Food Chain Crisis

FCC-EMPRES Information Sheet

This section introduces FCC–EMPRES core activities through successful programs and initiatives that illustrate FAO’s role in supporting member countries to prevent, prepare and respond to transboundary, high impact animal and plant pests and diseases and food safety threats.
A series of information sheets showcases what FAO has introduced and developed, what it has improved and, most of all, what it has achieved in prevention, preparedness, and response to emergencies affecting the food chain.

Antimicrobial resistance (AMR) is the term used to describe the capacity of microorganisms to resist to the medicines used to treat infections. It is a major global threat of increasing concern to human and animal health. It also has implications for food safety, food security and the economic well-being of millions of households. The health and economic consequences of AMR are potentially enormous, but the full impact remains hard to estimate. FAO is working closely with key partners such as the World Organisation for Animal Health (OIE), the World Food Organisation (WHO) and others in a global response to the threat of AMR.

Fusarium Wilt Disease is caused by the soil-borne fungus Fusarium oxysporum f.sp. cubense and is one of the most destructive diseases of banana worldwide. Its new race Tropical Race 4 (Foc TR4) has been causing serious losses in Southeast Asia and severely affecting livelihoods of small producers. It has recently spread to Africa (Mozambique) and some countries of the Middle East. This is raising concerns that it might also spread to the Indian Sub-continent and Latin America.

The Desert Locust (Schistocerca gregaria, DL) is one of the most devastating pests in agriculture. According to the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations (FAO), the Central Region area (of the Near East and Horn of Africa) is considered the source of many DL outbreaks. The Horn of Africa is now facing the worst DL crisis in over 25 years, and the most serious in 70 years for Kenya.
The current situation – regarded as an upsurge with the potential to become a regional plague – represents an unprecedented threat to food security and livelihoods in the region.
Established in 1965, the Commission for Controlling the Desert Locust in the Central Region (CRC) plays a key role in enhancing Member Countries’ early preparedness and response capabilities with regard to DL and to address any gaps between calm situations and emergency situations, so that emergencies can be resolved efficiently and effectively.
With regard to the current upsurge, the Commission has been raising the alarm on DL outbreaks since February 2019, and called for a High-Level Desert Locust Emergency Consultative Meeting in July 2019, Cairo, Egypt.

African swine fever (ASF) is a devasting haemorrhagic viral disease affecting domestic and wild pigs. Outbreaks of ASF result in massive losses of swine and pork products, and have economically catastrophic consequences in countries with a developed commercial pig farming sector. The only means to control the disease is through the elimination of infected pig populations and strict control of the movement of animals and pork products. 

In August 2018, ASF was first detected in Asia. The disease was reported in China, the country with the world’s largest inventories of domestic pigs. China is also the world’s leading consumer of pork meat. In Europe and Asia, wild boar have become an epidemiological reservoir for the virus, as the species can contract, carry and spread ASF. FAO supports member countries in ramping up prevention and preparedness efforts and response to outbreaks, to prevent further spreading of the disease.

The stresses of increased transboundary pests and diseases, decreasing soil quality and the uncertainties of climate change mean that establishing detailed agriculture knowledge delivery systems is a critical requirement. Unfortunately, current systems for smallholder farmers, which rely on extension services, are unable to address this requirement. Smallholder farmers typically lack the in-field, in-season knowledge required to make optimal decisions. Such detailed knowledge is called precision agriculture. In particular, precision agriculture consists of the use of ground and aerial sensors to enable in-field, in-season decision-making to maximize yield, which until recently has been associated mainly with farms in high-income countries.

To fill this gap, FAO has partnered with Penn State University and PlantVillage, a public good system that offers in-season, in-field knowledge delivery.

Cassava is the fifth most produced staple food crop in the world, being a basic source of staple food for an estimated 800 million people worldwide. Cassava is grown by smallholder farmers in more than 100 tropical and subtropical countries of Africa, Asia and Latin America. Thanks to its efficient use of water and soil nutrients and tolerance to drought, cassava can produce reasonable yields using limited or no inputs, even in areas with poor soils and unpredictable rainfall. Like other crops, cassava is vulnerable to pests and diseases that can cause heavy yield losses. Of the viral diseases, Cassava mosaic disease (CMD) and Cassava brown streak disease (CBSD) are the most widespread, severely affecting at least 50 percent of cassava crops in Africa. CMD and CBSD pose a serious threat to the food security of 135 million people in Central and East Africa alone. At least half of all plantings in Africa are affected by one of these diseases. Scientists estimate that annually, 15–24 percent (equivalent to approximately 12–23 million tonnes) of the crop is lost due only to CMD in Africa.

