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"Protecting Plants, Protecting Life"

NATIONS TO UNITE FOR PLANT HEALTH IN 2020



My attention was drawn recently to the declaration by the United Nations General Assembly marking 2020 as the International Year of Plant Health (IYPH). Being a tad inquisitive, I decide to have a look and see what this really is all about so I googled the subject (as one does) and soon found myself completely immersed in all the astonishing material, communications, enlightenments and particulars that bring this remarkable initiative into the spotlight. Far beyond a campaign of passive awareness, this is an undisguised call to arms; a clarion call for global action for the sake of the very survival – in a healthy sort of way - of our future on this planet, Earth, our home.

Ultimately what is on the table here can be succinctly summed up in the IYPH slogan:

“PROTECTING PLANTS, PROTECTING LIFE”


In essence, the United Nations (UN) General Assembly has declared 2020 as the International Year of Plant Health (IYPH). According to the communications that have been circulated, “the year [2020] 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”. All fine and well, but what does this all mean and does it carry weight, you may ask?

I have, via some inquisitive probing come across the INTERNATIONAL YEAR OF PLANT HEALTH 2020 COMMUNICATION GUIDE issued by the Food and Agriculture Organisation of the United Nations (FOA) and International Plant Protection Convention (IPPC) – a fantastic document that really is the cornerstone and manifestation of all the hard work that has been put into this project. It is the key to unlocking everything that the International Year for Plant Health 2020 is really all about and I highly recommend this as the easy-to-read-and-understand definitive directory on the subject.

Just to touch on some of the issues raised in the guide it is worth remembering that plants are responsible for the air we breathe and most of the food we eat, but it is significant to realise that estimates of up to 40% of food crops are lost to pests and diseases each year. Beneficial bug population has fallen by about 80% in the last two decades and this has potentially alarming implications on pollination and crop yield.

Plants are under threat from climate change and human activity both of which have altered ecosystems and impacted negatively on biodiversity as well as an estimated threefold increase in international trade and travel in the last decade that helps spread disease more efficiently. On top of this, there is the reality of growing demand for a larger and generally richer population to consider.

The old saying goes that prevention is better than cure and this is acutely applicable to plants where eradication of pests and diseases that have already taken hold becomes well-nigh impossible and very, very expensive. For this reason, the IYPH 2020 emphasizes prevention and protection in an environmentally friendly way in which everyone has a role to play.

The key messages being communicated by IYPH 2020 are all about keeping plants healthy to achieve zero hunger (not to mention allowing us to breathe). So the phytosanitary emphasis really is on agriculture, food security and the ecology.

When considering the roles we all have to play, I submit that this does not mean that we must all, as individuals, run around loudly evangelising and campaigning, but that, in many cases, we simply all need to be more vigilant and aware of the consequences of our actions and of those around us – however trivial they may seem. Simple considerations, such as being careful when transporting plants from place to place – especially across borders - and keeping plants healthy while protecting the environment will all help in the long run.

Making trading in plants and plant products safe by complying with international plant health standards, investing in plant-health capacity development, research and outreach and strengthening monitoring and early warning systems to protect plants and plant health are perhaps really the domain of regional and international authorities, but this does serve to reinforce the notion that the IYPH 2020 is certainly all inclusive, from the general public through media professionals, farmers, school children, non-government organisations, governments and policy makers and donors to trade and transportation sectors all over the world.


Just to put the elephant in the room to bed, so to speak, let me get the whole thing about the reappearance of, what I will call The Doomsday Grinch, out of the way. I dare say that some out there so often feel bombarded by prophesies of a post-apocalyptic dystopian world to come beset by starvation-stricken mobs that they may be forgiven for inclining towards dispassionate detachment or indifferent apathy – something akin to what transpires in the story of The Boy Who Cried Wolf.

So let me offer unequivocal assurances that this is no such critter. On the contrary, with the full weight, standing and not insignificant credentials of the United Nations general Assembly endorsing and underpinning the enterprise, a whole universe of responsible and sober prognostics is laid out for the world to consider and reflect on, followed by a plethora of ventures and undertakings for us to get our collective multinational teeth into.

To properly position the standing of this initiative, let me offer a short background:

A group of high-profile international commissions, conventions and organizations with considerable and appropriate credentials and even more apt acronyms (like CPM and IPPC) started the ball rolling in April 2016 to have 2020 declared as the International Year of Plant Health – so it goes back some way. The resolution was approved by the Food and Agriculture Organisation (FAO) of the United Nations in 2017 and endorsed with a unanimous vote by the United Nations General Assembly in 2018 – and resolutions do not carry lightly through the UNGA, I would suggest - nuff said.

It really goes without saying that so many of us can become partners in this outstanding and worthy initiative and it really is well worth having a look to see how we can actively participate. There is so much more to know about this and it is all there on foa.org/plant-health-2020, so have a gander and be amazed.

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