You are here

Agricultural Pests threatening food secuity

Climate change appears to be promoting the spread of crop pests throughout the world as regions once too cold to sustain them begin to warm.

Some species are being driven to extinction, but currently 10-16% of global crop production is lost to pests, and the spread of beetles, moths, bacteria, worms, funghi etc in a warming world may increasing.

The Brown Marmorated stink bug can be an agricultural pest, threatening apples, pears, peaches, figs, mulberries, citrus, persimmon and soybeans.

"If crop pests continue to march polewards as the Earth warms the combined effects of a growing world population and the increased loss of crops to pests will pose a serious threat to global food security," co-author of an research article in journal Nature Climate Change, Dan Bebber of the University of Exeter, said in statement.

Co-author Sarah Gurr, also from the University of Exeter, international government officials must pay greater heed as to what crops they allow to cross their borders. It flies in the face of the concept of a global food trade.

The spread of pests is caused by both human activities and natural processes but is thought to be primarily the result of international freight transportation. Observations over 50 years revealed that the movement of pests north and south towards the poles, and into new previously un-colonised regions, corresponds to increased temperatures during that period.

The study included fungi, such as wheat rust,is devastating harvests in Africa, the Middle East and Asia. The mountain pine beetle is destroying trees in the US, as well as bacteria, viruses and microscopic nematode worms. The organisms can only take hold in new areas if the conditions are suitable, and the researchers believe that warming temperatures have enabled the creature to survive at higher latitudes.

The paper also acknowledges, future global food security depends on a number of physical and socio-economic factors i.e. population growth.

Predications around food production indicate that food growth will need to increase by 70 to 100 percent over the next 30 years to meet demand.

Losses of major crops to fungi, and fungi-like microorganisms, amount to
enough to feed nearly nine percent of today's global population. The study suggests that these figures will increase further if global temperatures continue to rise as predicted.

Climate change may add a further 50% to maize prices and slightly less to wheat, rice and oil seeds.

Child malnutrition is predicted to increase by 20% by 2050. Climate change impacts will disproportionately fall on people living in tropical regions, and particularly on the most vulnerable and marginalised population groups.

Population growth

Dr Sharma, director of plant biosecurity at the Department of Agriculture and Food in western Australia, says that more than 30 per cent of the world's food - enough to feed more than 2 billion people - is currently lost in the food value chain. This problem is being compounded by the decreasing availability of arable land and water.

"The task of feeding the world's growing population will become harder with rising natural resource constraints, declining crop productivity, and more frequent extreme weather events. One in eight people go hungry in the world today, and even more in Africa".

In Australia, the CSIRO states that 25 per cent of the cost of food products come from invasive weeds, pests and diseases. “We live in an increasingly food-insecure world with challenges from population growth, urbanisation, and environmental degradation”.

Dr Bruce Lee (Director Food Futures Flagship, CSIRO) put it succinctly at a recent agricultural biotechnology conference “in 1960 1ha fed 2 people but by 2030 that 1ha will have to feed 5”.

GM Crops

GM crops are being made to be healthier for us and the environment by becoming more salt tolerant, harder to be eaten by pests (and consequently less pesticide is used) and having increased yields.

According to World Vision, allergic responses may occur due to inserting material from a food – such as peanuts, wheat or egg – that already causes allergic reactions in some people. Toxins are already present in many widely consumed foods, but GM plant breeding to develop a particular characteristic (such as pest resistance) could increase the toxicity of a plant or reduce its nutritional value.

A recent study conducted by Australian and US researchers found that pigs that were fed a diet of genetically modified grain showed significantly higher rates (20 percent) of stomach inflammation than pigs who were fed conventional feed. The study, which was published in the Journal of Organic Systems, was conducted over 22.7 weeks using 168 newly weaned pigs in a commercial piggery located in the US.

The CSIRO was trialling GM wheat in the ACT and received warnings from a number of scientists stating that the modified crops could pose a significant health risk to humans and other animals

Our own Australian government Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade says that:
"Continuing population growth and limited land and water resources, particularly in the Asia–Pacific region, have made food security a priority for many governments. As the economies in our region grow, and per capita incomes rise, consumers will increasingly demand safe, high-quality, high-protein food".

Considering our own population growth is politically engineered, why don't this type of information reach the politicians intent on growth at all costs?

Dwindling resources

Prof Paul Ehrlich warns us that “Global food and nutrition security is a major global concern as the world prepares to feed a growing population on a dwindling resource base.."

Prof David Attenborough says that "Since I first started making TV programs there are over three times as many human beings on earth as there were. And we all need food, we all need houses, and we all need schools... and we all therefore make huge demands on what was the natural world.
"So there's less and less space for wild animals," he says.

It would be a remarkable irony if some of the smallest creatures on the planet continued to be “successful” and spread, and thanks to anthropogenic climate change, were able to reproduce at a rate outpacing human population growth – eating crops before they were supposed to secure our food supplies!

The “challenges” of the future could come from some of the Earth's smallest inhabitants, and be a constraint to human overpopulation.

Our politicians assume that Australia is immune from global patterns and threats, and the major parties have no environmental policies that future-proof Australia's food bowls.

Image icon Brown_marmorated_stink_bug.jpg12 KB