The United Nations General Assembly declared 2020 as the International Year of Plant Health. The year is a once in a lifetime opportunity to raise global awareness on how protecting plant health can help end hunger, reduce poverty, protect the environment, and boost economic development.
Plants are the source of the air we breathe and most of the food we eat, yet we often don’t think about keeping them healthy. This can have devastating results. FAO estimates that up to 40% of food crops are lost due to plant pests and diseases annually. This leaves millions of people without enough food to eat and seriously damages agriculture – the primary source of income for rural poor communities.
Plant health is increasingly under threat. Climate change, and human activities, has altered ecosystems, reducing biodiversity and creating new niches 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.
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. Prevention is critical to avoiding the devastating impact of pests and diseases on agriculture, livelihoods and food security and many of us have a role to play.
Everyone needs to avoid taking plants and plant products with them when travelling across borders. People in the transportation industries need to make sure that ships, airplanes, trucks and trains don’t carry plant pests and diseases into new areas.
Governments need to increase their support to national and regional plant protection organizations that are the first line of defence. We all need to respect plant health regulations that have been put in place to protect agriculture, forestry and the environment. Be careful about bringing plants and plant products across borders, even when you order from online sources. Everyday actions also include reducing your environmental footprint, protecting natural resources and spreading the word.
Be careful when taking plants and plant products with you when you travel as they may spread plant pests and diseases. Contact your national plant health authority beforehand to make sure that you are not infringing plant health laws. Be cautious when ordering plants and plant products online or through postal services as small packages can easily bypass regular phytosanitary controls. Take daily actions to reduce your environmental footprint and actively engage in initiatives to protect and manage natural resources.
If you are a farmer or work in agribusiness, you can have a direct influence on plants, and the management of natural resources. Women and men who work in agriculture play a vital role in protecting plant health.
Prevent the spread of pests by using only certified pest-free seeds and seedlings. Regularly monitor and report the occurrence of pests on your farms. Adopt environmentally friendly pest-management practices including those based on biological approaches that do not kill pollinators, and beneficial insects and organisms. Take advantage of modern digital technology, mobile apps and software to access information about how to prevent and manage plant pests and diseases and to report outbreaks.
Governments can protect plant health in many ways, thus enhancing food security, protecting the environment, and facilitating trade. Promote public awareness campaigns on the importance of plant health and what everyone can do to protect plants. Invest in plant protection organizations and ensure that they have adequate human and financial resources. Invest more in research related to plant health and in innovative practices and technologies, and provide incentives for the private sector and farmers to do so too.
Ensure that phytosanitary import requirements are based on IPPC standards and are technically justified, consistent with the pest risk involved, represent the least restrictive measures available, and result in the minimum impediment to the international movement of people, commodities and conveyances. Enforce plant health standards and strengthen plant protection capacity, including by conducting a phytosanitary capacity evaluation in collaboration with the IPPC Secretariat. Strengthen monitoring and early warning systems to protect plants and plant health. Align policies and actions with sustainable development goals related to plant health, in particular those aimed at eliminating hunger and malnutrition and reducing poverty and threats to the environment.
Author is an Executive Editor of Mélange int’l Magazine and Secretary Information Center of Pakistan and International Relations (COPAIR)