Archive for the ‘IPM’ Category

Soil Health and Pest Management: Challenges in the European Union

Jackie PucciBy Jackie Pucci|11 May 2022

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In early May, AgriBusiness Global sat down with Dr. Arben Myrta, Corporate Development Manager with Certis Belchim B.V., based in Italy, to discuss developments in soil health and pest management solutions at the company and wider trends he is witnessing in the space.

Can you talk about some of the key developments in ‘soil health management’ in agriculture and what is driving adoption in Europe?


Dr. Arben Myrta, Certis Belchim B.V.

Soil health in its broad scientific definition considers its capacity, thanks to biotic and abiotic components, to function as a vital living ecosystem to sustain plants and animals. A soil may be healthy in terms of the functioning of its eco-system but not necessarily for crop production. In agriculture, good soil pest management remains a cornerstone for the quantity and quality of production at farm level. When farmers cultivate the same plants for a long time in the same soil without crop rotations or other agronomic measures, the soil starts to evidence nutritional and phytopathological problems for the plants. This is more evident in horticulture, and particularly, in protected crops in Europe, where this problem is of major importance.

In the past, in Europe, soil pest management in horticulture was mostly covered by chemical fumigation, lead first by methyl bromide (MB). MB was later globally banned for depleting the ozone layer, while other fumigants, which were intended to replace it, were not approved during the regulatory renewal process, thus creating a gap between the farmers’ needs and the possibilities to have adequate solutions for their cropping.  Meanwhile, in the last decades there has also been huge progress in research and technology, developing more effective biorational soil products (beneficial microorganisms, such as fungi, bacteria, etc.., plant extracts, etc..) and increased public awareness around human health and the environment, followed by more restrictive legislation on the use of chemicals in agriculture.

Driven by the legislation and the general attention of society on the use of plant protection products in agriculture, the industry has been proactive in looking for new solutions with safer tox and eco-tox profile, focusing on biorational products, whose number, as new plant protection products for the control of soil-borne pests and diseases, is continuously increasing in the EU.

How important do you see soil health and soil pest management in the complete picture of agricultural productivity, and how has that view changed?

Soil health and good soil pest management practices in crop production have always been considered important. In Europe, the level of attention and knowledge on this topic has been higher among professionals and farmers working in horticulture, the ornamentals industry, nurseries and particularly protected crops, basically everywhere where long crop rotations are not easily practiced, and pest-infested soils become a big problem for the farmers.

The rapid banning or limitation of several traditional synthetic products used to control soil pests raised the question for field advisors and farmers of how to deal with soil problems in the new situation. In recent years European farmers have been facing particular difficulties in controlling plant-parasitic nematodes.

Biorational products available today in EU countries represent a very good tool for the management of several soil pests in many crops and targets, but are still not sufficiently effective to guarantee full satisfaction to the growers in important crops like protected fruiting vegetables, strawberry, carrots, potato, ornamentals, etc., which explains why ‘emergency uses’ are still granted at EU country level following the request of grower associations to cover the needs of their farmers. The continuous increase in the numbers of new biorational products in the future, and particularly the innovative formulations that will follow, will be of paramount importance for their role in soil pest management.

A second, but important obstacle, is the generally limited knowledge on soil components (including its fertility and capacity to suppress pests by beneficial microorganisms) and the correct use of the biorational products, which cannot be expected to be effective quickly or be used as solo products, as the ‘old’ chemicals were. They should be seen more in programs with other soil management solutions, as recommended by the integrated production guidelines. Here, a further important obstacle is the lack of an effective public extension service to advise farmers, which is limited or totally lacking in many European Countries.

Everybody in the EU is now convinced that soil management in the future will rely on biorational and integrated solutions, but the question is how to reach this objective gradually, being pragmatic and reliable, balancing the environmental, economic and agricultural perspective. Legislation always steers the direction of progress but should be carefully considering the real product capabilities to make it happen in a short time and not focusing on ‘emergency situations’ as has now been the case for more than a decade.

What are some of the perceptions, either correct or incorrect, and other challenges you are dealing with in the region with respect to products for soil health?

This market has seen a rapid change from chemistry to biorational solutions, but in the meantime is facing a lot of challenges in order to meet the expectations of the farmers for quantity and quality of produce. This topic is widely discussed in dedicated scientific forums like that of the International Society of Horticultural Sciences, of which the last International Symposium on Soil and Substrate Disinfestation was held in 2018 in Crete, Greece. A dedicated round table was organized with soil experts to discuss the important challenges faced by the European growers due to the lack of plant protection solutions for an effective control of several soil pests, most of all nematodes. I participated in that round table discussion, whose main conclusions were the following concerns, considered as target actions for the scientific community:

  • the farmer needs various tools for soil disinfestation (SD) in the light of the limited current arsenal of SD tools;
  • the lengthy and unpredictable European registration process (sometimes more than 10 years from dossier submission to the first national approval) of new plant protection products (including biorational) and the cautious approach of EU regulation, as well as restrictions imposed, has led to a reduction of active ingredients available in the past years;
  • a more effective and faster evaluation system is needed, especially for naturally occurring and low risk products (biological, plant extracts, etc.). That is, all products which are essential for Integrated Pest Management (IPM) programs;
  • following the implementation of Regulation EC 1107/2009, the only tool available to fill the gaps in local production systems is Art. 53 of the above-mentioned Regulation, which provides “derogations” for exceptional authorizations of plant protection products. Such authorizations increased exponentially in the last years, indicating that existing solutions in the European market are not considered sufficient;
  • the above-mentioned EU Regulation has a high socio-economic impact on various production systems in Europe and a Spanish case shows clearly the importance of maintaining a sustainable agricultural activity in local communities that, in the case of protected crops area, includes 13% of the active population employed in agriculture;
  • several European agricultural sectors are affected as the EU authority is allowing increased importation from extra-EU countries, considered unfair competition due to their more flexible registration system for plant protection products than that of the EU;
  • reduced capacity of soil pest research, where experts are retired and not being replaced, alongside weak, or in many areas non-existent, extension services together are causing the loss of soil knowledge and good advice for our farmers. Today, soil diagnosis is frequently completely lacking or insufficient before any soil pest and crop management decisions are taken.

The clear message from the scientific experts at that meeting was that these issues must be correctly addressed at all levels of stakeholders, in such a way that all available tools, including sustainable use of soil disinfestation, may be used in a combined IPM system to allow sustainable production in Europe.

What are some of the most exciting developments at Certis Belchim in soil health and pest management?

Since the establishment of Certis Europe in 2001, we have focused on soil pest and disease management. In 2003, Certis built the first CleanStart program providing integrated solutions for sustainable soil management, combining cultural, biological and chemical approaches. After more than a decade, in the mid-2010s, the CleanStart integrated approach started combining biological and chemical inputs with agronomic services (training to farmers and field advisors, soil pest diagnosis support for partner farms and stewardship product advice for applicators and/or farmers) to provide sustainable soil management for the future, aligned with the principles of the Sustainable Use of pesticides as per the EU Directive. All these activities were carried out successfully thanks to a wide international network created with many research institutes across Europe on soil pest management topics. This approach facilitated our participation in soil research projects funded also by the EU. Thanks to this experience we have been able to prepare and share many publications and communications, in particular the coordination for several years of an International Newsletter on Soil Pest Management (CleanStart).

Last year we were also granted a SMART Expertise funding from the Welsh Government, which is co-founded by Certis, in a research project lead by Swansea University, with Certis Belchim B.V. the industry partner, alongside major Welsh growers, Maelor Forest Nurseries Ltd and Puffin Produce Ltd. This project, now ongoing, looks to develop new and innovative products to control soil pests, primarily nematodes.

Thanks to this team involvement on soil topics, our present soil portfolio includes several biorational solutions such as Trichoderma spp. (TriSoil), Bacillus spp. (Valcure), garlic extract (NemGuard), etc. and this is continuously increasing through our research and development pipeline. With the soil biorational products we have developed a good knowledge not only on the products, but also in their interaction with biotic and abiotic soil components and with other similar products.

Our new company, Certis Belchim, in the future will continue to be particularly interested in this market segment and will be focusing mostly on biorational products. Our plans mainly encompass: (i) label extension to more crops and targets for the existing products; (ii) development and registration of new active ingredients for the control of soil borne pathogens, insects and nematodes; (iii) development of innovative formulations for soil use with focus on slow-release; (iv) field validation of effective programs with bio-solutions and other control methods.

In all these research and development activities, supported by the long experience we have in such topics, we are looking to generate our own IP solutions for soil pest management.

How have you seen this space evolve over the past of years, and what are you expecting the next years will bring?

From a technical perspective, we expect the nematode problems to increase globally in the future. This is due in part to the gradual global increase in average temperature, now recorded over recent decades, which will allow the most damaging nematodes, Meloidogyne spp., to establish at higher elevation and higher latitudes while in areas already infested, they will develop for a longer damaging period of time, thus leading to larger nematode soil population densities by the end of the crop cycle and, in turn, to greater damage to the succeeding crops.

From a regulatory perspective in Europe, if the approval process for new effective nematicides is not shortened and remains as restrictive as today, less effective solutions will be available, and there will be more reductions in rates and crops on which their use is permitted (e.g. not every year). This again will certainly lead to an increase in the severity of the nematodes that in many areas could be overlooked.

From a quarantine perspective, the globalization of trade has facilitated the introduction into Europe of new damaging nematodes and diseases and pests in general, events which are expected to increase in the future. The most critical situation can occur in protected and nursery crops, and for the production of healthy propagating material of annual crops, such as potato seed, bulbs and seeds of bulbous plant crops, including flowers, strawberry runners, woody nursery plants, of both crop and ornamental plants, and in all crops for which quarantine issues must be considered, especially when seeds, bulbs and any kind of plant propagating material are to be exported out of the EU.

The expectation is also that positive results will come from public research (more focus on resources is needed) and private industry where work is ongoing to bring to the market new biorational solutions and innovative methods with higher efficacy in controlling soil pests and to fulfill the increasing needs of this market. However, this will only be realized if regulatory hurdles are reduced in the EU, for example for low risk biorational solutions.

How are external factors (e.g., soaring input costs) impacting the adoption of these products?

Today agriculture and plant protection products, like the whole economy, are affected by higher prices due to the increased cost of energy and raw materials globally. Considering that the costs in agricultural production are already high and sometimes, those of soil pest control are not applicable for several crops, any further increase in production costs may lead to the abandonment of effective solutions, resulting in additional increase in the complexities of soil problems on our farms. This trend, if allowed to persist, will severely affect our agricultural sector.

This said, there will also be a potential increase in the new solutions entering the market in the coming years, which will face higher costs during development and the registration process as well.

From a technical perspective, the only way to reduce such risks is to support farmers with the right knowledge on how to use new soil products correctly (dose rate, timing and method of application, etc..) and increase cost effectiveness.

Can you share highlights of research and case studies that your company has conducted with respect to soil health?

Our company has been involved in many research and market studies dedicated to the soil pest management sector. The last important one was ‘Sustainability of European vegetable and strawberry production in relation to fumigation practices,’ prepared by a European team of independent soil experts. The aim of the study was to understand technically the role and economic impact of chemical soil fumigation in key European areas of vegetable and strawberry production. Three cases of representative crops were investigated: strawberries, solanaceous/cucurbitaceous crops cultivated under protected conditions and carrots as a relevant open field crop.

The study concluded that vegetable production is a key agricultural sector in Europe: including high-value crops like solanaceous and cucurbitaceous crops produced under protected conditions (tomatoes, peppers, aubergines, courgettes, cucumbers and melons), carrots and strawberries, the production value at farmer level is €12.5 billion; the cultivated area involved is roughly 330,000 ha. The importance of these crops is even greater when the entire food value chain, in economic and social terms, is also considered.

High standards in terms of food quality/safety and certificated production, along with affordable consumer prices and consistent availability across the seasons are demanded of European vegetable production and, as a consequence, are the drivers for the growers who have to protect such crops effectively and economically. The growers face very significant issues deriving from soil-borne pests, which are the key limiting factor to achieving quality and economically sustainable yields. As strongly indicated by farmers and crop experts, among the soil-borne pests, nematodes present the most impactful and frequent challenges.

According to the survey carried out in key EU countries (Spain, Italy, France, Belgium,…), the most common soil management practices for vegetable crops and strawberries are: chemical fumigation, crop rotation, resistant cultivars and rootstocks, followed by soil-less systems, non-fumigant treatments, soil solarization, biological products, organic soil amendments, catch and cover crops.

This shows clearly that soil pest management today and in the near future will rely on IPM systems combining and rotating different management practices, with a different degree of implementation depending on the cropping system.

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Site logo image Entomology Today posted: ” By Robin Boudwin Have you ever needed crop and pest management information? If that is the case, do we have some data for you. Many people have never heard of Crop Profiles and Pest Management Strategic Plans, which are valuable documents that ” The Role of Crop Profiles and Pest Management Strategic Plans in IPM Data Entomology Today May 4 Hosted by the National IPM Database but perhaps underutilized, Crop Profiles and Pest Management Strategic Plans offer a treasure trove of guidance for growers and integrated pest management pros. Learn more about these important IPM resources. Read more of this post   Comment   Unsubscribe to no longer receive posts from Entomology Today.
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Cover crops more effective than insecticides for managing pests, study suggests

A cover crop planted in a farm field near Spring Mills, Pa.
A cover crop planted on a farm near Spring Mills, Pennsylvania, in March 2020. Researchers say their new study demonstrates that cover crops may be more effective in managing pests than applying insecticides. Credit: Michael Houtz, College of Agricultural Sciences. All Rights Reserved.EXPAND

MARCH 31, 2022

By Chuck Gill

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UNIVERSITY PARK, Pa. — Promoting early season plant cover, primarily through the use of cover crops, can be more effective at reducing pest density and crop damage than insecticide applications, according to a Penn State-led team of researchers.

In a newly published study, the researchers suggest that the best pest management outcomes may occur when growers encourage biological control — in the form of pests’ natural enemies — by planting cover crops and avoiding broad-spectrum insecticides as much as possible.

The use of cover crops and other conservation-agriculture practices can help reduce erosion and nutrient loss, enhance soil health, and improve pest management, noted study co-author John Tooker, professor of entomology in Penn State’s College of Agricultural Sciences. Although the adoption of such methods has increased, he said, the use of pesticides continues to grow in the United States and globally, potentially killing nontarget, beneficial species and reversing pest-management gains from the use of conservation-agriculture tactics.

“Plant cover, such as cover crops, can provide habitat for populations of natural enemies of pests,” Tooker said. “Winter cover crops, for example, can harbor predator populations outside the growing season of the cash crop. Once the cover crop is killed to allow the growth of the cash crop, cover crop residues remain on the soil during the growing season and enhance habitat for predators.

“Studies have found that cover crops reduce insect pest outbreaks by increasing predator abundance, but to retain these benefits, it’s critical to protect these predatory species,” he said.

The goal of this study was to investigate how conservation-agriculture practices — cover crops, no-till planting and crop rotations — interact with two pest-management strategies that employ insecticides. These strategies are preventive pest management, in which growers plant seeds treated with systemic insecticide for the control of early-season pests; and integrated pest management, or IPM, an approach that involves scouting for pests and using insecticides only when pest numbers exceed economic thresholds, and then only when nonchemical tactics are ineffective.

A predatory ground beetle peeks out of its hole in a crop field
A predatory ground beetle peeks out of its hole in an experimental plot at Penn State’s Russell E. Larson Agricultural Research Center. These beetles were responsible for much of the predation observed during the study, but they are mostly nocturnal, the researchers noted. Credit: Elizabeth Rowen. All Rights Reserved.EXPAND

“We hypothesized that the increased early-season vegetative cover provided by winter- or spring-sown cover crops would benefit predator populations and increase their biological control potential,” said study lead author Elizabeth Rowen, a former doctoral candidate in Tooker’s lab who now is an assistant professor of entomology at West Virginia University.

“In contrast, we expected that preventive seed coatings, despite reducing the severity of early-season insect pests, would also reduce predator abundance and release noninsect pests such as slugs from biological control,” she said. “In addition, we thought that IPM would be equally effective as preventive seed coatings for managing pests, but with less disruption to the predator community and biological control.”

The researchers set out to examine these scenarios by establishing two experimental no-till fields at Penn State’s Russell E. Larson Agricultural Research Center to test the effects of pest management and planting small-grain cover crops over three years in soy-corn-soy and corn-soy-corn rotations. This experiment was part of a larger project investigating the interaction of pest management and cover crops on soil quality, weeds, insecticide movement and pest pressure.

The team divided each field into plots, with six treatments each replicated six times in each field over three years. While the crop species changed annually with the rotation, each plot received the same treatment each year. The scientists looked at three pest management strategies with and without a cover crop: preventive seed coatings, IPM, and no pest management.

For the IPM strategy, researchers scouted the IPM plots for insect pests and compared pest populations to economic thresholds to determine whether insecticide applications were needed. They used an insecticide — a single, in-furrow application of a granular pyrethroid — only in the second year of the study.

The researchers, who recently reported their results in Ecological Applications, found that using any insecticide provided some small reduction to plant damage in soybean, but no yield benefit. The findings suggested that, in corn, vegetative cover early in the season was key for reducing pest density and damage.

An unexpected result, the team said, was that the IPM strategy, which required just one insecticide application, was more disruptive to the predator community than preventive pest management, likely because the applied pyrethroid was more toxic to a wider range of arthropods than neonicotinoid seed coatings.

“With the single use of insecticide in the IPM treatment, nontarget effects persisted more than a year after application, without reducing plant damage or density of white grubs, the targeted pest,” Rowen said. “This pyrethroid also indirectly decreased soybean yield in IPM plots more than a year later, perhaps because of having fewer predators present to protect plants.”

This finding highlights the importance of choosing the most selective insecticide possible when chemical control is justified within an IPM strategy, Tooker explained.

The researchers concluded that planting cover crops and fostering natural-enemy populations protected corn and soy from damage and that promoting early season cover was more effective at reducing pest density and damage than either intervention-based strategy.

“But because cover crops can also leave cash crops vulnerable to some sporadic pest species, growers should be careful to select the best cover crop species for each situation and to scout regularly for early-season pests,” Rowen said. “In addition, maximizing the benefits of cover crops for biological control requires sparing use of insecticides, because preventive use of selective insecticides and reactive use of broad-spectrum insecticides both can reduce predator activity without guaranteeing pest control or greater crop yields.”

Other researchers contributing to the study were Kirsten Pearsons, former doctoral candidate in entomology, Penn State; Richard Smith, associate professor, Department of Natural Resources and the Environment, University of New Hampshire; and Kyle Wickings, associate professor, Department of Entomology, Cornell University.

The U.S. Department of Agriculture’s National Institute of Food and Agriculture supported this work.



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Pests and diseases remain a significant threat to crop yields worldwide. With concerns about the environmental impact of synthetic pesticides, there remains a need to develop more environmentally-friendly biological methods of control that can be combined synergistically within integrated pest management (IPM) strategies.

Improving integrated pest management in horticulture provides a comprehensive review of the recent developments in integrated pest management for horticultural crops. The collection builds on the wealth of research on insect and disease control in horticulture using IPM strategies in areas such as biological control and decision support systems to target techniques more effectively. The book also includes valuable case studies based on practical experience of IPM.

Key features

  • Reviews the latest research on the advances in IPM strategies for insect and disease control in horticultural crops 
  • Highlights the challenges of using alternative methods of control successfully in IPM programmes (e.g. biopesticides, bioprotectants, biostimulants) 
  • Provides examples of the practical implementation of IPM strategies to an array of horticultural crops (cucurbits, tomatoes, potatoes, cabbage, cauliflower) in differing environments (greenhouses, protected cultivation)

What others are saying…

“This new book is both timely and important for the continued development, improvement and uptake of IPM for horticultural crop. An internationally recognised team of experts have provided updated information on biocontrol, use of biopesticides and biostimulants, improved application methods, pest and disease monitoring, decision support systems, use of conservation methods developed in agroecology, breeding pest and disease resistant crops, trap crops and push pull strategies. With increasing global pressure to produce sustainable food and to achieve pest suppression using ecologically sensitive methods, this book provides not only the latest research but also practical solutions for key vegetable pests, via relevant case studies. I recommend this book to students and practitioners of IPM in horticulture.”
Emeritus Prof. Nick Birch, formerly James Hutton Institute, UK

Table of contentsView/pre-order chapters

Part 1 Using biological agents in integrated pest management
1.Advances in biopesticides for insect control in horticulture: Travis R. Glare, Bio-Protection Research Centre, Lincoln University, New Zealand; and Aimee C. McKinnon, La Trobe University, Australia;
2.Advances in bioprotectants for plant disease control in horticulture: Philippe C. Nicot, Thomas Pressecq and Marc Bardin, INRAE, Pathologie Végétale, France;
3.Advances in biostimulants as an IPM tool in horticulture: Surendra K. Dara, University of California Cooperative Extension, USA;
4.Improving application systems for bioprotectants in integrated pest management (IPM) programmes in horticulture: Clare Butler Ellis, Silsoe Spray Applications Unit Ltd, UK;

Part 2 Using decision support systems in integrated pest management
5.Advances in insect pest and disease monitoring and forecasting in horticulture: Irene Vänninen, Natural Resources Institute Finland (LUKE), Finland;
6.Advances in proximal sensors to detect crop health status in horticultural crops: Catello Pane, CREA – Research Centre for Vegetable and Ornamental Crops, Italy;
7.Advances in decision support systems (DSSs) for integrated pest management in horticultural crops: Mark W. Ramsden, ADAS, UK; and Aoife O’Driscoll, NIAB, UK;

