Skip to main content

Thank you for visiting You are using a browser version with limited support for CSS. To obtain the best experience, we recommend you use a more up to date browser (or turn off compatibility mode in Internet Explorer). In the meantime, to ensure continued support, we are displaying the site without styles and JavaScript.

The global burden of pathogens and pests on major food crops


Crop pathogens and pests reduce the yield and quality of agricultural production. They cause substantial economic losses and reduce food security at household, national and global levels. Quantitative, standardized information on crop losses is difficult to compile and compare across crops, agroecosystems and regions. Here, we report on an expert-based assessment of crop health, and provide numerical estimates of yield losses on an individual pathogen and pest basis for five major crops globally and in food security hotspots. Our results document losses associated with 137 pathogens and pests associated with wheat, rice, maize, potato and soybean worldwide. Our yield loss (range) estimates at a global level and per hotspot for wheat (21.5% (10.1–28.1%)), rice (30.0% (24.6–40.9%)), maize (22.5% (19.5–41.1%)), potato (17.2% (8.1–21.0%)) and soybean (21.4% (11.0–32.4%)) suggest that the highest losses are associated with food-deficit regions with fast-growing populations, and frequently with emerging or re-emerging pests and diseases. Our assessment highlights differences in impacts among crop pathogens and pests and among food security hotspots. This analysis contributes critical information to prioritize crop health management to improve the sustainability of agroecosystems in delivering services to societies.

This is a preview of subscription content, access via your institution

Relevant articles

Open Access articles citing this article.

Access options

Rent or buy this article

Get just this article for as long as you need it


Prices may be subject to local taxes which are calculated during checkout

Fig. 1
Fig. 2
Fig. 3

Data availability

The anonymized survey data that support the findings of this study are available from the corresponding author upon reasonable request.


  1. Crop Protection Compendium, (CABI, 2018).

  2. Strange, R. & Scott, P. R. Plant disease: a threat to global food security. Annu. Rev. Phytopathol. 43, 83–116 (2005).

    Article  CAS  PubMed  Google Scholar 

  3. Savary, S., Teng, P. S., Willocquet, L. & Nutter, F. W. Quantification and modeling of crop losses: a review of purposes. Annu. Rev. Phytopathol. 44, 89–112 (2006).

    Article  CAS  PubMed  Google Scholar 

  4. Esker, P., Savary, S. & McRoberts, N. Crop loss analysis and global food supply: focusing now on required harvests. CAB Rev. 7, 1–14 (2012).

    Article  Google Scholar 

  5. Savary, S. et al. Crop health and its global impacts on the components of food security. Food Secur. 9, 311–327 (2017).

    Article  Google Scholar 

  6. The State of Food Insecurity in the World 2013. The Multiple Dimensions of Food Security (IFAD, WFP & FAO, 2013).

  7. Rausher, M. D. Co-evolution and plant resistance to natural enemies. Nature 411, 857–864 (2001).

    Article  CAS  PubMed  Google Scholar 

  8. McDonald, B. A. & Linde, C. Pathogen population genetics, evolutionary potential, and durable resistance. Annu. Rev. Phytopathol. 40, 349–379 (2002).

    Article  CAS  PubMed  Google Scholar 

  9. Zhan, J., Thrall, P. H. & Burdon, J. J. Achieving sustainable plant disease management through evolutionary principles. Trends Plant Sci. 19, 570–575 (2014).

    Article  CAS  PubMed  Google Scholar 

  10. Zadoks, J. C. & Schein, R. D. Epidemiology and Plant Disease Management (Oxford Univ. Press, New York, 1979).

  11. Browning, J. A. Relevance of knowledge about natural ecosystems to development of pest management programs for agro-ecosystems. Proc. Am. Phytopathol. Soc. 1, 191–199 (1974).

    Google Scholar 

  12. Way, M. J. & Heong, K. L. The role of biodiversity in the dynamics and management of insect pests of tropical irrigated rice—a review. Bull. Entomol. Res. 84, 567–587 (1994).

    Article  Google Scholar 

  13. Matson, P. A., Parton, W. J., Power, A. G. & Swift, M. J. Agricultural intensification and ecosystem properties. Science 277, 504–509 (1997).

    Article  CAS  PubMed  Google Scholar 

  14. Vitousek, P. M., Mooney, H. A., Lubchenco, H. A. & Melillo, J. M. Human domination of Earth’s ecosystems. Science 277, 494–499 (1997).

    Article  CAS  Google Scholar 

  15. Cassman, K. G. et al. in Ecosystems and Human Well-Being: Current State and Trends Vol. 1 741–789 (Island Press, Washington, DC, 2005).

