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The challenge

Pests and diseases are a natural part of any ecosystem. What farmers fear are the outbreaks or epidemics that can cause high yield losses. Worldwide farmers lose an average of 10-16% of their annual harvest to pests and diseases, but cases vary widely by crop, region and threat - losses for one farmer can be up to 100% of crops in one season to a single pest or disease.  These losses take a heavy toll on locla and regional food supplies whether it be wilt diseases in banana, bean fly and rust in beans, leaf blight in maize or blast in rice.

Common pest and disease control methods include using pesticides, physical barriers, crop rotation and natural pest enemies. However, less is understood about how crop varietal diversity could improve pest and disease management.

Bioversity International's research approach:

Our research shows that using agricultural biodiversity and a series of low-tech management practices are effective, cost-efficient and environmentally-friendly ways to manage pests and diseases for increased productivity and reduced loss.

We conduct research at different scales, from a variety within a crop to the species and landscape level. Using diversity for pest and disease management also encourages farmers to maintain local diversity on their farms, an important source of genetic materials that could be used for breeding resistant varieties in future.

We work through local and international partnerships with communities, researchers, government actors and development agencies to develop solutions that can then be taken to scale.

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Research highlights

Key breakthroughs from planting different crop varieties in mixtures:

  • In Uganda, farmers have reported a 75% decrease in the rate that banana weevil attacks increase over the cropping season
  • In our common bean trials, the highest decreases in damage is when at least 50% of a resistant variety is mixed into a farmer's plot 
  • In Ecuador, our experiments have shown that common bean mixtures can reduce the severity of common bean rust by up to 50%, and improve yield by up to 32% due to improved drought tolerance.

Introducing disease-resistant banana varieties in the Philippines

A new banana variety developed in collaboration with partners has now been successfully exported to Japan, offering more income opportunities for the Filipino farmers.

GCTCV-219 is a banana variety resistant to the deadly banana disease Fusarium wilt – including its latest strain Tropical Race 4 currently threatening production in Asia, Oceania and Africa.

Using intraspecific crop diversity in 4 countries

Since 2006, Bioversity International and partners have been working with farmers and national researchers in China, Ecuador, Morocco and Uganda, to see how diversity within a crop, can add value to pest and disease management.

The research focuses on traditional and modern varieties of six crops: banana, barley, common bean, faba bean, maize and rice. Field trials across all four countries have consistently shown that using more varieties of a crop increases resilience to pests and diseases, reducing the likelihood of severe outbreaks and damage to crops.

Read our story of progress

CGIAR Partnership

This research is part of the CGIAR Research Program on Water, Land and Ecosystems and is supported by CGIAR Fund Donors.

Supporting the conservation & use of crop biodiversity


Devra Jarvis

Featured publications

Rice varieties from the plains of the Terai regions in Nepal. Credit: Bioversity International/B. Sthapit

Testing farmers evolutionary plant breeding strategies for coping with climate change

Bioversity International and IFAD are pleased to announce an IFAD grant of $3.5 million and national co-funding of $2.1 million, on the use of genetic...

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Farmers learn about different bean and maize varieties at a seed fair in Saraguro, Ecuador. Credit: Bioversity International/J.Coronel

A fresh look at crop seeds for healthy diets

As we get ready for World Food Day, researcher Jacob van Etten reminds us that seeds are a central piece of our food systems, as the vehicles that...

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Farmers on a Sri Lankan farm where crop rotations of chilli, rice and other crops are practised, here harvesting chilli peppers. Credit: Bioversity International/S.Landersz

What has agricultural biodiversity ever done for us?

Bioversity International scientist Simon Attwood explains how the use of agricultural biodiversity can make our diets healthier, and agriculture more...

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Integrated systems research for sustainable smallholder agriculture

A new publication details achievements and lessons learned from the Central Mekong, offering insights and recommendations that could support...

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