The Plant Health section of the department of Biosecurity plays a vital role on providing technical support through researches to guarantee our imports and exports of agricultural produce.
There are four sub-sections:
- Plant Entomology
- Plant Pathology
- Fruit Fly
Plant health section aims to:
- Facilitate market access of plant and plant products to overseas market
- Keep and maintain a database of plant pests and diseases of Vanuatu
- Maintain disease free status through regular surveillance
Incursions of organisms are mainly detected at the post-border through inspections and also suspect reports from farmers in the field. Targeted pests are usually detected through surveillance, sampling and testing. Entomology and Pathology focus on emerging pests and diseases that cause or may cause harm to agriculture and environment and propose management practices or treatment techniques. We have two diagnostic laboratories for Pathology and Entomology. Interceptions on importations of quarantine risk articles are usually analysed in the laboratories and further assistance on confirmations are usually done abroad on accredited laboratories in New Zealand and Australia. Our pest-list database (PLD) is hosted in the Secretariat of the Pacific Community (SPC) website which is accessible by all countries.
Fruit fly surveillance
Fruit flies are known to be the world’s worst pests of fruit and fruiting vegetables, causing millions worth of damage a year in other countries. The Fruit Fly surveillance program was initiated to provide assurance of country freedom from economically important fruit flies, and early warning of fruit fly incursions to facilitate eradication. Fortunately there are currently only two (2) economic species in Vanuatu namely Bactrocera umbrosa (breadfruit fruit fly) and Bactrocera triliniola.
The absence of economically important fruit flies in Vanuatu allows for fresh export produce to be certified as free of infestation and exported to areas where these fruit flies do not occur. Therefore, it is important that Vanuatu should maintain its fruit fly surveillance
Weed Management Project
The weed management project funded by Ausaid (Australian Aid) was implemented in 2012. Eight targeted weeds with mile-a-minute (Mikania migrantha) were firstly targeted in 2012 and then approval controlling Pantherium in 2013. The form of weed management uses biological control agents (the weeds natural enemies) to manage these weeds to an acceptable level. The biological agent multiplication/culturing/rearing is done at the Quarantine Post Entry (QPE) weed rearing house. A fungal rust pathogen (Puccinia specazzinii) is the agent released to control Mikania. So far, the weed surveys and rust releases have been carried out on some parts of almost every islands of Vanuatu. This will be the same with the Pantherium where control agents are beetle that will be used to manage these weeds under an acceptable level in Vanuatu.
Despite the financial challenges, the department was fortunate to receive continuous assistance from the Ministry of Primary Industries (MPI) of New Zealand that provided a refresher workshop session that covers plant pest diagnostics in June 2013 after four (4) consecutive workshops that were held in 2012. This important workshop focused on the techniques used in assessing and inspecting plants for pests and diseases through to identification of these. The two main areas of focus were Plant Entomology (insect pests) and Plant Pathology (pathogens causing disease).
In 2015 two weeks refresher training on pest and disease diagnostic was conducted in Port Vila to all Plant Health officers, Biosecurity border officers, Forestry officers and Agriculture officers. Diagnostic laboratory is based in Port-Vila and housed under the Livestock department with a full set of laboratory equipment donated by the New Zealand Ministry of Primary Industry (MPI, NZ).
Import Risk Analysis
Import Risk Analysis for any plant and plant products are usually conducted by the plant health section. Applications are usually submitted for the process to be conducted before everything else continues. Once Import Risk Assessments are done, reports are released on the particular plant or plant product to be imported. A lot of import risk analysis has been done on a lot of imported plants and plant products to date.