Step out of your comfort zone: P.M.'s challenge

Prime Minister, Tuilaepa Dr. Sa'ilele Mailelegaoi, has called on the membership of the Pacific Plant Protection Organisation to step out of their "comfort zone" and do what is necessary to end the losses of food crops and agricultural products which costs US$220 billion globally.

"We must do all we can, to ensure the protection of our limited and fragile natural resources, and that will mean stepping out of our comfort zones, to ensure safe trade among our countries and our other trading partners, such as Australia and New Zealand," Tuilaepa said.

The Prime Minister made the point during the first Virtual Pacific Plant Protection Organisation (P.P.P.O.) Talanoa Session where he addressed the participants. Amidst the prevailing health crises, the meeting was told that trade, climate change and pest outbreaks continue to pose challenges for all nations, including in the Pacific.

But this calls for more urgent actions to ensure plants are protected from the ravages of plant pests and diseases.  

"Ensuring a supply of fresh and wholesome food is now more important than ever. With the challenges of closed borders and limited travel, access to a safe and stable supply of food could be compromised," Tuilaepa said. 

"In this era of virtual consultation platform, I commend the organisation in its efforts to explore alternative means of engaging with your members. Plants are the foundation of the livelihoods of our Pacific people, and while their abundance bring prosperity to our communities, their scarcity can also negatively impact our people. Our plants are threatened by plant pests and diseases every day, evident in the loss of crops. There is a need to enhance awareness amongst our people of these impacts, and that on trade in agricultural commodities.  

"The current COVID-19 outbreak has shown us the importance of travel restrictions and that detection and quarantine are indispensable security measures in containing or detecting an epidemic – be it a human, animal or plant health emergency.   We also play an important role in disease management. While our farmers may be faced with threats and risks during production, a lax in biosecurity measures and standards have the potential to destroy or severely limit our export industry, if it is not well prepared to meet future pest and disease threats."

The Prime Minister went on to encourage the participants to use the Talanoa Session as a platform to make decisions on issues under the organisation’s mandate, one of which is to protect and facilitate safe trade.  

"These Talanoa Sessions should help inform members and assist the organisation in the implementation of necessary activities to ensure the continued protection of the Pacific region," Tuilaepa said.  

"Pest outbreaks are increasingly affecting plant health around the world and the International Plant Protection Convention (or IPPC) has recognised this in proclaiming this year, 2020, as the International Year of Plant Health.

"Plant pests are responsible for losses of up to 40% of food crops globally, and for trade losses in agricultural products, worth over US$ 220 billion dollars each year."  

Tuilaepa also applauded a collective agreement to organize a number of events in-country, that could focus the spotlight on recognition of the criticality of plant health and protection.

"I am confident you will use this opportunity to update yourselves with the latest developments and research, and at the same time build capacity amongst yourselves through experiences sharing.  This Talanoa Session initiative should elevate the organisation’s ability, for better coordination and encourage greater co-operation in plant protection amongst our member countries, towards better plant protection in our region." 

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