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Bill and Melinda Gates Foudation

2019 Grand Challenges Explorations—Tools and Technologies for Broad-Scale Pest and Disease Surveillance of Crop Plants in Low-Income Countries program,

Tools and Technologies for Broad-Scale Pest and Disease Surveillance of Crop Plants in Low-Income Countries (Round 22)

Grand Challenges Explorations Date open: 19 Sep 2018 Date closed: 14 Nov 2018 – 11:30am PST

The Opportunity

Farmers in every region of the world struggle to protect their crops from pests and disease. Nowhere is the situation more dire than for farmers in low-income countries. Inconsistent access to crop protection products, inadequate knowledge of best-practice control strategies, and a lack of awareness of pest and disease outbreaks leave most farmers unprepared and ill-equipped to respond effectively. Infestations of plant pests and epidemics of plant diseases can destroy crop yields completely, devastating low-income farming families who depend upon the harvest for their food and livelihoods.

Despite the broad impact of these biotic stresses, few data exist on the true burden of crop pests and diseases for low-income countries. Such data are logistically challenging and expensive to obtain through traditional survey methods. Thus, comprehensive, real-time measures of what pests and disease are present, where, and to what severity are severely lacking. Emerging research in data science, engineering, biology, chemistry, computer science, telecommunications and other relevant fields presents an opportunity for a step-change in crop pest and disease surveillance for low-income countries and around the world.

The Challenge

The goal of this topic is to solicit innovative tools and technologies for crop pests and disease surveillance over large geographic regions in low-income countries. We are looking for tools and approaches that have the potential to transform crop pest and disease surveillance globally, with a focus on low-income countries. Ideas that result in increased coverage of geographic area will be prioritized over ideas that increase diagnostic accuracy. Ideas that are applicable or adaptable to multiple crops and diseases/pests will be prioritized over ideas that are specific to only one crop or pathogen. Because we are focused on low-income countries, successful proposals will take into account small-scale, difficult-to-reach, intercropped farming systems with multiple pests and diseases. Farmer-facing applications must be able to integrate into country-level extension services (no single-disease based apps) and must be able to function without requiring a smart phone or reliable internet connectivity. Successful proposals will address data requirements and plans for data acquisition. Preliminary data is not required, but proposals should clearly demonstrate how the idea is an innovative leap in progress from current practices with the potential to be transformative at scale.

To be considered, proposals must closely align with the goals of the foundation’s Agricultural Development team. As such, we are looking for proposals that:

  • Offer an innovative and transformative solution for surveillance and early detection of crop pests and diseases;
  • Offer potential for dramatic cost reductions or increases in efficiency or precision in data collection compared to current strategies;
  • Be amenable to integration into a national or regional pest and disease surveillance and response system for crop plants;
  • Have potential applicability to at least two of the following crops: maize, wheat, rice, millet, sorghum, cassava, sweet potatoes, yams, bananas, beans, cowpeas, chickpeas, and groundnuts;
  • Convey a clear potential for achieving data collection at broad geographic scale.

A few examples of the many possible examples to be considered include:

  • Multidisciplinary approaches that leverage emerging research in data science, engineering, biology, chemistry, computer science, telecommunications and other relevant fields;
  • Phone-based technologies (Please note: proposals using image analysis strategies must clearly show novel improvement over existing technologies either in integration of diverse data or algorithmic approaches, must address more than one crop and/or disease, and must clearly state the data requirements and achieved or target accuracy);
  • Novel sensor-based strategies affordable to low-income country users;
  • Approaches that leverage “passive” big data sources (remote sensing, crowd-sourced data, online content, social media, call center records, and other non-traditional data sources) and machine learning/artificial intelligence;
  • Other applications not highlighted here.

We will not consider funding for:

  • Incremental improvements in our knowledge or application of current pest and disease surveillance strategies;
  • Ideas that are not directly relevant to agricultural systems in low-income countries;
  • Ideas that are not applicable to the following crops: maize, wheat, rice, millet, sorghum, cassava, sweet potatoes, yams, bananas, beans, cowpeas, chickpeas, and groundnuts;
  • Transfer of existing technology to a new system without innovative modification;
  • Proposals that focus solely on scaling up or delivery of existing technologies;
  • Proposals that focus solely on one-directional extension services to demonstrate or advertise existing technologies without data collection;
  • Proposals that focus solely on abiotic stresses (e.g., drought, heat, etc.).
  • Proposals that focus solely on modeling of existing data;
  • Devices or approaches focused on diagnostic capability for only one pest or disease;
  • Proposals focused on post-harvest pests or diseases (e.g. mycotoxins);
  • Applications based on image analysis that diagnose a single pest or disease.



