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FAO Regional Office for Africa

ASTF project tackles food security, trade constraints in Southern Africa

Need for continued vigilance on emerging plant pest and animal diseases

Participants at the in group discussions at the meeting. © FAO/ Edward Ogolla

13 October 2017, Victoria Falls - Plant pests and animal diseases continuously threaten Southern Africa’s potential to achieve food and nutrition security. This year has seen the introduction of cereal crop-eating caterpillars (fall armyworm) that infested maize fields, and the Highly Pathogenic Avian Influenza that is devastating the poultry industry in the region. In addition, these pests  and diseases, have long undermined regional and international trade of food and agro-products, further stifling a sector on  which more than 70 percent of the rural populations depend.

Through an Africa Solidarity Trust Fund project, the region has over the past three years, rolled out effective prevention and control mechanisms to improve monitoring and response to pests and diseases, as well as episodes of contamination of food and the environment.

While applauding the partners for the notable project achievements, Zimbabwe Permanent Secretary in the Ministry of Agriculture, Mechanisation and Irrigation Development, Ringson Chitsiko, underlined the need to design future projects based on lessons learned in the course of this project. He warned of the emergence of new threats calling on countries to be always vigilant and prepared.

“Last season we faced increased transboundary crop pests and livestock disease outbreaks, posing a serious threat to agricultural livelihoods thereby weakening the El Niño drought recovery efforts instituted by governments and smallholder farmers in the region,” he said.

Project came at opportune moment, challenges lie ahead

FAO Subregional Coordinator for Southern Africa, Chimimba David Phiri, said the implementing partners rose to the occasion, working hard to perform duties as expected. “This project came in at an opportune time in the region to address the issue of transboundary animal diseases and plant pests with a focus on the improved implementation of Sanitary and Phytosanitary (SPS) measures to improve food security and enhance trade in the region,” added Phiri.

Through various fora, the project provided countries an opportunity to interact with each other, sharing experiences and challenges as well as learning from the good practices accumulated over the years by different countries.

The major challenges emerging include inadequate stakeholders'  knowledge of SPS measures that have a direct impact on countries ability to access lucrative markets. Participants also cited the insufficient updated agricultural market information and weak policies as major challenges requiring urgent action. They called for strengthened collaboration and harmonization with the Regional Economic Communities and additional SPS capacity development and increased policy dialogue with all the relevant stakeholders.

Impact clearly visible

“The project has given the expected attention to these problems and has improved capacity at both regional and country level for institutions and governments to respond. A good example is that Southern Africa responded to the fall armyworm invasion effectively, a model that is now feeding into the all Africa response framework,” added Phiri.

The project was instrumental in developing capacities of governments especially in the area of surveillance. This facilitated timely sharing of information on transboundary animal diseases and plant pests, which resulted in more coordinated and efficient regional responses to emerging outbreaks.

In the forestry sector, the alien invasive pests have been destroying sources of timber and firewood for communities and farmers. Thanks to this project, Seletricodes neseri - a biological control agent and natural enemy of the pest - has been introduced and is already getting established and showing promising results in effective control of the pest.

The emergence and spread of aquatic animal freshwater diseases is an issue of major concern in Southern Africa. The project developed the capacity of stakeholders and other stakeholders in the areas of diagnosis, pathology, surveillance design and implementation of a significant aquatic animal disease called epizootic ulcerative syndrome (EUS).

The project piloted a self-assessment tool designed by FAO that guarantees food safety and quality from the farm to fork. The tool identified the gaps in Zimbabwe’s competent authorities and this will now be rolled out in other countries.

Seven countries in southern Africa benefitted directly from the three-year project. These include Angola, Botswana, Madagascar, Mozambique, Namibia, Zambia and Zimbabwe. But other countries in the subregion also benefitted from their participation in regional workshops organized under the auspices of the project. The project also worked in close collaboration with the Southern Africa Development Community (SADC) and the Common Market for Eastern and Southern Africa (COMESA).

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