Plants, the ‘core basis for life on Earth’, under increasing threat, warns UN food agency

UNICEF/Sebastian Rich A family eats a daily meal of dried peas at home in Balaka district in Malawi. (June 2016)

This article is brought to you in association with the United Nations.


Plants, which make up 80 percent of the food we eat, and produce 98 percent of the oxygen we breathe, are “under constant and increasing threat from pests and diseases”, the UN food agency, FAO, warned on Tuesday, at an event at the agency’s headquarters in Rome, to designate 2020 as the International Year of Plant Health.

Human activity a major factor in spreading pests and disease

Some 40 per cent of crops are lost to pests and disease every year, says FAO, leaving millions facing hunger. Human activity, including man-made climate change, is a major factor in the losses.

Our actions are reducing biodiversity and creating conditions where pests can thrive; and the growth of international travel and trade, which has tripled in volume in the last decade, means that pests and diseases can quickly spread around the world, causing great damage to native plants and the environment.

“Plants provide the core basis for life on Earth and they are the single most important pillar of human nutrition”, said FAO Director-General Qu Dongyu at the launch, “but healthy plants are not something that we can take for granted”.

Prevention better than cure

Mr. Qu pointed out that, as with human or animal health, prevention in plant health is better, and far more cost-effective, than cure: plant pests and diseases are often impossible to eradicate once they have established themselves and managing them is time consuming and expensive.

The FAO says that by preventing the spread and introduction of pests into new areas, governments, farmers and others involved in the food chain, such as the private sector, can save billions of dollars and ensure access to quality food.

The aim of the Year is to raise global awareness on how protecting plant health can help end hunger, reduce poverty, protect the environment, and boost economic development. The Year will emphasize prevention and protection, and the role everyone can play to ensure and promote plant health.                  

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