by Nathan Bundy, Sustainable Plant Systems – Horticulture major
There are over 800 million people in the world that do not have enough food. Even crazier is that 10% of global food loss is due to plant diseases (http://www.annualreviews.org/doi/pdf/10.1146/annurev.phyto.43.113004.133839).
Cochliobolus miyabeanus or Brown Spot is a fungal disease that affects rice; which falls into this food loss statistic. The Great Bengal Famine in 1943 caused an estimated two million deaths due to Brown Spot.
Even though crops in the US were infected at that time as well, we did not suffer from widespread famine. This is likely since the US population had a better infrastructure in place for combating famine producing plant diseases. In fact, during World War II, the United States government used Brown Spot as a biological weapon to attack Japan and kill their food supply (http://extension.missouri.edu/eden/Lesson_1/PDF_Readings/L1_Responding_to_the_Threat_excerpts.pdf).
As a result, one can draw a conclusion that diseases in these bulk crops are even more dangerous in developing countries where large populations rely heavily on these cereal grains for nutritional sustenance. Aside from weaponry, one reason this plant disease is still existent is due to the globalization of agriculture that has allowed crops to grow in new areas far from their origin.
May areas are exposed to new diseases and are not equipped to fight the local pathogens. The scarier part is that this cycle is affecting less developed countries because they lack the infrastructure to treat things, like Brown Spot.
Furthermore, Cochliobolus miyabeanus is an example of a disease that thrives during droughts. Changing climates in areas that typically have bountiful rainfall may potentially allow Brown Spot to proliferate. Again, this will likely affect developing countries that do not have the means to treat drought properly.
Nathan Bundy is a junior at The Ohio State University majoring in Horticulture with a minor in Plant Pathology. Food security issues and their solutions are key motivators in his career choice. Nathan hopes to continue his education and service in the Midwest where he aspires to work in the greenhouse vegetable industry post- graduation.
This blog post was an assignment for Societal Issues: Pesticides, Alternatives and the Environment (PLNTPTH 4597). The views expressed are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the views of the class, Department of Plant Pathology or the instructor.