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UN sharpens focus on plant health, food safety and pulses

UN sharpens focus on plant health, food safety and pulses, Photo: Shutterstock

The United Nations General Assembly has approved three new resolutions creating three awareness-raising initiatives, focused on plant health, food safety and pulses

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The United Nations General Assembly has approved three new resolutions creating three awareness-raising initiatives, focused on plant health, food safety and pulses Thursday. According to the resolution, 2020 will be marked as the International Year of Plant Health.

With up to 40 percent of global food crops lost annually due to plant pests, the importance of fostering healthy plants is critical for public opinion and policy makers. In economic terms alone, plant diseases cost the global economy around U$220 billion annually and invasive insects around U$70 billion.

The Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations (FAO) has applauded the decision to create two new international days and one entire year devoted to central issues in global food security and nutrition.

FAO and the International Plant Protection Convention (IPCC) Secretariat, based at FAO, welcomed the decision to proclaim 2020 as the International Year of Plant Health.

"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," FAO Deputy Director-General Maria Helena Semedo said.

Meanwhile, from now on, 10 February will mark World Pulses Day, keeping alive the positive momentum surrounding these healthy, nutritious, protein-rich, nitrogen-fixing legumes after FAO's successful 2016 International Year of Pulses campaign. Growing pulses contributes to sustainable crop production.

Furthermore, 7 June will be World Food Safety Day, paying tribute to an increasingly important issue in today's highly-interconnected food systems. FAO notes with satisfaction that the UN resolution expressly recognised that "there is no food security without food safety".

Plant Health
The UN General Assembly invited FAO, with the IPPC Secretariat, to serve as the lead agency to spearhead activities related to 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 the course of 2020.

Finland first proposed the year to the governing body of the International Plant Protection Convention in 2015. In July 2017, the FAO Conference adopted a resolution in support of the proposal. 

"Pests and diseases don't carry passports or observe immigration requirements and, therefore, the prevention of the spread of such organisms is very much an international undertaking that requires the collaboration of all countries. This is why Finland proposed to proclaim 2020 the International Year of Plant Health," Jari Leppä, Minister of Agriculture and Forestry of Finland said.

"Despite the increasing impact of plant pests and diseases, resources are scarce to address the problem," said Semedo. "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," she added.

Food Safety
Unsafe food causes more than 200 diseases worldwide, including some forms of cancer, highlighting how food security and the battle to eradicate hunger stretches well beyond production and distribution issues.

Food-borne 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.

The UN resolution urges FAO and the World Health Organization to facilitate the observance of World Food Safety Day - which was first promoted by Costa Rica - and to help meet the urgent need to raise awareness of the global importance to improve food safety.

The resolution also acknowledges the key roles played in the food safety arena by the Codex Alimentarius Commission - jointly run by FAO and the WHO - and by the World Trade Organization's Agreement on the Application of Sanitary and Phytosanitary Measures.

FAO works closely with member states to enhance capacity to comply with international requirements and contribute to shaping the rules governing food safety.FAO will co-organise two major international conferences on food safety in 2019, one in Ethiopia in February, and one in Switzerland in April.

Pulses
The special annual day for pulses, which was promoted by Burkina Faso, builds on the successful International Year of Pulses that FAO led in 2016.

Pulse crops such as lentils, beans, peas and chickpeas have multiple virtues, being strong sources of plant-based proteins and amino acids for human diets and offering invaluable ecosystem services, thanks to their ability - when grown as cover crops or explicitly for food - to fix atmospheric nitrogen in soils. On average, cereals grown after pulses yield 1.5 tonnes more per hectare than those not preceded by pulses, which is equal to the effect of 100 kilograms of nitrogen fertiliser.

The General Assembly also emphasised that pulse crops can play a powerful role in improving gender equity, noting they are frequently cultivated by women and also noting their high iron content that contributes significantly to the health of women of reproductive age. Pulses are also important sources of B-vitamins, magnesium, potassium, phosphorous and zinc, and offer a higher-fiber, lower-calorie dietary option than cereals.

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