Updated Pest Risk Atlas will build climate resilience for all

CIP provides training to farmers and extension workers on the ILCYM website and then shows how that information can be applied in the field. (photo: H. Gamarra/CIP)

The impacts of climate change continue to affect agriculture with serious implications for food and nutrition security. Farmers around the world report varying temperatures, changing rainfall patterns, and prolonged droughts. But perhaps no impact concerns farmers more than crop pests and how climate change threatens to alter and intensify their spread.

Fortunately, there are some effective tools available to help farmers and extension workers track spread and life cycles of pests. 

One such tool, developed at the International Potato Center (CIP), is the Insect Life Cycle Modeling software (ILCYM), which helps researchers and farmers develop insect phenology models to study pest population ecology. In simpler terms, ILCYM enable people to predict and map the risk and probability of insect spread through regions and farmers’ fields.  

“Putting these maps together with input from various users enable the creating of a ‘Pest Risk Atlas’ that countries and regional agricultural authorities may consult to defend their crops and protect crop yields,” said Emerson Jacome, a professor at the Universidad Técnica de Cotopaxi in Ecuador and contributor to the upgrade. 

The software is free for download and comes with instruction manuals in English and Spanish. Because it uses the freeware statistical package called “R”, it is made readily available for analysis.  

Previous versions of ILCYM required experience and training to use.  The upgrade is more user-friendly and extends the use and reach of the software to provide larger pictures of pest movement among various crops and to model diseases that are transmitted by the insects. 

“You do not need to be a specialist in modeling or statistics to use this software,” says Pablo Carhuapoma, a statistical analyst at CIP.  

“This version includes interpolation indices that help us obtain more accurate and better understanding of risk maps for a specific area at a finer geographic scale,” explains Heidy Gamarra, a research associate at CIP and one of many co-designers of the software. “Now the ILCYM website can include other important pests from other parts of the world and can also model insect-transmitted diseases.” 

Other important upgrades to ILCYM include:  

  • The ability to determine risk using geolocation (i.e., georeferenced data: latitude and longitude) to quickly assess the risk at a specific point; 
  • Validated models and maps for specific pests to help with decision-making on prevention; and 

Of course, the most valued aspect of the software will be the information provided to farmers who will have access to management recommendations for pests based on the calculations and models on the website. With these recommendations, the farmers will be able to reduce the use of pesticides (good for the environment) while also increasing yields for the home and the marketplace, through timely control of pest.  

For researchers, the analysis will provide a richer understanding of the biology and ecology of insects and, in the long-term, be used to help support large-scale decision-making on pest management interventions and to improve food safety and the safety of farmers.  

While the upgrade is welcome improvement for farmers and researchers alike, Jan Kreuze, the Leader of the Crop Systems and Science Division at CIP, says the next step will be to democratize this information and make it more readily accessible in the fields. 

“We are working to develop SMS or smartphone apps through which extension workers can relay information to farmers about the models or weather patterns. And this information will tell us much about risk at that moment. In this way, we can be more responsive in the short term to pests while improving our surveillance in the long-term.”