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Phytosanitary capacity evaluation: the tool, its results and its relation to invasive alien species

Felipe Canale

Ministerio de Ganadería, Agricultura y Pesca, Melitón González, 1169 - p. 5, Montevideo, Uruguay; e-mail:


Phytosanitary Capacity Evaluation (PCE) is a diagnostic tool enabling a country to assess the weaknesses and strengths of its phytosanitary system in relation to its ability to fully implement the International Plant Protection Convention and other international phytosanitary obligations. The pooled results of the supervised application of the tool in over 35 countries are presented. PCE has also been applied as a cross-disciplinary tool among the sanitary, phytosanitary and food safety areas in the Andean subregion. Since "quarantine pests", as defined by the convention, constitute a subset of invasive alien species, PCE results are already useful in relation to invasive alien species. PCE methodology has the potential to be further developed to cover a country’s needs in implementing Article 8(h) of the Convention on Biological Diversity.


Article XX of the International Plant Protection Convention establishes the agreement by contracting parties to promote the provision of technical assistance to facilitate implementation of the IPPC. Phytosanitary Capacity Evaluation (PCE) is the first tool approved by the Interim Commission of Phytosanitary Measures to address that commitment, assisting contracting parties to perform a needs assessment and identification of their constraints for achieving full implementation of the IPPC at the national level.

PCE aims

PCE is intended primarily as a tool to assist countries in the modernization of their phytosanitary systems; in this context, the modernity of a national phytosanitary system is the capacity of a country to meet international phytosanitary obligations in an efficient and sustainable manner. Other potential uses of the tool are also envisaged; for instance, PCE could be used as a mutual recognition tool or as an instrument to measure IPPC implementation at the global level.

PCE rationale

The rationale for PCE is based on the following considerations:

Consequently, PCE has been developed as a set of modules addressing the main categories of phytosanitary activities covered by the ISPMs and the IPPC. At present those categories include: pest risk analysis, pest surveillance, pest diagnostic capabilities, pest free areas, pest eradication, inspection systems, pest reporting, export certification, legislation, institutional issues and country background. However, PCE is not a static tool and new modules will be added as required, when new ISPMs are adopted.

Each module comprises several sections: a questionnaire addressing the main functions and resources required by the activity covered in the module; a strengths and weaknesses identification section to be filled as a result of the responses given to the questionnaire; a section for the identification of the activities that must be performed in order to overcome the weaknesses identified in the previous section; and a logical frame matrix to consolidate the results of the previous sections. Thus, PCE goes beyond the needs assessment by including SWOT analysis (i.e. strengths, weaknesses, opportunities, threats) and some elements for strategic planning in each module.

PCE strategy

PCE is designed to enable a country to conduct a self-assessment of its phytosanitary system. When the capacity evaluation is performed with international cooperation, there is a shift in the role of international consultants from being experts to acting more as facilitators of the process. Instead, national counterparts now function in the role of experts, conducting an analysis of their own circumstances. Optimum results from performing the PCE have been obtained through provision of international assistance to facilitate the work of a national group of experts, and then the submission of their conclusions to a national team (composed of representatives of all the sectors and institutions related to the national phytosanitary system) for revision and validation within the context of a national plan.

As a technical assistance tool, PCE:

PCE outcomes

The pooled results of PCE conducted with international assistance during the period 2000 - 2003 in 36 developing countries distributed in Africa, Asia, Europe, Latin America (Andean subregion) and the Caribbean Community (CARICOM) countries, are presented in table 1. The main limiting factors (priorities 1 to 5) identified in the 36 countries for each module, have been grouped in three basic categories according to their characteristics:

L legislation and institutional issues
P management (including documented procedures) and training
E infrastructure and equipment.

The typical deficiencies included in each main category are listed below. Category L is subdivided into legislative and institutional issues.

Table 1: Pooled PCE results from 36 developing countries.

(L1) Legislation

Shortcomings include:

(L2) Institutional issues

Weaknesses include:

(P) Documented procedures, management and training

Deficiencies include:

(E) Infrastructure and equipment

Typical deficiencies are found to be:

PCE conclusions

From table 1 it is possible to visualize that the pooled PCE results from 36 countries demonstrate a common pattern where the legislative framework and institutional issues become the main limiting factor in most categories considered. The second limiting factor appears to be the weakness grouped under management, documented procedures and training. Third, the limitations are those deficiencies related to infrastructure and equipment. This indicates that it would not be profitable to make investments in infrastructure and equipment before the elimination of the main limiting factors categorized as L and P. This conclusion is relevant for technical assistance programmes, which traditionally are more concerned with investments in infrastructure and equipment than in legal and institutional issues.

The nature of the main limiting factors (categories L and P) explains the intrinsic difficulty faced by many developing countries in fully implementing the IPPC and its international standards. It also highlights why traditional technical assistance approaches (mainly focused on category E) are not the best suited to resolve the problems of those countries.

An additional problem arises because of the lack of specific ISPMs (e.g. pest-specific, product-specific, pathway-specific standards) under the IPPC. (This is in contrast to the situation for standards on food safety under Codex Alimentarius or on animals and animal products under Office International des Épizooties.) Contracting parties to the IPPC nearly always need to justify their phytosanitary measures through pest risk analysis. The combined effect of the intrinsic difficulties in implementing generic ISPMs and the lack of specific ones seems to be provoking a "domino effect" in certain developing countries. As an example: if is not possible to run a good surveillance programme, then it is not possible to justify the list of pests present in the country; consequently, it will not be possible to categorize the pests into regulated or unregulated categories; thus it will not be possible to conduct pest risk analyses and hence provide the technical justification for phytosanitary measures. The end result is a reduction in a country’s ability to compete globally.

PCE results in relation to invasive alien species

As discussed in previous chapters, under the Convention on Biological Diversity and its guiding principles, invasive alien species are "alien species that threaten ecosystems, habitats or species" (CBD, 2002). An invasive species has also been defined as "an alien species which becomes established in natural or semi-natural ecosystems or habitat, is an agent of change, and threatens native biological diversity" (IUCN, 2000).

Again as discussed previously, under the IPPC, a [plant] pest is "any species, strain or biotype of plant, animal or pathogenic agent injurious to plants or plant products". The scope of the IPPC includes wild flora; it also covers diseases, weeds and other species that may have indirect effects on plants. Inasmuch as an invasive alien species may be considered to be a plant pest, it falls within the scope of the IPPC and the corresponding standards and procedures. Plant quarantine pests are therefore a subset of invasive alien species. The CBD’s guiding principles on invasive alien species are consistent with IPPC and its international standards for quarantine pests. The IPPC, therefore, is in a position to make an important contribution to the conservation of plant diversity.

PCE results and conclusions can be extrapolated to invasive alien species, with the reservation that the scientific, administrative and legislative framework for considering invasive alien species is largely more fragmented at both the national and international level than the plant protection framework. This fragmentation of the framework for invasive alien species is likely to magnify the problems already detected by PCE; the impact may be felt by many countries, but could constitute an additional disadvantage for developing countries.

Phytosanitary Capacity Evaluation can be further improved to address the issues of invasive alien species in the context of a strategic cross-disciplinary tool. This would constitute not only a contribution for the national needs assessment but also a practical first step in fostering the required cooperation between international bodies with responsibilities in the matter.


CBD. 2002. Sixth Conference of the Parties, The Hague, the Netherlands, 7 - 19 April 2002: Decision VI/23: Alien species that threaten ecosystems, habitats or species to which is annexed Guiding principles for the prevention, introduction and mitigation of impacts of alien species that threaten ecosystems, habitats or species (available at

IUCN. 2000. IUCN guidelines for the prevention of biodiversity loss caused by alien invasive species. Approved by the 51st Meeting of the IUCN Council, Gland, Switzerland, February 2000 (available at

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