Analysing potato late blight control as a social-ecological system using fuzzy cognitive mapping

Francine C.A. Pacilly*, Jeroen C.J. Groot, Gert Jan Hofstede, Ben F. Schaap, Edith Lammerts van Bueren

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticleAcademicpeer-review

16 Citations (Scopus)


Potato late blight, caused by Phytophthora infestans, is one of the main diseases in potato production, causing major losses in yield. Applying environmentally harmful fungicides is the prevailing and classical method for controlling late blight, thus contaminating food and water. There is therefore a need for innovative research approaches to produce food sustainably. Here, we used a systems approach to identify sustainable management strategies for disease control in potato production in the Netherlands. We focussed not only on ecological processes, the classical approach, but also on decision-making concerning disease management. For that, we performed a literature study, stakeholder interviews and modelling using fuzzy cognitive mapping. Interviews were carried out with farmers, representatives of breeding companies and experts. The fuzzy cognitive map allows to identify major concepts and their influence on late blight management. Three management scenarios were analysed using the fuzzy cognitive map. Results show that published research on the control of potato late blight focusses on agronomic practices, plant breeding for resistance to late blight and chemical-based disease suppression. Farmers are strongly influenced by corporate (such as traders, breeders and retail) and public institutes and policies, each pushing their own objectives and interests. The fuzzy cognitive map showed that social and ecological processes are tightly related. The scenario analysis showed that increasing stakeholder cooperation and a change in market demands towards resistant cultivars could improve sustainability of late blight management. In contrast, policies restricting the use of fungicides would result in increased disease severity if no alternative strategies were implemented. Adoption of such strategies would require social-institutional support and facilitation. We conclude that our systems approach improves the understanding of the system dynamics which is necessary for developing and deploying effective strategies for controlling P. infestans.

Original languageEnglish
Article number35
JournalAgronomy for Sustainable Development
Issue number2
Publication statusPublished - 2016


  • Cropping systems
  • Phytophthora infestans
  • Potato production chain
  • Socio-institutional interactions
  • Sustainable disease management


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