Cereal crops like corn, rice, and wheat are vital for feeding millions of people worldwide. However, the threat of pests and diseases poses significant risks to global food systems, impacting crop yields and leading to food shortages. Addressing these challenges is crucial for ensuring food security and stability. The Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency (DARPA) has launched the Foundational Security for Food Systems (FS2) program to develop advanced threat detection and warning systems for crop damage caused by pests and diseases. This program aims to protect cereal crops and enhance food security.
Challenges in Food Security:
Pests and diseases are major food security threats, intensified by factors like climate change, globalization, and monoculture farming practices. These challenges can result in reduced crop yields, compromised food quality and safety, and increased hunger and malnutrition. It is imperative for governments, businesses, and communities to collaborate and develop sustainable solutions to mitigate these risks.
For deeper understanding of Food Security Challenges and Solutions please visit: Food Security: Navigating Global Challenges and Building Sustainable Solutions
Integrated Pest Management and Sustainable Agriculture:
To mitigate the impact of pests and diseases, adopting integrated pest management practices and promoting sustainable agricultural approaches are essential. Integrated pest management involves the use of environmentally friendly strategies to control pests, minimizing reliance on harmful chemicals. Embracing sustainable agricultural practices like crop rotation, agroforestry, and organic farming contributes to biodiversity conservation and resilience in the face of pests and diseases.
Enhancing Infrastructure and Systems:
Improving infrastructure and systems for food distribution and storage is critical. Adequate storage facilities and efficient distribution networks help minimize post-harvest losses and ensure food reaches consumers in a timely manner. Investment in modernizing storage facilities and transportation systems is necessary to maintain the quality and quantity of food supplies.
Advanced Threat Detection and Warning Systems:
Advanced threat detection and warning systems play a crucial role in mitigating the impact of crop damage caused by pests and diseases. These systems employ technologies like remote sensing, computer vision, and predictive modeling to detect changes in plant health and provide early warnings to farmers and stakeholders.
Some examples of advanced threat detection and warning systems for crop damage include precision agriculture platforms, satellite-based monitoring systems, and predictive modeling tools to detect changes in plant health and assess the likelihood of crop damage. The data collected is used to detect changes in plant health and to identify early signs of crop damage caused by pests and diseases. This information is then shared with farmers and other stakeholders, who can take appropriate measures to prevent further damage to crops. By providing early warnings, these systems can help farmers take proactive measures to protect their crops, reduce crop losses, and improve food security.
By identifying early signs of crop damage, farmers can take preventive measures, reduce losses, and improve food security.
DARPA’s FS2 Program:
DARPA’s FS2 program is a notable initiative focused on developing advanced threat detection and warning capabilities for cereal crops.
Ensuring active defense of these and other staple food grasses is a critical national security priority. DARPA launched Foundational Security for Food Systems (FS2) program in Jan 2023 that will explore a pathway-based approach to provide advanced threat detection and warning of crop damage irrespective of the triggering agent. FS2 will conduct research to test the feasibility of applying this approach for defense of cereal crops, specifically rice and corn.
The program aims to identify pathways in cereal crops that, when activated, result in significant damage. By creating detection and warning protocols based on observable plant-level effects, FS2 seeks to shift from agent-focused defenses to agent-agnostic signatures. The program’s research includes genetic modeling and the development of explanatory pathways models, with the goal of systematically identifying early observable features of key damage pathways.
“The FS2 program will test the idea that there may be only very few pathways in cereal crops that, when activated, are capable of resulting in sufficient damage to be of major concern,” said Molly Jahn, FS2 program manager in DARPA’s Defense Sciences Office. “Similar to how a person can have any one of thousands of viruses long before certain common symptoms present, we’re interested in finding the earliest signs those pathways are active before symptoms show up in cereal crops. FS2 will investigate the ability to create detection and warning protocols based on pathways with observable plant-level effects including signatures that are detectable remotely. Our vision with FS2 is to shift from agent-focused defenses to agent-agnostic signatures that reveal if damage of major concern is underway.”
FS2 will use rust fungi as a program test case. Rice is not susceptible to fungal rust pathogens; however, many other important cereal crops are, including corn. Despite this type of phenotypic variation between cereal species, many key genetic and biochemical pathways are widely conserved across members of the grass family. Because of their economic impact, cereal rust diseases are monitored using plant and field-level data during the growing season through snapshot Agriculture Department surveys, and are scouted via cultivation and harvest equipment, drones, smartphones, and other devices with cameras or sensors. FS2 aims to develop validated models to systematically identify earliest observable features of key damage pathways irrespective of the activating agent.
FS2 is part of DARPA’s Disruptioneering effort designed to rapidly explore bold and risky ideas with the goal of accelerating scientific discovery. The 18-month FS2 program comprises two phases. The 10-month first phase addresses genetic modeling with the goal of demonstrating that it is possible to link plant-level observable variation via actual and inferred pathways in corn. A second, eight-month phase aims to demonstrate whether it is possible to build a candidate explanatory pathways model that can link adverse plant-level observations of unknown origin in corn to candidate explanatory pathways. Maximum award value for each phase is $500,000 for total maximum award value of $1,000,000.
The FS2 program does not involve genetic modification of any organism. All research will be conducted in compliance with approved regulatory standards.
The development of advanced threat detection and warning capabilities is vital for safeguarding cereal crops and ensuring global food security. Through the FS2 program, DARPA is taking significant steps to address these challenges by focusing on genetic modeling, early detection, and pathway-based approaches. Collaborative efforts among governments, research institutions, farmers, and other stakeholders are crucial to the success of such initiatives. By investing in research, adopting sustainable agricultural practices, and leveraging advanced technologies, we can mitigate the impacts of pests and diseases, protect our food systems, and work towards a more secure and resilient future.