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Regional Emergency Meeting for emerging pests and diseases kicks off in Harare, Zimbabwe

A three-day Regional Emergency Meeting discussing new transboundary crop and livestock pests in Southern Africa kicked off today with a call for increased investment in preparedness and response capacities to new and endemic threats in Southern Africa.

The region is experiencing an upsurge of new crop and livestock diseases that are threatening the livelihood of a big proportion of the population that depends on agriculture for subsistence. The Fall armyworm, the latest pest to invade the region is difficult and expensive to control and is already causing extensive damage to food crops, mainly maize. The red and migratory locusts, the tomato leaf minor and maize lethal necrosis disease are examples of other crop threats facing the region. The region is also on alert for a possible outbreak of the highly pathogenic avian influenza that has already been confirmed in Egypt, Nigeria and Uganda.

“Outbreaks of transboundary crop pests and animal diseases in Southern Africa and the magnitude of their impacts should provide benchmarks upon which the region should mirror itself regarding its early warning, preparedness and response capacity,” said David Phiri, FAO Subregional Coordinator for Southern Africa Region.

Pests and diseases pose a serious threat

These emerging high-impact transboundary crop and livestock pests and diseases pose a serious threat to Southern Africa’s food security. They are emerging at a time when the region was hoping, due to above-normal rains experienced the current farming season to recover from an El-Nino-induced drought that left a trail of destruction including a huge cereal deficit, ravaged rangelands and limited water resources.

Crop and livestock Specialists called upon countries to urgently improve biosecurity measures at household levels, strengthen surveillance and improve laboratory capacities, diagnosis, reporting mechanisms and crisis communication. They also recommended awareness raising campaigns targeting farmers and other stakeholders.

Spurred by the urgent need to reverse the growing threat of the transboundary crop pest and livestock diseases, FAO in collaboration with Southern Africa Development Community and the International Red Locust Control Organization for Central and Southern Africa convened the meeting. It was funded by the Africa Solidarity Trust Fund, United States Agency for International Development and United Kingdom’s Department for International Development.

The high-level meeting, which started on 14 February 2017 in Harare, brought together delegates from southern and eastern Africa. Participants are drawn from Government and non-governmental sectors, development partners, the private sector, research, academia and civil society with extensive knowledge and experience in the response and management of transboundary crop and livestock pests and diseases.

Addressing gaps, sharing knowledge, building resilience

The meeting is providing a platform for sharing of information, experiences and knowledge on emerging transboundary crop and livestock pests and diseases. The countries are also assessing the preparedness and response capacities and identifying key constraints and opportunities for coordinated response to transboundary pests and diseases. The outcome of the meeting will be harmonized action plans aimed at improving country and regional-level preparedness and response to emerging crop and livestock pests and diseases.

Speaking at the official opening, the Zimbabwe Minister for Agriculture, Mechanization and Irrigation Development, represented by Permanent Secretary Ringson Chitsiko, said the meeting sought to address the gaps in the management of transboundary pests and diseases in the region. “This meeting will enable us to find common ground for effective coordination of the current and future preparedness and control programs for pests and diseases.”

The International Red Locust Control Organization for Central and Southern Africa Director, Moses Okhoba, noted that timely response to threats posed by locusts could significantly reduce the overall costs incurred in dealing with a full blown locust outbreak.

Esaiah Tjelele from SADC called for resilience building to lessen the vulnerability of especially smallholder farmers to the effects of new crop and livestock pests and diseases on their livelihoods. He also highlighted the need to study the relationship between climate change and new pests and diseases.

The Meeting continues up to 16 February 2017 with a focus on examining the preparedness and response capacity of countries and the region as well as developing action plans.

Distributed by APO on behalf of Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO).