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.

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Data availability

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


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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.

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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.

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Correspondence to Andy Nelson.

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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).

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