Korean woman botanist to head a UN agency

April 14, 2014

Yim Kyu-ok becomes the first Asian chair of the IPPC

By Lee Hyo-sik

Yim Kyu-ok, a researcher at the state-run Animal and Plant Quarantine Agency, has been elected to lead a UN agency overseeing guidelines on the control of disease and pest insects affecting plants.

Yim Kyu-ok

Yim Kyu-ok

She was elected as the first Asian chair of the International Plant Protection Convention (IPPC), affiliated with the United Nations’ Food and Agriculture Organization, at its annual meeting on April 4. The IPPC, headquartered in Rome, was established in 1951 and currently has 181 member countries. Korea joined the body in 1952.

Yim’s two-year term will last through April 2016 and she is expected to chair the IPPC annual meeting in 2015 and 2016. Yim had served as one of the seven vice chairs from 2010 to 2012, representing the Asia-Pacific region.

“It is such an honor to lead the IPPC for the next two years. I am really grateful for the support from all member countries,” Yim said in an interview with The Korea Times. “In particular, I would like to extend my gratitude to government officials who spared no efforts to help me win the post.”

The Animal and Plant Quarantine Agency has been inviting plant quarantine researchers from developing countries in Asia for training since 2006, and hosting a number of workshops and other events to boost cooperation with its Asian counterparts, she said.

“Every year, we invite and train about 20 quarantine inspectors from 10 Asian countries. We share our knowhow on plant quarantine methods and systems with them,” Yim said.

“We also organize workshops for quarantine officials in Asia. We pay for all of their travel expenses so that they can easily attend the events.”

The researcher said Korea’s active support of Asian nations in the area of plant quarantine helped her win the IPPC chairmanship.

“Strong support from member countries in the Asia Pacific region made it possible for me to be elected unanimously as the 8th IPPC chair.”

She said the IPPC has completed drawing up quarantine guidelines and setting up the quarantine system.

“What we should do now is ensure that all the guidelines be implemented by member countries. To do so, the IPPC must help developing nations strengthen their quarantine capabilities.”

When asked about the level of Korea’s plant quarantine knowhow and research capability, Yim said the country’s quarantine system and research on disease and pest insects affecting plants are one of the world’s best.

“But we need to nurture more talented inspectors and researchers to become the world’s best. The government needs to fund more research and create a better working environment for researchers.”

She earned a master’s degree from the College of Agriculture at Seoul National University in 1987 and a Ph.D. from the University of California, Davis in 1994. Yim began working at the Animal and Plant Quarantine Agency in 1999.

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