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Let's Talk About Plants

Plants are the source of the air we breathe and most of the food we eat, yet we often do not pay
enough attention to keeping them healthy. This can have devastating results. FAO estimates that
up to 40 percent of food crops are lost to plant pests and diseases annually. This leaves millions
of people without enough food to eat and seriously damages agriculture – the primary source of
income for rural poor communities.

Plant health is increasingly under threat. Climate change and human activities have altered
ecosystems, reducing biodiversity and creating new niches where pests can thrive. At the same
time, international travel and trade, which have tripled in volume in the last decade, can quickly
spread pests and diseases around the world, causing great damage to native plants and the

As with human health, protecting plants from pests and diseases is far more cost-effective than
dealing with full-blown 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 critical to avoid the devastating impact of pests and diseases on agriculture,
livelihoods and food security.

The IYPH 2020 emphasizes prevention and protection. Everyone has a role to play. For example,
travellers must be careful when taking plants and plant products with them. People in the
transportation industries need to make sure ships, airplanes, trucks and trains do not carry plant
pests and diseases into new areas. Governments should increase their support to national and
regional plant protection organizations that are the first line of defence.

We can both prevent plant pests and diseases, and tackle them, in environmentally friendly
ways – such as through integrated pest management. This ecosystem approach combines
different management strategies and practices to grow healthy crops while minimizing the use
of pesticides. Avoiding poisonous substances when dealing with pests not only protects the
environment, it also protects pollinators, natural pest enemies, beneficial organisms and the
people and animals who depend on plants.

Plants are life
Plants make up 80% of the food we eat and produce 98% of the oxygen we breathe.

Economic benefits
The annual value of trade in agricultural products has grown almost three-fold over the past
decade, largely in emerging economies and developing countries, reaching USD 1.7 trillion.

A growing demand
FAO estimates that agricultural production must rise about 60% by 2050 in order to feed a larger
and generally richer population.

Pest destruction
Plant pests are responsible for losses of up to 40% percent of food crops globally, and for trade
losses in agricultural products worth over USD 220 billion each year.

Climate impacts
Climate change threatens to reduce not only the quantity of crops, lowering yields, but also the
nutritious value. Rising temperatures also mean that more plant pests are appearing earlier and in
places where they were never seen before.

Beneficial bugs
Beneficial insects are vital for plant health - for pollination, pest control, soil health, nutrient
recycling – and yet, insect abundance has fallen 80% in the last 25-30 years.

Hungry pests
One million locusts can eat about one tonne of food a day, and the largest swarms can consume
over 100 000 tonnes each day, or enough to feed tens of thousands of people for one year.


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