UN proclaims 2020 the “International Year of Plant Health” amid food security theme awareness push

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21 Dec 2018 --- The UN has created two new international days and one entire year devoted to central issues in global food security and nutrition. 2019 will see the start of the international days, with one focused on pulses and the other on food safety. 2020 will be the first year devoted to a central theme and will be known as the “International Year of Plant Health.” The initiative is aimed at increasing awareness among the public and policymakers around food security issues.

“The ‘International Year of Plant Health’ is a key initiative to highlight the importance of plant health to enhance food security, protect the environment and biodiversity and boost economic development,” says Jingyuan Xia, International Plant Protection Convention (IPPC) Secretary.

Last month, the UN’s FAO agency (Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations) and the International Food Policy Research Institute (IFPRI) launched a global conference aimed at urgently accelerating efforts to achieve zero hunger worldwide. According to the latest report published jointly by FAO and four other UN agencies, about 820 million people on the planet are malnourished. The report calls on improvements in technology, such as food fortification strategies, as well as better crop cultivation to enhance yields and cut losses.

Today, up to 40 percent of global food crops are lost annually due to plant pests. In terms of economic value, plant diseases alone cost the global economy around US$220 billion annually and invasive insects around US$70 billion, according to the agencies. The year of the plant hopes to draw attention to thesClick to Enlarge February 10 each year will be marked as World Pulses Day.e losses and boost action around preventing them. 

The UN General Assembly invited FAO, with the IPPC Secretariat, to serve as the lead agency to spearhead activities related to the “International Year of Plant Health” and called on governments, civil society, and the private sector to engage at global, regional and national levels. An International Plant Health Conference will be among thousands of plant health events to be held around the world during 2020.

“Despite the increasing impact of plant pests and diseases, resources are scarce to address the problem. We hope this new International Year of Plant Health will trigger greater global collaboration to support plant health policies at all levels which will contribute significantly to the Sustainable Development Agenda,” FAO quotes Jari Leppä, Minister of Agriculture and Forestry of Finland as stating.

From now on, February 10 each year will be marked as World Pulses Day, aiming to boost momentum surrounding legumes after FAO's 2016 International Year of Pulses Campaign. This highlighted how growing pulses contribute to sustainable crop production, for example, as well as the vital nutrients provided by these diet staples. Pulses are important sources of B vitamins, magnesium, potassium, phosphorus and zinc, and offer a higher-fiber, lower-calorie dietary option than cereals.

The General Assembly also emphasized that pulse crops can play a powerful role in improving gender equity, noting that they are frequently cultivated by women and also noting their high iron content contributes significantly to the health of women of reproductive age.

World Food Safety Day will fall on June 7 each year, paying tribute to an increasingly important issue in today's highly-interconnected food systems. FAO notes with satisfaction that the UN resolution expressly recognized that “there is no food security without food safety.”

Foodborne diseases impact an estimated 600 million people every year and place a serious burden on human health, in particular, that of young children and people living in low-income regions of the world. Moreover, safe foods contribute positively to trade, employment and poverty alleviation, according to the FAO.

The global food system has recently come under increased scrutiny. According to the InterAcademy Partnership (IAP), for example, global food systems are failing and urgently need to be turned around to avoid catastrophic climate change. The current approach to food, nutrition, agriculture and the environment is “unsustainable and must change” – and there is “no time to waste,” according to the 130 national academies of science and medicine, across Africa, Asia, the Americas and Europe, that make up the IAP.  

More than 14 million adults and 4.7 million children in Europe and Central Asia (ECA) suffer from “severe food insecurity,” as highlighted in a report released this month by the UFAO. The region has made good progress on eradicating hunger but continues to be thwarted by the persistence of the triple burden of malnutrition – overweight and obesity in combination with undernourishment and micronutrient deficiencies.

The report suggests that national policies as well as better quality, disaggregated data collection should serve to help understand who is most at risk from micronutrient deficiencies, obesity and the negative effects of societal changes such as migration. Understanding who exactly is being “left behind” will be key to achieving success and health, it concludes. 

By Laxmi Haigh

To contact our editorial team please email us at editorial@cnsmedia.com

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