EPITAG is an Inria Associate team that is part of the LIRIMA (International Laboratory for Computer Sciences and Applied Mathematics). It was launched in 2017 and renewed in 2020 between Inria-INRAE project BIOCORE, now MACBES, and the Universities of Douala, Dschang & Yaoundé I. Since 2022, it is supported by the TSARA programme at INRAE and by the French Ministry for Europe and Foreign Affairs, via the French Embassy in Cameroon.
EPITAG gathers French and Cameroonian researchers with a background in dynamical systems and control and an interest in crop diseases.
Crop pests and diseases, together with weeds, destroy up to 40% of global crop yields every year and are hence a major threat to food security.
Cameroon’s tropical climate is very favourable to agriculture. With 21% of agricultural land, this sector represents 30% of the country export revenues and 14% of its GDP (FAOSTAT 2016 data & OEC 2017 data). It employs almost 62% of the working population. The main export crops are cocoa (4th largest producing country in 2016, 15% of exports), bananas and plantains (7.2%), cotton (4.2%) and coffee (1.5%). Food crops include bananas and plantains, cassava, yam, maize, sorghum, millet, cabbages, etc. IRAD promotes a sustainable development of agriculture, to ensure food security, reduce the poverty and preserve the environment. Controlling crop pests and pathogens is hence a major issue in Cameroon.
Pesticides can be applied, but they have a high financial and environmental cost. Environmentally-friendly alternatives, such as cropping practices, biological control and plant resistance, should be explored.
In this context, the use of mathematical models is particularly relevant. Models are not only used to formalise and integrate knowledge, but also to help design efficient strategies for integrated pest management. They complement experimental and field approaches, which are costly and time-consuming, especially on perennial plants such as cocoa and coffee trees.
Our main objective is to study the epidemiology and sustainable management of tropical crop diseases, mathematically and numerically, with a focus on Cameroon. Using tools from dynamical systems and control theory, our approach consists in developing and analysing dynamical models, in order to (i) better understand plant-parasite interactions, (ii) identify relevant parameters, (iii) predict the evolution of damages and (iv) provide efficient and sustainable control strategies to limit the damages.
We face two major challenges. Firstly, we want to ensure the relevance of our models. Developing tractable models, that can provide useful results, requires a deep understanding of complex processes. So it is important to collaborate with field experts and to involve stakeholders (e.g. Cirad, IRAD, CARBAP). Secondly, epidemiological data are scarce and often qualitatively known, so we need to develop methods tailored for such data.
To tackle these issues, we jointly supervise master and PhD students on specific research topics.