Taking plant biosecurity skills to Africa

December 7, 2015

Six weeks of intensive study in Australia has given 15 Senior Biosecurity Fellows, from Sub-Saharan Africa, new skills, networks and inspiration to fight crop pests and diseases in their countries and the region as a whole. Members of the Africa Plant Biosecurity Network concluded their time in Australia last week. It included a specially tailored Crawford Fund communications master class to acquire skills in communication, action planning, media relations and networking, to better share their newfound expertise with colleagues and teams in their home countries.

As previously reported, the Crawford Fund is part of the Australia-Africa Plant Biosecurity Partnership, which is training a set of Biosecurity Fellows or ‘champions’ from Burundi, Ethiopia, Kenya, Malawi, Mozambique, Rwanda, Tanzania, Uganda, Zambia and Zimbabwe.

“The Fellowship has been a fantastic experience,” said Ephrance Tumuboine from Uganda.

“I am confident I can make a real difference to agricultural trade in and from my country, as well as helping our farmers directly.”

The Fellows have worked with a range of Australian plant biosecurity organisations during their time in Australia on problems aligned to real plant pests and diseases in their home countries, including fruit fly, seed transmitted diseases, post entry quarantine and diagnostics.

While developing technical skills has helped these professionals individually, the recent training in Perth has built their capacity to share skills with their colleagues, improve their own biosecurity systems, and work in a partnership with Fellows from neighbouring nations.

“Better plant biosecurity has significant ‘bang for the buck’ when it comes to improving both trade and food security in the region,” said Dr Michael Robinson, CEO of Australia’s Plant Biosecurity Cooperative Research Centre (PBCRC).

Dr Laura Boykin from the University of Western Australia hosted James Mushayija from Rwanda who studied identification of whiteflies, pests that transmit serious diseases of cassava in Africa.

“James and I are at the beginning of a lifelong friendship and collaboration, united together to improve the lives of farmers in Rwanda” said Dr Boykin.

The Australia-Africa Plant Biosecurity Partnership program was informed by The Windsor Report—a comprehensive assessment of the status of plant biosecurity in Sub-Saharan Africa, which is a region highly reliant on agriculture.

“The Windsor Report captured direct feedback from African plant biosecurity professionals, and sets out the key needs that partnership activities are now addressing, as well as opportunities to scale the program up and out,” said Dr Robinson.

“Australia, with its world-class strength, experience and comparative advantage in biosecurity, can really help.”

The Australia-Africa Plant Biosecurity Partnership is funded by the Australian Centre for International Agricultural Research (ACIAR) and is delivered by a consortium of PBCRC, CABI and the Crawford Fund.

The Windsor Report is available at www.pbcrc.com.au/research/east-africa/.