Part 3 Improving integrated pest management techniques and implementation
8.The use of agronomic practices in integrated pest management programmes in horticulture: Aude Alaphilippe, Claude Bussi, Marion Casagrande, Tarek Dardouri and Sylvaine Simon, INRAE UERI Gotheron, France; Pierre-Eric Lauri, INRAE UMR ABSys, France; Amélie Lefèvre, INRAE Agroecological Vegetable Systems Experimental Facility, France; and Mireille Navarrete, INRAE UR Ecodeveloppement, France;
9.Advancing conservation biological control as a component of integrated pest management of horticultural crops: Robbie D. Girling, Tom D. Breeze and Michael P. Garratt, University of Reading, UK;
10.Assessing the economics of integrated pest management for horticultural crops: Philip R. Crain and David W. Onstad, Corteva Agriscience, USA;
11.Encouraging integrated pest management uptake in horticultural crop production: Norma R. Samuel, Associate District Extension Director and Urban Horticulture Extension Agent, Institute of Food and Agricultural Sciences, University of Florida, USA; and Oscar E. Liburd, University of Florida-Gainesville, USA;

Part 4 Case studies
12.Practical application of integrated pest management in greenhouses and protected cultivation: Bruno Gobin, Els Pauwels and Joachim Audenaert, PCS-Ornamental Plant Research, Belgium;
13.Practical applications of integrated pest management in horticultural cultivation: the cases of protected tomato and outdoor Brassica production: Richard H. Binks, FreshTec Agricultural Consultancy Limited, UK;
14.Practical application of integrated pest management to control cabbage root fly in vegetables: Louis Lippens, PCG vzw – Vegetable Research Centre Kruishoutem, Belgium; Sander Fleerakkers, PSKW vzw – Research Station for Vegetable Production Sint-Katelijne-Waver, Belgium; Femke Temmerman, Inagro vzw, Belgium; and Annelies De Roissart, HOGENT University of Applied Sciences & Arts, Belgium;

~For more information contact:

Katherine Lister | Burleigh Dodds Science Publishing

Marketing Executive

Tel: +44 (0) 1223 839365 | Mobile: 07801509992

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The Case of the Onion Thrips: An IPM Mystery

If your thrips biocontrol program isn’t working, it may be because your thrips have changed.

February 28, 2022

By Ashley Summerfield, Dr. Sarah Jandricic, Dr. Rose Buitenhuis & Dr. Cynthia Scott-Dupree


This budding chrysanthemum plant is damaged by onion thrips. Photo credit: A. Summerfield

Thrips were already the most formidable pest tormenting greenhouse ornamental growers in Canada to begin with, but if you’ve noticed that they are even harder to control than they used to be, you’re not alone.

Over the past few years, growers started seeing more thrips outbreaks, and their biocontrol programs weren’t always keeping up. That’s when Dr. Sarah Jandricic of OMAFRA discovered we might have a mystery thrips on our hands.

It turns out there was a new villain on the scene: onion thrips (Thrips tabaci). They make up on average around one quarter of the thrips found in floriculture greenhouses in the Niagara region of Ontario, but may account for more than half depending on the year, crop, or location.



With the culprit identified, an investigation began (in the form of a Master’s thesis) to learn more about our new foe and, most importantly, how to stop it.

Criminal Record: a brief history of thrips in Canadian greenhouses

Western flower thrips (WFT; Frankliniella occidentalis) have been the primary pest thrips in greenhouse ornamentals since they found their way from the southwest coast of the US to the rest of North America and the world in the 1980s-1990s.

Onion thrips (OT) on the other hand, have been here for much longer. They were first described in North America 140 years ago. Before widespread synthetic pesticide use, OT were a common pest in greenhouses, but are now mostly associated with outdoor crops, and onions in particular.

In the 1990s, changes to pesticide spray practices in onion crops for controlling onion maggot  in Ontario inadvertently led to increased OT pressure in this crop.1 Around the same time, greenhouse growers were moving away from calendar sprays of pesticides and adopting more IPM tactics (e.g. monitoring-based spraying, forays into biocontrol) in response to increasingly pesticide-resistant WFT populations.

This combination of increased OT populations outside and the almost complete adoption of biological control for greenhouse pests by 20182 likely led to OT resuming its criminal activity in greenhouses. With fewer pesticides incidentally controlling this less pesticide-resistant thrips species, we now have a classic case of pest resurgence on our hands.

Breaking & Entering

Thrips enter your greenhouse in one of two ways: you either bring them in on imported plant material, or they come in from the outside on their own.

Past research at Vineland Research and Innovation Centre demonstrated just how many thrips you could be bringing in on cuttings like chrysanthemums or spring annuals (up to an average of 12 thrips per 25 cuttings in certain crops3). We repeated this research to find out which thrips were coming in on propagation material. Interestingly, we only found WFT.

This led us to suspect OT were breaking in from the outside. Sticky cards set up outside three greenhouse operations from spring to fall 2019 confirmed a consistent presence of OT directly outside Niagara greenhouses. OT represented about 15 per cent of the thrips caught on the cards, on average.

Why is this important? It turns out that when it comes to thrips species composition in your greenhouse, what happens outside can have a direct impact on what happens inside.

At our research sites, the greenhouse with the highest proportion of OT outside had consistent OT presence in their crop all year. The species composition in their crop was perfectly matched to what was happening outside, as well (Figure 1). Similarly, the greenhouse with the lowest proportion of OT outside had very few OT inside.

Figure 1.
Generally, the percentage of thrips that were OT caught outside on yellow sticky cards (yellow bars) seemed to reflect the percentage collected from the greenhouse crop inside (green bars).

However, outside pressure isn’t the only thing that can influence species composition. At our third research site, the proportion of OT in the crop was actually a lot higher than what we expected based on outside catches. This suggests that this greenhouse’s IPM program may be less effective for OT compared to other sites.

At all sites, though, we saw thrips populations for both species peak in July and August. So, if you want to prevent OT from becoming a problem in your greenhouse (and messing up your biocontrol program for WFT), this is a good time to go bananas with mass trapping! This is especially important for side-venting greenhouses, where thrips can more easily break in.

Catching Onion Thrips in the Act

Mass trapping, if used properly, can be an effective way of reducing the number of thrips that make it through your vents and into your crop.

You may have heard of study results from Europe that blue is the best card colour for trapping thrips. However, in 2016/17 trials looking at the efficacy of yellow versus blue sticky cards and tape in Ontario greenhouses, Dr. Jandricic found that yellow was better than blue for catching thrips, regardless of the manufacturer.4 But this research was done in greenhouses with predominantly WFT populations – what about OT?

To answer this, we put up yellow and blue sticky cards inside three potted chrysanthemum greenhouses throughout 2019. As it turns out, in addition to their love of chrysanthemums, OT and WFT also share a preference for yellow sticky cards (Figure 2). However, the strength of this preference can vary between greenhouses.

Figure 2.
When tested in chrysanthemum greenhouses, yellow sticky cards caught more thrips than blue cards. On average, 60% of thrips were caught on yellow cards, although this preference varied by site. At some sites, over 75% of thrips were caught on yellow, while at other sites it was closer to 50%.

Surveillance operation

Since sticky cards are used for monitoring as well as mass trapping, we also wanted to know how accurately sticky cards reflected the thrips species composition in the crop.

We collected thrips directly from the crop using plant taps and compared the ratio of OT to WFT with what was caught on the cards. Overall, when we looked at the averages throughout the growing season, the cards gave us a pretty accurate picture of thrips species composition in the crop. But, week to week there is a LOT of variation.

Unfortunately, this means that weekly monitoring cards aren’t a reliable tool when it comes to pest management decisions based on how many OT versus WFT you’ve got in your crop (i.e. to spray or not to spray). If you want to get a clear picture of what’s happening in your crop, you’ll need to collect thrips directly from the plants themselves.

