Healthy plants have the power to help end hunger, cut poverty, protect the environment, and boost economic development, according to the UN Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO).
But even though plants make up 80 percent of the food people eat, and provide 98 percent of the oxygen they breathe, threats to their survival are piling up.
According to recent data, up to 40 percent of food crops are lost due to plant pests and diseases every year, and this affects both food security and agriculture, the main source of income for vulnerable rural communities.
Climate change and human activities are also altering ecosystems and damaging biodiversity while creating new niches for pests to thrive in.
Also, protecting plants from pests and diseases is far more cost-effective than dealing with plant health emergencies. This is because once established, plant pests and diseases are often difficult to eradicate, and need to be controlled through sustainable pest and pesticide management, FAO says.
On the first International Day of Plant Health Thursday, the UN agency called for more investment in innovation to boost food security, especially for the billions worldwide living close to the bread line.
It called on governments to prioritise plant health and its sustainable management in formulating policies and legislation, and on academia and research institutions to deliver science-based solutions.
"We need to continue raising the global profile of plant health to transform agri-food systems to be more efficient, more inclusive, more resilient and more sustainable," said FAO Director-General Qu Dongyu, adding that investments are needed in research to find more resilient and sustainable additions to the human diet.