At the end of July, Sujit and I attended the International Congress of Plant Pathology (ICPP) 2018 held at the Hynes Convention Centre in Boston. It was the biggest conference we ever experienced, with about 2000 attendees bringing over more than 1200 posters. It was a bit overwhelming at first, especially to try talking with other people during networking events. The talks covered the global food situation, emerging plant diseases, innovative detection and management technologies and the impact of climate change on the evolution and spread of plant diseases.
Three talks in particular caught my attention for their different approaches.
Professor David Guest, from the University of Sydney, discussed the importance of a people-focused plant disease management system when it comes to small farming communities in developing countries. He presented the case of cocoa farmers who had received training in how to control diseases of the trees but who would not apply those advices. This phenomenon was better understood by looking at sociological and health data. They were showing for example that the farmers had sight issues and therefore could not see the symptoms on the leaves, or that they were too weak to do the job due to malnutrition. Part of those issues were slowly fixed by giving the diseased leaves to goats, who would grow healthier, giving more meat to the population who would have a better health and could take more care of the trees. Many more examples were given to show the importance of not only focusing on the plant science to manage diseases but also to consider how people live and what they need.
Professor David Sands, from Montana State University, presented his work conducted in Kenya where he helped smallholder farmers to control weeds parasitizing their maize fields. Strains of Fusarium oxysporum fsp. strigae were found to be pathogens of the weeds and were distributed to the farmers on a toothpick. The farmers were then able to create their own inoculum by incubating the fungus in boiled rice substrate and planted the inoculated grains with maize. This inexpensive and easy technique enabled farmers to obtain significant yield increase.
Doctor Tim Gottwald, from the United State Department of Agriculture, showed how to use canine surveillance to detect plant diseases very efficiently. The project was about training canines to detect citrus Huanglongbing caused by Candidatus Liberibacter asiaticus and Plum Pox Virus via the scent of the pathogens. After training, the canines would run through fields of citrus trees and stop in front of the infected ones. The method had more than 99% accuracy and was fast. The pathogens could be detected at a very early stage of infection, before the apparition of visual symptoms or possible detection by PCR.
With such a big conference, diverse sessions were offered. There were plenary talks, panel discussions, smaller concurrent presentations, small group discussions about specific topics, one-to-one talks with an expert, workshops, poster exhibitions and meetings with company representatives. The congress was overall giving the opportunity to learn and exchange in many ways.
The next ICPP will be organised in Lyon, France, in 2023.