Experts focus on measures to keep plant pests, diseases at bay

According to FAO, there is a need to increase efforts for protecting food security

Published: Saturday 04 July 2015

According to an estimate, between 20 and 40 per cent of global crop yields are reduced each year as a result of plant pests and diseases (Photo: IPPC Facebook page)

Experts discussed how to prevent insects, bacteria, viruses and weeds from infesting fruits, vegetables, plants and plant-based products at the annual meeting of the Commission on Phytosanitary Measures (CPM), a Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) report says.

According to an estimate, between 20 and 40 per cent of global crop yields are reduced each year as a result of plant pests and diseases.

“A staggering $1.1 trillion worth of agricultural products are traded internationally each year, with food accounting for more than 80 per cent of the total. In this more and more globalised world, we need to increase our efforts to protect food security and the environment, and ensure safe trade from pests of plants,” FAO deputy director general natural resources, Maria Helena Semedo, said.

The CPM is the governing body of the International Plant Protection Convention (IPPC) and brings together senior plant health specialists from 181 member countries. The main task of CPM is to review and establish international standards on phytosanitary measures that govern how plants and plant products should be handled during movement and transportation. The intention is to minimise the risk of plant pests from spreading across borders in the context of global trade. The commission also lends a helping hand to developing countries to improve the effectiveness of their national plant protection organisations.

“Learning from past experiences, preventions are the first line of defence against plant pests and diseases and they have also proven the most cost-effective ways,” Semedo added.

How important is packaging?

According to IPPC coordinator Craig Fedchock, measures should be taken to ensure that materials used to transport plants and agricultural products do not provide a place for pests to grow.

“Once a pest becomes established, it is almost impossible to eradicate and is expensive to manage,” Fedchock said. “Had more been known about the risks associated with solid wood packaging material 35 years ago, millions of dollars could have been saved through a simple inexpensive heat treatment of wooden pallets before their use in international trade.”

The expert has cited two instances to support his theory. The Asian long-horned beetle is believed to have spread from Asia to the United States, Canada, Trinidad and European countries in untreated solid wood packaging material. The beetles or their larvae feed on leaves, twigs and barks.

Pinewood nematode (a disease spread by roundworms that causes pine trees to wilt) is thought to have originated from North America, possibly on untreated wood pallets, and introduced elsewhere through global food trade.

Fedchock said the Republic of Korea had spent a huge amount of money over a period of 30 years to control the disease. The country has spent some $400 million dollars and plans to spend an additional $45 million in 2015, he added. Besides this, around 3.5 million trees have been cut down to prevent the disease from spreading.

ePhyto—pest control certificates for the digital age

The CPM meeting will also deal with the topic of electronic phytosanitary certification or ePhyto. The participants will discuss and possibly approve the establishment of an ePhyto online hub. This could facilitate the exchange of millions of ePhytos per year, resulting in increased efficiencies in port operations and a reduction in costs. The meeting will also include sessions on topics like new pest diagnostic technologies.

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