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Meeting of Regional Heads of Plant Protection

SPC Press Release

Meeting of Regional Heads of Plant Protection and Biosecurity Services

Pest and disease control ranks as a top priority for agricultural production in Pacific countries with the entry of new plant pests posing a direct threat to regional food security. Emerging issues in world trade agreements have a direct impact on Pacific island trade.

Increasingly, Pacific islands are stepping up and participating in globalised trade without the proper support in infrastructure, tariff structures and quality control. Harmonisation of quarantine regulations will make it easy for trading between importer and exporter.

To deal with these issues and share best practices in plant protection, the SPC Land Resources Division (LRD) will host a meeting of regional heads of plant protection and quarantine next week (5 - 6 June 2006) at Raffles Gateway. The meeting will combine the 13th Regional Technical Meeting for Plant Protection and the 5th Technical Board Meeting of the Plant Protection Organisation. The latter will focus on quarantine and biosecurity.

The plant protection meeting will look at the current status of major pests and diseases affecting Pacific island food crops. SPC works with national agricultural ministries to develop pest management strategies with most Pacific islands having identified their top five plant pests - usually those that attack major food crops. Because some pests, such as the rhinoceros beetle, are not found in all islands, measures have been developed to prevent, or respond to, their entry. For example, taro leaf blight is a devastating disease found in only a few islands and SPC is helping develop taro varieties that can tolerate this fungal disease. Kava dieback disease seriously affects kava in the region and SPC has been working closely with the Fiji Ministry of Agriculture to identify its causes. The research has resulted in a package of control practices, and integrated management strategies are now being tested in farmers' fields. The control and management of fruit flies is a success story with no new incursions being recorded in the Pacific. Quick action by Cook Islands' agricultural services assisted by SPC prevented the establishment of the Queensland fruit fly in Rarotonga after it was discovered a few years back.

Invasive plant species such as exotic weeds are a direct threat to fragile island environments. These plants are aggressive and on arriving at a new site, with no threat from natural enemies, quickly spread, killing native plants that may be used in traditional medicine. Some invasive species have been deliberately introduced by plant hobbyists to add to their ornamental collection. An example is Clerodendrum or Fireworks ornamental brush. Its purple leaves and flowers make an attractive hedge, but the plant is a threat to native bushland. SPC is working in partnership with the Australian Centre for International Agricultural Research (ACIAR) on several regional plant protection projects including the control of high profile weeds.

Invasive ant species present a new threat to the region. The red imported fire ant, a highly aggressive insect capable of harming humans, is spreading rapidly around the globe and is now just outside the Pacific Islands. A presentation of the Pacific Ant Prevention Plan at the meeting will highlight current work to prevent the introduction and further spread of several ant species. An ant surveillance programme being carried out by SPC in partnership with New Zealand Biosecurity will start soon in selected Pacific Islands to determine the extent of the introduction of foreign ants.

The meeting of the Pacific Plant Protection Organisation (PPPO) will look at the work of SPC's newly established Biosecurity and Trade Facilitation programme. The programme is helping Pacific countries develop and improve their trade through capacity building in quarantine technical operations and market access. The programme is also promoting the development of national biosecurity laws, which are overarching pieces of legislation covering quarantine, health, environment and trade issues. Several countries have passed legislation adopting the biosecurity laws.

The PPPO meeting will also discuss two regional trade initiatives - the Pacific Island Countries Trade Agreement and the Pacific Agreement on Closer Economic Relations. These will see more trade flowing between the Pacific and New Zealand and Australia. Consumers stand to benefit with more goods being imported, but national border authorities will have to be more alert to the introduction of pests and diseases. Quarantine concerns will also need to be seriously addressed with the lowering of tariff restrictions.

Several countries have expressed concern about the movement of plant germplasm in the region, particularly moving planting material across national borders. A presentation by SPC's Regional Germplasm Centre will highlight the significance of this activity and the only recognised and disease-free method of moving new and improved plant varieties to new areas. Many of the new pest problems seen in the islands have occurred as a result of moving diseased planting material.

Bird flu is currently causing human and bird deaths in several areas of the world and SPC's Animal Health programme is putting together a response plan to deal with the possible introduction of this dreaded disease to the region. Heads of quarantine will see a presentation on the disease.

The recent relocation of the Oceania Customs Organisation (OCO) to SPC Suva will allow closer collaboration on trade facilitation issues with the 22 countries served by SPC. Three officers are now operating the OCO office at Nabua and the group will make a presentation to the PPPO meeting.

The Auckland-based Pacific Island Trade Commission will have an information booth displaying the assistance available to help improve trade for Pacific countries. Commercial agri-based suppliers will also have information booths at the venue.

Pacific Island countries are showing keen interest in organic agriculture with trade in organic products increasing rapidly. Many countries have established organic associations to coordinate national activities. SPC in collaboration with IFOAM-IFAD will make a special presentation at the meeting on 'Building capacities on certification of organic agriculture'.

Other SPC working partners invited to make presentations include SPREP, FAO, ACIAR, USP, PestNet, NZ MAF and DAFF (Australia).

The European Union, NZAID and AusAID are acknowledged for their support to regional plant protection and quarantine programmes in the Pacific.

ENDS

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