Motive, Means & Opportunity

Although outside thrips prevalence plays a role in initial infestation, the differences in what OT and WFT do inside the greenhouse is where the trouble really starts.

You may notice that in late fall when it’s too cold for thrips to fly outside, WFT numbers start to steadily decline in the crop. We found that OT numbers, on the other hand, remain steady. They can even increase in number throughout the winter and early spring. Since there is no source of incoming OT (on cuttings or from the outside), this confirms that OT may be a more cunning adversary than WFT.

There are two possible explanations for why OT populations can increase over the winter/spring. Either 1) OT reproduce much faster than WFT on greenhouse crops, or 2) biocontrol-based IPM programs don’t work as well for OT as they do for WFT in cooler months.

Both thrips species have been well-studied by researchers all over the world, and there is no indication that OT has a faster reproductive rate than WFT. As for the efficacy of biocontrol products, a lot of literature, plus all of our laboratory tests to date (looking at predatory mites, microbial pesticides, and nematodes), indicate that the biocontrol products we currently use for WFT should work as well for OT – or maybe even better (see Figure 3)!

Figure 3.
Number of thrips larvae eaten by predatory mites and thrips adults eaten by Orius in lab trials. This data suggests that current biocontrol products should work for both OT and WFT.

The Mystery Continues…

We now understand who the new thrips villain is and where they come from, but so far we haven’t identified why they are able to evade our tiny police force of predatory mites and other biocontrol agents.

We’ve gathered plenty of evidence in the lab, so the next step will be to examine the scene of the crime. Which is to say we’re going to conduct greenhouse trials to see how OT, WFT and thrips biocontrol agents interact on plants. Maybe this will give us the clues we need to control OT without resorting to pesticides.

Stay tuned for installments of this gripping biocontrol mystery!

Which thrips are which?

Western Flower Thrips
Key features: Larger than the other yellow-coloured thrips you’ll encounter, WFT have bright red ocelli (three spots between their eyes). They also have plenty of long coarse hairs on the top and bottom of their “shoulders” (called the pronotum). WFT body colour ranges from common pale yellow to a very dark brown (called a “dark morph”).

Damage pattern: Widespread, dispersed damage in crop; frequently causes damage to flowers.

Onion Thrips
Key features: Pale grey ocelli (eye spots); coarse hairs occur only on the bottom of the pronotum (none on top); their bodies range in colour from pale yellow to brown. Smaller than WFT.

Damage pattern: Crops damaged in small clusters of plants; heavy damage to the foliage that makes the plant unsellable; less damage to flowers. 

Note: With the right gear (a microscope) anyone can learn how to identify the usual suspects that show up in their greenhouse. For an identification guide designed specifically for growers, go to http://greenhouseipm.org/pests/thripskey/ 


MacIntyre-Allen, J., C.D. Scott-Dupree, J.H. Tolman, C.R. Harris. 2005. Resistance of Thrips tabaci to pyrethroid and organophosphorous insecticides in Ontario, Canada. Pest Management Science 61: 809-815.

Summerfield, Ashley. 2019. Biocontrol thriving in Canadian floriculture greenhouses. Greenhouse Canada, March 26, 2019.

Buitenhuis, R., Lee, W., Summerfield, A., & Smitley, D. (2019). Thrips IPM in floriculture: cutting dips to start clean. IOBC-WPRS Bulletin, 147, 130–135.

Jandricic, S. 2019. Making mass trapping work for you. GrowerTalks, June 1, 2019.

Ashley Summerfield is a senior research technician in biological control at Vineland Research and Innovation Centre and an MSc. candidate at the University of Guelph. Sarah Jandricic, PhD is the greenhouse floriculture IPM specialist at the Ontario Ministry of Agriculture, Food and Rural Affairs. Ashley’s co-advisors on the onion thrips project are Rose Buitenhuis, PhD, (Biocontrol Lab; Vineland Research and Innovation Centre) and Cynthia Scott-Dupree, PhD, (Professor and Bayer Crop Science Chair in Sustainable Pest Management). Questions? Email Ashley at ashley.summerfield@vinelandresearch.com

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Abating the Invasive Parthenium Weed to Improve Livestock Health

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Integrated Pest Management Innovation Lab

Nov 29, 2019

parthenium and livestock
Photo Credit: Agricultural Research Council – Plant Health and Protection

This post is written by Sara Hendery, Communications Coordinator for the Feed the Future Innovation Lab for Integrated Pest Management

From afar, an expansive field of Parthenium hysterophorus appears as a lush and billowy sea of white and green. Up close, however, the noxious weed reduces crop yields, increases agricultural labor burdens, causes human health issues, and significantly threatens livestock well-being.

When livestock graze on parthenium, invasive in Africa, Asia, and Australia, both milk and meat are tainted. The weed leads animals to contract a number of conditions such as lesions, mouth ulcers, and contact dermatitis. In extreme cases, if livestock consume an excessive amount of parthenium, reduced fertility or even death may result, and cattle from parthenium-invaded areas have lower market value.

Parthenium’s adverse impact on livestock is one of several reasons why the Feed the Future Innovation Lab for Integrated Pest Management at Virginia Tech aids management of the weed in East Africa. Utilizing classical biological control, the team releases two host-specific natural enemies native to Central and South America—the leaf-feeding beetle Zygogramma bicolorata and the stem-boring weevil Listronotus setosipennis—approved for release to manage the weed in several East African countries and South Africa, following their earlier successful use in Australia.

“In Ethiopian local markets, milk tainted by consumption of parthenium is sold at a lower price than untainted milk,” said Wondi Mersie, leader of the parthenium project in East Africa. “In parthenium-infested areas, people taste the milk before they purchase it. If the milk comes from a cow that grazed on parthenium it will have a bitter taste and either its price is reduced or it may not get a buyer. This primarily affects women because they are the sellers of milk in the market or buy it for their infants. Parthenium leaves and flowers contain many compounds that persist in the body. At present, the impact of these compounds on the overall health of children including their immune system is not known.”

In a study conducted by the Women and Gender in International Development team at Virginia Tech, Ethiopian participants reported that cattle feeding in parthenium-invaded lands lowered the price of milk by 50 percent and market value of cattle by 40 percent. Farmers spent half or more of the money from milk sales on feed for their cows to curtail them from eating parthenium, often gaining zero profit from milk production.

Study participants also confirmed that the unpalatable taste and smell of milk produced by cows that feed on parthenium is a major detriment to sales to larger customers outside of the market. If selling milk to a hotel or major company, parthenium-tainted milk would not be accepted or would not be bought a second time. Additionally, children often reject parthenium-tainted milk due to its bitter taste.

But for many small-holder farmers, parthenium-tainted milk is the only available option.

Lorraine Strathie, a South African researcher on the parthenium project, said that the introduction, successful establishment, and widespread distribution of host-specific natural enemies against this weed, known as one of the most destructive invasive weeds in the world, can ultimately bring about significant long-term, sustainable control, and help restore livestock health in invaded areas. This weed was successfully controlled over time in the rangelands of Queensland, Australia, using eleven introduced natural enemies, resulting in considerable, cumulative economic benefits.

“Parthenium is a serious economic concern for agricultural production, conservation of biodiversity, and human and animal health,” Strathie said. “The use of natural enemies against parthenium is self-perpetuating, cost effective, and can be integrated with other control methods. It is a critical management option for farmers burdened by high labor rates and food insecurity.”   

