in rice-growing countries, posing a major threat to rice production, especially in the small-scale farming system (Mutiga et al. 2021). The Triticum pathotype (MoT), causing wheat blast disease, was first found in Brazil in 1985. It has now spread to other countries in South America, and also Asian countries such as Bangladesh (Islam et al. 2016). Wheat blast disease can result in an average yield loss of 51% in the affected field, becoming one of the most fearsome wheat diseases (Islam et al. 2020). Because of low fungicide efficacy against the blast diseases and lack of availability of resistant varieties, control of rice and wheat blast diseases is difficult. A combination of management strategies including early detection and utilization of biopesticides was proposed (Zhang et al. 2022), providing some helpful insights for fighting these devasting cereal blast diseases.
The second case study is the fusarium head blight (FHB) caused by FHB pathogens, which are mainly the Fusarium graminearum species complex (Chen et al. 2022). FHB is one of the most important diseases that affects wheat production worldwide (Summerell 2019). In general, a severe FHB epidemic occurred every four or five years in the most of wheat production regions. Since 2010, the outbreaks of FHB have become more frequent in China. Besides causing yield loss in affected crop field, FHB also produces mycotoxin contaminating the harvested grains, which are harmful to humans and livestock (Stepien and Chelkowski 2010). According to the economic importance and toxicity of FHB, F. graminearum is considered as one of the world’s top 10 fungal phytopathogens (Dean et al. 2012). Breeding resistant cultivars has been considered as the most effective strategy against FHB (Wegulo et al. 2015). Rational use of chemical pesticides, and potential biopesticides, and good agronomic practices are also important components in the IPM programme for FHB.
The third case study is the maize lethal necrosis disease (MLND), which is a relatively new viral disease on maize (Zhan et al. 2022). The MLND is caused by the co-infection of maize chlorotic mottle virus (MCMV) and one of cereal-infecting potyviruses, and the symptoms on maize include leaf necrosis, premature aging, small cobs and even plant death (Redinbaugh and Stewart 2018). First reported in Americas in 1970s and 1980s, the MLND has now spread to more than fifteen countries in the Americas, Asia and Africa (Wangai et al. 2012). The outbreaks of MLND in several Asian and African countries caused devastating damage to maize production with large impacts on smallholder farmers (Mahuku et al. 2015). Integrated management of MLND involves effective detection methods such as serological methods, nucleic acid-based methods, and next-generation sequencing. The practices, such as using certified seeds, sanitary measures, crop rotation, and tolerant or resistant varieties, have been considered as the effective, economical and eco-friendly approach to prevent and control MLND.
The fourth case study is the potato late blight (PLB) disease (Dong and Zhou 2022). PLB, caused by the fungal-like oomycete pathogen Phytophthora infestans, is a devastating disease worldwide that led to the infamous Irish potato famine of the 1840s. Besides the primary host potato, P. infestans also infects other solanaceous plants such as tomato, petunia and nightshade. These infected plants can become pathogen inoculum to potato (Kirk et al. 2003). Originated from Central Mexico or South America, this disease has spread to almost all major potato-producing countries including the United States, Canada, China, and India (Fry et al. 2015). Up to now, PLB remains the most important biotic constraint to potato production worldwide and presents a major threat to global food security, especially for under-developed areas that heavily depend on potato as the major source of food (Cucak et al. 2021). Careful agronomic practices, such as using pathogen-free seed, serve as the good start for the successful management of PLB. Chemical fungicides remain the most effective means to control the pathogen. However, these chemical fungicides should be used more scientifically to avoid over-dosage and high cost. Some potential environmental-friendly biopesticides have been identified (He et al. 2021). Additionally, new technologies which may bring some innovative solutions to control PLB are also proposed.
The desert locust (Schistocerca gregaria), the most destructive migratory insect pest in the world, was also selected in the special focus (Li et al. 2022). Desert locust is an omnivorous insect, feeding on more than 300 various host plants including many cultivated crops and wild plants (Li et al. 2021). Formation of desert locust swarms and the outbreak of desert locusts are induced by a combination of environmental stimuli. During its outbreak and migration, desert locust can cause serious damage to cultivated crops, such as cotton, alfalfa, beans, wheat, barley, corn, flax, tobacco, tomato, potato, and melons, posing a major threat to food security and rural livelihoods. Since the 20th century, there have been 15 outbreaks of the desert locust, affecting about 30 million km2 of Africa and Asia continents and the lives of 850 million people in 65 countries (Ceccato et al. 2007; Divi 2020). Studies demonstrate the correlation between poor early childhood health and the desert locust swarm outbreak (Kien and Nguyen 2022). To date, much research has been conducted regarding the ecology and management of desert locusts. Climate change resulted in more favorable conditions, which is a major factor contributing to the recent outbreak of desert locust in 2020 (Peng et al. 2020). A critical component of preventive management programs is being able to locate significant infestations rapidly. The FAO provides forecasts, early warning and alerts on the timing, scale and location of invasions and breeding through its global Desert Locust Information Service (DLIS). Integrated management of desert locust, mainly including physical control methods, chemical insecticides, microbial pesticides, and biocontrol methods, are summarized in ths review (Li et al. 2022).
Occurrence of plant diseases and insect pests have been worsened by climate change in many aspects. Prevention of yield loss of major crops is critical for achieving global food security. Not only the IPM strategies should be adopted, but also the inter-government cooperation should be encouraged to share knowledge, information and innovative solutions, and to jointly tackle with challenges caused by transboundary pests. All these efforts are needed to achieve the United Nations Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) of 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development.