Agriculture: FAO launches 2020 as International Year of Plant Health

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World Desk

Rome- based Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) has  launched the United Nations’ International
Year of Plant Health (IYPH) for 2020, which aims to raise global awareness on
how protecting plant health can help end hunger, reduce poverty, protect the
environment, and boost economic development.

Plants make up 80 percent of the food we eat, and produce 98
percent of the oxygen we breathe. Yet, they are under constant and increasing
threat from pests and diseases.

Every year, up to 40 percent of global food crops are lost
to plant pests and diseases. This leads to annual agricultural trade losses of
over $220 billion, leaves millions of people facing hunger, and severely
damages agriculture – the primary income source for poor rural communities.

This is why policies and actions to promote plant health are
fundamental for reaching the Sustainable Development Goals.

“Plants provide the core basis for life on Earth and they
are the single most important pillar of human nutrition. But healthy plants are
not something that we can take for granted,” said FAO Director-General Qu
Dongyu who launched the Year on the sidelines of the UN agency’s Council
meeting.

Climate change and human activities are altering ecosystems,
reducing biodiversity and creating conditions where pests can thrive. At the
same time, international travel and trade has tripled in volume in the last decade
and can quickly spread pests and diseases around the world causing great damage
to native plants and the environment.

“As with human or animal health, prevention in plant health
is better than cure,” stressed the FAO chief.

Protecting plants from pests and diseases is far more cost
effective than dealing with full-blown plant health emergencies. Plant pests
and diseases are often impossible to eradicate once they have established
themselves and managing them is time consuming and expensive.

Qu Dongyu also urged for prompt action, pointing out that
much still needs to be done to ensure plant health.

“On this International Year and throughout this Decade of
Action to deliver the Sustainable Development Goals, let us dedicate the
necessary resources and increase our commitment to plant health. Let us act for
people and planet,” said António Guterres, UN Secretary-General in a message
read out at the event.

The following ministers also spoke at the event: Edward
Centeno Gadea, Minister of Agriculture and Livestock, Nicaragua; Andrew Doyle,
Minister of State at the Department of Agriculture, Food and the Marine,
Ireland; Jaana Husu-Kallio, Permanent Secretary of the Ministry of Agriculture
and Forestry, Finland; and Tamara Finkelstein, Permanent Secretary of
Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs, UK.

In his opening remarks, the FAO Director-General Qu Dongyu
commended the Government of Finland for taking the lead in proposing a year
dedicated to plant health and coordinating efforts to have the year declared.

FAO and its International Plant Protection Convention (IPPC)
will lead activities to make the Year a success as well as promote plant health
beyond 2020.

The Year will emphasize prevention and protection, and the
role everyone can play to ensure and promote plant health.

The key objectives of the Year are: raising awareness of the
importance of healthy plants for achieving the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable
Development; highlighting the impact of plant health on food security and
ecosystem functions; and sharing best practices on how to keep plants healthy
while protecting the environment.

By preventing the spread and introduction of pests into new
areas, governments, farmers and other actors of the food chain, such as the
private sector, can save billions of dollars and ensure access to quality
food. 

Keeping plants or plant products free from pests and
diseases also helps facilitate trade and ensures market access especially for
developing countries. For this, it is important to strengthen the adherence to
harmonized international phytosanitary regulations and standards.

When combatting pests and diseases, farmers should adopt,
and policymakers should encourage the use of, environmentally friendly methods
such as integrated pest management to help keep plants healthy whilst
protecting the environment.

Governments, legislators and policymakers should empower
plant protection organizations and other relevant institutions, and provide
them with adequate human and financial resources. They should also invest more
in plant-health related research and outreach, as well as innovative practices
and technologies.

Strategic partnerships and collaborative action with all
stakeholders, including governments, academia and research institutions, civil
society and private sector, are also essential to achieve the objectives of the
International Year of Plant Health, noted the FAO Director-General.

FAO and its International Plant Protection Convention are
already leading global efforts, for example, to ensure that International
Standards for Phytosanitary Measures are developed to sustain plant health and
countries benefit from their wide application.

In the case of Fall Armyworm – a fast spreading,
crop-munching pest – FAO has been coordinating global efforts to manage the
pest and curb its spread by developing and promoting innovative technologies
for monitoring and early warning, and equipping governments and farmers with
the best tools and knowledge to fight the pest.

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