5 August 2014 – For farmers across Africa and around the world, tackling crop pest problems in a safe and sustainable way is a major challenge. Currently between 30-40% of crops on average are lost to pests, and while the technology and knowledge exist to reduce losses, vital plant health information remains out of reach for many farmers. It is up to each country to find solutions through research, regulation, education and extension to improve access to knowledge and reporting for sustainable plant health management. This week, four African countries united in Accra to outline actions for coordinated pest management and pesticide risk reduction. The goal: building linkages to enable safe and sustainable food security at a national, regional and global level.
This workshop, convened by the International Plant Protection Convention (IPPC www.ippc.int) Secretariat, the Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO www.fao.org) and the CABI-led Plantwise programme (www.plantwise.org) was one in a series of recent efforts to better integrate plant health activities and resources in the region. The first workshop in February 2014 was held by IPPC and Plantwise in Nairobi, Kenya bringing together officials from Kenya, Rwanda, Tanzania and Uganda. Following its success, the Accra workshop targeted countries in Western and Southern Africa, namely Ghana, Malawi, Sierra Leone and Zambia. This time, the FAO’s Pesticide Management Group was also on hand to emphasize that countries should not only focus on growing more, but growing more with reduced risk. Other resource persons from Botswana, Cameroon, Côte d’Ivoire, Italy, Kenya, Switzerland and the United Kingdom attended the event to share experiences with participants.
For the IPPC, supporting National Plant Protection Organizations (NPPOs) in meeting pest reporting obligations is one of its primary goals. This international treaty applies to most nations involved with international trade in any commodity that could introduce a pest of plants into a new area which may threaten food security and the environment, including agriculture; in other words, it is applicable to all trans-boundary movement of plants and plant products. The 181 signatories agree to meet a number of reporting obligations, including the collection, verification and distribution of pest and pest-related information.
“Addressing national plant health issues and meeting national reporting obligations is not only about IPPC contracting parties working together or FAO members working together, but is actually for everyone in development to address. Everybody has a role to play. It’s a whole new way of working for many but it’s necessary for the future sustainability of the national plant health system now that there are fewer resources to work with,” says David Nowell, Information Exchange Officer of the IPPC Secretariat. “It is essential to find ways to increase collaboration and synergies between NPPOs, and research and extensions services for countries to meet their reporting obligations.’’
Crop protection officials face many challenges in sharing the status of pests present in their countries. “It’s unfortunate to report that most countries – including developed countries – don’t fulfil all their reporting obligations. This doesn’t reflect well on the countries concerned, but it also means that we are less able to achieve the goals of the convention – preventing the introduction and spread of pests. So I would urge the countries here to take their membership of the IPPC and indeed other international conventions seriously, and show that in Africa we can be fully responsible members of the international community,” urges Dr Lamourdia Thiombiano, Deputy Regional Representative FAO Regional Office for Africa.
Fortunately, building linkages across sectors for better pest reporting and pesticide management is an area where the CABI-led Plantwise programme can help. Plantwise is a programme, which fosters diverse partnerships across the plant health system to remove constraints to agricultural productivity. Working with partners in over 30 countries worldwide, including 12 African countries, the programme enables actors at all levels to better respond to pest threats. This includes providing diagnosis and advice based on Integrated Pest Management through a network of plant clinics, like those for human health, where farmers bring their crop problems. It is through Plantwise that countries can also tap into a global knowledge bank of information on pest diagnosis, management and distribution. With all the data from plant clinics collected into a secured area of the knowledge bank, Plantwise can inform policy makers on emerging pests and pesticide issues, helping put international frameworks into practice. Countries took advantage of the meeting to learn more about the various tools unique to Plantwise, which can contribute to safer, sustainable pest management back at home.
“The plant clinic system is more efficient and can save money – it provides targeted services to farmers, which is very economic. If we are able to share plant clinic information with other countries, like through these forums, we will be able to know which sort of pests and diseases are occurring,” says Mr David Kamangira, Senior Deputy Director of Agriculture Research Services, Malawi. “We believe this Plantwise programme is going to reduce the current gap of knowledge.”
Many presented case studies from their countries on their everyday experiences utilizing decision-making tools from Plantwise, as well as the IPPC International Standards for Phytosanitary Measures (ISPMs) and the FAO’s International Code of Conduct on Pesticide Management. They also outlined next steps for overcoming key challenges, like the lack of resources for emergency pest response and the absence of laboratories for pesticide residue analysis and quality control, which would only be tackled through better collaboration, resource sharing, and effective advocacy for farmers’ needs.
“The issue is not about every country having a laboratory for pesticide regulation; it’s about every country having access to quality analysis. This is where collaboration between government, universities and the private sector are so important. If countries have proper regulations in place and effective implementation, we are likely to reduce damage from pests. All farmers have an interest in protecting their plants and producing more; providing the appropriate advice will help them do this safely,” comments Mark Davis, Senior Officer of the Pesticide Management Group at FAO.
In the meantime, the workshop deliberations should be taken beyond the four countries that gathered in Ghana out to as many stakeholders as possible worldwide. “After Accra, Plantwise will continue organizing such workshops and bringing on board new partners and stakeholders. As a growing market with lots of challenges, Africa is of high priority for the Plantwise programme and its partners, but we also need to touch on other continents where Plantwise is being implemented,” says Dr Washington Otieno, Plantwise Regional Coordinator for Africa.
By sharing information through IPPC national reporting frameworks, countries can build transparency on national regulations, facilitate trade with regional and global partners and respond early to potential pest threats. Meanwhile, among many other activities, the FAO will continue to provide guidance for safer agricultural production, which supports trade but also domestic consumers and producers. The workshop was a vital first step to bringing these and other key actors together with Plantwise, but it will take continued action and support to find an integrated path to plant health for farmers in Africa and around the world.