The International Year of Plant Health in Australia was launched at Parliament House in Canberra on 6 February.

For the first time in history, the United Nations General Assembly has focused international attention on plant health by declaring 2020 the International Year of Plant Health (IYPH).

The Director General of the UN’s Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO), Qu Dongyu, speaking at the Australian launch via pre-recorded video message, acknowledged the impact of the bushfires on communities and Australia’s unique biodiversity.

“2020 is a unique opportunity to increase global awareness of the important role of plant health for life on earth and to promote activities in favour of preserving and sustaining global plant genetic resources,” he said.

“Around the world plant pests and diseases leave millions of people without food and negatively affect agriculture, the primary source of income for rural poor communities. Protecting plants from pests and keeping them healthy, starts with prevention.”

Executive Director and CEO of Plant Health Australia, the national coordinator for the government-industry partnership for plant biosecurity, Greg Fraser said the year presents us with a unique opportunity for innovative collaboration in plant health.

“Peak industry bodies, research and development corporations, botanic gardens, governments and the community will partner together and with the international plant health community to find new ways of combating emerging plant pest threats,” he said.

Australian plant industry research and development corporations are collaborating on addressing high priority plant health risks through the Plant Biosecurity Research Initiative (of which Vinehealth Australia Board member Dr Jo Luck, is the Program Director).

“Our top plant pest threat, Xylella fastidiosa, is having catastrophic impacts overseas and threatens 350 commercial, ornamental and native plant species in Australia, so a coordinator is being jointly funded by Wine Australia and Hort Innovation to ensure Australia is prepared for it,” said Mr Fraser.

The Australian Chief Plant Protection Officer, Department of Agriculture, Water and the Environment, Dr Gabrielle Vivian-Smith, said that to date Australia’s isolation and strong biosecurity measures have helped protect our crops and the environment from many of the world’s most destructive plant pests, but the threat is growing.

“Global traffic is rapidly increasing, so in the next five years the number of shipping containers arriving into Australia is predicted to rise by 75 percent. Each shipping container has the potential to carry minute, unwanted plant pathogens or pests such as the brown marmorated stink bug,” she said.

“The challenge to keep Australia free from exotic pests and diseases is growing increasingly difficult and requires new, evolving, creative solutions and global efforts to manage the ever-changing biosecurity risks.”

A website has been created for the International Year of Plant Health in Australia to encourage all Australians to get involved in the year. To find about how you can help, events, stories and news about the year, visit planthealthyear.org.au.

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