The pressure to produce enough food for the world’s ever-growing population has had an impact on agricultural practices worldwide. To ensure and sustain high crop yields, and in response to changing patterns of transboundary insect and fungal infestations driven by climate change, fertilizers and pesticides are widely applied and their use has steadily increased over the years. Inappropriate use of pesticides and newly developed active ingredients in agriculture cause discharges of pollutants (pesticides, fertilizers, etc.) into surface and/or groundwater.
These pollutants can have adverse effects on food safety, human health and the environment and, consequently, affect countries’ economies and trade. Flexible, targeted and cost-effective agricultural management systems are required to avoid potential food crises and emergencies caused both by plant pests and by the high levels of agrochemical inputs needed to control them, and to ensure the continuous production of safe food and the sustainability of the environment in which we live.
To facilitate the implementation and continuous improvement of such systems, laboratory and field analytical services are vital to provide data and feedback on food safety and environmental impact. Working with counterpart institutes in more than 30 countries, the Joint FAO/IAEA Division of Nuclear Techniques in Food and Agriculture has developed an innovative, resource-effective, integrated analytical approach for pesticide management to help meet these challenges.

Livestock markets are a “hotspot” of disease risk along the value chain as many animals of different origin are combined into a single location. Moreover, as markets occur during periods of high stress for animals (e.g. transport), the need to identify and monitor the risk of disease transmission becomes particularly urgent.
Traditionally, studies documenting the risk of disease spread through livestock markets have mostly been limited to static data gathering efforts and obsolete processing technologies. As a result, the findings rarely have practical significance at the field level, where disease control and prevention actions are applied. In addition, veterinary services are facing increasing pressure from emerging zoonotic and transboundary diseases. As a result, it is becoming increasingly important to prioritize response activities in times of reduced resource allocation.

The Market Profiling Application (MPA) developed by the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations (FAO) is an online, dynamic, real-time application to systematically collect, display and analyse epidemiologically relevant market data.

Rift Valley fever (RVF) is a vector-borne disease that severely impacts livelihoods, national and international markets, and human health. RVF is currently limited to Africa and parts of the Near East but has the recognized potential to expand globally. The disease in livestock is spread primarily by mosquitoes and the movement of animals. Clinical disease has been observed in sheep, goats, cattle, buffaloes, camels and humans. RVF is zoonotic. It can result in widespread febrile illness in humans, associated with severe and sometimes fatal sequelae in under one percent of cases.

Outbreaks of RVF are closely associated with climate anomalies such as periods of heavy rains and prolonged flooding, which increase habitat suitability for vector populations, thus influencing the risk of disease emergence, transmission and spread. In this context, Early Warning Systems represent an essential tool providing information on occurring animal health hazards that might evolve into disasters unless early response is undertaken. To enable national authorities to implement measures preventing outbreaks, FAO developed the RVF Monitoring/Early Warning System. This tool has been crucial to successfully forecast hotspots for RVF vector amplification, providing recommendations and early warning messages for countries at risk of RVF outbreaks.

Tilapia lake virus (TiLV) is a recently described disease affecting wild and farmed tilapines. Tilapias are farmed globally and are the second most important aquaculture species in terms of volumes produced, providing a key source of affordable animal protein, income to fish farmers and fishers, and domestic and export earnings. Infection with TiLV has caused extremely variable mortalities (ranging from 0 to 90 percent ) and may pose a great threat to the tilapia sector.

The virus was first recognized in Israel in 2011 and was assumed to be linked to previously unexplained outbreaks in Israel in 2009. At present, it has been reported in three continents (Asia, Africa and South America) and the number of countries where the agent has been detected is likely to increase rapidly as a result of increased awareness, surveillance and availability of diagnostic methods. While there is no public health concern for this pathogen, there is a significant risk of TiLV being translocated both inter- and intra-continentally through the movement of infected live tilapias in the absence of appropriate biosecurity measures.

FAO monitors TiLV, provides technical assistance and works with FAO member governments and their constituents as well as development partners and searches for resources to support the tilapia sector and the communities dependent on it.

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