Biosecurity in Africa

Posted on July 10, 2017 12:43 am

Biosecurity is defined as preventive and quarantine measures to reduce the risk of invasive pests or diseases arriving at a specific location that could damage crops and livestock as well as the wider environment. But beyond that, biosecurity also encompasses much more including managing biological threats to our people, industries or environment. These may be from exotic or endemic organisms but they can also extend to pandemic diseases and the threat of bioterrorism.In a challenging environment like Africa, protecting itself from exotic pests and diseases is difficult because of the enormous border countries need to protect. International trade is increasing, and ships, planes and people are moving in increasing volumes across Africa. This means there is more pressure than ever on Africa biosecurity surveillance and response systems.African countries like South Africa and Egypt have an enviable biosecurity and quarantine system. But there is no such thing as zero risk.Invasive alien species remain one of the greatest threats to Africa biodiversity, and agricultural productivity. The reality is that exotic organisms arrive in Africa regularly and sometimes become established. One of them is the recent invasion of army worms that destroyed millions of hectares of maize in East and Southern African countries.A critical element of biosecurity response is to have African countries prioritise which ones are of most concern and need rapid response. In Africa, protecting livestock industries, native wildlife, human health and the environment from exotic or emerging pests and diseases of animals is the realm of animal biosecurity.Africa is sadly the recipient of many highly infectious animal diseases, highly pathogenic forms of avian flu that has recently been reported in South Africa and last year was reported in Uganda, African swine fever is also common and many others that have serious consequences in African countries. An outbreak of any of these diseases significantly impacts the productivity of livestock industries, and make it very difficult to trade agricultural products, as well as result in significant social and economic costs.The recent outbreak of bird flu in African countries is a wake up call of how disruptive exotic disease outbreaks can be and why vigilant biosecurity is so necessary.The widespread culling that followed shows how much social and economic impact individual farmers might suffer if there are future disease outbreaks. Strict farm level biosecurity is becoming increasingly the norm across many industries.

Plant pests and diseases can significantly damage Africa’s productive plant industries. They reduce yields, lower the quality of food, increase production costs and make it difficult to sell produce in international markets.This is true across the massive expanses of our cereals production, and in the more intensive high-value production of horticulture in countries like Kenya, wine in north Africa, sugar industries in Uganda among others. Plant pests and diseases may also be a huge threat to natural environment such as native forests, grasslands, and shrub lands.Again, Africa has many damaging pests prevalent some of which have devastated honeybee productivity and pollination success in every country. More pest and disease problems mean lower production costs. Areas where rigorous biosecurity like Egypt, South Africa and Morocco can deliver pest freedom which gives African producers an enormous advantage in Africa markets and allows them to have safer and cheaper locally produced food.Africa has an enormous shoreline and amazing biodiversity in marine ecosystems. Countries with coastline have marine biosecurity dedicated to keeping these systems intact. It focuses on protecting aquaculture, ports and the environment from problems caused by invasive marine organisms. These can threaten marine infrastructure and ecosystems.African countries are in the midst of major port expansion with Kenya, Tanzania developing new ports and international shipping is increasing dramatically. As a result the risks from marine invasive species are growing and those country’s biosecurity response needs to grow as well.Recent research shows that many emerging infectious diseases in livestock that also affect human health emerge from wild, native species. They are known as zoonotic diseases which make up half of all the emerging diseases affecting human populations in Africa. The impacts of these diseases can be extremely severe and the need to manage livestock and human health risks in a unified way is also becoming much clearer.As with all biosecurity, it is about effective surveillance and response, being aware of the risks that are circulating the region, having the tools to rapidly detect and diagnose them and the tools and systems to respond quickly. A successful biosecurity system requires various stakeholders like scientists, government, industry, and the community to cooperate. In the end it should be system of shared responsibility among African countries. Robust emergency response arrangements should be put in place to manage outbreaks.

Contador Harrison