A GROUP of 19 border security officers have enhanced their skills at identifying common plant pests and diseases.
The officers from government agencies, Biosecurity Authority of Fiji and the Secretariat of the Pacific Community were awarded certificates for successfully completing four one-week pest and diagnostic training.
Project manager Dr Lalith Kumaransinghe said pest and disease identification training was a result of several years of work by a number of New Zealand organisations and Pacific countries including Fiji.
“Lack of diagnostics capabilities is a major constraint in trade and biosecurity in the Pacific including Fiji,” Dr Kumaransinghe said in a statement.
“As you all know diagnostics support almost all biosecurity and trade activities such as quarantine inspection, pest risk analysis, export pre-clearance system, development of pest list etc. Our program is developed in such a way that it addresses almost all areas to enhance the capabilities of biosecurity staff.
“We provide resources such as reference materials, manuals, simplified literature, microscopes, remote microscopy unit, lab supplies, insect collection boxes etc.
“In case of staff training we provide intensive training for selected participants in biosecurity and trade to enhance the skills and capabilities in plant health diagnostics.
“This includes four one-week in country workshops, project work between workshops and two weeks training in MAF laboratory in NZ for three participants and another week’s refresher training,” Dr Kumaransinghe said.
BAF acting chief executive Waisiki Gonemaituba said the diagnostic training was crucial.
“It is a unique opportunity for Biosecurity Fiji particularly when we are looking at increasing agricultural trade not only with New Zealand but other countries as well and have to meet their biosecurity requirements to facilitate this,’’ he said.
“The training will enable BAF manage risks arising from biosecurity threats associated with production and export of Fiji’s key commercial agricultural crops thus enhancing Fiji’s agricultural exports and ultimately increasing the country’s rural income.
“In case of import to Fiji, the training will enhance the decision-making capabilities of biosecurity officers and their handling of high-risk consignments.
“If, for example, a new pest is intercepted on a consignment at the Fiji border, the biosecurity officers should be able to recognise the interception promptly, submit the specimen to the diagnostic laboratory for identification and make all necessary arrangements to eliminate the risk of an incursion.”
Trade Commissioner of New Zealand High Commission in Fiji Peter Lund said New Zealand had long-standing linkages in the provision of technical assistance to Fiji and other Pacific countries in biosecurity and agricultural development.
“The program has a practical focus in the vital process of detecting and managing biosecurity risks at the border and protecting Fiji’s growing export trade in fresh produce,” he said.
“As a country heavily reliant on the export of agricultural products, New Zealand has strict biosecurity requirements to protect our vital industries. But equally, New Zealand is working closely with its Pacific partners on a prioritised list of access requests and wants to see Pacific countries expand fresh produce exports to New Zealand and other markets.
“Revised import health standards for Fiji pineapples to New Zealand have already allowed successful trial shipments to the NZ market. The New Zealand market has responded very positively to Fiji pineapples.
“Agreed New Zealand import health standards for island cabbage (bele) from Fiji and other Pacific island countries have been recently concluded and work is continuing on Polynesian plum (wi),” Mr Lund said.