In September of this year, both Zygogramma bicolorata and Listronotus setosipennis had caused dramatic, localized extensive defoliation and stem damage to parthenium infestations where they had been released in southern Ethiopia, resulting in more suitable vegetation replacing the weed. Continued, concerted efforts to mass-rear and distribute these biocontrol agents to as many suitable sites in the country and East African region are needed and require national government support, so that benefits can be more fully realized for the millions of farmers affected in the entire invaded distribution.

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Women, Integrated Pest Management, and Vietnam: Key Findings from the Field

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Integrated Pest Management Innovation Lab

Nov 22, 2021

Dragon fruit farmer
Dragon fruit farmer.

This post is written by Sara Hendery, Communications Coordinator of the Integrated Pest Management Innovation Lab.

In Vietnam, women play an important role in agriculture, but seldom have equal access to the information, inputs, and training needed for producing abundant, healthy harvests.

Virginia Tech’s Integrated Pest Management Innovation Lab initiated a project in Vietnam in 2014 focused on introducing ecological technologies to farmers of exportable fruit crops. Trainings on these technologies, including fruit bagging, application of the beneficial fungus Trichoderma, and application of neem oil, had limited participation from women. In collaboration with partners at the Southern Horticultural Research Institute and Virginia Tech’s Women and Gender in International Development, a technology assessment was conducted to identify gender-based constraints and opportunities to accessing these technologies and trainings.

The technology assessment confirmed that while key decisions about the farm in Vietnam are typically made by men, women are in fact incredibly active in on-farm decision making, specifically when it comes to management of family finances. Referred to as the “safety keepers,” or the safety net of the family, women make decisions around farm purchases, such as purchases of pesticides or fertilizers, and manage hired labor. The assessment also showed that women are increasingly interested in learning about pesticide alternatives, and are concerned about the health impacts of pesticide use.

Barriers to technical access identified

A number of barriers limiting women’s ability to access such knowledge through technical trainings were revealed, including:

  • Abundant household responsibilities and care of young children
  • Low confidence in public speaking or participating in open dialogues 
  • Assumptions that “official” training invitations are not intended for women, because invitations are often addressed to the (male) head of the household

With these findings, the institute team, made of entomologists, plant pathologists, and other researchers who deliver technical trainings, adjusted their approach to engage women more thoughtfully. One of the most successful approaches was tapping women’s associations and unions to participate in technical trainings. The institute team also began conducting trainings with women only, which significantly increased women’s attendance, but more so women’s active participation in the training conversation. Another successful approach was encouraging women farmers to keep farm diaries of training lessons learned as well as farm updates, such as pesticide spraying dates. Following women farmers’ interest, the institute conducted multisubject trainings that focused on both technical crop protection information and financial information.

Multiplier effect of training

Many of the women farmers who participated in the technology assessment noted that technical training is beneficial on multiple levels.

“Listening to instructions, I can learn new knowledge and experience from others,” says one female mango farmer in Vietnam. “As my husband forgets something, I can remind him.”

While women’s participation in technical trainings did increase with these tactics, the COVID-19 pandemic brought unique challenges and outcomes. As researchers could no longer travel to farmer homes to deliver assistance, trainings were held over video call. This online space allowed for both men and women to attend the training together. While this virtual training did foster increased participation of men and women, it was clear that women were often preoccupied with housework during the instruction and sometimes wouldn’t stay for the entire training.

Daniel Sumner, assistant director of Women and Gender in International Development, says this shift to online training highlighted an important factor that can limit or foster women’s participation in technical trainings: location.

“Women are making major decisions about on-farm purchases, which is why it’s crucial women attend trainings to better understand the product options and what would be most productive, effective, and safe for their farms and families,” he says. “We need to continue to look at where we host trainings and be more intentional about these locations by choosing spaces accessible to women. Equally important is developing messaging, virtual or otherwise, that would engage husband and wife together, rather than separately.”

Gender-targeted training opportunities grow

While increased efforts of the Southern Horticultural Research Institute to engage women improved women’s participation in technical trainings, the Women and Gender in International Development team see further opportunities for maximized engagement, such as:

  • Developing more targeted criteria for engaging farm households, including engaging farmer associations led by women
  • Developing cooking courses to help women farmers produce products from their farm fruits to be sold at the market
  • Inviting trusted community professionals, such as health care professionals, to share with farm families the importance of reduced reliance on pesticides
  • Engaging farmers in remote or mountainous areas, where minority farmers often live
  • Leveraging information and communications technology to engage more women
  • Designing trainings that prioritize women’s interests in finance management, especially trainings on information about the market and farm cost-saving measures

“A crucial finding from this work is that we must continue to ask what women what they are interested in,” says Maria Elisa Christie, director of Women and Gender in International Development. “In Vietnam, women are interested in financial and market information – now we have designed training modules to reflect that. Additionally, it’s important not only to work with women’s organizations to engage women, but to work in women’s spaces. For example, we find that many women like to cook together after a training. These spaces can be leveraged for maximized participation.”

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Using Integrated Pest Management to Reduce Pesticides and Increase Food Safety

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Integrated Pest Management Innovation Lab

Mar 06, 2018

Photo: A farmer sprays pesticides on cucurbit crops in Bangladesh.
Photo: A farmer sprays pesticides on cucurbit crops in Bangladesh.

Written by Sara Hendery, Communications Coordinator of the Feed the Future Innovation Lab for Integrated Pest Management

In 2017, thousands of beetles and weevils moved into Ethiopia’s Amhara region. Like most living things, they were hungry, but their appetites desired a specific earthly delicacy: weeds.

Zygogramma, the leaf-feeding beetle, and Listronotus, the stem-boring weevil, were released in Ethiopia by Virginia State University, collaborators of the Feed the Future Innovation Lab for Integrated Pest Management, funded by USAID and housed at Virginia Tech. Zygogramma and Listronotus combat Parthenium, an invasive weed that threatens food security and biodiversity, causes respiratory issues and rashes on human skin, and taints meat and dairy products when consumed by animals. Biological control and other holistic agricultural methods are specialities of the Integrated Pest Management (IPM) Innovation Lab. Its team of scientists and collaborators generate IPM technologies to fight, reduce and manage crop-destroying pests in developing countries while reducing the use of pesticides.  

The application of pesticides is a major threat to human health. In sub-Saharan Africa, more than 50,000 tons of obsolete pesticides blanket the already at-risk land. Pesticides can taint food, water, soil and air, causing headaches, drowsiness, fertility issues and life-threatening illness. Especially vulnerable populations are children, pregnant women and farmers themselves; hundreds of thousands of known deaths occur each year due to pesticide poisoning. Pesticides often increase crop yields, but an abundance of crops is anachronistic when the cost is human life.

In a small community in Bangladesh, farmers used to rely on pesticides to manage insects and agricultural diseases destroying crops, but community members began to develop symptoms from the excessive pesticide use, and, more than that, children were doing the spraying. The IPM Innovation Lab implemented a grafting program in the community that generated eggplant grafted varieties resistant to bacterial wilt. Eggplant yields increased dramatically and purchases of chemical pesticides dropped, which meant safer and healthier produce for families.

