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.

COMESA: Ensuring sanitary and phytosanitary standards in the region

Martha Byanyima, COMESA
Martha Byanyima, COMESA

Martha Byanyima is a food science and trade expert from Uganda. She has worked in the region on sanitary and phytosanitary (SPS) and agricultural trade programs, supporting countries to carry out the necessary policy and legal reforms and strengthening private sector/industry systems.

Currently, she is the Regional Process and Partnerships Facilitator of the Comprehensive Africa Agriculture Development Program (CAADP) at the COMESA Secretariat. CAADP is the Africa Union Commission and the NEPAD Coordinating Agency (AUC/NPCA) continental program aimed at increasing agricultural productivity in Africa.

She supports development of the regional CAADP process and establishes partnerships for regional investments in key areas prioritized to address the challenges of food security and poverty in the Common Market for East and Southern Africa (COMESA) region. She also leads COMESA’s SPS work program.

What is COMESA all about?
COMESA is a regional economic community (REC) of 19 countries. Our mandate is to create a vibrant and dynamic common market in which business will thrive and expand regionally. We improve the competitiveness of the farmers, entrepreneurs, and traders. In this regard, compliance with international standards, particularly SPS measures, which are a prerequisite for agriculture and agro-industry competitiveness and access to regional and global markets, becomes very important to us.

Why are SPS measures important?
SPS measures are mandatory requirements instituted by governments to protect human, animal, and plant health. These commonly take the form of legislation, inspection, and testing requirements and border controls. Measures similar to SPS had been in place for several decades; however, they became more important under the World Trade Organization (WTO) Agreement in 1995, which recognized the right to protect the agricultural sector and biodiversity. These measures ensure that products produced domestically or imported conform with the regulations and standards of the territory.

The SPS agreement of WTO encourages countries to use common standards, guidelines, and recommendations as developed by the International Plant Protection Convention for plant protection, the Codex Alimentarius Commission for food safety, and the World Organization for Animal Health for pests and animal diseases and zoonoses.

How can compliance with SPS standards facilitate trading and marketing of agricultural goods?
Compliance with SPS standards promotes economic development and trade. SPS is a very important area as we deepen regional integration to reduce barriers to transacting business and to free the movement of agricultural and food products among member countries. COMESA has slowly progressed from a Preferential Trade Area with lower duties charged on goods originating from member countries to a Free Trade Area (FTA) in 2000 where no duty is charged on goods from member countries as long as they comply with the rules of origin and to a full Customs Union in 2009 where a common external tariff is applied to goods imported from outside the region.

How do you promote these standards?
While such a progression is based on tariff reduction and/or elimination to reduce the cost of transacting business, SPS barriers constitute an added cost to business that is not easily quantified, requiring scientific and technical capacity that is often lacking. In this regard, strengthening SPS infrastructure, such as laboratories, and the harmonization of SPS laws, regulations, procedures, and standards are essential for intra-regional trade and successful regional integration.

What is the Green Pass system?
It is the harmonization of SPS measures across COMESA countries and the establishment of equivalence through common certification schemes. The Green Pass system is intended to restore confidence among trade partners and remove SPS barriers to facilitate trade and the marketing of food and agricultural products within the region.

How can Green Pass help trade and markets in East and Southern Africa?
Since SPS is an important area for effective markets in the context of regional integration, COMESA has a regional work program aimed at mobilizing resources to address the critical gaps in the SPS systems of regional member countries. The work program has four result areas: (a) common certification schemes (standards), (b) monitoring, surveillance, and preparedness for emergencies, (c) improved exchange of SPS information between the public and private sectors, and (d) improved regional leadership and coordination.

Our activities include encouraging the adoption of regional standards, establishing regional SPS databases and information systems, establishing modalities and piloting mutually agreed certification schemes such as the Green Pass, awareness and training workshops, and strengthening SPS infrastructure, such as laboratories.

How are you implementing the Green Pass system?
The first step in creating awareness and motivating countries to step up harmonization efforts is the establishment of the SPS legal framework to guide countries on the necessary policy and legal reforms. At the heart of the legal framework is the Green Pass system.

Enforcing phytosanitary policies and regulations in the region would benefit  trade and commerce, and ultimately the farmers and consumers. Photo by IITA.
Enforcing phytosanitary policies and regulations in the region would benefit trade and commerce, and ultimately the farmers and consumers. Photo by IITA.

