15 May 2023, Rome: The Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations (FAO) last week marked International Day of Plant Health 2023, highlighting how protecting plant health can help end hunger, reduce poverty, protect biodiversity, and boost economic development. This year’s focus was on the links between plant health and environmental protection.
Addressing the challenges of plant health must involve “sharing knowledge, best practices, resources to develop innovative solutions for plant disease, invasive and alien species and also climate change impacts,“ FAO Director-General, QU Dongyu said in opening remarks at a global event hosted by the International Plant Protection Convention (IPPC) and FAO’s Plant Production and Protection Division. He also underlined the need to “educate and raise awareness, develop educational programs and public campaigns” on the importance of plant health. Qu also emphasized the urgent need to move from talk to action.
Humans depend on plants for 80 percent of our food and 98 percent of the oxygen we breathe, while up to 40 percent of global crop production is lost due to plant pests and diseases every year. This poses a serious threat to food security and nutrition and sets back efforts to achieve the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development.
The United Nations has designated 12 May for the annual celebration of the International Year of Plant Health 2020.
Plants crucial for protecting lives
Protecting plants means protecting lives, since plants contribute greatly to combating the adverse effects of climate change, and play a key role in sustaining life on Earth. But plants are exposed to more and more invasive alien pests and diseases that can cause serious harm to biodiversity and greatly impact food security and nutrition.
Some of the ongoing initiatives by FAO include the Global Action for Fall Armyworm (FAW) Control, the FAO global program on desert locust and migratory pest control, and the proposed Global Phytosanitary Programme, designed to empower governments and farmers to combat plant quarantine pests more effectively. In September 2022, FAO and the IPPC brought together the world’s top plant health experts in the first International Plant Health Conference to further advance innovative solutions in support of plant health.
Public engagement urged
FAO is calling on the public to make sure they have the necessary phytosanitary or plant health certificates when bringing plants and plant products from overseas or buying them online, as these may be potential pathways for pests to be introduced and established in new areas.
Governments meanwhile are being urged to invest in training, research, outreach, and programs on plant health and strengthen pest monitoring and early warning and response systems to protect plants and plant health, as well as sustainable pest management.
FAO itself has been working together with members of the IPCC, which is the only global standard-setting body on plant health, to help countries prevent and respond to plant pest incursion.
Central to this collaboration is FAO’s support for the creation and implementation of International Standards on Phytosanitary Measures, adopted by the Commission on Phytosanitary Measures. These standards can then be adopted by national plant protection organizations, making the trade in plants and plant materials much safer.
Besides these preventive measures, FAO also promotes integrated pest management and transboundary plant pest control and supports sound pesticide management to minimize environmental impact. Keeping plants healthy also protects the habitats of pollinators, which are some of the key indicators to assess the well-being of a functioning ecosystem.
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