Raising awareness in the war against crop pests and diseases

The International Potato Center’s (CIP) Genebank safeguards and shares potato and sweetpotato diversity with crop breeders, researchers and organizations around the world. Sharing genetic diversity helps improve farmer productivity and profitability. Ensuring the delivery of the highest quality of materials, CIP verifies that every plant or seed shared is pest and pathogen free.

Martin Ramos tests plantlets in the CIP pathology lab.

In the framework of CIP’s research on crop pests and diseases and their management, the germplasm health unit celebrated Phytosanitary Awareness Week the week of October 22-26. Daily seminars and a workshop were held at CIP’s Peru headquarters, where the Genebank is located, with regional participation via teleconference. It was part of an international campaign under the auspices of the CGIAR Genebank Platform, which supports the work of 11 genebanks around the world.

“Reinforcing phytosanitary (plant health) issues ensures research personnel clearly understand the safety procedures for the movement of crop material to prevent the inadvertent spread of pests or diseases,” said Giovanna Müller, Head of the CIP Science Laboratories Unit.

In addition, scientists outlined the latest research findings on invasive and emerging pests and diseases. This included a presentation on potato virus diversity in Peru and a half-day workshop that brought CIP scientists together with representatives of the Andean Community and Peru’s National Institute for Agricultural Innovation (INIA) and National Agrarian Health Service (SENASA), both of which are technical institutions of the Ministry of Agriculture and Irrigation.

Camilo Beltran, the head of plant health for the Andean Community, underlined that crop pests and disease are usually spread by people, which is why the Andean Community focuses much of its phytosanitation work on regional trade in plants, fruits and vegetables.

Lorena Lastres, a Honduran specialist in integrated pest management, gave a presentation on a bacterial disease known as “zebra chip” which renders potatoes useless for production. The disease is spread by a psyllid, or jumping plant louse, that has expanded its range from the western United States and Mexico toward South America. Lastres noted that it could pose a threat to the Andean region.

SENASA potato scientist Julio Marín outlined that organization’s efforts to keep another invasive potato pest, the Guatemalan tuber moth, from spreading from Ecuador to Peru. He explained that SENASA monitors farmer fields and markets for evidence of the Guatemalan tuber moth.

“An event like this is very important because it makes us aware of new threats such as zebra chip,” Marín said.

Müller explained that she hopes the workshop will lead to more frequent communication among scientists at CIP, INIA, SENASA and the Andean Community’s phytosanitation office. “We want to strengthen our interaction with all the local authorities that monitor potato pests and diseases and implement measures to control them,” she said.

“The idea is to share knowledge and to try to create a community of practice to exchange information, contribute best management practices, and provide support on local phytosanitary issues,” Müller explained.

Jaime Arellano monitors plant health in a CIP greenhouse.

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