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Ne farmer

insect-damaged corn leaf jess311/Getty Images

Gates Foundation partners to combat crop pests

In low-income countries, more than 25% of crops are lost to pests and diseases

Jun 12, 2019

Pests and plant diseases wreak havoc on crops worldwide, reducing major food crop yields by an estimated 10% to 40%. While all farmers are negatively affected by pests and pathogens, farmers in low-income countries lack resources to combat pest and disease and are more susceptible to crop loss.

In an effort to combat pest and disease in low-income countries, the Foundation for Food and Agriculture Research partnered with The Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation to support the 2019 Grand Challenges Explorations—Tools and Technologies for Broad-Scale Pest and Disease Surveillance of Crop Plants in Low-Income Countries program, which develops tools to improve crop pest and disease surveillance globally.

In low-income countries, more than 25% of crops are lost to pests and diseases. Monitoring and early detection programs can help lessen losses.

“Time is of the essence for farmers, especially those in low-income countries, when crops are threatened by pests and disease. The grantees are creating innovative tools that detect pests and diseases early, providing farmers time to respond and protect their crops and livelihoods,” said FFAR’s Executive Director Sally Rockey.

If their concepts are successful, the three individuals awarded this grant will have the opportunity to compete among a larger pool of applicants for a $1,000,000 prize to transform crop pest and disease surveillance globally.

The projects:

  • Plants emit specific chemicals when attacked by insects or fungi. Dr. Hanseup Kim, associate professor at the University of Utah, received a $100,000 grant to develop chemical sensors that can operate for a long period of time in a resource-limited environment. These sensors will alert farmers to the different types and stages of crop damage.
  • Setting up existing pest incident monitoring networks in low-income countries is expensive and logistically challenging. Dr. Ritzvik Sahajpal, assistant research professor at the University of Maryland College Park, received a $99,723 grant to design a low-cost early warning system that  combines machine learning algorithms, earth observation data and crop pest modeling to predict various crop threats. This system will be tested on maize and sorghum crops in Tanzania. The research team is also analyzing plant properties, temperature and soil moisture to estimate pre-harvest losses and determine crop losses from pests and fungi.
  • Traditional crop pest and disease monitoring approaches, like drones, are costly and limited in their ability to provide accurate data across large regions. Paul Wagstaff, senior agriculture advisor at Self Help Africa in Ireland, received a $97,400 grant to build an advanced algorithm that automatically analyzes satellite images for changes in leaf color and soil disruption to detect crop pests and disease. The “trained” algorithm is proposed to detect these subtle changes in satellite images, to allow pest damage to be distinguished from water and nutrient deficiencies and allow for rapid assessment of the degree of infestation across large areas, which to date has not been accomplished.
Source: Foundation for Food and Agriculture Research, which is solely responsible for the information provided and is wholly owned by the source. Informa Business Media and all its subsidiaries are not responsible for any of the content contained in this information asset. 

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Ne farmer

Trump administration proposes easing GMO rules

Trump administration proposes easing GMO rules

USDA estimates plan would save developers average of $3.6 million for each new genetically engineered crop

Bloomberg | Jun 06, 2019

by Mike Dorning

The Trump administration would exempt many new genetically engineered crops from regulation by the U.S. Department of Agriculture under a broad overhaul of biotechnology rules announced on Wednesday.

The overhaul, which the department said would cut the cost of developing genetically engineered plants, would exempt crops with traits “similar in kind” to modifications that could be produced through traditional breeding techniques. Developers would be allowed to make a “self-determination” that their products are exempt from regulation.

The administration argues the approach will allow regulators to focus on “increasingly complex products which, in turn, may pose new types of risks.”

The USDA estimates the proposal would save developers an average of $3.6 million for each new genetically engineered crop, if the product isn’t also regulated by the Food & Drug Administration or Environmental Protection Agency. If another government agency also regulates the plant, the average savings would drop to $730,000.

“This common sense approach will ultimately give farmers more choices in the field and consumers more choices at the grocery store,” Greg Ibach, Under Secretary of Agriculture for Marketing and Regulatory Programs, said in a statement.

The proposal replaces regulations the Obama administration proposed in January 2017 but the Trump administration later withdrew. The Agriculture Department said in the new regulatory proposal that comments on the Obama regulations indicated the requirements “would be too burdensome and had the potential to stifle innovation.”

The proposal would be the first significant revision of its biotechnology regulations since they were issued in 1987, the USDA said in a statement. The proposed rule will be open for public comment through Aug. 5 before the department issues a final regulation.

