Tackling the threat to food security caused by crop pests in the new millennium
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Crop yields are reduced and destabilized by pests which also affect the quality of harvested produce. To keep pace with growing demand, global food production needs to increase by an estimated 70% by 2050. Thus, the losses caused by pests need to be tackled. Synthetic pesticides have provided cost-effective control of pests over the last few decades but have several disadvantages. They may adversely affect natural enemies of insect pests, which would otherwise provide a degree of control and pests may evolve resistance to the pesticide. The discovery rate of novel bioactive compounds is low and their exploitation increasingly inhibited by stringent regulatory requirements. Use of resistant crop cultivars is another solution but when based on single genes it also suffers from the evolution of biotypes of pests that can overcome the resistance conferred by the gene. Biocontrol with natural enemies can contribute to pest management but biocontrol agents are often hard to maintain at sufficiently high levels in open field environments. New solutions could include novel resistant cultivars with multiple resistance genes, suitable epigenetic imprints and improved defence responses that are induced by attack. Plant activator agrochemicals could be used to switch on natural plant defence. Habitat manipulations such as push-pull can improve pest management and yields in less intensive systems. Genomic and transcriptomic information will facilitate development of new resistant crop cultivars once annotation and availability of data on multiple cultivars is improved. Knowledge of the chemical ecology of pest-plant interactions will be better exploited once the genes for biosynthesis of key plant metabolites are discovered. Genetic modification of crops has the potential for speeding the development of crops with novel resistance.