SAN JOSE, California — A key step toward improving the welfare of sub-Saharan Africa, the Australian International Food Security Research Centre has launched a new initiative to fight threats to plant biosecurity. Called the Plant Biosecurity Capacity Development Initiative, it will allocate $800,000 to 10 countries to improve their ability to mitigate biosecurity threats.
Covering the realms of animal diseases, food safety hazards and plant pests, biosecurity deals with prevention or control of biological threats to plants, animals and humans.
Harmful biological threats like pests and diseases are detrimental to trading ability as goods are negatively affected, making the damage go beyond biological to economic. Produce that has been harmed in quality and safety cannot be sold or are sold for much lower prices, constituting economic loss of productivity and trade and cutting short the income of farmers, keeping them in poverty.
“It’s definitely getting worse. Pests are moving a lot more now, and the preparedness of countries is weak,” said Dennis Rangi, executive director of international development at the Centre for Agriculture and Biosciences International. “We have to think about how best to address this issue in a faster way. African countries really want to trade with each other but these pests are becoming a barrier to that trade.”
The new Australia-Africa Plant Biosecurity Partnership promotes the collaboration between the private sector and government, an important factor in attaining satisfactory biosecurity goals. The initiative will develop and oversee several measures to boost the capacity for plant biosecurity control in many African countries, including activities like temporarily placing African biosecurity managers and researchers in Australian plant biosecurity institutions, a mentoring system, and specialist plant biosecurity workshops, all to enhance African biosecurity agencies’ abilities to effectively control pests and diseases.
“Agricultural performance is therefore key to growth and poverty reduction in Africa but pests and diseases are the single biggest threat to the quality and safety of produce,” said the chief executive of the Plant Biosecurity Cooperative Research Centre, Michael Robinson. “Poor or fragmented capacity to control pests and diseases reduces productivity – through losses in production or storage – and is a significant obstacle to regional and international trade of African plant products.”
The Australian government’s hope is that the biosecurity initiative will augment trade and economic growth by building Australian capacity for continued agricultural innovation both at home and abroad, improving agricultural sustainability and productivity, and reinforcing agricultural value chains.
Targeting sub-Saharan African countries, the two-year initiative will focus on Kenya, Burundi, Ethiopia, Malawi, Mozambique, Uganda, Rwanda, Tanzania, Zambia and Zimbabwe. A preliminary workshop to pinpoint key areas of biosecurity necessary in the area will be held in October in Nairobi.
“Biosecurity is a global challenge. If our expertise can help developing nations with crop protection and export opportunities, then Australia will benefit from a stronger global biosecurity system,” said Robinson.
– Annie Jung