Screenshot of the workshop.

Modelling tools equip scientists to predict pest and disease attacks in a climate change scenario

Screenshot of the workshop.

Screenshot of the workshop.

A five-day workshop on agricultural pest and disease modeling was conducted to equip agricultural scientists with tools and techniques to create and accurately interpret pest and disease models, especially in the setting of climate variability.

It is estimated that plant pests and diseases cause up to 40% crop loss worldwide. The Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) has declared Year 2020 as International Year of Plant Health in order to spotlight the urgency of combating plant pests and diseases. With a changing climate, it is increasingly clear that we need modern, innovative tools to complement traditional methods of pest/disease control. Pest and disease modeling, a relatively new area, is becoming increasingly important.

The workshop ‘Agricultural Pest and Disease Simulation Modelling under a Climate Change Scenario’ was jointly conducted by the University of Agricultural Sciences (UAS) – Bangalore, and ICRISAT, with experts from various institutions sharing their knowledge with the participants.

Data visualization, plant disease mapping and modeling, pest and disease simulation and dynamic models, fundamentals of deep learning and its application, use of satellite data, climate change scenarios, etc., were some of the topics covered in the intensive training sessions, which also included detailed demonstrations of using various software.

At the inaugural session, welcoming the event attendees, Dr Mamta Sharma, Theme Leader & Principal Scientist, ICRISAT, emphasized the need to not only develop cutting-edge pest/disease models but also to integrate them with crop models for effective warning mechanisms to help farmers.

Dr KK Sharma, Deputy Director General – Research, ICRISAT, underscored the need to develop robust models to keep pace with the rapidly changing pests and diseases in response to the increasingly variable climate patterns.

Dr Rajendra Prasad, Vice Chancellor, UAS-Bangalore, said, “Forewarned is forearmed. If we can accurately predict pest/disease attacks, we can reduce potential crop losses by way of timely advisories to farmers.”

Dr Pooran Gaur, Research Program Director – Asia, ICRISAT, said, “Under the rapidly changing climate scenario, historical climate data alone is no longer adequate. We need improved data from accurate, next-generation technology for better predictions.”

Other dignitaries at the inaugural session included Dr RC Agrawal, Deputy Director General (Education), Indian Council of Agricultural Research (ICAR); Dr MK Prasanna Kumar, Associate Professor, UAS-Bangalore;  Dr Adam Sparks, Associate Professor, University of Southern Queensland, Australia; Dr KK Sharma, Deputy Director General, ICRISAT; and Dr Anthony Whitbread, Research Program Director, Innovation Systems for the Drylands, ICRISAT.

Instructors from Australia; CSIR-Bangalore; ANGRAU, Andhra Pradesh; UAS-Bangalore; and ICRISAT equipped the 30 participants of the workshop (who were picked from the 1000 aspirants who applied from across the globe) to create innovative solutions to tackle plant pest/disease problems affecting agricultural crops worldwide.

The virtual training session was held from 24-28 August 2020, in view of the travel restrictions due to the COVID-19 pandemic.

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