  16. Foley, J. A. et al. Solutions for a cultivated planet. Nature 478, 337–342 (2011).

    Article  CAS  PubMed  Google Scholar 

  17. Hazell, P. & Wood, S. Drivers of change in global agriculture. Phil. Trans. R. Soc. Lond. B 363, 495–515 (2008).

    Article  Google Scholar 

  18. West, P. C. et al. Leverage points for improving global food security and the environment. Science 345, 325–328 (2014).

    Article  CAS  PubMed  Google Scholar 

  19. Zhan, J. & McDonald, B. A. Experimental measures of pathogen competition and relative fitness. Annu. Rev. Phytopathol. 51, 131–153 (2013).

    Article  CAS  PubMed  Google Scholar 

  20. McDonald, B. A. & Stukenbrock, E. H. Rapid emergence of pathogens in agro-ecosystems: global threats to agricultural sustainability and food security. Phil. Trans. R. Soc. Lond. B 371, 20160026 (2016).

    Article  Google Scholar 

  21. Anderson, P. K. et al. Emerging infectious diseases of plants: pathogen pollution, climate change and agrotechnology drivers. Trends Ecol. Evol. 19, 535–544 (2004).

    Article  PubMed  Google Scholar 

  22. Paini, D. R. et al. Global threat to agriculture from invasive species. Proc. Natl Acad. Sci. USA 113, 7575–7579 (2016).

    Article  CAS  PubMed  PubMed Central  Google Scholar 

  23. Bebber, D. P., Holmes, T. & Gurr, S. J. The global spread of crop pests and pathogens. Glob. Ecol. Biogeogr. 23, 1398–1407 (2014).

    Article  Google Scholar 

  24. Bebber, D. P., Holmes, T., Smith, D. & Gurr, S. J. Economic and physical determinants of the global distributions of crop pests and pathogens. New Phytol. 202, 901–910 (2014).

    Article  PubMed  PubMed Central  Google Scholar 

  25. Savary, S., McRoberts, N., Esker, P. D., Willocquet, L. & Teng, P. S. Production situations as drivers of crop health: evidence and implications. Plant Pathol. 66, 867–876 (2017).

    Article  Google Scholar 

  26. Waller, J. M., Lenné, J. M. & Waller, S. J. Plant Pathologist’s Pocketbook (CABI, Wallingford, UK, 2002).

  27. Chiarappa, L. Crop Loss Assessment Methods. FAO Manual on Evaluation and Prevention of Losses by Pests, Disease and Weeds (Commonwealth Agricultural Bureaux, Buckinghamshire, UK, 1971).

  28. James, W. C. & Teng, P. S. in Advances in Applied Biology Vol. 3 (ed. Coaker, T. H.) 201–267 (Academic Press, London, 1979).

  29. Teng, P. S. Crop Loss Assessment and Pest Management (APS Press, St. Paul, MN, USA, 1987).

  30. Heesterbeek, J. A. P. & Zadoks, J. C. Modelling pandemics of quarantine pests and diseases: problems and perspectives. Crop. Prot. 6, 211–221 (1987).

    Article  Google Scholar 

  31. Cramer, H. H. Plant Protection and World Crop Production (Bayer, Leverkusen, Germany, 1967).

  32. Oerke, E. C. Crop losses to pests. J. Agric. Sci. 144, 31–43 (2006).

    Article  Google Scholar 

  33. Oerke, E. C., Dehne, H. W., Schönbeck, F. & Weber, A. Crop Production and Crop Protection: Estimated Losses in Major Food and Cash Crops (Elsevier Science, Amsterdam, 1994).

  34. Savary, S., Elazegui, F. A. & Teng, P. S. Assessing the representativeness of data on yield losses due to rice diseases in tropical Asia. Plant Dis. 82, 705–709 (1998).

    Article  PubMed  Google Scholar 

  35. FAOSTAT (Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations, 2018);

  36. Nelson, A. D. et al. Crop pests: crop-health survey aims to fill data gaps. Nature 541, 464 (2017).

    Article  CAS  PubMed  Google Scholar 

  37. Greenacre, M. J. Theory and Applications of Correspondence Analysis (Academic Press, London, 1984).

  38. Savary, S., Madden, L. V., Zadoks, J. C. & Klein-Gebbinck, H. W. Use of categorical information and correspondence analysis in plant disease epidemiology. Adv. Bot. Res. 21, 213–240 (1995).

    Article  Google Scholar 

  39. Hill, M. O. Correspondence analysis: a neglected multivariate method. Appl. Stat. 23, 340–354 (1974).

    Article  Google Scholar 

  40. Lebart, L., Morineau, A. & Fénelon, J. P. Traitement des Données Statistiques. Méthodes et Programmes (Dunod, Paris, 1982).

