Dick Vernon, Sarah Pene and Makelesi Kora-Gonelevu describe how a Pest List Database is helping farmers in the Pacific to export their produce, and to keep the islands free from alien pests and diseases.
Blessed with a favourable climate and, very importantly, a generally low level of pests and diseases, Pacific island countries such as Fiji, Samoa and Tonga produce a wide range of tropical crops. Since most of these island states do not have a significant industrial base or mineral resources, agriculture, along with tourism, is a key source of foreign exchange.
The main destinations for Pacific agricultural exports, which include Australia, Japan, New Zealand and the United States, have imposed strict quarantine regulations on imports to protect their home agriculture from new pests and diseases.
Thus, for example, a Fijian farmer who wishes to export papaya to New Zealand first has to satisfy the New Zealand quarantine service that the fruit will not pose a threat to local agriculture. Under the International Plant Protection Convention, the exporting country is required to provide a list of all pests and diseases ever found on papaya.
In the past, preparing such a list involved gathering together data from many sources, such as annual reports of the island’s Agriculture Department, pest survey reports, research station records and published articles, usually going back several decades. This entailed long and time-consuming research, for each commodity, and could take months.
Speeding up export procedures
Today, the same job can be done in minutes with the Pacific Pest List Database (PLD), an information system developed, compiled and maintained by the Plant Protection Service of the Secretariat of the Pacific Community (SPC).
The PLD contains a wide range of data on all the major crops, together with information on pest occurrences in each country. Initially, the process of establishing the PLD in each country takes several weeks of data capture and data entry, but once this has been done, for all the major crops, the system can be maintained fairly easily.
Once entered into the system, the same data can be used to generate reports for a variety of purposes. The most important report is a list of all pests that have been found on any particular crop in each country, as required by the export destination country. Another is a list of all recorded hosts for any given pest, which is required for an import risk analysis, a formal procedure that precedes approval of an import. Other reports that can be generated include a list of all weeds found in a country, and a supporting bibliography, always provided the necessary data has been entered into the system.
Alien pests and diseases
The PLD was designed primarily to facilitate trade, but soon after it was introduced some countries, notably Samoa and Fiji, requested that it be extended to help protect the islands from alien pests and diseases and potentially invasive weed species. Thus the PLD now also has a quarantine module, which is used by the islands’ quarantine services for recording pest interceptions at ports and airports.
Two previous attempts to compile a database for the region had run into difficulties, and SPC was determined that this should not happen again. After extensive consultations, SPC opted for a system that runs on MS Access database software, with easy to use, self-explanatory menus from which the user can generate a number of pre-designed reports.
SPC has developed and tested a prototype, organised training workshops at the national and regional levels, and put in place a programme of follow-up support. It has been found that islands’ plant protection staff, even those with no previous database experience, can become competent in using the system after a three-day training workshop. The system, together with a user manual and training materials, are now available on CD.
Toward online access
The Pest List Database has so far been introduced in 15 Pacific island countries and territories, on the understanding that each country’s pest occurrence records are ‘owned’ by each country’s responsible authority, usually the Ministry of Agriculture. World Trade Organization rules require that this information be made available to trading partners, and at present this is done by email. Now that the member countries are familiar with the system, they have authorized SPC to proceed with a combined regional Internet-based version of the system. When that is in place, users will be able to take full advantage of the system.
For further information, please visit the website of the SPC Plant Protection Service
) was until recently at the SPC Plant Protection Service in Fiji, where he coordinated the design, development and launch of the PLD.
Makelesi Kora-Gonelevu ( email@example.com ), a computer scientist with the SPC Plant Protection Service, helped to develop and now maintains the PLD.
Sara Pene ( firstname.lastname@example.org ) is a biologist responsible for maintaining the taxonomic data of the thousands of pests and their host species in the PLD.