What can international organizations or networks do to help promote standards and the Green Pass system?
Currently we are developing proposals to pilot commercially driven Green Pass certification schemes. For example, we will support the member countries to develop common protocols to address the problem of fruitflies in banana, passion fruit, and avocado, or aflatoxins in maize. Such protocols, developed and piloted by the private sector and governments, with support from COMESA, will constitute the science to inform the Green Pass certification scheme. The protocols and related infrastructure, such as reference laboratories, are regional public goods that serve both the private and public sectors.

Who are your partners in implementing the system?
In piloting the Green Pass certification scheme, we envisage partnerships with the private sector, regional institutions with relevant expertise, such as IITA and governments. The decision to implement the Green Pass was endorsed by ministers of agriculture in July 2010, and thus all countries will be involved to the extent that the Green Pass is the viable option to resolve the existing SPS problem.

What are some of your challenges?
The greatest challenge is to create a common understanding of the Green Pass concept; there are variations in the way it is understood by experts, governments, the private sector, and other stakeholders.

Another challenge is traditional certification schemes that are based on international standards but may not respond to intraregional trade challenges. For example, South Africa (SA) demands a certificate of origin from Zambia honey exporters in addition to the animal health certificate issued by the Government. The Zambia market, however, has lots of food imports from China which treats bees with antibiotics. SA regulations restrict antibiotic residues in honey. Therefore, SA demands full proof that the honey originates from Zambia and not China, where the honey is not organic. In this case the Green Pass would come in handy to establish a certification scheme that includes traceability protocols and a certificate of origin in addition to the animal health certificate from the Government.

Of course, there are also constraints in both human and financial resources.

Food supplies being loaded on trucks for transportation to urban centers. Photo by IITA.
Food supplies being loaded on trucks for transportation to urban centers. Photo by IITA.

Why a common market for East and Southern African?
On 22 October 2008, heads of States and Governments of the 26 countries in Eastern and Southern Africa that have membership in COMESA, EAC, and SADC, made a landmark decision that the three RECs should immediately start working towards a merger into a single FTA to deepen regional integration. The three have a combined population of 565 million, and a gross domestic product of US$875 billion. These are 57% of Africa’s population and 59% of the GDP. The total land mass of the COMESA-EAC-SADC region is 14.8 million km² or 49% of Africa’s total land mass.

The decisions of the Tripartite Summit have far-reaching implications on the operations of the three RECs with regard to joint planning, programming, and implementation of the common agenda. In addition, there will be a need for development partners to rationalize and harmonize their support in the tripartite framework.

Since then, the Agreement to establish the Tripartite FTA has been developed and will be signed in mid-2011. The purpose of the Agreement is to enhance collaboration (through joint investments) and avoid the duplication of effort that has characterized the COMESA region as a result of multiple membership of the regional communities.

Annex 14 of the Agreement to establish the Tripartite FTA specifically addresses SPS, requiring Tripartite member countries to harmonize SPS measures and, where necessary, to implement joint programs.

What role do you envisage for IITA in COMESA?
IITA and other regional specialized scientific institutions have a huge role to play They can ensure that the best science informs agricultural planning and development, using the CAADP framework that has proved to be an effective instrument in harnessing knowledge and bringing it to sector planning processes at the national and regional levels. However, governments are responding slowly to the all-inclusive principle of CAADP; non-State actors such as IITA, farmers, and the private sector have not been engaged to the extent necessary to achieve the effective transfer of scientific knowledge and expertise.

What support do you need?
At this stage, it is important for all players to recognize the transformation taking place in the agricultural sector on this continent—the bumper harvests and the increased investments. This is largely driven by RECs through support to country CAADP processes and regional integration programs. Policy reforms and technical support are important elements of the transformation process that cannot be achieved by RECs acting alone; specialized institutions such as IITA and other nonstate actors need to fill this gap. It is, thus, important that development partners, donors, and other actors respond positively to the call by the African Union to align with regional priorities embedded in the RECs’ regional integration programs and in so doing support the transformation process currently taking place on this continent.

What is your vision for African agriculture, trade, and economy?
I look forward to deeper regional integration among the African countries. The Tripartite framework provides the best means to achieve this. By strengthening infrastructure on key trade corridors and facilitating the transport of goods while strengthening the countries’ SPS systems through the best science available, agricultural value chains will expand beyond the COMESA region. New opportunities will be opened for the private sector. At the same time, it is my hope that the Tripartite framework will encourage collaboration in scientific research and innovations to further strengthen value addition and trade in value-added food products.