26 September 2013 – Tomorrow, the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) will release its fifth global warming report predicting indicators of climate change for the coming years. The expectation is that the temperature is set to increase even more dramatically than the last report predicted in 2007, causing a domino effect on weather conditions, oceanic trends and the multitude of ecosystems that are dependent on them.

“We believe the assessment of new publications will help us fill up some existing gaps and add to the body of knowledge that already exists in this entire field,” said IPCC Chairman, Rajendra Pachauri.

Often for the public, gaps in understanding of global warming and its predicted effects remain. Climate change conjures up images of hurricanes spiralling over tropical islands and waves crashing past highway barriers. Less often do the effects of climate change seem to trickle into the every day. Do we know how global warming and the IPCC predicted scenarios will really affect the most basic human needs, namely our access to sufficient food and nutrients?

Today, over 500 million smallholder farmers feed two billion people – one-third of the population – and this is given current conditions and agricultural resources. One challenge these farmers face in order to grow enough food sustainably is the constant fight against plant pests. Already, pests and diseases are responsible for 40% of crops lost worldwide. With shifting climatic zones, different pests are becoming prevalent in new places, affecting the outcome of what we eat.

Dr Shaun Hobbs, Global Director, Plantwise Knowledge Bank, says, “The predicted climate change scenarios by the IPCC reinforce the need to view this less as an environmental problem and more of a human problem. We are responsible to safeguard sustainable food production, and the need is urgent.”

Farmers are struggling to identify pests, and find appropriate technologies to prevent and manage their effects. As new pests migrate towards warming areas of the globe, the challenge is to provide the right tools to fight back.

Research at CABI has focused for over 100 years on gathering information and making it accessible to help adapt and mitigate to environmental challenges. Recently, research from the CAB Abstracts database was used in a study published in Nature Climate Change and publicised on the BBC, which warns that plants pests are already spreading towards both poles.

One response taken by countries has been to empower farmers to find the answers they need to manage pests better for the long haul, meaning both affordably and sustainably. Plantwise, launched by CABI, is helping to improve both farmers’ ability to respond to pests, and countries’ own pest-tracking and plant health data management capacities. By visiting plant clinics, supported by front-line pest identification and response resources like the global knowledge bank, farmers are better equipped to fight back, even as unpredictable weather and pest varieties are introduced.

Pest management will be key to securing steady sources of food and income for billions of people, but a variety of responses will be needed in order to sustain livelihoods in a changing climate.

Key Facts you need to know about plant pests and food security:

  • • Worldwide, on average 40% of plants for food die from pests and disease before they can be harvested by farmers.
  • • Over 500 million farmers around the world depend on these plants as their only source of income and food for their families.
  • • Crop loss from plant pest and disease is one reason over 1 billion people in the world do not have enough food to eat.
  • • 1 child every 6 seconds dies from preventable diseases related to malnutrition.
  • • Some projections suggest that 100–200 million more people could be at risk of hunger due to climate change by 2050.