BANGKOK: Strengthening regional cooperation to ensure the seamless movement of quality seeds was the focus of APSA’s 5th Expert Consultation on Phytosanitary Measures in the Asia-Pacific.
Held 28 and 29 August at the W Bangkok Hotel, the public-private forum brought together more than 40 delegates, representing 10 National Plant Protection Organizations (NPPOs), two Regional Seed Associations (RSAs) and seven National Seed Associations (NSAs).
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Meeting participants came from China, India, Pakistan, Thailand, Malaysia, Myanmar, Indonesia, Philippines, Australia, France, New Zealand, Japan, Netherlands and the US.
Also attending were delegates from the American Seed Trade Association (ASTA), International Seed Federation, CropLife Asia, the Asia-Pacific Association of Agricultural Research Institutions (APAARI), and Thailand’s Department of Agriculture.
Opening the floor for the meeting was Chair of APSA’s Standing Committee for International Trade and Quarantine, Dr Rajvir Rathi, who reiterated that quality seeds – those which are free from pest and disease – are of paramount importance for both domestic and transnational food supply chains.
Highlighting the timeliness of phytosanitary matters, Rajvir cited the ongoing spread of the fall armyworm (Spodoptera frugiperda) in Asia, suggesting dire implications of the prolific pest’s rapid spread if left unchecked.
“As you all know, the fall armyworm in recent months has posed a serious threat to mostly corn crops throughout the region. Due to its polyphagous nature, the pest could prove to be a problem for other crops if it’s not controlled and contained.”
On a brighter note, Rajvir said he was pleased to see familiar faces returning to the Bangkok forum, which he described as a “good sign of an untiring commitment towards the consultation’ s objectives”.
In his welcome remarks APSA President Mr Tahir Saleemi averred to the significance of the Asia-Pacific as a key focus area for international seed trade, noting that the region is home to some 4.3 billion, or more than 60% of the world’s population.
Since its founding in 1994, APSA has continued to engage stakeholders, especially officers from national plant protection organizations (NPPOs), on aligning and harmonizing phytosanitary measures, which “have always been, and remain one of the most important priorities of international seed trade … not only for NPPOs, but for seed companies and the agriculture industry as a whole.”
“If a farmer has a bad season due to pests or diseases inferior seeds, surely they would not buy the same seeds again. Ensuring our seed consignments are free from pest and disease is of the utmost importance to everyone here,” he added.
Mr Tahir mentioned the importance of three Ss – Security, Seeds and Standards, or more specifically, Food Security, Quality Seeds and Phytosanitary Standards.
Ensuring all three, he referred to progress in the universal adoption of ISPM 38, which is specific to the handling of seeds in transnational supply chains.
Next, the Director of Plant Protection Research and Development Office of Thailand’s Department of Agriculture Mrs. Wilaiwan Promkum delivered opening remarks.
“Seed is the most vital and crucial input for crop production, the basic input to increase crop productivity, and thus attain food security,” she said, adding “Quality seeds of improved varieties can contribute to a yield increase of about 20-25 percent.”
She stressed that plant breeding innovation, and particularly advances in biotechnology have an important role in developing high-yielding varieties, including OPs, hybrids and those developed using New Breeding Techniques.
Nonetheless, she concluded it was necessary for seed traders and NPPOs to carefully consider sound scientific processes to determine risks of seed-borne pathogens establishing and spreading.
In his keynote speech, Executive Secretary at the Asia-Pacific Association of Agricultural Research Institutions (APAARI), Dr. Ravi Khetharpal outlined effective phytosanitary risk mitigation strategies on the regional and global scales, touching on various principles, policies and agreements related to germplasm exchange.
Dr Khetharpal started off by making the clear distinction between plant health and seed health, which he said were all-too-commonly convoluted.
“Seed is a part of a plant and hence of phytosanitation, but all plant health issues are not found in seed.
However, since plant health is important for seed health and thus seed trade, risk mitigation approaches for plant health and seed health are not necessarily the same,” he said.
On the importance of plant health, Dr Khetharpal cited a statistic suggesting that every 1 per cent of the world’s crop losses saved could feed 25 million hungry people as being the basis for the United Nations to designate 2020 as the International Year for Plant Health – a topic which was later elaborated on in a presentation from the International Seed Federration’s Dennis Johnson.
Dr Khetharpal urged the industry to align its activities with global efforts to attain UN’s 17 Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs).
“It’s high time that [those working in] the seed sector wake up and realize how they are contributing to development, and how their activities are directly related to SDGs,” he commanded.
Such was a strong appeal for action setting the tone set for productive discussions that followed.
The meeting agenda covered a wide range of key topics, including Pest Risk Analyses (PRAs) databases, and the implementation of International Standard for Phytosanitary Measure 38 and Systems Approach best practices, as well as an update on UPOV’s ePhyto project.
Comprehensive meeting summary, including highlights from the country presentations and discussions, will be made available to APSA members featured in Q4 issue of Asian Seed.