IPPC at Work

IPPC at work: Over 60 Years Preventing the Spread and Establishment of Plant Pests

2012 marked the 60th anniversary of the IPPC, an international treaty developed in 1952, with the intent of preventing the spread and establishment of diseases and pests across international boundaries from trade pathways. International trade has increased dramatically since the 1950’s, and presently over $1.1 trillion ($US) worth of agricultural products are exchanged internationally. 82% of this agricultural trade is in food items, which can be a very significant pathway for the introduction of new pests and pathogens. Fruit flies can hide in the skin of various fruit species. Beetles can borrow not only into food products, but even wooden shipping pallets used for carrying consignments. Fungal spores can remain viable for long periods of time on both agriculture products, as well as, shipping containers, and be a source of inoculum for spreading a pathogen/disease. There have been numerous examples of introducing pests and pathogens into new territories with devastating effects. For instance, when a large grain borer (LGB) was introduced from Central America into East Africa in the 1970’s, it had significant impact on agricultural production. Prostephanus tuncatus (LGB) is native to Central America, tropical South America, and limited southern areas of the United States. It was introduced into Tanzania, but then spread quickly into other parts of Eastern and Southern Africa (Kenya, Uganda, Burundi, Malawi, Zambia, Mozambique, Namibia, and South Africa). It is a very serious pest of stored maize and dried cassava, destroying up to 80% of stored grains and causing localized food shortages. LGB adults and larvae will also infest and feed on corn kernels while still on the cob in the field. Through the transportation of infested grain LGB has spread to West Africa as well, and is established in Benin, Nigeria, Ghana, Niger, and Burkina Faso.

Grain borer. Original image, and additional available images available at  


The trade in agriculture products have expanded significantly due to globalization, and will likely continue to do so in future. Preventing the spread and establishment of pests and diseases is imperative to ensure global food security and agricultural sustainability. The IPPC Secretariat estimates that the unmitigated spread and establishment of plant pests and diseases could reduce global crop yields by 20 to 40% per year. The impact of pests and diseases is most problematic for small-scale farmers in developing and under developed nations, where crop loss can mean the difference between survival and starvation. The FAO predicts that world food production will need increase by 60% by the time we reach 2050 to meet increases in global population. As a result, the task of preventing the proliferation of plant pest and disease expansion from increased trade will become more important and complex than ever before. Prevention measures are a far more cost-effective and efficient than attempting to eradicate or manage a pest or disease outbreak after it occurs.

One of the IPPC’s key activities is to create and promote the implementation of internationally agreed upon, science based standards in the regulation of plants and plant products as they move across international boundaries. The IPPC also plays a critical role in promoting cooperation and harmonization, as well as information sharing between contracting members.  Increasingly, we live in a globalized world whose trade of agricultural products is interconnected. This significantly increases the potential for spread of pest and diseases internationally. The IPPC, and the NPPO/RPPO’s of the various contracting parties, play a critical role in mitigating the risks plant pests and diseases pose to food productivity, agricultural sustainability, and the protection of natural habitats and biodiversity.