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Climate change boosts risks to crops from pests

Plant diseases and invasive insects already take a huge toll — up to 40% — on global crop production, with annual losses worth nearly $300 billion. Climate change could make that worse by opening up new areas to plant pests, according to a scientific review released on Wednesday.

“Warmer and drier conditions favor disturbances by insects, whereas warmer and wetter conditions favor disturbances from pathogens,” said the review, produced under the auspices of the International Plant Protection Convention, hosted by the UN Food and Agriculture Organization. “The same trend is expected for many crop diseases, insect pests, and weeds, with increasing pest risk in most cases. Thus preventive, mitigation, and adaptation measures are needed in the future to reduce the projected increases in pest risk in agriculture, horticulture, and forestry as well as in urban areas and national parks.”

FAO director-general Qu Dongyu said the review showed that climate change is one of the greatest challenges facing the plant health community.

Global warming will create favorable conditions for pests such as the fall armyworm, which feeds on corn, sorghum, and other grains, allowing it to expand its territory, said the review. Or it could change the migratory path of the desert locust, the world’s most destructive migratory pest. The corn borer could become more widespread in Europe. Rice blast, a fungal disease, could spread to subtropical regions like Japan, while tropical areas become hotter and less hospitable to blast.

The report, “Scientific review of the impact of climate change on plant pests,” is available here.

Produced with FERN, non-profit reporting on food, agriculture, and environmental health.
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