Plants vital to human food face growing threat from pests and diseases

Plants vital to human food face growing threat from pests and diseases

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Invasive ants that eat crops, or the pernicious "rapid olive decay syndrome", which dries the leaves and wilts the branches of this tree, are just a few of a multitude of threats to plant health that are spreading more easily in an increasingly globalized world.

International experts began today at FAO a meeting focused on the most effective ways to prevent insects, bacteria, viruses and weeds from infesting fruits, vegetables and other types of plants and foods that are traded daily in the world.

The annual meeting of the Commission on Phytosanitary Measures (CMF), the governing body of the International Plant Protection Convention (CIPF), brings together high-level specialists in plant health from the 182 signatory countries, as well as from various international organizations and the private sector.

This year's theme "Plant health for food security" highlights the link between the international community's commitment to eradicate hunger by 2030 and the critical role of plants in human nutrition.

"We have recently seen increased attention to plant diseases and pests, but more needs to be done to raise awareness and to maintain or improve plant health," said FAO Deputy Director-General for Operations Daniel Gustafson in his speech at the opening of the event.

Gustafson underscored how the work of the IPPC - which aims to safeguard plant health, preserve biodiversity and facilitate trade - is in line with many of the sustainable development goals approved by the international community last year.

Each year agricultural products worth US $ 1.1 trillion are traded internationally, of which more than 80 percent of the total is food.

At the same time, FAO estimates that between 20 and 40 percent of the world's crop yield is reduced each year by damage caused by plant pests and diseases. Many of them spread across borders with the transport of goods, finding new habitats in which to reproduce or environments in which to spread, also due to the effects of climate change.

The task of the CMF is, among others, to examine and establish international standards on phytosanitary measures that establish how plants and plant products should be handled during movement and transport. They also endorse ways to support developing countries to improve the effectiveness of their national plant protection organizations.

Once pests infest a given geographic area and become established, they are nearly impossible to eradicate and expensive to manage. As is the case with invasive ants - which pose a particular threat to island communities and developing countries - which have led to an increasing use of pesticides that are dangerous to human health and the environment.

The aim of the standards is to minimize the risks of plant pests that circulate across borders and regions in the ever-expanding context of world trade. Examples include fruit flies, which lay eggs on the skin of oranges destined for export, beetles that nest on wooden pallets for transport, or the bacterium Xylella fastidiosa, which causes "rapid olive decay syndrome. ", and it is believed that it has reached the Mediterranean region with the importation of ornamental plants.

This year's CPM meeting, which runs until Friday, April 8, is expected to specifically address how to deal with the increased risks associated with sea containers and whether an international standard on measures should be developed. phytosanitary to face them.

Participants will also discuss the further development of digital phytosanitary certification - known as e-Phyto - after the creation of an online center was approved at the CPM meeting last year, in order to facilitate the exchange of millions of e-Phytos on an annual basis. This will result in an increase in the efficiency of port operations, a decrease in fraudulent certification, and a reduction in the costs - including environmental costs - associated with printing and sending paper certificates.


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