Participants at the International Summer School in Plant Disease Epidemiology have been thinking about the questions, why here? Why now? in relation to plant diseases. It has been a long, intense week of lectures and practical sessions covering many aspects of the spatial and temporal dynamics of plant disease epidemics and their management. We hope the students and the faculty who have joined us
for this training will have learned concepts and practical skills that will be useful in their own research. What we have uncovered during the week is that there are often not clear-cut answers to these questions and that solutions frequently require us to handle carefully many trade-off problems.
While the participants have been thinking about the where and when of plant disease epidemics, the questions can equally be asked of the Summer School itself. The answers to these questions in that context are simple: the context for the summer school is food security. So, we are here in Raipur because India simultaneously has one of the largest populations and highest population densities in the world. The issues of food security are very real here. As the question of why now? the answer is, as it always will be with food security (as with climate change) because later will be harder.
Returning to the content of the Summer School, we hope there will be wider benefits of introducing the tools of modern plant disease epidemiology to the 50 plus participants, than simply increasing local knowledge of these tools. Plant disease epidemiology is one of many classical subjects in the plant sciences which have declined in popularity as subjects for study in research universities over the last 30 years, as a result of an increasing emphasis on molecular biology and its associated technologies. This is unfortunate because the skills of the epidemiologist – systems thinking, ability to analyze problems quantitatively, understanding of uncertainty. are the sorts of skills that come in handy for analyzing complex policy problems, with their mutually antagonistic objectives and multitudes of constraints. The more young scientists who are equipped with these techniques, the better prepared to address the problem of food security any country will be.
We are already thinking about possible venues for the next summer school.