The importance of plant health to food security


Rapid food price rises have highlighted serious concerns about food security globally and have had a huge impact on achieving Millennium Development Goal 1. Since 2007, an estimated 100 million more people have fallen into absolute poverty. Most live in developing countries where low incomes (less than $1 per day) make it difficult to access food. Access to sufficient food for dietary needs and food preferences defines food security. However, whilst price rises have brought food security into sharp focus, underlying problems need to be addressed. Over the last three to four decades, there has been chronic under-investment in agriculture at all levels. Development aid to agriculture has declined and often in-country policies do not support the sector. Low crop yields are common in many developing countries and improved productivity is vital to reducing rural poverty and increasing food security. Whilst the causes of low productivity are complex, one major contributory factor is crop losses due to plant health problems. Often accurate information on the extent of these losses is missing but estimates of 30–40% loss annually from “field to fork” are common. Any future solution regarding improved global food security must address these losses and that means improving plant health. Two trans-boundary diseases, wheat stem rust race Ug99 and Coffee Wilt Disease of Coffea are highlighted. CABI has a number of plant health initiatives and one radical approach (Global Plant Clinic) involves partnership with in-country services to deliver plant health advice to farmers at the point of demand. Such innovations are entirely consistent with a proposed new “Green Revolution” which would need to be “knowledge intensive”.

This is a preview of subscription content, access via your institution.

Fig. 1
Fig. 2
Fig. 3
Fig. 4
Fig. 5


  1. APPG (2010) Why no thought for food? A UK Parliamentary Inquiry into Global Food Security. All Party Parliamentary Group on Agriculture and Food for Development. January 2010

  2. Bandyopadhyay R, Frederickson DE, Mclaren NW, Odvody GN, Ryley MJ (1998) Ergot, a new disease threat to sorghum in the Americas and Australia. Plant Dis 82:356–367

    Article  Google Scholar 

  3. Bentley JW, Boa E, Danielsen S, Franco P, Antezana O, Villarroel B, Rodríguez H, Ferrrufino J, Franco J, Pereira R, Herbas J, Díaz O, Lino V, Villarroel J, Almendras F, Colque S (2009) Plant health clinics in Bolivia 2000–2009: operations and preliminary results. Food Sec 1(3):371–386

    Article  Google Scholar 

  4. Boa E (2009) How the Global Plant Clinic began. Outlooks on Pest Man 20:112–116

    Article  Google Scholar 

  5. Carefoot GL, Sprott ER (1969) Famine on the wind, 1969th edn. Angus and Robertson, London

    Google Scholar 

  6. CIMMYT (2005) Sounding the Alarm on Global Stem Rust. Mexico, DF: CIMMYT. Available from: URL:

  7. Cline W (2007) Global warming and agriculture: impact estimates by country. Centre for Global Development, Washington DC

    Google Scholar 

  8. Devereux S (2009) Why does famine persist in Africa? Food Sec 1:25–35, Springer

    Article  Google Scholar 

  9. Ejeta G (2009) Revitalizing agricultural research for global food security. Food Sec 1:391–401

    Article  Google Scholar 

  10. Evans A (2009) The feeding of the nine billion—global food security in the 21st century. A Chatham house Report. ISBN 978 1 86203 212 5. 59 pages

  11. Falkenmark M, Rockström J, Karlberg L (2009) Present and future water requirements for feeding humanity. Food Sec 1:59–69

    Article  Google Scholar 

  12. FAO (1997) Estimated post-harvest losses of rice in Southeast Asia. Available online at: (viewed July 16, 1997). Cited in Earth Trends 2001. World Resources Institute

  13. FAO (2007) Report of Ug99 in the Yemen.

  14. FAO (2008a) The state of food insecurity in the world—high food prices and food security-threats and opportunities. ISBN 978-82-5-106049-0.

