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Last update : January 2018
 
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Guest Editorial

Reflections about Plant Health  

 

Ensure plant health, is to ensure a quality and abundant agricultural production both in terms of its impact on the environment and on human and pets health. Defense of the crops or crop protection is intended to reduce direct or indirect loss of harvest caused by the activity of pests and various abiotic factors. These losses may occur during the period of culture, before the harvest, or after it, in phases of transport, storage and processing of agricultural products. This practice is vital to human because, according to the adage, “the farmer receives only that the parasites want to let him”. So it is estimated that about 50% of world agricultural production is lost before or after the harvest. It is all the more necessary that the crops are more often varieties selected to improve their performance and the quality of their products. These changes of their heritage genetics make them most vulnerable to the attacks of their environment, whether it's the assaults of parasites (virus, bacteria, nematodes and fungi) or phytophagous (insects, birds, rodents) competition of weed or climate accident.

Defense of cultures occur especially in agriculture, but also in horticulture and in silviculture. It translates various strategies of struggle, farming practices and local and regional laws. It allows the management of the pests whose goal is the limitation of damage or symptoms of crop losses. Indeed, in some cases, the observed damages cause loss of harvest. Similarly an increase of crop losses does not induce systematically a decrease in the yield of the crop, especially if the savings related to the reduction in the fight against the pest or the disease are more important than economic losses. In some very limited cases, the action may even increase the value of the crop (case of Tulip, coal of maize or noble rot caused by Botrytis .)

Management of pests appealed to several types of techniques. These control techniques have a prophylactic purpose. They include the cultural control, which seeks to change the culture system, and genetic control which consists in the choice of varieties resistant or tolerant to pests. Control techniques have a curative purpose and aim to limit the damage when the pathogens are present in the plot. There are chemical control, by the use of pesticides, biological control, by the use of living organisms, naturally present or introduced in the agro-ecosystem, physical control, which includes all the mechanical techniques (such as weeding mechanics), pneumatic, thermal (such as thermal weeding and solarization), electromagnetic (like the electric fence) and IPM initialized 50 years ago for limiting the use of pesticides in order to minimize their environmental impact and the cost of the fight while maximizing the economic results of the farmer.

These different techniques have identified the plant protection policy, also called phytosanitary policy. Its purpose is to protect our native species against the risks of pests such as insects, viruses, bacteria, fungi and nematodes present naturally in our regions and likely to cause some economic damage. These organisms called “quarantine organisms” must be eradicated as quickly as possible.

The plant health is one of the cornerstones of a sustainable production. Pests and diseases can seriously disrupt our economic growth and our competitiveness, for example due to the limitation of the free movement of plants and plant products. In addition, the plant health is crucial for the security and food safety. Finally, our natural environment, i.e. public and private green spaces, deserves to be protected.

Still more new harmful organisms appear in our country, mainly due to the increase in international transport from new commercial zones. Climate change has the effect that these organisms can now survive in areas where it was once impossible. It is therefore obvious that the plant requires a long-term strategy, focused on one international policy.

Going on holidays abroad? We can only wish you a pleasant stay, but we ask you to not bring home fruits, vegetables, flowers, plants or seeds. The risk exists that you will introduce in our country a disease or a pest that is likely to cause significant damage to our native cultures and our flora. The cases are indeed that many introductions of harmful organisms until there non-existent in our country such as the white fly flaky or the miner of citrus, or also the yellow night shade, an alien plant that infests more and more every year our agricultural land. Fire blight, caused by the bacterium Erwinia amylovora was introduced intentionally or not by foreigners then in charge of the quarantine service of the Ministry of Agriculture in the international cooperation context.

Plants can be victims of diseases due to viruses, bacteria or fungi, but can also be attacked by insects, mites or nematodes. In recent years, diseases of plants and their pests become more frequent in places where we do not met them previously. This is due in large part to the expansion of international trade and long-distance travel we do.

If you bring a plant disease in our country, the consequences can be serious for our agriculture, our biodiversity, our environment and our economy. Once a pest or a disease breaks out, it is often very difficult, if not impossible to eradicate it. So prevention is the best way to avoid this major inconvenient.

How diseases and pests of plants are they introduced with us? Very simply: on plants, seeds, flowers, fruits and vegetables, and even in the soil which remains attached to the roots. An apparently healthy apple, for example, may contain some fruit flies or other pests capable of destroying all of our fruit crops. It is precisely because the diseases and plant pests are often invisible that it will be good to be extremely careful.

To avoid the introduction of plant diseases in our country, national and international rules are applied to the import of plants, seeds, flowers, fruits and vegetables. Our research stuff and our border control services however remain the best guarantees of our territorial integrity and the protection of our agricultural heritage.

 

Em. Prof. Mohamed Habib Ben Hamouda
INAT, University of Carthage, Tunis
Tunisia

 

 

 

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