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Risks for micronutrient losses due to vector-borne plant viruses affecting nutritious crops in Sub-Saharan Africa

10 August 2023

Crop viruses that are spread by insects destroy crops worldwide and cause hunger and malnutrition for vulnerable communities, particularly in Sub-Saharan Africa. The distributions of these viruses are being altered by climate change. Understanding the risks of these viruses for impacting nutritious crops will help target surveillance, diagnostics and plant-health interventions in regions of the greatest need.

The challenge

Future environmental changes resulting from climate change are predicted to:

  • Reduce yields and nutritional value of many crops including vegetables, legumes, fruit, nuts and seeds;
  • Increase crop losses due to insect pests and plant diseases: for vector-borne crop viruses, both insect population dynamics and viral transmission can be affected by climatic factors;
  • Profoundly affect Africa.

Malnutrition from restricted diets reduces resilience against contagious diseases and is the leading driver of non-contagious diseases worldwide: 2 billion people suffer from micronutrient deficiencies, particularly vitamin A, folate, iron and zinc. Nutritious crops including tomato, cucurbits (squash/gourds), and eggplant are significantly impacted by vector-borne viruses.

What we're doing

We’re exploring the extent to which maintaining the traditional African diet is possible in the face of vector-borne virus impacts on crops, such as nutritious crop yield losses. We’re also looking into the relative risks of nutritionally-important crop losses and the resulting micronutrient losses across Sub-Saharan African countries, taking the first steps in identifying ‘hot spots’ of regional nutritional restriction due to vector-borne crop viruses.

How it helps

The project aims to better understand social responses to, and the implications of, dietary impacts of vector-borne plant viruses. We also aim to identify risk factors for geographical hot spots of vector-borne crop viruses occurring that could impact regional nutritious crop availability as a result of changing weather and climate patterns.

We hope to build a pipeline of risk analysis, which will be translated into an open-access web-based mapping tool. This will ideally result in an impact-based matrix identifying the likelihood of varying levels of impact, which can be integrated with existing and emerging climate tools, information and services for managing crop pests and diseases. This will help plant health organisations to target surveillance, diagnostics and plant health interventions in regions in greatest need.

Lead researcher profile

Dr. Nina Ockendon-Powell, Research Associate in Biological Sciences


  • Dr Angeliki Papadaki, Policy Studies

  • Dr Dan Bernie, Population Health Sciences

  • Dr Nina Ockendon-Powell, Biological Sciences


Funding for this project has kindly been provided by the University of Bristol US Foundation.

Further information

Climate Change and Health research initiative 

Elizabeth Blackwell Institute for health research and the Cabot Institute for the Environment, at the University of Bristol, are working together to improve our knowledge of the impacts of climate change on our human and planetary health. The Climate Change and Health research programme brings together experts from different disciplines to understand and address the complex and interwoven areas of climate and health. Together we can find solutions for a healthier future… for us and for the planet.

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