Fungal infections are a growing threat to global food security, with their impact on crops already causing significant damage to the world’s food supply. As climate change continues to escalate, this threat is only set to worsen, according to a paper published in the scientific journal Nature. Experts are warning that unless urgent action is taken, fungal attacks on crops could become a “catastrophe,” leading to widespread famine and malnutrition. The authors of the paper argue that rising temperatures caused by global warming are allowing plant pathogens such as fungi to spread northward, potentially infecting crops that were previously immune to their effects. Furthermore, modern farming techniques that involve cultivating genetically uniform crops over vast areas are providing ideal breeding grounds for fungi, making crops more vulnerable to infection.

Fungal infections are already responsible for destroying between 10 and 23 percent of the world’s annual crop output, with an additional 10 to 20 percent of crops being lost post-harvest. This is enough food to feed up to four billion people a daily diet of 2,000 calories for a year. These infections are already the most significant threat to crops globally, and their spread is only increasing. The authors of the paper warn that fungal pathogens are also thought to kill 1.5 million people annually, a number that is almost equal to the number of people who die from malaria or tuberculosis each year.

A fungal pathogen is a type of fungus that causes diseases or infections in plants, animals, or humans. It can affect the immune system of living organisms, leading to various health issues ranging from mild to severe or life-threatening. Some examples of fungal pathogens include Cryptococcus neoformans, Candida albicans, and Aspergillus fumigatus.

The spread of fungal infections is not only affecting crops but also poses a direct threat to human health, particularly for those with weakened immune systems. In October, the World Health Organization warned that fungal infections were becoming increasingly common and resistant to treatment, citing climate change and human trade and travel as driving factors. However, the authors of the Nature paper argue that agricultural practices also play a significant role in creating conditions that are perfect for fungi to infect crops.

Despite the severity of this threat, there is still hope. Researchers are working on new treatments that are far less likely to contribute to fungicide resistance, and studies are showing promising results in which farmers are planting seed mixtures containing a range of fungal-resistant genes. Additionally, technology such as AI, citizen science, and remote sensing tools such as drones can help in early detection and control of outbreaks. However, the authors warn that addressing the threat of fungal infections requires a globally united approach, with increased investment in research and prevention programs from governments, philanthropic organizations, and private companies.