CABI has highlighted its expertise in digital tools, to aid the management of crop pests, at the International Symposium on Tropical Fruits (ISTF 2023) held recently in Guangzhou, China.
The objective of ISTF 2023 is to generate interest in the adoption of smart farming technologies to boost and sustain tropical fruits production, market, and trade. One way in which it seeks to do this is by identifying knowledge gaps, research needs and new opportunities in smart farming for tropical fruit stakeholders.
CABI’s regional centre in Malaysia co-hosted the event, themed ″Smart Technologies and Innovations for A Responsible and Sustainable Tropical Fruit Industry,″ along with the Malaysian Agricultural Research and Development Institute (MARDI).
Dr Feng Zhang, CABI’s Regional Director, East & South-East Asia, and CABI scientist Dr Sathis Sri Thanarajoo, both attended the symposium organised by the International Tropical Fruits Network (TFNet) and the Fruit Tree Research Institute (FTRI) of the Guangdong Academy of Agricultural Sciences (GDAAS), China.
The symposium stressed that by 2050, most developing countries will need to increase food production by 60% to help cater for the food requirements of the world’s 9 billion people. Innovation, therefore, is imminent in agricultural systems as production of food crops continue to lag in meeting the needs of a burgeoning population. Tropical fruit production systems, the symposium highlighted, are not excluded.
Digital technology can be ″a real game changer″
The CABI scientists, in a presentation on the uptake of natural pest control solutions through digital tools, said digital technology can be a real game changer in underpinning plant health services with data-led evidence, transboundary surveillance and communication.
Part of this, the researchers stressed, is to link farmers to low-risk plant protection products and good agricultural standards to increase the supply of safer and higher quality food in response to increasing demand from consumers.
Dr Feng Zhang and Dr Sathis Sri Thanarajoo gave the example of the AI Plant Doctor App – created by BOM Software in collaboration with CABI scientists working across South East Asia – to help smallholder farmers in Vietnam identify pests and diseases which can devastate their dragon fruit crops.
Vietnam is the largest producer of dragon fruit in Asia and is the leading exporter of the ‘super fruit’ in the world. According to the General Department of Customs, dragon fruit accounts for 32% of Vietnam’s total export value of vegetables and fruits – worth more than US$230 million annually.
But, like many food crops, dragon fruit is susceptible to a range of potentially devastating pests and diseases including the fungal diseases Anthracnose (Colletotrichum gloeosporioides) and Botryosphaeria dothidea as well as the pathogen Bipoaris cactivora.
The AI Plant Doctor App can also be developed from dragon fruit to many other crops make Vietnam to step forward in its impressive agricultural transformation approaching IR 4.0 technologies in the future.
Dr Feng Zhang and Dr Sathis Sri Thanarajoo also spoke about the CABI-led project, ″BioSpace: Using space-enabled remote sensing for long term sustainable growth of biopesticide use,″ and how it has been helping to mitigate the impact of locusts.
Environmentally friendly biopesticides
The BioSpace project focused on adapting models to different locust species while simultaneously giving expert advice in helping Laos and China to control the yellow spined bamboo locust with environmentally friendly biopesticides.
They highlighted how the BioSuccess App – developed as part of a European Centre for Medium-Range Weather Forecasts (ECMWF) funded project – helps aid decision-making on when to apply pesticides.
The CABI scientists also mentioned the CABI BioProtection Portal and how this open access tool users with information about registered biocontrol and biopesticide products in their country. It aims to help growers and agricultural advisors identify, source, and correctly apply these products against problematic pests in their crops.
Also, as part of the symposium, Dr Feng Zhang chaired a session entitled ″Farm mechanisation, robotics, applications and devices.″ This included presentations on integrated tropical fruits phenotyping method based on multi-optical imaging and deep learning as well as exploration and development analysis of key technologies for orchard agricultural robots in China.
He also attended the TFNet Board meeting before the symposium and had the opportunity to catch up and build relations with H.E. Dato’ Lokman Hakim Ali, Secretary General, Ministry of Agriculture and Food Security Malaysia, and Chairman of the TFNet’s Board of Trustees.
Furthermore, he met with Ms Dorothy Chandrabalan, Acting CEO of TFNet, as well as other board members from Australia, Bangladesh, China, Fiji, Malaysia, Sri Lanka, Vietnam, and discussed potential collaboration on publishing and multi-lateral collaborative projects among the two organisations and national partners.