Plant Quarantine and Phytosanitary Service, Mount Makulu Research Station, Private Bag 7, Chilanga, Zambia; e-mail: email@example.com
Within the Southern African Development Community (SADC) region several initiatives have taken place to develop and facilitate regional trade on the basis of the SADC trade protocol. National regulations were compiled and reviewed, noting any gaps that existed for their conformity with international standards and guidelines. SAFRINET, the Southern African network of BioNET-INTERNATIONAL, which aims to build capacity in taxonomy, has taken up the initiative of linking the resources available in specialist centres (such as museums) to the day-to-day functions of phytosanitary inspection and decision-making. The presence of plant inspectors at the border offers the opportunity for new organisms to be intercepted and sent for quick identification to remote specialists. This, in turn, should promote the naming of species, documentation, reporting of non-conformity, recognizing species and rapid access to information including exotic pest response. The envisaged methodology is to begin with a specific user group, for example the phytosanitary service community, using digital information to correctly identify organisms. Correct and precise identification of quarantine organisms and information on treatments will help greatly in avoiding disputes and unnecessary destruction of products. The new approach would enable quarantine staff to identify organisms they have not seen before. A computer-aided input and retrieval system initiative would be a resource for national, regional and international users, especially for phytosanitary use. This initiative would work directly with and supplement the functions of international organizations such as the International Plant Protection Convention and the United States Geological Survey.
SAFRINET is the Southern African regional network (a "locally organized and operated partnership", LOOP) for BioNET-INTERNATIONAL, which aims to build taxonomic capacity through such networks. It is the LOOP for the Southern African Development Community countries: Angola, Botswana, Democratic Republic of Congo, Seychelles, Lesotho, Malawi, Mauritius, Mozambique, Namibia, Swaziland, South Africa, Tanzania, Zambia and Zimbabwe (figure 1). This already established network of countries recognized that taxonomic outputs are a necessity in enhancing regional and international trade. SAFRINET is an official SADC project under the Directorate for Food, Agriculture and Natural Resources Hub.
Fig. 1: SADC countries forming the Southern African network of BioNET-INTERNATIONAL.
During the Third Global Taxonomy Workshop, held in Pretoria, South Africa, in July 2002, the SADC countries took a break-out session to refocus on possible future projects to benefit the region while ensuring maximum benefits to the SADC countries. It was noted that phytosanitary units in the region would benefit greatly from the taxonomic information held by other networks. One such benefit was the opportunity for remote identification of quarantine pests through use of the Internet and the specialist knowledge of advanced museums.
Taxonomy is important for recognizing species, allowing identification of quarantine pests, including invasive alien species, and determination of correct management options. In the absence of competent identification services at entry points and borders, the process of trade facilitation is impaired. Once correct information has been obtained, application of the least restrictive measure will, in turn, facilitate trade.
Correct identification and information allows for correct assessment of data, which gives rise to the correct handling procedures. Recognizing potentially problematic species and being able to predict their behaviour will facilitate the adoption of correct mitigation and phytosanitary measures.
Risk assessment procedures refer to pest reporting and pest communication as cardinal processes in the management of quarantine pests of importance.
The SADC phytosanitary units were identified as the most direct end users and beneficiaries of taxonomic identification outputs. It was agreed to pursue a project to hasten the use of digital information and other electronic means for correct identification. It was noted that SADC phytosanitary services might not in the near future have all the means and capabilities to strengthen their identification competences. It was further noted that inspectors positioned at borders in the SADC do not have adequate facilities or manuals for identification of quarantine pests or invasive alien species. The approach was to facilitate the accessibility to the Internet so that remote identification services became possible.
The need to develop new computer tools and computer-aided facilities for the phytosanitary services was observed as an immediate requirement. SAFRINET looks to the regional nodes for national and international initiatives (for example, Discover Life, the Global Biodiversity Information Facility, the Expert Center for Taxonomic Identification) to look favourably at this requirement and develop appropriate facilities for such services. Once operational, this novel initiative could be used in all developing countries for quick remote identification of organisms.
Within the mandate of SADC, SAFRINET has an approved Coordinating Committee that runs its affairs. It is currently supported in achieving its objectives by the SADC Council of Ministers. The phytosanitary services in the region benefit from the organized training programmes under SAFRINET and now require the identification support system that is more long term.
Through another project, the SADC Seed Security Network, SADC countries have began to harmonize the pest lists on crops of economic importance to the region. The revision will remove the unjustified pests lists currently observed on plant import permits. As a follow-up to this project, an SADC review of the phytosanitary regulations in order to facilitate regional and local trade is considered inevitable.
Documentation currently being used is harmonized since both import and export documents follow the IPPC model. Those countries that have not yet ratified any of the international agreement or conventions, especially the IPPC, are encouraged to do so.
It is now proposed that any SADC country conducting a pest risk analysis should keep the region in mind. This will foster regional awareness of "A1 pests" (i.e. quarantine pests that are not already present in the SADC region) much earlier. Having taken note of the local pests and noted the A1 pests for the region, market access and facilitation of trade should be much easier in the SADC.
Although the SADC region does not have the same technical expertise as the developed world, issues of quarantine and invasive alien species are universal and do not recognize boundaries. Therefore, inspectors positioned in the SADC region can help fulfil international hopes of effective inspection worldwide with respect to interceptions of quarantine pests or invasive alien species.
In the process of harmonization, SADC countries will decide their priorities for plants and plant products and their pests. This will affect the choice of the best electronic tools to be developed. Once this level has been achieved, national representatives will be trained and will train others in the use of the tools.
Currently, SAFRINET participates in organizing and training phytosanitary services inspectors in organism identification in South Africa. This will be more beneficial if followed up with interactive software. The most practical solution currently is to use electronic technology.
The tools developed require international recognition so that, once in use, they will be respected. It is hoped that this SAFRINET project can be used as a pilot project for obtaining global acceptance, including use in the IPPC framework. There are indications that the United States Department of Agriculture will support this SAFRINET venture through the competitiveness hub based in Botswana.
I wish to acknowledge my sponsors, the IPPC Secretariat and the host country for organizing the conference; the BBA for all the efforts made for the conference to be a success in finding a common solution to a common problem; the Ministry of Agriculture and Cooperatives and in particular the Crops and Crops Research Branch of Zambia for allowing me to travel to the conference; and preparation of part of the presentation from ARC-PPRI, Dr Connal Eardley in particular, and all supporters of SAFRINET.