At the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s (USDA) Foreign Agriculture Service, we believe that trade is good for the United States and good for developing countries. Trade facilitation aims to simplify, standardize, harmonize, and make the norms and practices involved in international trade transparent. As a result, transparency — also known as sunshine — has increasingly become the focus of international organizations and multilateral agreements.
The Food Safety Network (FSN) is launching tools and materials to make concepts related to animal and plant health — also known as sanitary and phytosanitary measures or SPS — available to all. To celebrate the coming of spring and the launch of online materials to demystify international trade, we are making the Beatle’s classic Here Comes the Sun the FSN theme song. We started developing these materials in 2012 when USDA and USAID began work on a series of online courses in Pakistan to teach Pakistani government officials about international plant health rules. USDA technical experts developed the content for the web-based curriculum on topics, such as the International Plant Protection Convention, pest risk analysis, pest surveillance and inspections. This program has been so well-received in Pakistan that the director general of the Department of Plan Protection has made taking the online courses mandatory for its new employees.
The purpose of phytosanitary regulations is to protect a country’s domestic agriculture and that of its trading partners. To accomplish safe trade,
imported and exported products must be free of pests and diseases. The analysis should be based on sound science, credible and defendable.
--Walter Gutierrez, USDA Risk Analyst
As word about the SPS Distance Learning modules for Pakistan spread, the Food Safety Network was started to make this information easily accessible in English, Spanish and French, and the first three training courses are now available on Agrilinks. The first three courses cover pest identification, surveillance and inspections. Imagine smallholder farmers in a remote village in Western Nepal complaining of pepper plants succumbing to a mystery illness. Who can they talk to about the pest problem? What can be done to help? They might need to take a picture of the mystery illness and bring it to a plant pathologist to have the problem diagnosed. A good plant pathologist can take a quick look at the photograph and diagnose the problem to be blight, describing fairly simple mitigation measures.
In addition to hosting online discussions, webinars and podcasts, the Food Safety Network will supplement the online materials with case studies based on its real-time food safety needs assessments in developing countries. How can we help shed some light on the questions you have about international trade?
What food safety education do you need? Chat with us on Agrilinks, and help us celebrate the approaching spring with new resources and information.
Deborah Hamilton is an international program specialist at the U.S. Department of Agriculture, where she leads the USDA-USAID Pakistan Agriculture capacity building programs. Emanuela Montanari-Stephens is an international program specialist at the U.S. Department of Agriculture, where she leads the USDA-USAID Food Safety Network capacity building programs.