This story is one of many. The IPM Innovation Lab taps into a collection of inventive technologies in both its current phase of projects in East Africa and Asia, and since its inception in 1993, to enhance the livelihoods and standards of living for smallholder farmers and people across the globe:

  • In Vietnam, dragon fruit is covered in biodegradable plastic bags to protect the plants from fungal disease.
  • In Niger, the release of parasitoids eliminates the pearl millet headminer.
  • The spread of coconut dust inside seedling trays grows healthy plants in India.
  • Parasitic wasps destroy the papaya mealybug from India to Florida.
  • Trichoderma, a naturally occurring fungus in soil, fights against fungal diseases in India, the Philippines and elsewhere.  
  • Cuelure bait traps save cucurbits from fruit flies in Bangladesh.
  • Eggplant fruit and shootborer baits protect eggplants from insect damage in Nepal, India and Bangladesh.

Pesticides do not necessarily eliminate pest invasion; they eliminate even the “good” insects on plants. Insects often develop resistance to popular chemicals when applied frequently, so not only is chemical spraying sometimes unnecessary, it is excessive.

Tuta absoluta, for example, is a tomato leafminer destroying tomato crops across the globe. In Spain, in the first year of the pest’s introduction, pesticides were applied 15 times per season, but the pest is resistant to pesticides and is so small (about the size of a stray pencil mark) that it often burrows inside the plant rather than around it. The IPM Innovation Lab and its collaborators generated one-of-a-kind modeling to track the movement of the species and introduced pheromone traps and neem-based bio-pesticides to help manage its spread, further ensuring the implementation of a series of technologies, rather than just relying on one, to reduce crop damage. The age-old saying “two heads are better than one” is accurate — just ask Zygogramma and Listronotus.

In developing countries, it is difficult to regulate the amount of chemical pesticides that make it onto crops, thus increasing the risk that chemicals will have a dramatic effect on the safety of food and the potential for exposure to foreign markets. One of the reasons pesticide over-application is common in developing countries is due to misinformation. In Cambodian rice production, pesticides are often misused because labels are printed in a foreign language; it is common that farmers mix two to five pesticides, resulting in pesticide poisoning. The IPM Innovation Lab’s project in Cambodia reduces the number of pesticides in rice production by introducing host-plant resistance and biological control.

Also, a fundamental practice of the IPM Innovation Lab is conducting trainings and symposia for farmers and IPM collaborators across the world to educate on the use and implementation of IPM technologies, further reducing the risk of possible harm to crops and human life. Additionally, IPM Innovation Lab partners with agriculture input suppliers and markets in project communities to ensure that bio-pesticides and IPM materials such as traps are readily available and that the purchase of pesticides are not the only option.

Ultimately, when you spray, you pay. The IPM Innovation Lab prioritizes both human and plant health by reducing the use of pesticides, and with the human population growing by the thousands every day, it is crucial that food is not only abundant but also safe and healthy to eat.

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Minimizing Further Insect Pest Invasions in Africa

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Esther Ngumbi

Jun 20, 2018

Photo: Tamzin Byrne/ICIPE

This was written by Esther Ngumbi, and appeared on Sci Dev Net

USAID recently offered prize money for the best digital tools that can be used to help combat the fall armyworm (FAW), an invasive pest that has spread across Africa. The winners will be announced in the coming months.
Identified in over 35 African countries since 2016, the FAW is expected to continue to spread, threatening food security and agricultural trade in African countries.

Map of areas affected by Fall Armyworm (as of January 2018)

Map of areas affected by Fall Armyworm (as of January 2018) Credit: FAO

But this is not the first invasive pest the African continent is dealing with. Just a few years ago, African smallholder farmers battled the invasive South American tomato moth, Tuta absoluta. According to recent research, five invasive insect pests including T. absoluta cost the African continent US$ 1.1 billion every year.
Around the world, invasive pests are causing US$ 540 billion in economic losses to agriculture each year despite the fact that many countries are doing their best to prevent insect invasions now and into the future.

Tackling invasive pests reactively

To deal with invasive insects, African countries assisted by other stakeholders, including aid agencies such as USAID, research institutions such as the International Center for Insect Physiology and Ecology, the Center for Agriculture and Bioscience International (CABI, the parent organization of SciDev.Net) and the United Nations Food and Agriculture Organization (UN FAO) have repeatedly taken a reactive rather than a proactive approach in tackling the invasive pests only after they have established a foothold and caused considerable damage.
Ghana, for example, established a National Taskforce to control and manage FAW after the worms had invaded local fields. This taskforce mandate includes sensitizing farmers and making them aware of the symptoms of armyworm attacks so they can report infestations to authorities and undertake research aimed at finding short and long term solutions to combat the spread of FAW.

“While many of these strategies are working, one cannot help but wonder what it would take for African governments to get ahead of this problem.”

Esther Ngumbi, University of Illinois

Malawi’s government prioritized the use of pesticides as an immediate and short-term strategy to fight the FAW after many of their smallholder farmers lost crops to this invasive insect. Further, the government intensified training and awareness campaigns about this pest and installed pheromone traps to help monitor the spread only after the pest had established a foothold.
The FAO, a leader in the efforts to deal with invasive pests in Africa, has spearheaded many efforts including bringing together experts from the Americas, Africa and other regions to share and update each other on FAW. The FAO has launched a mobile phone app to be used as an early warning system tool. But again, many of these efforts happened after the first detection of the FAW.
While many of these strategies are working, one cannot help but wonder what it would take for African governments to get ahead of this problem. How can aid agencies such as USAID, UN FAO and other development partners that are currently spending billions to fight the invasive FAW help Africa to take the necessary steps to ensure that it is better prepared to deal with invasive insects now and into the future?

Anticipate and prepare

Recent research predicts that threats from invasive insects will continue to increase with African countries expected to be the most vulnerable. African governments must anticipate and prepare for such invasions using already available resources.
Early this year, CABI launched invasive species Horizon Scanning Tool (beta), a tool that allows countries to identify potential invasive species. This online and open source tool supported by United States Department of Agriculture and the UK Department for International Development allows countries to generate a list of invasive species that are absent from their countries at the moment but present in “source areas,” which may be relevant because they are neighboring countries, linked by trade and transport routes, or share similar climates. Doing so could allow African countries to prepare action plans that can be quickly rolled out when potential invaders actually arrive.

Learn from other regions

Africa can learn from other regions that have comprehensive plans on dealing with invasive insects and countries that have gone through similar invasions. The United States and Australia are examples of countries that have comprehensive plans on preventing and dealing with insect invasions, while Brazil has gone through its own FAW invasion.

“African governments must learn to be proactive rather than reactive in dealing with invasive insects.”

Esther Ngumbi, University of Illinois

Through workshops and training programs that help bring experts together, African countries can learn how to prevent and deal with future insect invasions. Moreover, key actors should help organize more workshops and training programs to enable African experts to learn from their counterparts overseas. At the same time, the manuals, and all the information exchanged and learned during such workshops, could be stored in online repositories that can be accessed by all African countries.   

Strengthen African pest surveillance

A recent Feed the Future funded technical brief, which I helped to write, looked at the strength of existing African plant protection regulatory frameworks by examining eight indicators including the existence of a specified government agency mandated with the task of carrying out pest surveillance.
It reveals that many African countries have weak plant protection regulatory systems and that many governments do not carry out routine pest surveillance which involves the collection, recording, analysis, interpretation and timely dissemination of information about the presence, prevalence and distribution of pests.
The International Plant Protection Convention offers a comprehensive document that can help African countries to design pest surveillance programs. Also, the convention offers other guiding documents that can be used by African countries to strengthen their plant protection frameworks. African countries can use these available documents to strengthen national and regional pest surveillance abilities.

