Rome, Italy | XINHUA | Plants are the source of 98 percent of the air humans breathe and 80 percent of the food that people eat, so keeping them free of diseases and pests is crucial to human survival, the United Nations Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) said Friday.
In December 2018, 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,” FAO said.
FAO estimates that up to 40 percent of global food crops are lost to plant pests and diseases every year, leading to annual agricultural trade losses of over 220 billion U.S. dollars.
Meanwhile, the value of international trade in agricultural products has almost tripled in the last decade, reaching 1.7 trillion U.S. dollars, according to FAO.
Trade can quickly spread plant pests and diseases and seriously damage native plants and biodiversity, so policymakers should make sure they implement the standards of the International Plant Protection Convention (IPPC).
The mission of the IPPC is to protect plants — both cultivated and wild — from pests in order to achieve food security and environmental protection while facilitating safe trade.
FAO estimates that agricultural production must increase by about 60 percent by 2050 in order to feed the world’s growing population, and this cannot be achieved without healthy plants, according to IPPC Secretary Jingyuan Xia.
The organization also urged farmers to try, where possible, to fight pests and diseases in environmentally friendly ways by using sustainable alternatives such as crop rotation and using biological fertilizers and biopesticides.
Citizens can support plant health by buying produce from organic farms. They should also refrain from bringing plants, fresh fruits, and herbs with them when traveling across borders to ensure that foreign pests and diseases are not accidentally introduced to their own or other countries.
Prevention is key because protecting plants from pests and diseases is far more cost-effective than dealing with full-blown plant health emergencies, FAO pointed out.