To contact the reporter on this story:
Mike Dorning in Washington at mdorning@bloomberg.net
To contact the editors responsible for this story:
Joe Sobczyk at jsobczyk@bloomberg.net
Reg Gale, James Attwood
© 2019 Bloomberg L.P.

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western farm press

Researcher at Lindcove REC Tim Hearden
Stephanie Doria, a staff research associate at the University of California’s Lindcove Research and Extension Center in Exeter, Calif., looks at red scale on twig samples under a microscope in the center’s lab. The center leads the way in huanglongbing research.

Invasive species threaten Calif. economy, ecology

Ultimately, invasive species affect every resident of California — particularly growers.

Jeannette Warnert | Jun 06, 2019

When insects, weeds, animals and diseases enter California from elsewhere in the nation or world, they can cause economic losses to agricultural crops and ecological damage to the state’s natural areas. Ultimately, invasive species affect every resident of California.

Based on historical data, a new invertebrate species establishes itself in California about every six weeks, on average. They don’t all become serious pest problems, but many evade eradication efforts, disrupt carefully balanced integrated pest management programs, hijack sensitive ecosystems, and spoil valued recreational resources and urban landscapes.

Related: A team approach is key to conquering invasive species, UCANR

UC Agriculture and Natural Resources joins the California Department of Fish and Wildlife and the California Invasive Species Council in marking California Invasive Species Action Week, June 1-9, to raise public awareness of invasive species issues and promote public participation in the fight against California invasive species.

The UC Integrated Pest Management Program and the Center for Invasive Species

Asian citrus psyllid and huanglongbing

Huanglongbing disease, which kills citrus trees, is spreading in Southern California residential areas and threatening commercial citrus production. There is currently no cure for the huanglongbing disease. It is spread by the Asian citrus psyllid. The insect, a native of Pakistan, Afghanistan and other Asian regions, was first detected in California in 2008. Currently the only way to control the disease is to reduce the psyllid population and to remove trees that are infected or located near the infected trees. Everywhere ACP is found, the pests find and spread HLB. In California, an aggressive push to keep psyllid populations low, regulations to limit the spread of psyllids when trucking the fruit, and active scouting for and removal of HLB-infected trees in residential areas could buy time for researchers to find a solution before California suffers the fate of Florida citrus growers, whose orange production has dropped 70% lower than 20 years ago. More info: ACP/HLB distribution and management

Related: Huanglongbing is a growing threat to California’s citrus industry, UCANR

Brown marmorated stink bug

The first reproducing population of brown marmorated stink bug was found in Los Angeles County in 2006. In 2013, a large population was detected in a midtown Sacramento. A pest of agricultural crops and a serious residential problem, it is a strong flier and also travels long distances by hitching rides in vehicles or inside furniture or other articles when they are moved, often in late summer and early fall. As a result, new infestations pop up in neighborhoods where people travel from infested areas. A native of China, Japan and Korea, BMSB was first documented in the United States in Pennsylvania in 2001. It is either established or found occasionally in about 41 states. More info: Pests in Gardens and Landscapes – Brown marmorated stink bug

South American palm weevil

The South American palm weevil is a destructive pest in its native and invaded ranges. Scientists first found it in San Diego in 2011. As the weevils feed, they drill through the heart of the palm, eventually choking off the fronds and killing the tree. UC ANR is studying the South American palm weevil’s biology and life cycle, and trying to find out how they got to California. Traps for monitoring the pest have been developed and deployed. More info: South American palm weevil invasion in San Diego County

Polyphagus shot hole borer

The insect, originally from Asia, was first identified in California in 2012. Shot hole borers bore through bark carrying with them harmful fungus. The fungus attacks the tree’s vascular tissue, choking off water, causing branch dieback and eventually killing the tree. Polyphagous shot hole borer and the fungus are now distributed widely in more than 110 types of trees in Los Angeles and Orange counties, and have been observed in San Bernardino, Riverside and San Diego counties. More info: Invasive shot hole borers

Sudden oak death

Sudden oak death is caused by the pathogen Phytophthora ramorum, which was inadvertently introduced to California forests on nursery stock in the 1990s. The disease has killed up to 50 million trees (primarily tanoak, coast live oak, California black oak, Shreve’s oak and canyon live oak) from Big Sur to southwest Oregon. More info: http://www.suddenoakdeath.org

