21 February 2019 - The use of digital technology and data driven innovation to help fight agricultural pests and diseases and increase global food security was highlighted at CABI’s 399th Executive Council meeting in London yesterday (20th February 2019). Executive Council, consisting of representatives of all CABI member countries, is an important part of CABI’s governance, approving annual accounts and budgets, the admission of new members and key policy decisions.
In his opening remarks Dr Lutz Peter Berg, Chair of Executive Council welcomed the representative of CABI’s newest Member Country, Afghanistan, attending Executive Council for the first time. Speaking to the delegates, representing 35 CABI Member Countries in total, CABI CEO Dr Trevor Nicholls, highlighted CABI’s overall performance against the Medium Term Strategy and provided updates on the progress of several key programmes and projects during 2018. Dr Nicholls told the meeting that the development of digital advisory services, geospatial tools and predictive modelling, will continue to be significant facets to supporting more than 500 million smallholder farmers around the world.
CABI’s Action on Invasives programme – funded by the UK Department for International Development (DFID) and Directorate General for International Cooperation (DGIS, Netherlands) – aims to fight invasive species which constitute significant threats to global food security and the world economy. Dr Nicholls said the fight against invasive agricultural pests anywhere in the world will now be strengthened through a range of ICT and data technologies such as the Horizon Scanning Tool – which uses CABI data to identify species that might enter a particular country from another country and the Pest Risk Analysis Tool that uses data to allow for a detailed pest or disease risk assessment. Other products include e-learning packages – PestSmart Management and PestSmart Diagnostics - which are accessible on tablets and smartphones, as well as expansion of the Pest Risk Information Service (PRISE), that uses satellite data to predict and track pest outbreaks, in Rwanda and Malawi.
Dr Nicholls, also announced the start of another innovative project for 2019, noting that CABI has been awarded a $1.49 million grant from the Gates Foundation to work with them to help increase food security in India and Ethiopia through better access to data on soil health, agronomy and fertilizers. The grant will see CABI encouraging and enabling governments, universities and research organizations in the two countries to see the benefits and apply best practices regarding the sharing of data which, ultimately, will help farmers grow healthier and profitable crops and lose less to pests and diseases.
Speaking from the meeting, Trevor Nicholls said, “The use of digital technology and data driven innovation is central to CABI’s mission, enabling us to reach many more farmers cost effectively. This will be particularly important in our flagship Plantwise programme, where we now have robust evidence of clear economic benefit, showing that the advice provided by the plant clinics helps increase farmer yields and incomes, resulting in an overall benefit:cost ratio of 3:1 where the programme is successfully implemented.”
Main photo: Qiaoqiao Zhang, Jiang Sunan, Trevor Nicholls and Zhao Ke