  15. FAO (2008b) Report of Ug 99 in Iran.

  16. Figueres R (1940) Sur une maladie très grave du caféier en Oubangui. Rapport. Ministère des Colonies, Paris, France

    Google Scholar 

  17. Flood J (1996) A study of tracheomycosis or vascular wilt disease of coffee in Zaire. Report presented to Zairean Coffee Organization (OZACAF). August 1996. 13 pages

  18. Flood J (2009) Coffee Wilt Disease. 200 pages. CABI. ISBN:978-1-84593-641-9

  19. Flood J, Murphy R (2004) Cocoa Futures—a source book for important issues facing the cocoa and chocolate industry. CABI Commodities press. ISBN 958-96554-2-5

  20. Girma A, Million A, Hindorf H, Arega Z, Teferi D, Jefuka C (2009) Coffee Wilt Disease in Ethiopia. In: Flood J (ed) Coffee Wilt Disease. CABI, UK, pp 50–68, ISBN:978-1-84593-641-9

    Google Scholar 

  21. Godfray CH, Beddington JR, Crute IR, Haddad L, Lawrence D, Muir JF, Pretty J, Robinson S, Thomas SM, Toulmin C (2010) Food security: the challenge of feeding 9 billion people. Science 327(5967):812–818. doi:10.1126/science.1185383

    CAS  Article  PubMed  Google Scholar 

  22. Gregory PJ, Ingram JS (2000) Global change and food and forest production; future scientific challenges. Agric Ecosyst Environ 82:3–14

    Article  Google Scholar 

  23. Hakiza G, Kyetere DT, Musoli P, Wetala P, Njuki J, Kucel P, Aluka P, Kangire A, Ogwang J (2009) Coffee Wilt Disease in Uganda. In: Flood J (ed) Coffee Wilt Disease. CABI, UK, pp 28–49, ISBN:978-1-84593-641-9

    Google Scholar 

  24. Hodson DP, Singh RP, Dixon JM (2005) An initial assessment of the potential impact of stem rust (race Ug99) on wheat producing regions of Africa and Asia using GIS. In: Abstracts of the 7th International Wheat Conference, Mar del Plata, Argentina; 2005. p. 142

  25. Holt A (1999) An alliance of biodiversity, agriculture, health and business interests for improved alien species management in Hawaii. In: Sandlund OT, Schei PJ, Viken A (eds) Invasive species and biodiversity management. Kluwer Academic, The Netherlands, ISBN 0-412-84080-4

    Google Scholar 

  26. IPCC (2007a) In: Metz B, Davidson OR, Bosch PR, Dave R, Meyer LA (eds) Change 2007: Mitigation. Contribution of working Group 111 to the fourth Assessment Report of the Intergovernmental panel on Climate change. Cambridge University Press, Cambridge

    Google Scholar 

  27. Kalonji- Mbuyi A, Tshilenge Djim P, Saiba NT(2009) Coffee wilt disease in Democratic Republic of Congo. In: Flood J (ed) Coffee Wilt Disease. CABI, UK, pp 7–27, ISBN:978-1-84593-641-9

    Google Scholar 

  28. Kedera C, Kuria B (2005) Invasive alien species in Kenya: status and management in IPPC Secretariat. Identification of risks and management of invasive alien species using the IPPC framework. Proceedings of the workshop on invasive alien species and the International Plant Protection Convention, Braunschweig, Germany. 22–26 September 2003. Rome: FAO. 199–204

  29. Krattiger A (1998) The importance of agbiotech to global prosperity. ISAAA Briefs. No6

  30. Large CE (1940) The advance of the fungi. Jonathan Cape, London, 1940

    Google Scholar 

  31. Lenne J (2000) Pest and poverty: the continuing need for crop protection research. Outlooks on Ag 29:235–250

    Article  Google Scholar 

  32. Lustig N (2009) Coping with rising food prices: policy dilemmas in the developing world. Working Paper 164. Centre for Global Development, Washington

  33. Mazaud F (1997) Agro-industries and postharvest management service. Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations (FAO). Personal Communication. (July 1997) cited in: Earth Trends 2001. World Resources Institute

  34. MDG (2008) Millennium Development Gaols report for 2008.

  35. MDG (2009) Millennium Development Goals report for 2009.

  36. Musebe RO, Njuki J, Mdemu S, Lukwago G, Shibru A, Saiba T (2009) Socio-economic Impact of Coffee Wilt Disease. In: Flood J (ed) Coffee Wilt Disease. CABI, UK, pp 28–49, ISBN:978-1-84593-641-9

    Google Scholar 

  37. Nellemann C et al (eds) (2009) The environmental food crisis [United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP). Nairobi, Kenya

    Google Scholar 

  38. Oerke EC (2006) Crop losses to pests. J Agric Sci 144:31–43

    Article  Google Scholar 

  39. Oerke EC, Dehne HW (2004) Safeguarding production—loss in major crops and the role of crop protection. Crop Prot 23:275–285

    Article  Google Scholar 

  40. Oerke EC, Dehne HW, Schönbeck F, Weber A (1994) Crop production and crop protection—estimated crop losses in major food and cash crops. Elsevier, Netherlands (Reprinted in 1999)

