Invasive species are a major threat to the global economy and the environment, costing economies billions of dollars to control each year. Worldwide, estimated damage from invasive species totalled more than USD 1.4 trillion, or five percent of the global economy.
The Pacific holds three of the 35 global biodiversity hotspots with over 400 endemic species of plants, and approximately 90% of those native plant species are endemic. However, this incredible plant diversity is under threat from climate change, pests and diseases.
To meet these challenges, the newly launched Plant Health Laboratory (PHL) is now providing biological solutions to help protect the regions agricultural diversity. The PHL, which was established with funding support from the Australian Government through the Australian Centre for International Agricultural Research (ACIAR) is housed at the Pacific Community’s (SPC) Narere Campus.
The SPC Plant Health Lab is a first line of defence, staffed with experts in entomology, weeds, nematology, and integrated pest management. This team will work closely with SPC member countries and territories, providing technical support and capacity building on pest and disease surveillance and biosecurity advice.
This important work is carried out in partnership with ACIAR, and the University of Queensland (UQ) in collaboration with the Agriculture Ministries of Fiji, Samoa, Tonga and Solomon Islands.
Diseased plants are usually presented by farmers at Plant Health Clinics (PHC) (much like a health clinic for humans but for plants). Collected samples can now be tested at SPC’s Plant Health Lab in Narere. Based on the lab diagnosis, the SPC plant health experts through the PHC can provide farmers with information on proper pesticide use and Integrated crop management practices (IPM).
This way, farmers in the region can access better agricultural information and how to sustainably grow their farms.
The lab is certified at Biosecurity Containment Level 3 (BCL 3) which means SPC could bring relatively medium to high risk Biosecurity organisms into Fiji for pest and diseases management with the confidence that proper measures will be taken to confine the organism within the designated premises.
In addition, the Plant Health team is now able to provide regional training directly from the lab on a range of IPM practices. Early this year, the PH team provided an online training to PNG Plant Health Doctors on how to conduct insecticide resistance trials which is supporting regional scaling of resistance trials currently focused on Fiji, Samoa and Tonga.