Set up emergency funds

Invasive insects know no borders. Thus, African countries must work together. At the same time, given the rapid spread of invasive insect outbreaks, the African continent must set up an emergency fund that can easily be tapped when insects invade. In dealing with the recent FAW invasion, it was evident that individual African countries and the continent did not have an emergency financing plan. This must change.

By anticipating potential invasive insects and learning from countries that have comprehensive national plant protection frameworks, Africa can be prepared for the next insect invasion. African governments must learn to be proactive rather than reactive in dealing with invasive insects.
Doing so will help safeguard Africa’s agriculture and protect the meaningful gains made in agricultural development. Time is ripe.
Esther Ngumbi is a distinguished postdoctoral researcher with the Department of Entomology at the US-based University of Illinois at Urbana Champaign, a World Policy Institute Senior Fellow, Aspen Institute New Voices Food Security Fellow and a Clinton Global University Initiative Agriculture Commitments Mentor and Ambassador. She can be contacted at enn0002@tigermail.auburn.edu 
This piece was produced by SciDev.Net’s Sub-Saharan Africa English desk. 


[1] USAID: Fall Armyworm Tech Prize (USAID, 2018). 
[2] Briefing note on FAO actions on fall armyworm in Africa (UN FAO, 31 January 2018) 
[3] Corin F. Pratt and others  Economic impacts of invasive alien species on African smallholder livelihoods (Global Food Security, vol 14, September 2017).
[4] Abigail Barker Plant health-state of research (Kew Royal Botanic gardens, 2017).
[5] US Embassy in Lilongwe United States assists Malawi to combat fall armyworm. (US Embassy, 13 February 2018).
[6] Joseph Opoku Gakpo Fall armyworm invasion spreads to Ghana (Cornell Alliance for Science, 19 May 2017). 
[7] Kimberly Keeton Malawi’s new reality: Fall armyworm is here to stay (IFPRI, 26 February 2018).
[8] Malawi’s farmers resort to home-made repellents to combat armyworms (Reuters, 2018). 
[9] Fall Armyworm (UN FAO, 2018). 
[10] FAO launches mobile application to support fight against Fall Armyworm in Africa (UN FAO, 14 March 2018).
[11] Dean R. Paini and others Global threat to agriculture from invasive species (Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences of the United States of America, 5 July 2016).
[12] CABI launches invasive species Horizon Scanning Tool (CABI, 2018).
[13] United States Department of Agriculture Animal and Plant Health Inspection Service(USDA APHIS, 2018).
[14] Australia Government Department of Agriculture and Water Resources (Australia Government, 2018).
[15] Plant protection EBA data in action technical brief (USAID FEED THE FUTURE, 26 January 2018).
[16] Guidelines for surveillance (International Plant Protection Convention, 2016)FILED UNDER:AGRICULTURAL PRODUCTIVITYMARKETS AND TRADEPOLICY AND GOVERNANCERESILIENCE

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Protecting Food Security from Transboundary Pests and Building Resilient Agrifood Systems

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Prasanna B.M.


Feb 16, 2022

Peter Malusi, a technician at the International Center of Insect Physiology and Ecology (ICIPE), scouts for natural enemies of the destructive fall armyworm in Niger.
Photo Credit: Sara Hendery, Communications Coordinator, Feed the Future Innovation Lab for Integrated Pest Management.

Robust and resilient agrifood systems begin with healthy crops. Healthy crops are indeed key to ensuring food security and livelihoods for millions of resource-constrained smallholder farmers in the world’s poorest countries. Globalization and changing climates are exacerbating the occurrence and spread of devastating crop pests, threatening agrifood systems and food security of farming communities. Protecting genetic gains from transboundary pests through innovative plant health solutions is, therefore, as important as our intensive efforts to increase genetic gains using novel breeding tools/technologies.

Implementing a Proactive and Holistic Plant Health Management Strategy

Effective plant health management requires holistic approaches that focus on preventing entry (to the extent possible), establishment and spread of invasive pests, and mitigating the impacts of the outbreaks through eco-friendly, socially inclusive and sustainable management approaches. The “reactive approach” followed, in general, by most institutions and countries, focusing mostly on containment and management actions (especially using pesticides) after the occurrence of the pest outbreak, might have paid off in the short- and medium-term, but will not be sustainable on a long-term basis. It has become imperative to take “proactive actions” on transboundary pest management through globally coordinated surveillance, diagnostics and deployment of plant health solutions, besides dynamic communications, and data sharing among the relevant stakeholders.

The national plant protection organizations (NPPOs) provide the frontline defense to contain transboundary pest invasions. However, many low- and middle-income countries (LMICs) are unable to implement adequate quarantine measures due to poor technical capacity and a lack of resources to adequately test and monitor biological material. The Consultative Group on International Agricultural Research (CGIAR) Germplasm Health Units (GHUs) work in close collaboration with NPPOs, contributing to the knowledge on pest/pathogen distribution, development and application of diagnostics for pest/pathogen identification and seed health certification, and use of phytosanitary methods to generate pest- and pathogen-free germplasm for safe international distribution. Under the One CGIAR Plant Health Initiative, together with international partners, we aim to significantly strengthen the capacity of the national partners, especially NPPOs, to implement a holistic, multi-institutional strategy, including surveillance and diagnostics, epidemiological modelling, risk prediction, early warning and capacity to implement rapid response whenever a new threat emerges. At the same time, emphasis will be on empowering local communities in pest surveillance (often referred to as “crowdsourcing”) to inform national and regional networks.

Accelerating Adoption of Integrated Pest Management (IPM)

The goal of IPM is to economically suppress pest populations using techniques that support healthy crops, reduce the use of pesticides and minimize harm to the people and the environment. An effective IPM strategy will judiciously use an array of appropriate approaches, including clean seed systems, host plant resistance, biological control, cultural control and the use of environmentally safer pesticides to protect crops from economic injury without adversely impacting the environment. Implementation of multidisciplinary and multi-institutional plant health management strategies have enabled protection against some of the most devastating transboundary insect pests and diseases, including wheat rusts, maize lethal necrosis (MLN) in Africa, banana bunchy top virus in Africa and cassava mosaic viruses in Africa and Asia.

The fall armyworm (FAW), or Spodoptera frugiperda, is an important example that highlights the need for more effective national, regional and transcontinental coordination in managing a highly destructive and invasive pest. The pest poses a serious threat to the food and nutrition security and livelihoods of hundreds of millions of farming households. FAW invasion has also resulted in heavy use of pesticides, posing a serious threat to natural enemies (parasitoids and predators of FAW), human health and the environment. Although there is a wide array of proven technologies for the control of FAW (and other lepidopteran pests), these are not equally accessible, affordable or scalable to diverse farming communities across Africa or Asia. It is, therefore, critical that researchers design, validate and scale-up appropriate IPM packages suitable for smallholders’ farming contexts, especially based on five criteria: cost, efficacy, safety, accessibility and scalability.

IPM Is Also about Integrating People’s Mindsets

The lack of gender and social perspectives in plant health surveillance, technology development, access to extension services and impact evaluation is one of the major impediments in improving adoption of IPM strategies. Equitable and inclusive innovations need to start by involving female farmers in pest surveillance and technology development, especially by learning from their experiences and knowledge. The combination of modern science, global partnerships and knowledge sharing is the only way forward to be better prepared to effectively counter existing and emerging crop pests, and for building resilient agrifood systems. We must recognize that IPM is not only about integrated pest management, but also “integrating people’s mindsets,” thinking beyond narrow disciplines and institutions and working together to deliver integrated and holistic solutions to the farmers’ fields.

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