Posted on Mon, 16 Oct 2023, 08:17
© FAO/Daniel Hayduk
In recent years, the global plant health community has been on high alert due to the rapid spread of plant pests and diseases like Fusarium Tropical Race 4 (TR4) that threaten vital crops. Fusarium TR4 can cause banana crop losses valued at up to USD 121 million as reported by Indonesia in 2009 and USD 14.1 million reported in Malaysia in 2013. FAO estimates that in 2021, over 125 million tonnes of bananas were produced, with 45.3 million tonnes of plantains and cooking bananas produced globally that year. However, TR4 is the biggest pest threat to bananas and can cause 100 percent yield loss on a banana farm. This can significantly affect the incomes of banana farmers and traders.
Amidst growing global concerns over the potential spread of TR4, African countries taking part in the 2023 International Plant Protection Convention (IPPC) Regional Workshop for Africa participated in a Fusarium TR4 tabletop simulation exercise. The exercise, the first of its kind by the IPPC, was a proactive step to help countries improve their level of preparedness and response to possible incursions of Fusarium TR4. It is expected that it will be replicated in other regions of the world that have expressed interest in enhancing their Fusarium TR4 emergency response capacities.
A tabletop simulation exercise is a facilitated discussion about an emergency scenario, generally conducted in a low-stress environment. Part of the scenario is first presented and then followed by a discussion on pre-determined questions. There are several exercise sessions, each with a specific objective or theme, helping to equip participants to address real-world emergent outbreaks of banana Fusarium TR4 and other pests. During the workshop, held from 4-8 September 2023 in Addis Ababa, Ethiopia, 44 plant health experts and officials from 27 African countries tackled a hypothetical Fusarium TR4 outbreak scenario in a fictional country called ''Bananaland''.
Participants included staff of national plant protection organizations (NPPOs), researchers, representatives from the African Union Inter-Africa Phytosanitary Council (AU-IAPSC), plant protection officers from the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations (FAO) and staff from regional organizations. They were divided into five groups, for English and French speakers. To enable rich and dynamic learning, there were group discussions, surveys, videos, and technical readings. The tabletop simulation exercise focused on prevention, preparedness and response strategies in case of a Fusarium TR4 incursion and used the IPPC's guide on “Prevention, preparedness and response guidelines for Fusarium Tropical Race 4 (TR4) of banana”.
The exercise was developed by the IPPC Secretariat in the framework of the “FAO support to COMESA trade facilitation programme”. Another IPPC-implemented project, ‘’Strengthening the capacity of developing contracting parties to implement the International Plant Protection Convention (IPPC) under the Framework of the FAO–China South-South Cooperation (SSC) Programme’’ funded 15 participants at the workshop.
Emergency preparedness and collaborative vigilance
Collaboration among nations is essential to safeguard plant resources from pests, as no single country can tackle this challenge in isolation. In 2023, the 17th Commission on Phytosanitary Measures (CPM-17) recognized the IPPC's pivotal role in coordinating global efforts to combat the spread of Fusarium TR4, emphasizing the need for international cooperation. The exercise thus demonstrated the importance of collaborative vigilance and close cooperation among countries and organizations to prevent the cross-border spread of Fusarium TR4 and to elevate their preparedness in the face of potential agricultural crises.
Participants were empowered with tools to effectively address a Fusarium TR4 outbreak, including developing and evaluating contingency plans, choosing effective measures for detection, delimiting, and containing a Fusarium TR4 outbreak as well as promoting awareness of operational needs during an outbreak. Some participants, including the NPPO of Mozambique, shared their country experiences in dealing with Fusarium TR4 and this enhanced the technical quality of the exercise. There was also great value added by technical insights from academic representatives including Professor Altus Viljoen, an expert on Fusarium TR4, from the Stellenbosch University.
The IPPC Secretariat has supported a similar simulation exercise organised by the Instituto de Protección y Sanidad Agropecuaria (IPSA) in Nicaragua, to strengthen the technical skills of relevant staff to manage Fusarium TR4 in the region in April 2023.
A blueprint for emergency preparedness and response
The outcomes of the Fusarium TR4 tabletop simulation exercise serve as a blueprint for enhancing readiness and collaboration among stakeholders in addressing potential Fusarium TR4 outbreaks in Africa. By engaging in these interactive scenarios and exercises, plant health experts gained invaluable experience in crisis management and recommended that similar exercises be replicated in more countries, focusing on more plant pests.
''I will share this knowledge with those involved in plant protection in my country. A month ago, we produced an awareness poster on this pest. Along with the materials and methods I received and learnt during the Bananaland exercise, I will apply them in the country. We need to carry out exercises like this with other pests," said Saholy Nomenjanahary Ramiliarijaona, Director of NPPO of Madagascar.