IITA Expert Blames Humans for Spread of Plant Pests, Diseases, Calls for Global Measures against it

A top official of the International Institute of Tropical Agriculture (IITA) is pushing for international measures to curb the intercontinental spread of pests and diseases.

Head of CGIAR-IITA’s Germplasm Health and Virology Unit, Lara Kumar, says one way to prevent the human spread of plant pests and diseases is to declare plants at border checkpoints. 

Kumar has been explaining how humans move plant pests from one place to another, and how this can be curtailed. 

Just like the deadly COVID-19 pandemic has taught the world that diseases do not know boundaries, the IITA expert is insisting that humans are also responsible for carrying and spreading diseases from person to several plant pests. 

‘’Humans are the leading carriers of the intercontinental spread of plant pests and diseases. This is a fact that has been established and documented almost 300 years ago’’, says Kumar. 


Hear Kumar: ‘’Do you remember the cassava, yam, sweet potato, plantain or avocado you carried with you the last time you travelled, because you do not like those people’s food, it is not delicious! Or that beautiful flower you brought from your Europe or Africa-wide tour? 

‘’Well, it could have harboured a pest, which you inadvertently boarded the plane or bus with and helped in spreading. 

‘’But this story is not to crucify you and make you feel guilty. The purpose of this story is to show you how you can put a stop to the spread of plant pests and diseases.

“When you are travelling, a quarantine officer usually asks whether you are carrying food or not. You should declare what you are carrying so that it is inspected for pathogens. If it is safe, you will be given the green light to continue, if not, the officer will confiscate it for destruction. 

‘’However, you will be excited to know that one can carry processed food since it is usually safe from pathogens.’’ 

Kumar, however, advises that the right and better option is to get permission before bringing plants or plant parts. 

“Quarantine officials will help you through the process of importing your favourite stuff. Pests and diseases that are foreign to a country/continent are called Exotic Introduced Pathogens (EIPs)’’, he adds.

Below is a list of some EIPs in African countries/regions in which they were first confirmed. These EIPs have caused devastating losses at country, regional and continental scale: Cassava mealybug – Central Africa – 1970s, Banana bunchy top virus – DRC – the 1960s, Cassava bacterial blight – Central and West Africa – 1970s, Banana Black Sigatoka – Zambia – 1973, and Asian soybean rust – Zambia – 1978.

Others are Maize chlorotic mottle virus (responsible for maize lethal necrosis) –Kenya – 2011, Banana fungal wilt caused by Fusarium oxysporum Tropical race IV (FoC TR4) – Mozambique – 2014, Papaya mealybug (Paracoccus marginatus) – Ghana – 2010, Taro blight caused by Phytophthora colocasiae – West and Central Africa – 2011, and Fall armyworm (Spodoptera frugiperda) – West Africa – 2016


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