FAO in Tanzania

Plant Health Act 2020: Milestone towards stronger institutional response to plant pests, diseases

Charles Tulahi

By Charles Tulahi*

On May 22 this year, the Parliament of Tanzania passed the Plant Health Bill of 2020 and a few days later, it was assented by the President of the United Republic of Tanzania, John Pombe Magufuli, to become a full law.

This is such a historic achievement by the country in dealing, among other things, with invasive alien species that pose a threat to environment, human health and food and income security, of many households.  

The spread of transboundary plant pests and diseases has increased dramatically in recent years. Globalization, trade and climate change, as well as reduced resilience in production systems due to decades of agricultural intensification, have all played a part.

Transboundary plant pests and diseases can easily spread to several countries and reach epidemic proportions. Outbreaks and upsurges can cause huge losses to crops and pastures, threatening the livelihoods of vulnerable farmers and the food and nutrition security of a large number of people at a time.

Locusts, armyworm, fruit flies, banana diseases and cassava diseases are among the most destructive transboundary plant pests and diseases.

Lack of effective control measures

The lack of effective control measures, has forced farmers in many countries to rely on pesticides , which are in most cases misused, thus posing a threat of pollution of ecosystems and subsequently decline of productivity of aquatic fauna including fish, which provides a source of protein and nutrition to rural and urban households.

In many countries, the observed challenges are compounded by inadequate capacity of the regulatory framework  ; low awareness among plant protection regulators, farmers and traders on existing legislation and legal frameworks and inadequate facilities for supporting the enforcement of the laws and regulations, among others.

As a result, high losses in terms of quantity and quality of agricultural produce have continued to be reported causing decline in food safety, income and nutrition security. Each year an estimated 10-16 percent of our global harvest is lost to plant pests.

Besides, human beings introduce most of the harmful species intentionally or accidentally as contaminants in various commodities. For instance, available information indicate that the larger grain borer and cassava mealybug are among examples of invasive species that were accidentally introduced in Tanzania resulting into high yield losses to farmers. Some other species such as mango fruit flies and pawpaw mealybug are among pests that are affecting quality of horticultural produce leading to loss of local and international markets.

FAO’s support upon Tanzania’s request

Of recent, the Government of the United Republic of Tanzania requested the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations (FAO) to provide technical and financial assistance, which will enable the Country to address observed challenges.

Consequently, FAO and the Government, through the ‘Strengthening Tanzania Phytosanitary Regulatory Framework for Enhanced Food, Income and Nutrition Security’ project, are working together to strengthen the regulatory framework by supporting the enforcement of measures that will minimize risks of introduction, spread and impact of invasive species in the country.

Additionally, through the United Nations Joint Programmes Framework (UNJP), FAO and the Government worked together to review the old Plant Protection Act which lead to enactment of the Plant Health Act 2020.

This is certainly a great milestone reached towards creating stronger institutional framework, which will enable the Country to effectively respond to plant pests and disease threats. FAO is honoured to have provided technical and financial support that contributed to this historic achievement.

The Plant Health Act 2020 addresses the identified gaps in the existing legal framework by providing stronger institutional response to imminent pest invasions through surveys, collection of pest natural enemies, and responsible use of pesticides, among others. Such measures are expected to enhance agricultural productivity and improve food and nutrition security in the bid to eliminate hunger particularly among rural households in the country.

Phytosanitary measures need to be strengthened to reduce introduction of pests and disease because of inadequate laws, regulations and capacity to enforce and execute control measures.

Coincidence with International Year of Plant Health

Enactment of the law comes at the time when the world is marking the United Nations’ International Year of Plant Health (IYPH) for 2020 with the aim of raising global awareness on how protecting plant health can help end hunger, reduce poverty, protect the environment, and boost economic development.

Because of this importance, FAO launched the IYPH on the sidelines of the UN’s General Assembly in New York last December.

Plants provide the core basis for life on earth, they are the single most important pillar of human nutrition, and therefore healthy plants are not something that we can take for granted.

FAO commends the Government of Tanzania for such a step forward and reiterates its commitment to continue supporting the country in its efforts to improve the agriculture sector particularly in the implementation of the Act.

*The author is the Assistant FAO Representative to Tanzania