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Tracking pests and insect-vectored diseases of broad-acre crops in tropical Asia: challenges & opportunities

Burra Dharani Dhar: International Center for Tropical Agriculture - Asia

<div>Cassava (<em>Manihot esculenta</em> Crantz) is one of the world’s lead food, feed, fiber and bio-energy crops. Cultivated by >8 million farmers across tropical Asia, the crop plays a central role in the rural economy of countries such as Vietnam, Thailand, Indonesia or Cambodia, and underpins a multi-billion dollar regional starch industry. While Asia’s cassava crops had historically remained free from phytosanitary threats, they have recently been devastated by invasive pests and insect-vectored diseases. Diseases such as the whitefly-vectored cassava mosaic virus (CMV) or the phytoplasma-associated cassava witches broom (CWB) have rapidly spread through tropical Asia, with their propagation facilitated by the un-checked, cross-boundary movement of planting material. Local plant health authorities face major hurdles to monitor these biotic threats, adopt appropriate quarantine measures to halt their spread, or mitigate their on-farm impact. In this presentation, we provide a first-hand update on the geographical expansion of cassava diseases, describe status of ongoing (multi-country) mitigation efforts, and outline priorities for applied research. We illuminate lucrative opportunities to deploy a) simulation modeling to guide pest surveillance and biosecurity action, b) remote sensing and drone-based approaches to track disease progression, and c) in-depth studies of vector ecology, e.g., to anticipate disease spread based upon presence and relative abundance of vector populations.</div>