Dyer’s woad

Dyer’s woad is an invasive weed thought to have been introduced into California in the Scott Valley of Siskiyou County, where it is locally referred to as “Marlahan mustard.” Until a couple of decades ago, it was primarily confined to Scott Valley, but it has subsequently spilled over into Shasta Valley. It continues to spread throughout Siskiyou County and into Modoc, Shasta and other northern California counties. During medieval times, Dyer’s woad was one of the most valuable plant commodities in Europe, cultivated as a source of blue dye as early as the 13th century. Colonists first introduced it to the eastern United States for that purpose. UC ANR researchers are developing management practices for removing Dyer’s woad and using solarization to kill the seeds in the field, limiting the risk of seed being spread when dead weeds are removed for disposal. More info: UC IPM Pest Note on Dyer’s Woad

Yellow starthistle

Yellow starthistle is native to Eurasia and was introduced to California around 1850 via South America. Recent reports indicate that yellow starthistle infests between 10 and 15 million acres in California. It is common in open areas on  roadsides, rangeland, wildlands, hay fields and pastures. Disturbances created by cultivation, poorly timed mowing, road building and maintenance, or overgrazing favor this rapid colonizer. It forms dense infestations and rapidly depletes soil moisture, preventing the establishment of other species. It is also poisonous to horses, causing a nervous disorder called “chewing disease,” which is fatal once symptoms develop. Horses are the only animal known to be affected in this manner and should not be allowed to graze on yellow starthistle. More info: UC IPM Pest Note on yellow starthistle


Saltcedar is native to Eurasia and was introduced into California through the nursery industry. The weed is tolerant of high salinity. Saltcedar’s dry branches and leaves can increase fire frequency. After fires, saltcedar sprouts rigorously, while native trees and shrubs generally do not, enabling saltcedar groves to push out native species. Research shows that saltcedar could impact the structure and dynamics of streams by trapping and stabilizing sediments, increasing overbank flooding following high flow events and creating permanent sand bars in rivers. This pest also contributes to the decline of wetland communities as habitat refuge for wildlife. More info: Center for Invasive Species Research

Arundo donax

Arundo donax is native to the Mediterranean and tropical Asia. In California from the late 1700s to early 1800s, giant reed was often planted for erosion control in flood channels and as wind breaks. The bamboo-like perennial can grow to 25 feet tall with thick, well-developed rhizomes. It develops dense stands that displace native vegetation, diminish wildlife habitat, increase flooding and siltation in natural areas and create a wildfire hazard. More info: Arundo donax

Egyptian broomrape

Egyptian broomrape was found in a California processing tomato field in 2015 – a first find for the U.S. It is a parasitic plant that attaches to other plant roots and lacks conspicuous leaves. Broomrape can infest about 30 broadleaf crops, including bell pepper, cabbage, carrot, celery, eggplant, melons, potato and tomato. The presence of broomrape in a field may force farmers to plant a less economical, non-host crop or to leave the field fallow. The weed causes reductions in crop yield, adversely impacts crop quality and results in the loss of cultivated land due to reduced crop alternatives. More info: Egyptian broomrape.

Japanese dodder

There are several species of dodder native to California, but they are not as difficult to manage as Japanese dodder, which was identified in Shasta and Yuba counties in 2005. This invasive plant pest has thick stems that resemble spaghetti. It grows larger and faster than native dodders and can cover entire trees or shrubs. In California, no viable seeds have been observed following Japanese dodder flowering. Instead, most spread occurs through the dissemination of small pieces of stems distributed by birds and other animals or through pruning, composting, and the improper disposal of infested plant material. This weed is has spread to more than a dozen California counties including Alameda, Butte, Contra Costa, Fresno, Los Angeles, Merced, Sacramento, Shasta, Solano, Sutter, Tulare, Yolo, and Yuba. Contact your county agricultural commissioner to receive proper identification and help with control. More info: UC IPM

Find more information on the UC Integrated Pest Management Program Invasive and Exotic Pests website: https://www2.ipm.ucanr.edu/Invasive-and-Exotic-Pests/

Source: University of California Division of Agriculture and Natural Resources, which is solely responsible for the information provided and is wholly owned by the source. Informa Business Media and all its subsidiaries are not responsible for any of the content contained in this information asset. 

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Watch an ant rip apart a spiderweb to rescue a sibling

Ants are famous for putting themselves at risk for the wellbeing of their colony, but desert harvester ants (Veromessor pergandei) are especially heroic. New research suggests the insects charge into spiderwebs to rescue their ensnared nestmates, sometimes ripping the silk apart to free them.

Researchers first observed the fearless ants in 2015 in the Mojave and Sonoran deserts. Not only did the insects free their comrades from the sticky silk, they dismantled the entire web afterward, ripping it apart with their jaws for up to 2 hours, the team reports in The American Naturalist. The rescues weren’t without personal risk; about 6% of rescuers got stuck in the silk themselves or were captured by the spider lurking nearby.

