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Protecting plants, protecting people: CGIAR germplasm health units launch phytosanitary seminar series as part of International Year of Plant Health

The Germplasm Health Units (GHUs) of various CGIAR centers have come together to organize a global seminar series for the GHU’s International Phytosanitary Awareness Week event, part of the United Nations’ year-long celebration of the International Year of Plant Health (IYPH 2020).

Held from 9 to 13 November 2020, the 5-day online webinar series, with the theme of “Phytosanitary Safety for Transboundary pest prevention,” brought together phytosanitary professionals and experts from Asia, Africa, Latin America, and Europe to discuss various issues, such as the role of CGIAR GHUs in ensuring germplasm phytosanitary safety; provide updates on knowledge and technological advances in phytosanitation and diagnostics; inspire stronger compliance to phytosanitary controls in seed production and international seed distribution activities; and how to work together with national and global phytosanitary communities to prevent the spread of transboundary pests.

CGIAR centers involved in the webinar series include AfricaRice, Biodiversity-CIAT, CIMMYT, CIP, ICARDA, ICRISAT, IITA, ILRI, IRRI, and World Agroforestry. Partners and contributors include the CGIAR Genebank Platform, Crop Trust, FAO, IPPC, and various National Plant Protection Organizations (NPPOs).

Plants and seeds can harbor various pests (pathogens, insects, nematodes, and other harmful biotic agents) that can spread into new territories. The FAO estimates that up to 40% of food crops are lost to plant pests and diseases annually. CGIAR set up Germplasm Health Units to avert the spread of pests and safeguard biodiversity for the safe and efficient transfer of germplasm in CGIAR’s international programs and delivery of public goods. In 2018 and 2019, CGIAR GHUs facilitated 3,900 events of international germplasm transfers from genebanks and breeding programs, reaching  over 100 countries per year. GHUs have employed 2.47 million diagnostic reactions at an average cost of US$10 per sample, an investment of about US$12 million annually on the generation of clean germplasm and preventive diagnostic testing to control the transboundary spread of pests.

For the Asia session of the series, the GHUs emphasized the importance of close collaboration and support from NPPOs. Challenges identified include the surge of requested samples during peak periods; the depletion of experienced plant protection personnel; the time gap between consignment release and planting; and how some minor pests and diseases are increasing its impact due to climate change. 

Key recommendations generated during the seminars include using procedures of seed-borne pest management as a full package for the cornerstone of safe exchange of germplasm; raising awareness at the national level for adopting quarantine measures against invasive pests and diseases; close networking between GHUs and national partners to identify new and emerging pests and diseases; the development of effective detection methods for rapid and accurate detection of seed-borne pests; and how globally-renowned organizations should take the lead in providing training in this specialized field. 

“The global seminar series was very successful, it brought together the world’s top plant protection experts to talk about best phytosanitary practices and technologies, and identify the strategies and partnerships appropriate for mitigating current and future bio-risks,” said Dr. Gururaj Guddappa Kulkarni, IRRI Bio-Innovation Center Director, Global Head of Research and Regulatory Compliance and a presenter at the seminar. “As part of the 2020 International Year of Plant Health, this important event highlights how CGIAR’s Germplasm Health Units are key actors in protecting plant health, which can contribute to ending hunger, reducing poverty, protecting the environment, and boosting economic development.”