IAPSC: Protecting Africa’s plant health

Jean-Gerard Mezui M'ella, IAPSC
Jean-Gerard Mezui M'ella, IAPSC

Jean-Gerard Mezui M’ella is the Director of the Inter-African Phytosanitary Council (IAPSC), the African Plant Protection Organization with headquarters in Nlongkak, Yaounde, Cameroon. IAPSC is an intergovernmental organization with 53 members under the umbrella of the African Union. It coordinates plant protection procedures in Africa.

The IAPSC Director coordinates the activities of its four sections (Phytopathology; Entomology; Documentation, Information and Communication; Administration and Finance). He represents the African region in the Commission for Phytosanitary Measures of the International Plant Protection Convention (IPPC/FAO), promotes compliance with International Standards for Phytosanitary Measures (ISPMs), and represents the African Union Commission on diplomatic matters in Central Africa. In this interview, he talks about the important work of IAPSC.

Why is IAPSC important?
IAPSC is a technical office of the African Union/Directorate of Rural Economy and Agriculture. It is one of the 10 Regional Plant Protection Organizations of the IPPC. As the regional organization for Africa, it works in collaboration with the national plant protection organizations of the 53 countries of the AU.

IAPSC mostly implements its activities through the eight African Regional Economic Communities (RECs) and sub-RECs. It addresses phytosanitary issues in Africa including the following:
– The vulnerability of African crop production systems to the impact of diseases, insect pests, and noxious weeds;
– Economic losses incurred through spoilage;
– Noncompliance with ISPMs, trade regulations, and equivalents;
– Dearth of phytosanitary data (Pests Risk Analysis, diagnostics, surveillance, etc.)

AU-IAPSC safeguards agriculture and natural resources from the risks associated with the entry and establishment or spread of pests of plants and plant products to ensure food safety and quality supply to intra-African and international markets.

How would you assess the state of plant protection in Africa?
Africa still has a lot of problems with plant protection. In fact, most African countries inherited an administration put in place before independence, which to a certain extent, has safeguarded the plant health of the different countries. There were departments of Agriculture and Divisions such as plant pathology, entomology, agricultural chemistry, and also plant quarantine. After independence, with the coming into force of the IPPC, adopted by the FAO Conference of 1951, the global approach and harmonization of phytosanitary measures started to take shape. For example, a common format for phytosanitary certificates was set up, common action was secured to prevent the spread of pests of plants and plant products, guidelines were provided regarding phytosanitary matters and the relevant actions to be taken by national governments in the implementation of plant quarantine.

IAPSC promotes cooperation among countries to prevent the movement of serious pests. It provides a forum for African countries to promote their views on plant health. In addition, quarantine structures in Africa differ from one region to another. In fact, some countries have operational quarantine stations but others do not. We at IAPSC encourage the creation of regional and subregional quarantine stations, although even those in existence find it difficult to comply with IPPC standards. It is our hope to have quarantine stations in each country.

Quarantine inspector reading about banana bunchy top. Photo by L. Kumar, IITA.
Quarantine inspector reading about banana bunchy top. Photo by L. Kumar, IITA.

Harmonizing phytosanitary regulations and policies in Africa must be quite challenging. How are you doing this?
Nontariff barriers such as SPS measures are often used as a disguised way to restrict trade. It is becoming essential, following the World Trade Organization‘s agreement on SPSMs for member countries of the WTO to ensure that the SPS measures they apply are in line with this agreement. To do so, the technical and organizational capacity of the various organizations at national, regional, or international levels have to be given the necessary tools to deal with the new challenges.

The 1995 WTO agreement was set up to remove unnecessary, unjustified, and arbitrary pressure on international trade in plants and plant products. This was a new situation for the various stakeholders, e.g., new themes such as transparency, scientific justification, notifications, inquiry points, risk analysis, and standards are now the guiding principles.

It is thus of the utmost importance for African countries, where phytosanitary capacity deficits are most severe, to begin a process of developing a strategy for capacity building to meet their obligations under the WTO rules.

In 2003, the RECs became the implementation arm of IAPSC whose technical programs are assessed by the RECs during the annual meetings of the Steering Committee and General Assembly.

IAPSC, much like AU, encourages regional common markets.

What are your major challenges?
Besides funding, the major challenges IAPSC faces on a daily basis include the entry of new pests on the African continent that annihilate the efforts of member countries; the proliferation of invasive pests; climate change that brings about new plant heath challenges; and a lack of scientists specialized in plant protection.

How do you ensure that regulations or policies are strictly implemented?
We endeavor to strengthen the capacities of countries so that they can prevent and control the introduction of plant pests in Africa. We encourage the setting up of Centers of Phytosanitary Excellence, the creation of phytosanitary networks, and the regular updating of pest lists in Africa.

IITA researchers conduct plant health tests in lab. Photo by L. Kumar, IITA.
IITA researchers conduct plant health tests in lab. Photo by L. Kumar, IITA.

What are you doing to improve the links and working relationships among NPPOs and networks in Africa?
We organize workshops and seminars on plant matters; we publish a quarterly phytosanitary news bulletin; and we enrich on a regular basis the phytosanitary information in the International Plant Protection Portal of FAO.

IAPSC provides information on quarantine pests on plants as well as for the protection of plant products for the AU member countries through both the paper and electronic media. Paper-based information systems include a scientific analysis, a phytosanitary situation in Africa, reports of service activities, and a collection of phytosanitary regulations and standards. Electronic information on compact discs covers a database of the meetings and phytosanitary regulations of member States. The Phytosanitary News bulletin of IAPSC is issued four times a year. It welcomes contributions and articles from National Plant Protection Organizations.

There is a web site for the worldwide dissemination of information (http://www.au-iapsc.org), and a library that hosts scientific books.

Our workshops and seminars aim at sharing information on the phytosanitary situation and on the findings in crop protection research.

We frequently conduct monitoring and evaluation exercises (country visits, exchange and information sharing among countries). All these activities help in networking among the partners in Africa.

What support do you need from the member countries? From partners? From clients?
To improve the prevailing situation concerning quarantine standards, regional cooperation and compliance with international regulations, the following priorities have been identified:
1. Ensuring that all African countries are parties to the IPPC;
2. Ensuring the harmonization of plant protection policies across RECs through capacity building;
3. Regularly updating pest lists and quarantine pests;
4. Harmonizing phytosanitary inspection systems; surveillance, emergency responses, risk analysis: procedures to analyze and reduce the risk of new pests entering a country;
5. Setting up a harmonized pesticide management system.

Describe your collaboration with IITA.
IAPSC-IITA cooperation is in the following key areas: Cassava pests’ diagnostics and control technique methods, Cassava germplasm and planting material exchange, Banana pests’ diagnostics and control technique methods, Banana germplasm and planting material exchange, and Harmonization of African countries’ phytosanitary systems.

What could international bodies such as IITA do to ensure that Africa’s agriculture is safeguarded?
IITA, like other bodies, should work with country structures through IAPSC, and collaborate with recognized subregional and regional structures of the public and private sectors in plant protection.

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