  41. Benzécri, J. P. L’Analyse des Données. Tome 2. L’Analyse des Correspondances (Dunod, Paris, 1973).

  42. Breman, H. & De Wit, C. T. Rangeland productivity and exploitation in the Sahel. Science 221, 1341–1347 (1983).

    Article  CAS  PubMed  Google Scholar 

  43. Zadoks, J. C. in Crop Loss Assessment Methods (ed. Chiarappa, L.) 5–11 (CAB/FAO, Rome, 1981).

  44. Van Velthuizen, H. et al. Mapping Biophysical Factors that Influence Agricultural Production and Rural Vulnerability (FAO, 2007).

  45. Mueller, N. D. et al. Closing yield gaps through nutrient and water management. Nature 490, 254–257 (2012).

    Article  CAS  PubMed  Google Scholar 

  46. Haefele, S. M., Nelson, A. & Hijmans, R. J. Soil quality and constraints in global rice production. Geoderma 235–236, 250–259 (2014).

    Article  CAS  Google Scholar 

  47. Godfray, H. C. J. et al. Food security: the challenge of feeding 9 billion people. Science 327, 812–818 (2010).

    Article  CAS  PubMed  Google Scholar 

  48. Lim, S. S. et al. A comparative risk assessment of burden of disease and injury attributable to 67 risk factors and risk factor clusters in 21 regions, 1990–2010: a systematic analysis for the Global Burden of Disease Study 2010. Lancet 380, 2224–2260 (2012).

    Article  PubMed  PubMed Central  Google Scholar 

  49. International Newsletter on Plant Pathology: ISPP Newsletter 46 (11) November 2016 (ISPP, 2016);

  50. International Newsletter on Plant Pathology: ISPP Newsletter 46 (12) December 2016 (ISPP, 2016);

  51. International Newsletter on Plant Pathology: ISPP Newsletter 47 (1) January 2017 (ISPP, 2017);

  52. Kottek, M., Grieser, J., Beck, C., Rudolf, B. & Rubel, F. World map of the Köppen–Geiger climate classification updated. Meteorol. Z. 15, 259–263 (2006).

    Article  Google Scholar 

  53. Rubel, F., Brugger, K., Haslinger, K. & Auer, I. The climate of the European Alps: shift of very high resolution Köppen–Geiger climate zones 1800–2100. Meteorol. Z. 26, 115–125 (2017).

    Article  Google Scholar 

  54. Hijmans, R. Global Administrative Areas Database (GADM) Version 3.6, (University of California Berkeley, Berkeley, CA, USA, 2018).

  55. You, L. et al. Spatial Production Allocation Model (SPAM) 2005 Version 3.2, (IFPRI, Washington, DC, 2017).

  56. Gilligan, C. A. & van den Bosch, F. Epidemiological models for invasion and persistence of pathogens. Annu. Rev. Phytopathol. 46, 385–418 (2008).

    Article  CAS  PubMed  Google Scholar 

  57. Shaw, M. W. Simulation of population expansion and spatial pattern when individual dispersal distributions do not decline exponentially with distance. Proc. Biol. Sci. 259, 243–248 (1995).

    Article  Google Scholar 

  58. Jeger, M. J., Pautasso, M., Holdenrieder, O. & Shaw, M. W. Modelling disease spread and control in networks: implications for plant sciences. New Phytol. 174, 279–297 (2007).

    Article  PubMed  Google Scholar 

  59. Shaw, M. W. & Osborne, T. M. Geographic distribution of plant pathogens in response to climate change. Plant Pathol. 60, 31–43 (2011).

    Article  Google Scholar 

  60. Lo Iacono, G., van den Bosch, F. & Gilligan, C. A. Durable resistance to crop pathogens: an epidemiological framework to predict risk under uncertainty. PLoS Comput. Biol. 9, e1002870 (2013).

    Article  CAS  PubMed  PubMed Central  Google Scholar 

  61. Fitt, B. D. L., Gregory, P. H., Todd, A. D., McCartney, H. A. & Macdonald, O. C. Spore dispersal and plant disease gradients; a comparison between two empirical models. J. Phytopathol. 118, 227–242 (1987).

    Article  Google Scholar 

  62. Benzécri, J. P. L’Analyse des Données. Tome 1. La Taxinomie (Dunod, Paris, 1973).

  63. Wilkinson, L., Engelman, L., Corter, J. & Coward, M. in Statistics I 223–302 (Systat Software, Chicago, 2009).

  64. Lê, S., Josse, J. & Husson, F. FactoMineR: an R package for multivariate analysis. J. Stat. Softw. 25, 253–258 (2008).

    Article  Google Scholar 

  65. Pfeffermann, D. The use of sampling weights for survey data analysis. Stat. Methods Med. Res. 5, 239–261 (1996).

    Article  CAS  PubMed  Google Scholar 

  66. Padwick, G. W. Losses Caused by Plant Diseases in the Tropics Phytopathology Paper No. 1 (Commonwealth Mycological Institute, 1956).