    Google Scholar 

  41. Otim-Nape GW, Bua A, Thresh JM, Baguma Y, Ogwal S, Semakula GN, Byabakama B, Martin A (1997) Cassava mosaic disease in Uganda. The University of Greenwich, London

    Google Scholar 

  42. Pinstrup-Anderson P (2000) The future world food situation and the role of plant disease. Can J Plant Pathol 22:321–331

    Article  Google Scholar 

  43. Phiri N, Baker P (2009) Coffee wilt disease in Africa; a synthesis of the work for the Regional Coffee Wilt Programme (RCWP). Final Technical Report. CABI, 200 pp

  44. Post Harvest Losses (PHL) Information System (2008)

  45. Pretorius ZA, Singh RP, Wagoire WW, Payne TS (2000) Detection of virulence to wheat stem rust resistance gene Sr31 in Puccinia graminis f. sp. tritici in Uganda. Plant Dis 84:203

    Article  Google Scholar 

  46. Reynolds MP, Borlaug NE (2006) Applying innovations and new technologies from international collaborative wheat improvement. J Agric Sci 144:95–110

    Article  Google Scholar 

  47. Roelfs AP, Martens JW (1988) An international system of nomenclature for Puccinia graminis f. sp. tritici. Phytopathology 78:526–33

    Article  Google Scholar 

  48. Saari EE, Prescott JM (1985) World distribution in relation to economic losses. In: Roelf AP, Bushnell WR (eds) The cereal rusts. Volume II; Diseases, distribution, epidemiology, and control. Academic Press, Orlando, pp 259–298

    Google Scholar 

  49. Sen A (1981) Poverty and famines: an essay on entitlement and deprivation. Clarendon, Oxford

    Google Scholar 

  50. Singh RP, William HM, Huerta-Espino J, Rosewarne G (2004) Wheat rust in Asia: meeting the challenges with old and new technologies. In: New directions for a diverse planet: Proceedings of the 4th International Crop Science Congress, Brisbane, Australia, 26 September–1 October 2004. 2004. ISBN 1 920842 20 9

  51. Singh RP, Hodson DP, Jinz Y, Huerta-Espinos J, Kinyua MG, Wanyera R, Njau P, Ward RW (2006) Current status, likely migration and strategies to mitigate the threat to wheat production from race Ug99 (TTKS) of stem rust pathogen. CAB Reviews: Perspectives in Agriculture, Veterinary Science, Nutrition and Natural Resources 2006 1, No. 054

  52. Smil V (2000) Feeding the world. A challenge for the 21st century. The MIT press. ISBN 978-0-262-69271-

  53. Strange RN, Scott PR (2005) Plant disease: a threat to global food security. Annu Rev Phytopathol 43:83–116

    CAS  Article  PubMed  Google Scholar 

  54. University of Georgia (1998–2008) Compiled by members of the Department of Plant Pathology. Georgia Plant Disease Loss Estimates. The University of Georgia, Cooperative Extension

  55. Vurro M, Bonciani B, Vannacci (2010) Emerging diseases of crop Plants in developing countries: impact on agriculture and socio-economic consequences. Food Security 2:113–132

  56. Wanyera R, Kinyua MG, Jin Y, Singh RP (2006) The spread of stemrust caused by Puccinia graminis f. sp. tritici, with virulence on Sr31 in wheat in Eastern Africa. Plant Dis 90:113

    Article  Google Scholar 

  57. Wanyera R, Macharia JK, Kilonzo SM, Kamundia JW (2009) Foliar fungicides to control wheat stem rust, race TTKS (Ug99), in Kenya. Plant Dis 93:929–932

    CAS  Article  Google Scholar 

  58. World Bank (2008) World Development Report 2008: Agriculture for Development. World Bank, Washington DC, ISBN-13:978-0-8213-6807-7

    Google Scholar 

Download references


I would like to thank my colleagues Dennis Rangi, Dannie Romney, Eric Boa and Gretel White for valuable discussions.

Author information



Corresponding author

Correspondence to Julie Flood.

Rights and permissions

Reprints and Permissions

About this article

Cite this article

Flood, J. The importance of plant health to food security. Food Sec. 2, 215–231 (2010).

Download citation


  • Millennium Development Goal
  • Food security
  • Plant health
  • Crop productivity
  • Ug99
  • Coffee Wilt Disease
  • Global Plant Clinic
  • COPE