A Murdoch University academic has warned that all crops worldwide are facing an increasing risk of nematode damage which could lead to billions of dollars loss and an increased inability to feed our growing population.
Speaking at the International Nematology Congress in Cape Town, Chair in Biosecurity and Food Security, Professor Shashi Sharma, said that soil dwelling microscopic worms or nematodes are causing over $100 billion worth of crop losses per year.
“Soil appears to be one of the major culprits for introduction and spread of plant parasitic nematodes with inadequate attention being given to the consequences of soil dissemination,” Professor Sharma said.
“International reports indicate that dust and dirt samples taken from shipping container surfaces contain live nematodes. This is a worrying statistic when you know that small quantities of soil can slip through visual inspections as they cross borders.
“For example, even clean looking shipping container surfaces may have about 20gm of dust on them, which even if a country has restrictions on the importations of soil, is unlikely to be noticed when performing visual inspections. But when you consider that hundreds of thousands of containers could be imported, that would equate to tonnes of undetected soil potentially infested with nematodes.”
Professor Sharma pointed out that not only has the movement of goods around the world increased but people movement has increased exponentially.
“The need to prevent inadvertent nematode dispersal and spread is paramount when you consider the impact of losing a multitude of crops,” he said.
“We have seven billion people in this world yet we are able to feed only five billion. The other two billion are either not getting enough nutritious food or are starving.
“We can’t afford to suffer food losses noting that our population will be over nine billion in less than 40 years. To feed nine billion we will need to produce more food than we did in the last 10,000 years.”
Professor Sharma said nematode quarantine and biosecurity capabilities are generally lacking in many countries particularly in the food insecure developing countries. These countries are at a high risk of incursions of plant-parasitic nematodes and consequent crop damage.
“All countries need pest risk management plans that not only contain strategies to prevent nematodes entering their borders, but plans to eradicate the nematodes that do make it through,” Professor Sharma said.
“Nematode quarantines and stringent regulatory measures play a role in preventing, containing and slowing the spread of some highly damaging nematode species but now a border approach alone is inadequate to safeguard our crops,” he said.
Professor Sharma said we must maintain world soil restrictions and stop nematode infested soil transfer where possible.
“If soil infested with nematodes is detected at a border then countries need to employ one of three strategies, export the commodity or equipment containing the soil back to the country of origin, destroy it or treat it,” he said.
“Australia has one of the best biosecurity systems in the world. Developing countries can learn from Australia’s biosecurity system.”
Professor Sharma was awarded a gold medal of appreciation for his outstanding contributions and commendable service by the President of International Federation of Nematology Societies at the meeting of the Afro-Asian Society of Nematologists at the Congress which was held in May. He was also nominated as the Vice President of the Afro-Asian Society of Nematologists.