  67. Statistical Year Book India 2016 (MOSPI, 2017);

  68. The Soybean Processors Association of India Databank (SOPA, 2016);

  69. United States Department of Agriculture National Agricultural Statistics Service (USDA, 2017);

  70. Agricultural Production Crop Statistics (Eurostat, 2017);

  71. Instituto Brasileiro de Geografia e Estatística (IBGE, 2016);

  72. Bockus, W. W., Bowden, R. L., Hunger, R. M., Murray, T. D. & Smiley, R. W. Compendium of Wheat Diseases and Pests (APS Press, St. Paul, MN, USA, 2010).

  73. Wiese, M. V. Compendium of Wheat Diseases (APS Press, St. Paul, MN, USA, 1987).

  74. Ou, S. H. Rice Diseases (CABI, Slough, UK, 1985).

  75. Pathak, M. D. Insect Pests of Rice (IRRI, Los Baños, Phillipines, 1977).

  76. White, D. G. Compendium of Corn Diseases (APS Press, St. Paul, MN, USA, 1999).

  77. Stevenson, W. R., Loria, R., Franc, G. D. & Weingartner, D. P. Compendium of Potato Diseases (APS Press, St. Paul, MN, USA, 2001).

  78. Hartman, G. L. et al. Compendium of Soybean Diseases and Pests (APS Press, St. Paul, MN, USA, 2015).

  79. Turechek, W. W. & McRoberts, N. Considerations of scale in the analysis of spatial pattern of plant disease epidemics. Annu. Rev. Phytopathol. 51, 453–472 (2013).

    Article  CAS  PubMed  Google Scholar 

  80. Thies, C. & Tscharntke, T. Landscape structure and biological control in agroecosystems. Science 285, 893–895 (1999).

    Article  CAS  PubMed  Google Scholar 

  81. Yuen, J. & Mila, A. Landscape-scale disease risk quantification and prediction. Annu. Rev. Phytopathol. 53, 471–484 (2015).

    Article  CAS  PubMed  Google Scholar 

  82. Parratt, S. R., Numminen, E. & Laine, A.-L. Infectious disease dynamics in heterogeneous landscapes. Annu. Rev. Ecol. Evol. Syst. 47, 283–306 (2016).

    Article  Google Scholar 

  83. Savary, S., Willocquet, L., Elazegui, F. A., Castilla, N. P. & Teng, P. S. Rice pest constraints in tropical Asia: quantification of yield losses due to rice pests in a range of production situations. Plant Dis. 84, 357–369 (2000).

    Article  PubMed  Google Scholar 

  84. Savary, S. et al. Rice pest constraints in tropical Asia: characterization of injury profiles in relation to production situations. Plant Dis. 84, 341–356 (2000).

    Article  PubMed  Google Scholar 

Download references


The authors are grateful to the ISPP for help in reaching out to experts for the survey and for permission to reprint the information in Supplementary Note 2. The authors thank all experts (Supplementary Table 1) who have contributed to the online survey. All interpretations of the survey information are the sole responsibility of the authors. N.M. was partly supported by USDA-NIFA project CA-D-PPA-2131-H.

Author information

Authors and Affiliations



S.S., L.W., A.N., S.J.P., P.E. and N.M. designed the survey. A.N. and S.S. implemented the online survey. A.N. retrieved and assembled the climatic, population and crop production data. S.S., L.W. and A.N. analysed the data. S.S., L.W., A.N., S.J.P., P.E. and N.M. interpreted the data and results of the analyses. S.S., A.N. and L.W. wrote the article. S.J.P., P.E. and N.M. reviewed all elements of the article.

Corresponding author

Correspondence to Andy Nelson.

Ethics declarations

Competing interests

The authors declare no competing interests.

Additional information

Publisher’s note: Springer Nature remains neutral with regard to jurisdictional claims in published maps and institutional affiliations.

Supplementary information

Supplementary Information

Supplementary Figs. 1–4, Supplementary Tables 1–6, Supplementary Notes 1 and 2 and Supplementary References

Reporting Summary

Rights and permissions

Reprints and Permissions

About this article

Verify currency and authenticity via CrossMark

Cite this article

Savary, S., Willocquet, L., Pethybridge, S.J. et al. The global burden of pathogens and pests on major food crops. Nat Ecol Evol 3, 430–439 (2019).

Download citation

  • Received:

  • Accepted:

  • Published:

  • Issue Date:

  • DOI:

This article is cited by


Quick links

Nature Briefing

Sign up for the Nature Briefing newsletter — what matters in science, free to your inbox daily.

Get the most important science stories of the day, free in your inbox. Sign up for Nature Briefing