Plants vital to human diet are at a growing risk from pests and diseases in a world of increasing global trade, according to the United Nations’ Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO).
Around $1.1trn of agricultural products are traded internationally each year, with food accounting for more than 80% of the total, according to the FAO.
However, between 20% and 40% of global crop yields are reduced because of damage by plant pests and diseases, which can spread across borders through the movement of goods, breeding in new habitats where once established they are almost impossible to eradicate.
Examples include fruit flies that lay their eggs in the skins of oranges meant for export, beetles that burrow into wooden shipping pallets, or the bacterium Xylella fastidiosa, which causes “olive quick decline syndrome”, resulting in scorched leaves and withered branches. It is believed to have arrived in the Mediterranean region through imported ornamental plants, FAO said.
The FAO highlighted the importance of preventing insects, bacteria, viruses and weeds from infesting fruit, vegetables and other plant and food consignments that are traded across the world at the annual meeting of the Commission on Phytosanitary Measures (CPM), the governing body of the International Plant Protection Convention (IPPC).
The event in Rome brought together senior plant health specialists, international organisations and the private sector to focus on the link between the international community's commitment to eradicate hunger by 2030 and the critical role played by plants in human diets.
Delegates examined the increasing risks associated with pests and sea containers, and whether an International Standard for Phytosanitary Measures should be developed to tackle it.
The development of electronic phytosanitary certification or ePhyto, an online hub approved last year to facilitate the exchange of millions of ePhytos per year to demonstrate the health of exported plants, was also discussed.
The FAO said this would make port operations more efficient, reduce fraudulent certification, and reduce costs and the environmental impact associated with printing and shipping paper certificates.
Daniel Gustafson, FAO deputy director general of operations, called for action to combat the increasing risk to plants.
“Recently we have seen greater attention being paid to plant diseases and pests of plants, but more needs to be done on how to raise awareness and on how to sustain or improve plant health,” he said.