Limited Knowledge of Plant Biosecurity Increases Biological Threats

Plant Biosecurity ‘Champions’ with facilitators in Brisbane this
week for Crawford Fund Master Class in Communication after 4 weeks
of biosecurity placements around the Australia.

By Caley Pigliucci

The plant-life on the Pacific Islands is currently under threat
as protections against diseases and pests are left in the hands of
under-trained personnel with limited facilities.

Talei Fidow-Moors, the Principal Quarantine Officer at the
Ministry of Agriculture and Fisheries in Samoa, warned in a
statement to IPS of an “increased potential of introducing
regulated pests and diseases that pose a serious threat to
agriculture, livelihood and fragile ecosystems.”

Plant biosecurity aims at protecting plants from these diseases
and pests that non-native species bring into a region. The World
Health Organization (WHO) calls biosecurity an “essential of
sustainable agricultural development.”

Despite its importance, over a five-week training course with
the Pacific Plant Biosecurity Partnership (PPBP) that finished on
May 31, biosecurity ‘champions’ from countries across the
Pacific Islands noted biological threats largely due to a lack in
knowledge of biosecurity, which the training program attempted to
begin to address.

IPS spoke with three biosecurity ‘champions’ from Kiribati,
Samoa, and Vanuatu who were in training with the PPBP to increase
biosecurity provisions.

Each representative identified a lack in knowledge as the main
obstacle on the Pacific Islands that has thwarted attempts to
achieve biosecurity aims.

The Pacific Islands have been experiencing an on-going increase
in trade and tourism, but with this increase comes an increase in
potential pests and diseases crossing the borders. These pests and
diseases pose a serious threat to natural plant-life on the

Tekataake Oromita, a representative from the Biosecurity and
Plant Health Section of the Agriculture and Livestock Division of
Kiribati told IPS that plant biosecurity is the “first line of
defence against biological threat,” but one that often gets swept
under the rug.

For Oromita, the main issue is in “the lack of appropriate
facilities and specialised people in the Biosecurity field.”

Without proper training and facilities, the importing of
diseases and pests becomes all too easy.

Sylvie Boulekouran, from the Ministry of Agriculture, Livestock,
Forestry, Fisheries and Biosecurity (MALFFB) in Vanuatu, told IPS
that she worries that, “due to staff limited knowledge on
inspection and early detection of weed seeds, imported machineries
tend to enter the country without proper inspection.”

Boulekouran identified coconut rhinoceros beetles as a
significant threat to biosecurity in Vanuatu.

The Department of Agriculture and Rural Development in Vanuatu
states that at least 75 percent of the population lives in rural
areas and lists copra (dried kernels from coconuts) as the main
cash crop of the region.

Coconut rhinoceros beetles cause damage to the palm trees that
produce that cash-crop, and if not controlled, this could have
severe effects for rural populations, and for the country’s
economy as a whole.

She told IPS of her concern that combating coconut rhinoceros
beetles and weeds proves difficult when “biosecurity Vanuatu
plant health staff have limited skills and knowledge to carry out
diagnostics and identification of pests intercepted at the Vanuatu

Not only are diagnostics difficult with limited training, but
also with limited facilities.

Currently in Vanuatu, there are no facilities for identifying
threats. Samples are sent to neighbouring countries like New
Zealand, making the interception of pests and diseases
time-consuming, and they often fail to do so quickly enough.

Oromita sees similar issues at the border of Kiribati.

She told IPS she would like to see “robust import conditions
[that] will ensure that imported commodities are free from pest and
diseases and enhance safe trade.”

She added that there is a need for “establishing and
incorporate[ing] changes at borders to facilitate effective
biosecurity inspection and identification of infested

Adding to limited training and limited facilities is the major
difficulty facing all three countries: climate change.

Climate change has been a constant difficulty for maintaining
biosecurity in the region. In Samoa, increases in tropical cyclones
and rising sea levels have added to food insecurity.

In Kiribati, Oromita noted that climate change makes plants even
“more vulnerable to the impact of pest and diseases, hence
threatening food security and the environment.”

With the forces of climate change bearing down on their
countries, the representatives see a need to push for more training
in identification of biosecurity threats, and more facilities with
which to identify.

The representatives from the Pacific Islands all believe in the
need for a conversation to take place at a global level about plant

Oromita said to IPS that at “an international level it would
be helpful if we all take Biosecurity as [a] serious matter,
whether we are making policies or providing financial

When asked by IPS what international bodies, like the United
Nations, can be doing to help, Fidow-Moores replied: “The UN and
its citizens can motivate countries of the world and people from
all walks of life, providing everyone with a deeper understanding
of nature, society, a better quality of life and a sustainable and
healthy environment for present and future generations.”

But the representatives are not without hope.

While each biosecurity representative sees the difficulties in
increasing provisions, they all return to their countries after the
training session with optimistic minds.

Fidow-Moores told IPS: “It is a challenge which I believe is
worth attempting to overcome, so as to exert positive changes for
our small island nation.”

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Limited Knowledge of Plant Biosecurity Increases Biological
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Source: FS – All – Ecology – News
Limited Knowledge of Plant Biosecurity Increases Biological Threats