Newly launched National Biosecurity Hub to support the prevention, reduction and management of crop and animal diseases

Posted on October 13, 2022

The National Biosecurity Hub recently launched by the Department of Higher Education, Science and Innovation and the Department of Agriculture, Land Reform and Rural Development in collaboration with the University of Pretoria (UP) will greatly improve the way various stakeholders affected by biosecurity threats, including farmers, work towards a common goal, said UP’s Professor Sunil Maharaj, Vice-Principal: Research, at the launch held at UP’s Future Africa Institute.

“The hub will significantly enhance collaborative working arrangements between government and stakeholders affected by biosecurity threats, rather than having these groups act independently or in isolation,” he said.

The hub, an initiative of the Department of Science and Innovation's (DSI) Agricultural Bioeconomy Innovation Partnership Programme, will facilitate collaborative efforts to support the prevention, reduction and management of crop and animal disease and other matters related to food safety in South Africa. The hub will be coordinated by Innovation Africa @UP.

During his welcome address to dignitaries – including Minister of Agriculture, Land Reform and Rural Development Thoko Didiza and Department of Higher Education, Science and Innovation Director-General Dr Phil Mjwara – and other attendees, Prof Maharaj said it took a great deal of willingness, expertise and hard work to get everyone to the official launch day of the National Biosecurity Hub.

“It is something we can solidly celebrate as it will play an inestimable role in building resilience in our country’s economy, instilling confidence in our trading partners about our biosecurity strategies and standards, and meeting all our trading partners’ related compliance regulations. This will help to increase our market access, economic growth and job creation along the value chain,” he said.

Prof Maharaj explained that the hub will empower South Africa’s monitoring and early detection efforts when it comes to biosecurity issues. It will also lead to speedy and appropriate responses to contain and eradicate risk.

A central repository

DSI Biotechnology Director Mineshree Jugmohan-Naidu noted that the hub will provide research and information services to the public and private sectors, with a view to meet international trade sanitary and phytosanitary (SPS) requirements and strengthen biosecurity.

“The biosecurity information hub is a central repository and will harness all of the work that is being done in the sector and in the country in terms of biosecurity. The hub will be overseen by a steering committee comprising various stakeholders, including scientists, while a National Biosecurity Hub e-journal will document the works and findings of the hub,” she said.

Dr Mjwara, who spoke on behalf of Minister of Higher Education, Science and Innovation Dr Blade Nzimande, indicated that the launch of the National Biosecurity Hub should be seen as an intervention to strengthen the existing efforts of all stakeholders to support robust, sustainable and responsive systems for plant health, animal health and food safety. He said the hub should also be seen as an undertaking to ensure that South Africa’s efforts to strengthen biosecurity are sustainable and have greater impact.

This includes developing and using information technology to strengthen sanitary and phytosanitary information; and surveillance systems to safeguard agricultural products and processes to facilitate international trade.

“All of this will enhance our capacity to respond more effectively to one of the most urgent challenges facing our country, which is the challenge of food security,” he said.

“It is important to prevent or limit the introduction and spread of quarantine pests and diseases in order to prevent their potential destructive impact on sustainable production or risks to the territories of trading parties,” said Minister Didiza. 

'Plant health and biosecurity are fundamental to all life on earth'

“In recent times, however, disputes around scientific justification of SPS measures have become a key feature of international trade and South Africa has not escaped this disturbing trend, despite the existence of an international framework aimed at ensuring fair and consistent trade. Our observations are that unjustified strengthening of SPS measures is directed to inhibit South Africa’s competitiveness in key export markets,” she said.

“As we are consolidating our biosecurity efforts domestically, it also positions South Africa to play a leading role in the management of agricultural pests and diseases at a sub-regional and regional level. This is particularly important as pests and disease have no respect for geographical borders. An emergent threat manifesting in an African country north of the equator cannot be disregarded as movement of people and vectors can easily transport such a disease into southern Africa,” she added.

In his message of support, Osama EL Lissy, Secretary: International Plant Protection Convention (IPPC), thanked the National Plant Protection Organisation of South Africa (NPPOZA) for leading this initiative.

“Plant health and biosecurity are fundamental to all life on earth. I am certain that this biosecurity hub will be an excellent forum to facilitate sharing of knowledge, enhancing cooperation and working together to develop ways of strengthening plant health and biosecurity in the region,” he said.

During a panel discussion, Sinelizwi Fakade, founder and chairperson of Ukhanyo Farmer Development, said profitability and quality were important elements that influence the bottom line for farmers.

“Therefore, biosecurity is important and farmers need to ensure that it is happening,” he said.

- Author Xolani Mathibela

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