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Speech by Jaana Husu-Kallio at the launch event for the IYPH 2020

Ministry of Agriculture and Forestry
Publication date 2.12.2019 20.30
Jaana Husu-Kallio

Your Excellencies, Honourable Delegates, Ladies and Gentlemen.

It is an honour and a privilege to address you at this launch ceremony for the International Year of Plant Health. However, besides feeling privileged to be here, I feel mostly joy and pride. Joy, because finally, the International Year of Plant Health is being launched and this important subject is receiving the recognition it deserves, and pride, because five years of hard work in the Ministry of Agriculture and Forestry and the Foreign Ministry of Finland are finally being rewarded.

Ladies and Gentlemen, let me explain why, out of all the countries, it was Finland that proposed this International Year of Plant Health and why we committed so many resources to get it approved. First, for us and many other countries of the world, the term Plant Health is not to be understood literally as a holistic approach to the health of plants. Instead, it has more to do with the regulatory and normative aspect of preventing or containing the spread of pests, which is covered under plant health policies. With this understanding, Finland and the Commission on Phytosanitary Measures of the IPPC decided to pursue the adoption of an International Year of Plant Health, and this understanding stood at the basis of our negotiations at the United Nations last year.

Finland is a country of the north. Our agricultural production is limited by climatic conditions, but climate change and the dramatic increase in international trade have amplified the risks that invasive plant pests and diseases may be introduced into our agriculture, our forests and the environment, and may become established there permanently. Even now, we are already seeing an increase in the introduction of pests into Finland. We are already seeing forest pests extend their range due to increasing temperatures. It doesn’t help very much that Finland is a highly developed country and that our production systems and phytosanitary infrastructure are of high quality. No country on its own can limit the spread of pests and diseases. Pests and diseases do not carry passports, nor do they observe immigration requirements. Preventing the spread of such organisms is very much an international undertaking that requires the collaboration of all countries: both high- and low-income nations, as well as countries from all regions of this world. In order to strengthen the national, regional and international resolve to combat such pests and diseases, Finland proposed celebrating the year 2020 as the International Year of Plant Health.

For Finland, prevention must be at the centre of plant health considerations in the future. Our farmers all know very well how to deal with indigenous pests and diseases. The main problem are the exotic ones – the ones that have not yet arrived and that may have potentially devastating impacts when introduced into new ecosystems. It is precisely those pests and diseases whose spread we must work to prevent. Pests or diseases that do not make it into the country, or are detected on arrival, do not need to be controlled. We do not need to spray pesticides for pests that are not there. Our farmers or forest owners do not need to spend time and money on control activities if such pests never become established. By preventing the introduction of such pests, we not only protect our agriculture and forestry, but also our valuable biodiversity.

Take, for example, the fall armyworm. This pest, which is indigenous to the Americas, was recently introduced into Africa and then Asia. It leads to billions of US dollars in damages in Africa alone. It threatens agricultural productivity and has required the international community and the FAO to spend huge amounts of money to help African and Asian countries deal with the problem. All of this hardship could have been prevented. Prevented by better plant health infrastructure, better plant health legislation and better international cooperation and information policies. Instead of spending hundreds of millions of dollars on combating introduced pests, we should be spending a fraction of these resources on establishing proper systems to prevent their introduction in the first place. That is the essence of the International Year of Plant Health, and that is our goal!

Ladies and Gentlemen, this event marks the start of the International Year of Plant Health! The coming year will require our fullest attention. We all will be very busy promoting plant health on the international, regional and national level. Finland is continuing to assist the FAO and the IPPC in the implementation of the International Year. Perhaps our most visible contribution to the implementation of the International Year is the organisation of the IYPH flagship event – The First International Plant Health Conference – Protecting Plant Health in a Changing World. This ambitious conference will take place on 5–8 [KA(1] October 2020 in Helsinki. We invite the international plant health community to come to Helsinki and discuss important trends and challenges connected to plant health, such as climate change and new technological developments. On this note, I would like to take the opportunity to thank the Commission of the European Union and the Government of the United Kingdom for their financial contributions to this conference.

Ladies and Gentlemen, let me conclude my address by stressing that it is imperative to raise national, regional and global awareness about plant health and its beneficial effects on food security, poverty reduction and environmental protection. With a better awareness of the importance and benefits of plant health, we should be able to strengthen national, regional and international plant health initiatives to the benefit of all of humanity. The International Year of Plant Health serves as a trigger for making national, regional and international plant health systems stronger and more responsive, so they can take on the plant health challenges of the future. It will also create a stimulus for better and more environmentally sound agricultural production. Humanity’s formidable challenge of increasing food production by 60 per cent to meet the projected demand of the world’s population by 2050 will be possible only through better and more effective plant health[KA(2] .

Ladies and Gentlemen, I thank you for your attention.

Animals and plants Food and agriculture