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Raising the bar for plant health awareness in Canada and around the world

Raising the bar for plant health awareness in Canada and around the world

"Outside" has been my mantra for as long as I can remember. My name is Lisa Lafontaine and I was elated to join the Canadian Food Inspection Agency (CFIA) in 2018 as a Senior Communications Advisor to help spread the word about the importance of plant health. What a great opportunity to share stories about the work the Agency does to protect the plants in this incredible country of ours.

Alongside a team of plant health experts, I quickly saw the passion, dedication and thoughtfulness that each scientist, forester, international phytosanitary specialist and executive brought to the table. I felt excited, intimidated and somewhat bewildered. In a world full of emerging and competing issues, we knew if we wanted the plant health voice to be heard, it had to be loud.

Then came the United Nations' 2019 declaration of the International Year of Plant Health (IYPH), a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to promote the value of our plant resources and the need to safeguard them against invasive pests. It was the perfect chance to mobilize other government departments, not-for-profit organizations and international partners to deliver our messages as far and as wide as possible.

2020's surprise

When the calendar moved us into 2020, we had no idea what sort of opportunities and challenges to expect. While COVID-19 put a halt to the IYPH in-person events and activities around the world, our team locked arms and focused on our online activities. Meanwhile, people went outside for recreation and solace, discovering either a new or renewed sense of appreciation for Canada's outdoors.

Why we should all care

By the numbers, plants give us 98% of the oxygen we breathe and 80% of the food we eat. Greenspaces give us areas for physical activity and connection with others, improved moods and greater levels of serenity. It's safe to say that healthy crops, forests and environments are more important now to human health and wellness than ever before.

That's why it's worth shining the spotlight on the top 10 pieces of great work that we accomplished in support of the IYPH, Canada's plants and ultimately, all Canadians.

  1. A plant health crest launched in partnership with Scouts Canada, which young people across the country can earn by taking part in various activities.
  2. Plant hero activity booklets for kids to help them learn about the importance of plant health and how they can get involved – great for the cottage, camping and homeschooling.
  3. Special initiatives to encourage people to check their trees and gardens for signs of insects, diseases and other organisms that harm plants and share it on social media, namely Tree Check Month and Canada's plant health hero challenge.
  4. Feature articles in various publications, including Harrowsmith Magazine, Québec vert, Fresh Thinking, and Public Sector Digest.
  5. Success stories on the North American Plant Protection Organization (NAPPO) website highlighting how Canada, the United States and Mexico work together to protect plants across North America.
  6. The green illumination project that saw Canada, the United States and Mexico lighting up prominent public buildings and monuments for plant health and sparked a conversation on social media.
  7. Stories and videos about Parks Canada's role in forest and plant health and biodiversity.
  8. A blog by the Chief Plant Health Officer for Canada and Executive Director of Plant Health and Biosecurity at the CFIA, about the importance of the IYPH.
  9. A story about Natural Resources Canada and the CFIA's shared mission to help preserve plant health titled, Protecting Canada's forests from uninvited pests.
  10. Articles of interest from Agriculture and Agri-Food Canada's Pest Management Centre.

Looking forward

IYPH extended into 2021 because of the pandemic, and collaboration continues at all levels this year and beyond. Leading an initiative like the IYPH proved extraordinary for being creative, innovative and proactive with our plant health-related communications activities and helped create new ways of realizing our goals.

The overriding message remains the same: while the CFIA and its partners work hard to raise awareness about their work and the various plant health threats and issues that exist, everyone has a role to play in plant protection.

What will your plant health legacy be?

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