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Climate influence on crop pests and disease: Impacts on agricultural systems

Climate change has a greater influence on crop pests and disease. According to the world UN Food and Agricultural Organization, more than 40% of food crops are lost to plant pests and diseases annually. Plants contribute to 80% of food globally and 98% of essential oxygen cementing their importance as a pillar of life on the earth.

Crop pests and disease outbreaks have devastating impacts on crop production. The recent invasion of desert locusts in the horn of Africa has shown the vulnerability of crops to pests. The desert locust is the most destructive pests globally and their outbreak could lead to a humanitarian crisis. 

Weeds, insects, and diseases already have negative impacts on agricultural production and climate change has the potential to increase the impacts. Global estimates of losses in crop production show weeds can cause 34%, insects 18%, and diseases 18%. Climate change is emerging as an influencing factor in to spread of pests and diseases. It can alter population size, survival rate, geographical distribution and intensity, and the development of diseases.

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Rainfall and temperature influence shifts in how and where pests and diseases will spread. An increase in temperature and changes in precipitation patterns induce new conditions that affect insect populations, the incidence of pathogens, and the geographic distribution of insects and diseases.

Some agricultural pests and such as aphids are favored by dry conditions while others such as locusts proliferate in wet conditions. The areas of distribution and population densities of tropical and sub-tropical are anticipated to expand if temperature increases. This will lead to a reduction in crop growth and yield due to the change generation time of pests and their breeding seasons.

Warmer temperatures lead to the invasion of crops earlier in growing seasons at more susceptible stages of plant development leading to greater damage to crops. In cool temperate regions where insects, pests, and diseases are not more damaging, the damage is likely to increase under warmer conditions such as potato blight in potato crops.

Some estimates have been made of the crop losses that could arise if pests, pathogens, and weed populations increased as a result of temperature increases. 0.2 degree Celsius in global mean temperature would cause a 30% decline in crop yields due to a greater incidence of plant diseases in drier North America and a more decline in crop production in Africa. 

Warmer and humid conditions would also enhance the growth of bacteria and mold on stored food according to FAO and this could increase food spoilage.

To address the situation, experts should increasingly recognize the need to monitor the global outbreak of crop pests and disease and put in place global surveillance systems for monitoring and response. Technological innovation to test pathogens and early warning systems are crucial to farmers, researchers, and policymakers for potential outbreaks. 

Governments and crop researchers should also increase their efforts to come up with breeding pests and diseases resistant varieties which are environment-friendly as they reduce the use of pesticides and fungicides.

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