Angelo Garibaldi Italy

The doctor of flowers

"I decided to become a plant pathologist in order to take care of flowers and understand the reasons why plants get ill."

Angelo is a plant pathologist – a scientist who studies plant diseases. The son of a floriculturist (flower grower) from the north of Italy, Angelo grew up surrounded by plants, especially carnations, and learned all the secrets of the flower trade. 

One afternoon, when Angelo was still a boy, he found his father desperate in the greenhouse. A serious pathogen, almost impossible to eradicate, had somehow got inside the greenhouse, affecting all the carnations one by one. This awful disease was called “mal bleu” by floriculturists, because of the blueish tint it gave to the plants. Confronted with his father’s desperation at the death of his plants, Angelo took a firm decision regarding his future 

“I decided to become a plant pathologist in order to take care of flowers and understand the reasons why plants get ill. I wanted to be able to teach floriculturists how to manage their diseases."  

A man of his word, Angelo went on to do just that. Now, decades later, as Emeritus Professor at the University of Turin, he is a world-leading expert in the field of diseases of ornamental plants He has authored over 1 000 scientific papers and has discovered 500 new diseases affecting different crops. Three hundred of these are diseases that affect flowers. No coincidence – the floriculturist’s son never forgot his first love! 

The work of plant pathologists like Angelo has led to huge improvements in our ability to diagnose and protect against plant pests and diseases. Angelo’s example can serve to inspire the current generation of plant pathologists, as they work collaboratively with other scientists, plant breeders and crop-management specialists to counter the threats to plant health in today’s increasingly globalized world. 

Lyn O’Connell Australia

Teaching an old dog new tricks for plant health

"For over 25 years, biosecurity detector dogs have actively contributed to Australia’s front-line defence against damaging biosecurity risks."

Detector dogs are a fast, versatile and mobile detection technology that can screen across a range of environments. They play an important role in helping to protect Australia from emerging biosecurity threats, including from plant pests and diseases.  

Lyn O’Connell is a Deputy Secretary at the Australian Government Department of Agriculture, Water and the Environment, where she is responsible for biosecurity and oversees the Australian Chief Plant Protection Office “For over 25 years, biosecurity detector dogs have actively contributed to Australia’s front-line defence against damaging biosecurity risks,” Lyn says. “From just a pair of dogs in Sydney and Brisbane, to dogs deployed across the country from Perth to Darwin, the biosecurity detector dog programme has grown considerably. Labradors now make up the entire canine workforce – their extraordinary sense of smell and their cooperative, gentle nature make them excellent detectors.” 

The detector dogs are trained to identify over 200 items that pose a biosecurity risk. The most common items are seeds, meat, live plants and fruit.  

“The dogs detect more than 65 000 biosecurity risk items each year, with individual dogs making more than 9 000 detections in their working life. These detections provide critical protection for our agricultural industries and the health of our communities, economy, environment and unique wildlife,” says Lyn 

looming threat to Australia is the plant pest the brown marmorated stink bug (Halyomorpha halys), which is spreading throughout Europe and the Americas. To assist in managing this threat, detector dogs are being trained to identify and locate it.  

“We worked with researchers to identify ways to train detector dogs to recognise the odour of this exotic species,” Lyn says. “This is a challenge as there are no bugs present in Australia, so an effective substitute needed to be created to conduct training and maintain the dog’s capability.”  

Who says you can’t teach an old dog new tricks! 

Haliyah Ali Muthana Saleh Yemen

Fighting fall armyworm for family food security

"I noticed a strange worm in my maize and sorghum."

Haliyah has rented her farm for 30 years, working with dogged determination to provide for her family’s needs. The widow exudes farming know-how and expertise. However, two years ago, Haliyah came across something new and troubling. “I noticed a strange worm in my maize and sorghum,” she recalls. “It spread quickly in my field and I had no idea what it was. I resorted to spraying chemical pesticides, but most of my crop was still damaged. It was like a nightmare for me.” 

The following season, Haliyah used not only chemical pesticides, but also two traditional control methods – hot pepper and agricultural crop rotation. “I was surprised when hot pepper had a greater impact on the crop than the chemical pesticide, but my field was still infested with the worm.”  

Haliyah took a sample of the worm and some plant roots to the nearby Agriculture and Irrigation Office, where experts identified it as fall armyworm (Spodoptera frugiperda). FAO had already detected the pest during surveys in the area and they were about to launch a campaign to control itHaliyah's vigilance and proactivity in reporting it, however, helped to raise awareness among the local community about fall armyworm, which feeds on maize and more than 80 other species of crops, including rice, sorghum, millet, sugar cane, vegetable crops and cotton. 

With support from FAO, the national authorities of Yemen have since built capacity to identify, monitor and manage this devastating pest. FAO has endorsed the use of an integrated pest-control approach that minimizes reliance on chemical pesticides and incorporates sustainable control practices. Biological pesticides have been introduced, which are safer for beneficial insects. FAO has also provided monitoring equipment (including pheromone traps) and smartphones, and conducted awareness-raising campaigns to advise farmers. 

"Thanks to the support provided by FAO, the presence of fall armyworm has already been reduced,” says Haliyah“Now, I have no worries any more about my family food security because my crops are protected.” 

Gustavo Marún Ecuador

Maintaining a hundred-year family tradition in Ecuador’s plantations

"I keep everyone on high alert to prevent the spread of plant pests."

Gustavo Marún is a third-generation descendant of a Lebanese family who arrived in Ecuador at the beginning of the twentieth century and started working in the most iconic production of this Latin American country: a cocoa plantation of the Hacienda del Carmen in Los Ríos province, renowned for its cacao de arriba (literally, cocoa from the highlands).  

“That is when agriculture first planted its seed in my grandfather’s family tree,” Gustavo explains. “But it also unfortunately coincided with a devastating plague of Moniliophthora perniciosa – the fungus that causes witches’ broom disease in the cocoa tree. No phytosanitary measures were in place back then to protect plant health and, ultimately, farmers – so my family had to turn to a different occupation. But the second generation of the Marúns went back to cocoa plantations in the Hacienda La Elba in 1969.”  

Ecuador is one of the most fertile countries in the world and its production includes a large variety of fruits and vegetables. Cocoa production ranks among the highest in terms of value and accounts for most of Ecuador’agricultural exports. Gustavo’s family had to abandon cocoa cultivation due to the outbreak of witches’ broom disease and monilia but their passion for agriculture never died out. So, in 1973, they ventured into banana production and to this day have never regretted it. Gustavo is the proud owner of a very large plantation in the Los Ríos region, shipping thousands of tonnes of bananas around the world every year and providing a stable occupation to hundreds of families. 

Gustavo has been applying strict phytosanitary measures to ensure that what happened to his grandfather a hundred years ago does not happen again to his workers. “I keep everyone on high alert to prevent the spread of plant pests,” Gustavo says, “and I keep up with international standards for trade because I know that even the tiniest harmful organism can have devastating effects.”  

Experience has taught him that the most effective way of protecting plants is to prevent pests taking hold in the first place and he has been passing on this traditional knowledge to his descendants, who have recently ventured back into cocoa by producing their own chocolate brand.