Biosecurity officers destroy container load of rotting potatoes and onions

Acting Director Touasi Tiwok (l), Bill Garae (5th from l), Dr. Visoni Timote (back r) and Biosecurity officers in Port Vila, group photo, in the lab doing plant pathology training. (Photo: Kizzy Kalsakau)

A full container load of rotting potatoes and onions was intercepted in Santo by biosecurity officers and has been destroyed.

Officers of the Department of Biosecurity in Santo, as part of their training last week, intercepted the shipment from New Zealand belonging to one of their clients.

Samples of the rotting goods were sent to biosecurity officers in Port Vila who, as part of their training also, on plant pathology in relation to biosecurity, carried out tests to help identify the disease that caused the damage to the shipment of onions and potatoes.

This week, the Acting Director of the Department of Biosecurity, Touasi Tiwok, informed the Daily Post that Biosecurity officers in Santo had destroyed the whole shipment.

Acting Director Tiwok explained the training important because Vanuatu’s environment is very pristine, which we want to protect it from pests and diseases, from the border.

Bill Garae, assistant plant health officer of Biosecurity Vanuatu, confirmed that the rotting potatoes and onions intercepted by biosecurity border officers at the wharf in Santo were found to contain diseases, and samples were sent to the biosecurity lab in Port Vila where tests were done to identify the disease.

“If a disease is found to be very serious, we can manage the risk here or re-export the consignment to New Zealand,” he added. In this case, it is now confirmed that the shipment was destroyed.

Intercepting the shipment of rotting potatoes and onions was the highlight of the training for the biosecurity officers at the border control ports of Santo, Port Vila, and Tanna.

Acting Director Tiwok explained that the capacity training was important for biosecurity officers because they are at the frontline of the border and they are able to intercept any pest and disease from coming through to Kizzy Kalsakau of Vanuatu Nightly News program of 96 BuzzFM.

“Rather than allowing a bigger outbreak and costing a lot of money to manage, we try to manage this from there.

“So, to do that we have requested SPC to do this training for our officers at all our ports of entry – at the wharf, airport and also at the Post Office, where we are dealing with goods that are coming in and the people that are coming in. If any pest and disease were to come into the country, it would come through these ports.

“For us to be equipped, we need all our officers to be built up in capacity. They need to be able to identify the pest and they need to know what to do after, the follow through,” he said.

One example of the importance of such training is they were able to intercept the consignment in Santo that came through a customer that had rotting potatoes and onions.

Bill Garae, assistant plant health officer, said the training includes processing samples for sending to New Zealand to identify plant diseases – caused by either bacteria, viruses or funguses.

“To identify a disease in a plant can take up to three months sometimes through a series of different tests. It was the first time for such a training for the current biosecurity officers combining plant pathology with work carried out at the border.”

The Secretariat of the Pacific Community trainer, Dr Visoni Timote — a specialist in plants and crops, said they were happy to carry out this capacity building in collaboration with Biosecurity Vanuatu in regards to plant pathology and linking this with biosecurity.

“This training on plant pathology consists of how people can actually fight pests and diseases by brining it into the lab and doing tests and also identifying the plant disease, the cause of the disease and control measures, that can be given to the stakeholder in controlling that particular disease,” he added.

Explaining the increasing risk to the region of pest and disease, Dr. Timote said: “Gone are the days when we travel by boat and the quarantine period is during the travel time by boat. But now you can actually have breakfast in Fiji, lunch in Korea and dinner in US. So through, the fast flights or fast way of communication through flights, that’s how pests and disease spread, really fast.

“So, people have to be vigilant as regards biosecurity issues when they come into the country or when they visit a country they do not take a particular host, where fruit a crop that can actually bring in other diseases. That is why biosecurity is very important for the region.”

He added, “In the region, if we do not respect or comply with biosecurity, it is likely that there will be consequences. You’re likely to be introducing exotic pests and diseases that can affect our plants or animals. And that’s what we do not want. As we continue to advocate biosecurity’s line of defense. So, we should always ensure that biosecurity at the border continues to be respect, or biosecurity is everyone’s business”.

Jonas Cullwick, a former General Manager of VBTC is now a Senior Journalist with the Daily Post. Contact: jonas@dailypost.vu. Cell # 678 5460922

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