Within a few short months, a virus that began in one place in the world quickly spread, overwhelming hospitals and wreaking havoc on economies and social structures worldwide. We now know just how interconnected we are and how quickly our lives can be turned upside down by pathogens that have no respect for human borders.
In the context of a global pandemic, plant health may seem far down the list of priorities, but it shouldn’t be. Lost in all the chaos of 2020 is the fact that it’s the UN International Year of Plant Health, and we would be wise to shed some light on this milestone — and act now to prevent a potential “plant pandemic” that could severely affect our global food supply.
Why Plant Health Matters More Than Ever
Already, the Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) of the UN estimates that pests result in the loss of up to 40% of global food crops each year, and the associated costs are astronomical. The FAO estimates that plant diseases cost the global economy around $220 billion annually.
I believe a pandemic that affects plants the way Covid-19 has felled humans is a real and looming threat and could wipe out huge swaths of agricultural land and food systems. Indeed, history is rife with examples of where they already have, from the Irish potato famine of nearly 200 years ago to wheat rust epidemics that threaten the world’s wheat supply today.