YPH2020: Why the agri-food industry should care about it? Raghavan Sampathkumar

    Full details

    Authors & editors

    Publisher Milling & Grain
    Year of publication 2020

    Medium Digital

    Nutrition & health

    Scope & contentThe UN announced 2020 as the International Year of Plant Health (IYPH). While it is easy to dismiss ‘Plant Health’ as a matter limited only to farming, it has huge direct and indirect implications across different aspects of the food chain.

    The importance of plant health is vast and affects all areas of the sector.
    I will disucss the perspectives of food and nutritional security, food safety, economic prosperity, need for holistic understanding of the ONE Health paradigm in the first part of this column. Subsequent parts will delve deeply into IYPH2020 and what the agri-food sector, particularly the plant science industry, must do to utilise this once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to promote the importance of plant health to all stakeholders, including consumers, through education and creating awareness.

    Agriculture is under enormous pressure to produce more food from a shrinking cultivatable area while struggling with water scarcity, land degradation, climate change and many other challenges. Increased homogeneity of diets in the last 50 years has made more than two-thirds of the global population become heavily dependent on a few crops (rice, wheat, maize and soybean) for their supply of calories. Consequently, shortfalls in production of these crops in any region can create seismic ripple effects globally and push millions deeper into hunger, malnutrition and poverty, particularly in Asia and Africa.

    Shortfalls or losses due to poor plant health, caused by infestation of pests and diseases, can lead to losses as high as 40-to-50 percent. In the pursuit of producing adequate quantities of safe and quality food, maintaining optimal plant health becomes the first and most important factor. It is not difficult to understand how plant health is fundamental to ensuring food safety and avoid passing of harmful pathogens further in the food chain from crops to animals to humans. For example, aflatoxins are produced by a certain kind of fungi that grow on corn. When the mouldy corn is fed to animals, the toxins greatly impact their health and can even lead to death. Besides impacting animal and human health, aflatoxins have the potential to impact trade and may cause huge monetary loss in terms of foreign exchange, lost in billions of dollars.

    A conservative estimate by Partnership for Aflatoxin Control in Africa (PACA) reveals that the continent loses US $670 million due to the rejection of aflatoxin-contaminated corn in certain import markets. Ultimately, farmers’ livelihoods are at stake. If not addressed holistically, all these issues have the potential to threaten peace and harmony and may even lead to social unrest and conflicts. Hence, it is clear that healthy plants are the foundation of healthy animals and finally, healthy humans.

    Why is plant health important in the context of food and nutritional security? As mentioned above, animal and human health is closely linked to plant health because what happens on the farm impacts the entire food value chain stakeholders. For example, if plant health is not maintained optimally, pests and diseases can eat into the harvest in a big way and cause losses to the farmers. This would affect their ability to afford high-quality and nutritious food and might lead to malnourishment and huge loss at the national level due to lost productivity. Read more...

    File attachments