Plans towards developing a comprehensive strategy that will enable sub-Saharan Africa (SSA) to deal more proactively and effectively with invasive species have advanced significantly.
This milestone has been achieved through a recently concluded workshop co-organised by the International Centre of Insect Physiology and Ecology (icipe), the International Institute of Tropical Agriculture (IITA) and CABI, with support from the Swiss Development Cooperation (SDC).
According to the Convention on Biological Diversity, invasive alien species include animals, plants, fungi and microbes introduced accidentally or deliberately outside their natural habitats or countries of origin, where they cause severe and cross cutting damage to the health of people, animals, crops and the environment, and overall economic development. (Find out more in this detailed Frequently Asked Questions guideline on invasive species in Africa).
SSA is one of the most susceptible regions to invasive species, with a long list of invasions and horrendous illustrations of destruction. A recent example of invasive species in SSA is the fall armyworm, a caterpillar that is native to the Americas, which was first reported in Africa in January 2016. The pest is currently devastating maize and other crops in at least 30 African countries, placing at risk the food security and livelihoods of around 300 million people.
The recent workshop brought together over 100 participants from across the world, including researchers, policymakers, as well as representatives of national institutions, pan-African institutions and regional economic communities and the private sector. The participants deliberated the strengths and challenges, and made recommendations and assigned tasks, towards creating and instituting a strategy for tackling invasive species in Africa.
“The forum observed that while national, continental and international structures and strategies for invasive species exist, their implementation is weak. This is partly due to lack of resources, poor interlinkages between policies, lack of clarity in organisational responsibilities, and differences in national systems, within many countries. Moreover, regulatory frameworks and their effectiveness vary between countries, even in the same block,” explains Dennis Rangi, Director General of International Development, CABI.
Dr Rangi, who was one of the speakers at the event, added, “there is poor communication and data sharing, leading to a slow response to invasive species. One of the reasons attempts to manage invasives are not always successful is that the public receives mixed messages. While pest management practitioners are highly vocal on the dangers of invasives, many such species have been introduced intentionally into developing countries with the promise of socioeconomic development.”
He highlighted, as an example, agroforestry trees and shrubs like the Prosopis genus, which are typically selected based on their drought tolerance, rapid growth and resistance to insect and disease attack. However, these very characteristics make it possible for such species to establish and proliferate in new environments, often causing great damage to natural ecosystems.
An additional set of obstacles encompasses lack of human and financial resources as well as weak infrastructural capacity; unpreparedness; poor continent and nationwide surveillance, diagnosis and early warning systems; and the absence of national funding leading to over-reliance on external resources, often culminating in delayed response and aggravated impact of invasive species outbreaks. There are also weak linkages between research and national systems, and gaps in effectively translating research on invasive species to policy for their management.
Further, across Africa, emphasis is laid on meeting requirements of export markets, with limited consideration for reciprocal stipulations for imports. Moreover, the economic impact of invasive species is poorly understood, with emphasis often laid on potential benefits, for instance, in the case of invasive weeds.
“Developing a strategy is vital to strengthen coordination, communication and cooperation between stakeholders at national, regional and continental levels for the management of invasive species. Such a strategy would also enable the integration of the threat of invasive species into national emergency response plans, to accord this menace the right attention and resources it deserves,” said May-Guri Sæthre, Deputy Director General, Research for Development, IITA.
A strategy on invasive species in Africa will also be geared towards enabling African countries to safeguard their boundaries against imports, and overall, to focus on prevention mechanisms such as assessment of invasion pathways and strengthening of quarantine and border security.
Further goals include developing novel and innovative science-led solutions for invasive species, for example using best practice options that have proven effective in the continent and globally. Holistic socioeconomic impact assessments to guide clear understanding of the effect of invasive pests will also be given due attention.
In addition, a strategy on invasive species in Africa will include the mapping of stakeholders and highlight roles and responsibilities, for example between national institutions and governments, pan-African institutions, regional economic commissions, as well as technical and research institutions.
Moreover, regional platforms for sharing reliable information on invasive species in a timely manner, so as to prioritise potential threats, will be set up, and efforts will be made to integrate the media and general citizens into the processes. The role of the private sector in the management of invasive species will also be mainstreamed.
icipe Director General, Dr Segenet Kelemu, said, “Potentially, invasive species could directly and indirectly affect the attainment of at least eight of the 17 sustainable development goals (SDGs). However, icipe’s position, which is strongly supported by the discussions during the recent workshop, remains one of hope and optimism. We believe that with a clear strategy, we can change the narrative on invasive species in Africa. Farmers and other communities across the continent no longer need to live precariously – just one invasive pest away from poverty and food insecurity.”
She added, “Building on the outcome of the workshop, icipe intends to continue working with partners to contribute, based on the Centre’s strength and areas of expertise, towards the rapid development and implementation of a strategy for tackling invasive species in Africa.”