The current world population is 7 billion. It is expected to increase at the rate of about 80 million per year. Given this dynamic, it is imperative that food production be accelerated to meet the increasing demand.
Meanwhile, land available for farming is limited and in decline. And crop loss—due to diseases and pests—claims nearly 40 percent of food produced in the field. Yet clearing forests for agricultural development is not an acceptable option. Neither is using pesticides. The latter often results in an adverse impact on health, the environment, and natural resources.
Fortunately, this is an area where sound alternatives exist. Scientists have developed environmentally safe ways of increasing production by reducing crop losses. Using grafting to overcome soilborne bacterial wilt, the use of Trichoderma to control soilborne fungal diseases, the adoption of host-free periods and roguing to manage virus diseases, and the use of biopesticides and natural enemies to combat pests of high-value vegetables—all of these integrated pest management methods have proven to be safe and effective approaches to mitigating pest damage and to enhancing environmental and health safety.
In recent years, we have even worked with scientists in developing countries to create a package of these technologies tailored to each crop. These packages are then delivered to farmers through an extension system, NGOs or private enterprises.
In addition to developing IPM packages for existing pest problems, the IPM Innovation Lab has been actively engaged in suppressing invasive species such as the papaya mealybug in Asia and warning countries of the invasion of exotic pests like the South American tomato leafminer. It has been estimated that the benefit derived from the control of papaya mealybug in India alone is $500 million to $1.3 billion.
Currently, the IPM Innovation Lab collaborates with 10 U.S. universities and 5 international agricultural organizations, in participation with scientists in 7 developing countries. In this work, we address pest problems of vegetables, fruits, cereals, and legumes.
In recent years, the IPM Innovation Lab has taken technologies developed in the program far beyond the countries it is assigned to serve by conducting IPM symposia, workshops, and meetings in national, regional and international forums. While I couldn’t be more proud of the work we are doing, I know we still have a long way to go to feed all of the 7 billion people on the planet.