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Closing ceremony of the International Year of Plant Health: Many successes despite difficult circumstances

FAO Director-General stresses plant health is key to better production, better nutrition, a better environment and a better life

1 July 2021, Rome - The United Nations International Year of Plant Health (IYPH) 2020 ended officially today with a virtual closing ceremony highlighting the many successes achieved - despite the challenges posed by COVID-19, which extended the Year's activities for an extra six months.

In his remarks at the ceremony, the Director-General of the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations (FAO), QU Dongyu, offered a reminder of the Year's key objectives:

  • To raise awareness of the importance of healthy plants in achieving the goals of the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development.
  • To highlight the impact of plant health on food security and ecosystem functions.
  • To increase resources dedicated to plant health.
  • To trigger partnerships and share best practices on how to keep plants healthy while protecting the environment.

FAO estimates that every year, up to 40 percent of food crops are lost due to plant pests and diseases. This leaves millions of people without enough food to eat and seriously damages agriculture - the primary source of income for rural poor communities.

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 thus critical to avoiding the devastating impact of pests and diseases on agriculture, livelihoods and food security.

The Director-General stated he was proud of the success in achieving the IYPH's objectives, despite the difficult circumstances.

"FAO," he said, "will continue [...] to advance the legacies of the International Year of Plant Health, in support of achieving better production, better nutrition, a better environment, and a better life - leaving no one behind. Plant health," he concluded, "is fundamental [...] for life."

Other speakers at the Ceremony included Jari Leppä, Minister for Agriculture and Forestry of the Republic of Finland; Pippa Hackett, Minister for Agriculture, Food and the Marine of the Republic of Ireland; Songowayo Zyambo, Permanent Secretary, Ministry of Agriculture of Zambia; and Stella Kyriakides, European Commissioner for Health and Food Safety. The speakers highlighted the importance of continuing to build on the momentum generated by the Year to keep supporting plant health, and to treasure its legacies with the collaboration of all stakeholders.

Broadcasters and writers, Monty Don and Diarmuid Gavin, and Chef Rodrigo Pacheco also spoke. All three have been enthusiastic and effective Advocates for the International Year of Plant Health (IYPH) 2020.

A panel discussion moderated by Jingyuan Xia, Director of FAO's Plant Production and Protection Division, also took place with a variety of speakers, including Ralf Lopian, Chairperson, IYPH International Steering Committee; and Beth Bechdol, FAO Deputy Director-General, who declared the Year officially closed. Ms Bechdol stressed that efforts to support plant health and strengthen national phytosanitary systems must continue through the International Plant Protection Convention and its International Standards. "While the International Year of Plant Health has been a first, remarkable step to spotlight plant health globally, it is up to us all to ensure its legacy," she said.

Legacy

A major IYPH legacy is the establishment of the International Plant Health Conference, which was initially scheduled to take place in Helsinki in 2020, and currently planned for May 2022.

The Scientific review on the impact of climate change on plant pests was published in June 2021. Prepared by the University of Turin (Italy), Professor Maria Lodovica Gullino and ten co-authors from around the world, the review is a key initiative of the Year and provides a scientific basis for the International Plant Protection Convention's future work assessing and managing the impact of climate change on plant health.

The IYPH Youth Declaration is yet another legacy. Members from 26 youth groups have prepared a document expressing ideas for further actions to protect and promote global plant health and help achieve the Sustainable Development Goals.

Towards an International Day

In October 2020, the 27th session of the FAO Committee on Agriculture endorsed a resolution championed by Zambia for an International Day of Plant Health on 12 May every year. The proposal was further validated by the FAO Council and Conference. The United Nations General Assembly will now consider the proposal for final endorsement at its next session - and the first International Day of Plant Health is expected to be celebrated on 12 May 2022.

As part of IYPH, the international plant health community organised a variety of other plant health related events and initiatives at global, regional and national levels. The official events list currently amounts to 670; including a photo contest, an art and drawing competition for children and a video contest - yielding 668, 402 and 35 valid entries, respectively.

Commemorative stamps and coins, engaging children with Beastie the Bug and more...

Friends of the International Year of Plant Health (20 national partners, 6 regional partners, and 19 partner organizations) promoted global awareness for plant health through media coverage, public events and outreach campaigns.

Among these was the creation of postage stamps by twenty-eight countries, the minting of coins by three countries, and various advocacy initiatives such as the Plant Health Knows No Borders North America initiative, the Secretariat of the European and Mediterranean Plant Protection Organization's Beastie the Bug project, the UK's National Plant Health Week, Italy's plant health awareness projects, and CGIAR's webinar series.

An activity book for children was produced and translated into 14 languages to popularise plant protection among children. Other communication materials - including an IYPH brochure - were developed to illustrate how different stakeholders and the public can protect plant health worldwide. Human-interest stories, podcasts and videos were also produced throughout the eighteen months.

A dynamic social media campaign was undertaken and the dedicated website for the Year has had more than 140,000 users and 360,000 views to date. FAO and the Year were mentioned approximately 26,600 times by other social media accounts, exposing them to up to 313 million users.

Photo: ©FAO
(Composite picture from left) FAO Director-General QU Dongyu; Jari Leppa, Minister for Agriculture and Forestry of the Republic of Finland; Pippa Hackett, Minister for Agriculture, Food and the Marine of the Republic of Ireland; Songowayo Zyambo, Permanent Secretary, Ministry of Agriculture of Zambia; Stella Kyriakides, EU Commissioner for Health and Food Safety; Monty Don, IYPH Advocate for Europe (UK); Rodrigo Pacheco, IYPH Advocate for Latin America and Caribbean (Ecuador); Diarmuid Gavin, IYPH Advocate for Europe (Ireland); Jingyuan Xia, Director, FAO Plant Production and Protection Division;Ralf Lopian, Chairperson, IYPH International Steering Committee; Kyu-ock Yim, Vice-Chairperson, IYPH International Steering Committee; Michael Keller, Secretary-General, International Seed Federation; Ibrahim Al-Jboory, President of the Arab Society for Plant Protection; Victoria Valenzi, Youth representative, presenting IYPH Youth Declaration; Beth Bechdol, FAO Deputy Director-General; Yasmina Bouziane, Deputy Director, FAO Office of Communications.