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A disease-surveillance network in Africa will accelerate detection and actions to prevent the spread of major rice diseases

Pathologists and breeders from 20 East to West Africa countries joined forces as a rice disease surveillance network began operating in Africa. The rice-disease-surveillance network will enable quicker detection of rice diseases in the regions and make immediate actions to address prevention of spread.

IVORY COAST, March 2024—Rice diseases cause an annual yield loss of 30%, representing enough rice to feed over 70 million people. In Africa, where rice cultivation does not meet consumer demand, such losses are intolerable. Increasing rice trade between Asia, America, and Africa introduces new varieties and risks bringing rice pathogens to the continent. Furthermore, changing climates, including temperature, humidity, and heat variations, significantly impact disease occurrence, making previously disease-free areas more susceptible. Consequently, the dynamics of rice disease in Africa are vast, necessitating urgent surveillance and monitoring of pathogens.

Creating a surveillance network for rice diseases in Africa will enable the quicker detection of diseases and immediate actions to prevent their spread.

On 25-29 March, pathologists, and breeders from 20 African countries participated in a workshop conducted by the Africa Rice Center and CIRAD (Centre de coopération internationale en recherche agronomique pour le développement), with funding from CG-France, as a first step in constructing the network.

The event marked the beginning of a diagnostic and surveillance network aimed at sharing and empowering the technical capacities and cooperation among Africa's national plant protection organizations (NPPOs) and national agricultural research and extension systems (NARES) as well as initiatives from the Africa Rice Center, International Center for Tropical Agriculture (CIAT), IRRI, and French institutions, IRD (French National Research Institute for Sustainable Development) and CIRAD (Centre de coopération internationale en recherche agronomique pour le développement).

The participants identified the main network activities, including capacity building, regular disease surveillance, building national, regional, and international collaborations between NPPOs and NARES, and sharing protocols for diagnosis, surveillance, monitoring, and disease management.

The scientific exchanges between the CGIAR centers, French research institutions, NARS, and NPPOs will help develop an effective diagnostic and surveillance system to facilitate decision-making in the countries involved. Moreover, it will be the foundation for a robust regional network for monitoring and managing plant diseases.

In support of the network, scientists from IRRI provided updates on recent surveillance activities on rice blasts in Burundi, yellow mottle virus, and bacterial blight in Kenya.

Plant pathogens spread without borders. Therefore, conducting surveillance, diagnostics, and monitoring is crucial to detect their presence and severity. This allows for the implementation of management practices to prevent disease spread and reduce the impact on agricultural productivity.

Van Schepler-Luu, lead of the Plant Pathology and Host Plant Resistance Group at IRRI, presented the PathoTracer and the Biotic screening network (BioNET).

PathoTracer is a global rice pathogen surveillance and monitoring platform that helps monitor the diversity and distribution of the different pathogen populations in a high throughput manner,” said Dr. Schepler-Luu. “The information helps guide national rice breeding programs to prioritize genes that give rice plants resistance to certain diseases or determine varieties that would be effective against prevalent diseases in each rice-growing region.”

BioNET is a global initiative to address plant diseases and pests. “With pathogens evolving faster than plants and the impact of climate change on disease and pest distribution,” Dr. Schepler-Luu said. “BioNET will tackle these challenges through a global network of rice pathologists, entomologists, and breeders working on rice disease and pest surveillance and monitoring, disease and pest resistance gene discovery, and screening for disease and pest resistance rice.”