Outreach programme aims to prevent propagation of invasive agricultural pests in Eastern Caribbean

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CASTRIES, St Lucia — The US Department of Agriculture’s Animal Health Inspection Service (USDA/APHIS), the Organisation of Eastern Caribbean States (OECS) Commission and Saint Lucia authorities are working together to implement the “Don’t Pack a Pest Outreach Programme”.

The programme provides a platform for participating countries to increase the travelling public’s awareness of the risks associated with carrying food and agricultural items throughout the region and is an essential component of safeguarding agriculture and natural resources.

It is suggested that 98 percent of the entry of pests results from passenger traffic, which has been on an upward trend over the years, given the growth of the tourism industry and an increase in regional travel. With increased activities in the trade and tourism sector in the region, the risk of introducing potential invasive species also remain a major concern and raises a question on the institutional and technical capacities to control and manage pests to protect the environment and ensure the economic wellbeing of citizens.

Acknowledging the need to address that issue, a delegation from USDA/APHIS paid an official visit to the director general of the OECS Commission Dr Didacus Jules this week to discuss the implementation of the outreach programme and the continued collaboration with the OECS on matters related to regional plant health safeguarding activities such as export certification, the regional plant quarantine principles and procedure training course and the exchange of electronic phytosanitary certificates through the International Plant Protection Convention (IPPC) electronic hub.

Dennis Martin, director of safeguarding initiative for the Greater Caribbean, and Renita Sewsaran, agricultural scientist, presented the programme, which seeks to draw travellers’ attention on the risks of transporting agricultural produce that may harbour pests in countries of the Eastern Caribbean.

Jules commended the assistance of USDA/ APHIS in building capacity to protect the region from pests over the past ten years and expressed full support with regards to this new sensitization campaign.

“I wish to further note the pioneering work done in support of our science-based systems to enhance regional biosecurity and the strengthening of regional and national pest mitigation activities to facilitate and enhance international trade of agricultural commodities through a collaborative process. We strongly support the traveler outreach programme and would like to see the programme implemented in all ports of the OECS. We look forward to continued collaborative working relationship with the USDA/APHIS that will redound to an improved quarantine and pest management infrastructure in the region,” he said.

USDA/APHIS and the OECS Commission have maintained a ten-year working relationship under which major projects advancing the management of pests have been implemented:

• The annual training of plant quarantine officers at the University of the West Indies

• The training in pest surveillance and the development of a manual for use by technicians

• The training in pest risk analysis and pest prioritization and the establishment of risk analysis labs in Saint Lucia, Dominica and St Vincent and the Grenadines

• The training in the development of a national pest list for the facilitation of a regional one and the development of a manual for technicians

• The supply of digital imaging microscopes linking the region to the Caribbean Pest Diagnostic Network

Besides these initiatives, Jules further emphasized the urgency for assistance to enhance export certification and inspection services, develop an electronic phyto-certification system, support and mentorship to countries that are not equipped with the pest risk analysis laboratory facilities and to implement a phytosanitary capacity evaluation and strategy for the Eastern Caribbean.

These areas are new opportunities to deepen the existing partnership between both organisations.

The delegation of USDA/APHIS and the OECS Commission furthered this official visit to other key stakeholders whose participation will be decisive for the successful implementation of the outreach programme in Saint Lucia.

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