When the scientists brought the ants back to their lab, they discovered that the insects ignored empty webs. Their valor is likely spurred by chemical distress signals put out by their web-bound siblings, the team suspects.

The findings put desert harvester ants in an exclusive club of animals that engage in “rescue behavior,” which is typically reserved for mammals like primates and dolphins. Even rarer are those that destroy traps, limited among vertebrates to two groups of chimpanzees and mountain gorillas that disassemble poachers’ snares.

The researchers think the ants’ heroic streak may have evolved because V. pergandei has to collect enough seeds for the colony to produce hundreds of new ants daily. This makes every forager’s life—and their labor—indispensable.

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Ne farmer

Stripe rust was recently identified in a grower's wheat field in Perkins County Stephen Wegulo
FAVORABLE CONDITIONS: Stripe rust recently was identified in a grower’s wheat field in Perkins County, Neb., marking the first confirmation of the disease this growing season.

Stripe rust confirmed in Nebraska wheat

Fungal leaf spot disease also has been identified, and the risk for fusarium head blight has increased.

Jun 10, 2019

By Stephen Wegulo and Randy Pryor

During wheat disease surveys in Saline, Jefferson and Perkins counties in late May, stripe rust was confirmed for the first time in Nebraska this growing season. The disease was found in a grower’s field in Perkins County on May 30. Incidence was low, and the severity was trace.

In the same field, septoria tritici blotch was present at a high incidence and average-to-high severity on the lower leaves. In a different field in Perkins County, tan spot was present at trace-to-low levels on the lower leaves.

All fields surveyed looked lush green on the surface of the canopy. Growth stage ranged from boot to starting to head in Perkins County.

In Saline and Jefferson counties, most fields were headed or flowering and had trace-to-low levels of fungal leaf spots in the lower canopy, except for one field in Saline County that had powdery mildew in the lower and midcanopy in addition to fungal leaf spots.

Favorable conditions for disease

Conditions are conducive for the development of fungal leaf spots and stripe rust where it is present. All fields surveyed had soils saturated with moisture, and areas within fields with standing water were common.

These conditions result in prolonged leaf wetness at night and continuous high humidity in the crop canopy. Coupled with cool night temperatures, these conditions are conducive for rapid development of stripe rust.

In addition, recent heavy and frequent rains that occurred before flowering and continued into the flowering period have increased the risk of fusarium head blight (scab), which is favored by the high humidity present in wheat fields.

Disease management

Because many fields are headed or flowering, the best strategy is to apply a fungicide that will suppress scab and at the same time control stripe rust, leaf rust and the fungal leaf spots, such as septoria and tan spot.

The recommended fungicides for suppression of scab and control of foliar fungal diseases are Prosaro, Caramba and Miravis Ace. Each of these fungicides contains a triazole as an active ingredient. Triazoles have good efficacy on scab and good-to-excellent efficacy on powdery mildew, rusts and fungal leaf spots. They also have residual effectiveness lasting 21 to 28 days and have both curative and preventive activity.

Fungicides containing a strobilurin as an active ingredient have good-to-excellent efficacy on powdery mildew, rusts and fungal leaf spots. They also have residual effectiveness lasting 21 to 28 days.

Their activity is mostly preventive, and maximum effectiveness is achieved when they are applied before disease starts to develop. They delay leaf senescence, which lengthens the period of grain fill, resulting in higher yields.

However, strobilurin fungicides are not recommended for scab suppression because they have been shown to elevate levels of vomitoxin (deoxynivalenol or DON) in grain and have been shown to be less effective than triazoles in suppressing scab.

Wegulo is a Nebraska Extension plant pathologist, and Pryor is a Nebraska Extension educator.

Source: UNL CropWatch, which is solely responsible for the information provided and is wholly owned by the source. Informa Business Media and all its subsidiaries are not responsible for any of the content contained in this information asset.

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Update: New Pest & Disease Records (07 June 2019)


We’ve selected a few of the latest new geographic, host and species records for plant pests and diseases from CAB Abstracts. Records this month include the first report of a novel alphapartitivirus in Rhizoctonia oryzae-sativae, the causal agent of aggregate sheath spot disease of rice; a report on Bursaphelenchus rockyi sp. in peat moss in Russia and a report on Bursaphelenchus michalskii n. on large elm bark beetles and its association with Dutch elm disease.

To view all search results for new geographic, host and species records for plant pests and diseases, click here or to view results by your location click here.

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