Over the last 60 years the UN has highlighted a range of issues for international attention, beginning with World Refugee Year in 1969/1960. Since then we have had International Years for issues such as Human Rights (1968), the welfare of Children (1979), Peace (1986) and the Eradication of Poverty (1996). For some of these issues, such as peace and poverty, we clearly have a lot more work to do. The purpose of the International Years, though, has been more about highlighting, promoting and developing awareness about these issues rather than actually achieving a solution – that is a never-ending work in progress.
As a keen gardener and nature lover I was intrigued to discover that 2020 is the International Year of Plant Health. Gardeners and farmers know that there are a lot of factors that can affect a plant’s health, from pests and diseases to soil health and weather conditions. It can be quite frustrating to discover fruit fly in your tomatoes or black spot on your roses, but globally, pests and diseases can have a far more serious impact on people’s health and well-being.
The UN sees the International Year of Plant Health as a
“once in a lifetime opportunity to raise global awareness on how protecting plant health can help end hunger, reduce poverty, protect the environment, and boost economic development.”
As such, the main focus will be on the strategies and practices that “control and prevent pests, weeds and disease causing organisms” from spreading into other areas, and on the role that human activity, such as international trade, has in the spread of pests and diseases in the first place.
Plant Health in Our Own Backyard
It might seem that there is little we can do about plant health and the spread of pests and diseases globally, but plant health is a local problem too. Our natural environment has already been severely impacted by the introduction of rabbits, foxes and cane toads, as well as numerous plant species that now grow wild. Add to that a severe drought and the current bushfires, it leaves an environment under great stress. The ground is bone dry. Trees are dying. Water sources have dried up.
Our recent move has provided an opportunity to establish a garden and care for the exisiting flora. Our new place, affectionately called The Last Stop, has plenty of open space and some native wildlife. We have a pair of resident blue wrens, who have been very curious about the new humans that have moved in. I have encountered a lizard enjoying the morning sun and a kangaroo taking advantage of a shady tree. And there is plenty of other birdlife too.
Sadly, the drought has had an impact. There is almost no grass and some of the trees have died. As water restrictions increase, gardeners are forced to make some tough decisions. What do we save? As some of our remaining trees are natives, their health is important for the local wildlife. It takes a long time to grow a mature tree, so keeping the remaining trees alive has become our top priority. We are fortunate in that we have the additional resources of rainwater tanks and a bore, but we still need to use them wisely and sustainably.
With some carefully targeted watering, new life is returning. The leaves on the trees and bushes look a bit brighter and some are starting to flower. And as a bonus, plants that we thought were dead have sprung to life. We’ve had to do a bit of tough pruning as well, to encourage new growth, but with a little patience and some TLC, our efforts are bearing fruit. And we’ve noticed a bit of extra bird activity!
Hopefully this drought will break soon and conditions will become more favourable for planting some new trees and shrubs, especially ones that will encourage birds and butterflies. We love taking food from the garden to the table, so a veggie patch and fruit trees is also high on the agenda. We might not be able to do much about the weather, but enriching the soil, nurturing our plants and taking care of pests and diseases in the most organic and sustainable way possible are just little steps we can take to improve plant health in our little corner of the world.
If you would like to know a bit more about the International Year of Plant Health, here are some links to get you started.