Director-General  QU Dongyu
A statement by FAO Director-General QU Dongyu

International Year of Plant Health Launch Event

2 December 2019


Distinguished Guests,

Honorable Ministers,

Excellencies, Ladies and Gentlemen,


I would like to take this opportunity to say thanks to my colleagues from Finland, Nicaragua, Ireland and Great Britain. Thank you for taking the time to travel here. And also the Minister from Cabo Verde. It’s my third time with you in four months.

I am pleased to welcome you today to launch the International Year of Plant Health. As indicated here with a short video, plant health is our health.

In December 2018, the United Nations General Assembly agreed for 2020 to be the International Year of Plant Health. It will be a crucial and critical year. We are also going to celebrate the 75th anniversary of FAO’s establishment.

I would like to congratulate the Government of Finland for taking the lead in proposing this initiative in the International Plant Protection Convention and FAO governing bodies, and in coordinating negotiations at the UN General Assembly. I appreciate that because some people should have more historical vision and strategic thinking to take real action. Now I will have a chance to celebrate with you next year. I appreciate all the processes and action you already made before I came. I will try my best to prepare something for the future, that’s the way history keeps going and moves forward.

The key objectives of the International Year are:

  • raising awareness of the importance of healthy plants for achieving the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development,
  • highlighting the impact of plant health on food security and ecosystem functions,
  • and sharing best practices on how to keep plants healthy while protecting the environment.

Plants provide the core basis for life on Earth and they are the single most important pillar of human nutrition. Because historically, evolutionally, people started eating plants first, not animal first. Before modern human beings, we started picking up vegetables and fruit first.

But healthy plants are not something that we can take for granted.

FAO estimates that up to 40 percent of food crops are lost to plant pests and diseases annually, leaving millions of people without enough food to eat and seriously damaging agriculture, which is the primary source of income for rural communities and smallholders.

In fact, plant health is increasingly under threat. Climate change and human activities are altering ecosystems, reducing biodiversity and creating conditions where pests can thrive. The extinction of plants can also destroy the whole food chain. Not only pests and all the surroundings of animals and micro-organisms that will destroy the whole small cycle of ecosystems. You know, I am a plant researcher so I know how important, not only individually, but evolutionally.

As with human or animal health, prevention in plant health is better than cure. By preventing the spread and introduction of pests into new areas, governments, farmers and other actors of the food chain, such as the private sector, can contribute to save billions of dollars and ensure access to quality food.

Keeping plants or plant products free from pests and diseases also helps facilitate trade and ensures market access especially for developing nations. For this, it is important to follow the harmonized international phytosanitary regulations and standards.

Pests can cause significant damage. That is why we need to act promptly.

Let me give you the example of FAO’s Global Programme on Fall Armyworm.

FAO has been coordinating the global efforts and responses to Fall Armyworm by promoting innovative technologies for monitoring and early warning, and working with partners to enable knowledge is transfer of integrated pest management (IPM) practices to farmers and plant protection institutions in developing countries.

Other ongoing efforts of the international community, led by FAO and its International Plant Protection Convention, aim to ensure that International Standards for Phytosanitary Measures are developed to sustain plant health and that countries benefit from their wide application.

Ladies and Gentlemen,

Much still needs to be done to ensure plant health. Strategic partnerships and collaborative action with all stakeholders, including governments, academia and research institutions, civil society and private sector, are essential to achieve the objectives of the International Year of Plant Health. I am happy to see that representatives from multi-stakeholders are presenting here today.

Under the slogan “protecting plants, protecting life”, FAO is calling on all to take urgent actions to preserve plant health protect, rural livelihoods, facilitate trade and achieve food security.

By demonstrating your commitment towards plant health, you will contribute to the global campaign during the International Year of Plant Health. I am counting on your support in this global effort.

I hereby proclaim the International Year of Plant Health (IYPH) 2020 officially open.

Thank you very much for your attention.