As humanity gradually emerges from the grip of the SARS-CoV-2 coronavirus, it is certain that other deadly epidemics will emerge. Alerts are increasing at the level of plant epidemics. Without directly affecting humans, they could thus generate famines.
Insect pests and fungi
The toll of the Covid-19 pandemic stands at more than 219 million cases for around 4.5 million deaths, including 115,000 in France. If currently, the world is gradually emerging from this health situation, the Intergovernmental Scientific and Policy Platform on Biodiversity and Ecosystem Services (IPBES) had published a worrying report in November 2020. The document affirmed that “the era of pandemics” did not work. what to start. However, there would be no immediate reason to be wary of a coronavirus or other virus directly affecting humans on a global scale.
In reality, the affected victims are plants, plagued by insect pests and other devastating fungi. In an article from July 21, 2021, Fast Company recalled that 600 species of pests had already developed some form of resistance to existing pesticides. As a result, the United States suffers losses of up to ten billion dollars each year.
For example, consider the African psyllid, an insect that causes yellow dragon disease, affecting citrus fruits and causing greening. This disease is present in Asia, Africa, and now in tropical and subtropical America. For several years now, Florida orange trees have been paying the price and today it is the turn of Mediterranean plantations. Note also the existence of the Fusarium fungus at the origin of the disease Tropical Race 4 (TR4) which infects bananas by the roots and causes a fatal wilt (see below). This disease has ravaged banana plantations in South Asia and Africa in recent years. Today, Ecuador, one of the biggest banana producers, is massively affected.
A significant risk of famine
The possibility of a world famine occurring for these kinds of reasons is not science fiction. In Africa alone, as many as 500 million people could be food insecure due to the action of migratory insects, plant diseases and other pests. In addition, the FAO has stated that as much as 37% of wheat crops are potentially threatened by yellow rust.
In the current context where climate change holds a preponderant place, fears are all the greater. A 2018 study pointed out that today, the main crops (corn, rice, wheat) suffered losses ranging from 5 to 20% due to insect pests. However, the appetite of the latter increases with global temperatures, each additional degree would cause additional losses that are estimated between 10 to 25%. In addition, it will surely be a question of a multiplication of insect populations in temperate cereal-producing regions on three continents.
Obviously, the solution is not to redouble efforts in the application of pesticides. It must be said that their use has already greatly increased in recent years. Science is in fact more interested in genetics in order to prevent future crop disasters. In this regard, let us quote for example the “bt corn”, resistant to the European borer, present on more than three quarters of the surfaces of corn cultivated in the United States.