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Pakistan Paves the Way for Global Distance Learning on Trade

With a growing population — now topping 200 million — and a rising middle class, Pakistan is increasing its food production, expanding into new export markets with its agricultural products.  

To support Pakistan's increasing participation in international trade, in 2012 the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA), the U.S. Agency for International Development (USAID) and the Government of Pakistan piloted a series of online courses for Pakistani government officials to study international plant health rules, also known as sanitary and phytosanitary measures, or SPS. USDA partnered with Texas A&M University and the international nonprofit CABI to create the first-ever web-based SPS curriculum — in both English and Urdu — on topics including pest risk analysis, pest surveillance and the SPS agreement.

Through the USDA courses, I now understand Pakistan’s responsibilities to meet international standards for plant health. With this knowledge and continued capacity building, in five to ten years, inshallah, we will be exporting our produce to Europe.

-- Dr. Hazar Khan, an entomologist from the Department of Plant Protection, Punjab Province  

After completing online courses, USDA instructors offered 12 intensive hands-on workshops in Pakistan over long weekends for six years. While Pakistani officials spent hours of their personal time studying the modules, attending classes and taking exams, USDA specialists donated their time and expertise. The workshops included group activities to provide a structured forum for Pakistanis to begin developing a unified national SPS policy. As a result of these trainings, Pakistan has changed policies and regulations and re-structured SPS units in federal and provincial government agencies. Moreover, Pakistan’s Department of Plant Protection is adding several new positions, including a pest-risk analysis expert. Early results from project evaluations show that Pakistan has added more than seven trade protocols with other countries.

USDA has also supported the SPS Distance Learning Program with its Cochran Scientific Fellowship Exchanges, a program that supports scientists in visiting U.S. universities, laboratories and government facilities. In fact, during the last three years, the program has sponsored more than 60 Pakistani scientists to study topics related to trade and animal and plant health in the U.S.

While the formal SPS Distance Learning project ended in 2017, USDA, CABI and the Government of Pakistan are developing a follow-on project to continue the learning and information exchange. Meanwhile, the Director General of the Department of Plant Protection is requiring all new hires to study the SPS Distance Learning Modules, which the University of Faisalabad will add to its standing curriculum. USDA continues to support this work with its SPS advisor position in Islamabad who consults with government officials on how to make changes to regulations and policies to support these international trade standards.

SPS Distance Learning works. In 2012, Pakistan’s horticultural exports totalled $350 million; they are now above $600 million. Pakistan is reaching new markets, such as Indonesia for citrus and other nearby international markets for various fruits and nuts. After hearing of Pakistan’s success, other countries requested access to the online materials in different languages. In response, in 2017 USAID and USDA launched the Food Safety Network, and Agrilinks is now the official home for the SPS Distance Learning modules, which are being translated into Spanish and French and supplemented with an animal health companion series.

Please visit the SPS distance learning modules and other food safety resources on Agrilinks and let us know your ideas, questions and thoughts on how we can spread the word.

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