Why it’s essential to pay attention to plant health
The United Nations General Assembly has declared 2020 as the International Year of Plant Health (IYPH). The objective of IYPH is to raise global awareness on how protecting plant health can help end hunger, reduce poverty, protect the environment, and boost economic development. IITA joins the rest of the world in commemorating IYPH. Over the last 50 years, IITA and its partners have contributed tremendously to improving plant health.
The FAO estimates that up to 40 percent of food crops are lost to plant pests and diseases annually. This leaves millions of people without enough food to eat and damages agriculture—the primary source of income for rural communities. Also, expanding international trade and travel increases the risk that plant pests and diseases will spread into new areas.
“Plants are important and deserve special attention because they provide the oxygen we breathe,” says David Chikoye, Director of plant health at IITA. He further states that pests and diseases lead to annual losses of over US$200 billion.
IYPH will focus on preventing plant pests and diseases from spreading, just as with human health, preventing disease is far more cost-effective than managing a full-blown health emergency.
To raise awareness, IITA will share information on how our research over the last 50 years has contributed to protecting plant health.
IITA’s first-ever award was in plant health research. In 1970 there was an outbreak of maize streak virus (MSV) disease, which could have entirely wiped out the crop. Faced with this crisis, IITA’s research focus, which had been increased productivity, was diversified to include plant health. IITA and partners worked tirelessly to combat MSV and, by 1985, high yielding MSV cultivars and hybrids with different maturity classes, grain colors, and textures for different zones in Africa were released. To breed these MSV resistant varieties, IITA, CYMMYT, and 36 national partners got germplasm from Thailand and Central and South America. Because of this concerted effort to overcome MSV, IITA received the CGIAR King Baudouin Award in 1986. This award, coupled with never-ending plant diseases, invigorated the Institute’s commitment to plant health.