PlantwisePlus Blog

Contributed by Melanie Bateman, CABI Switzerland, and Roger Day, CABI Africa


Larger stem borer, threat to food security (image: infonet-biovision)

While responding to a food crisis in Tanzania in the 1970s, evidence indicates that the larger grain borer (Prostephanus truncatus) was inadvertently introduced into Africa through an infested food aid shipment[1]. Following this introduction and a later introduction in West Africa, the larger grain borer has now spread to almost 20 different countries in Africa, causing significant losses to grains in the field and in storage both for food and for planting. Consequently, this fateful incursion has had a significant impact on food security in the continent. Even now, other alien pest species such as beetles, snails, weeds and pathogens[2] are intercepted in shipments of grains worldwide. Should these pests become established in new areas, farmers will be confronted with problems they may be ill equipped to solve.

 In order to address this pathway for pest spread, the Commission on Phytosanitary Measures added the topic of the international movement of grains to its work programme and member countries were asked to agree on the best way to approach the issue. While several countries noted the broad scope and complexity of the topic, many countries urged for the development of an international standard. Jack-Vesper Suglo of Ghana noted that

the movement of grain is important for food, but it is also a major means of movement of pests. Africa has been the victim of the movement of pests through grain.


James Onsando, the delegate for Kenya, suggested that this topic, while complex, could be addressed “grain by grain” rather than throw the whole grain standard away. The delegate from China supported Kenya’s view and noted that “the movement of pests through grain affects food security.” China also remarked that if the measures are too strict then trade will be negatively affected. Sudan shared its experience that food aid shipments of grains are often infested by pests. The Finnish representative received a round of applause when he reiterated the movement of grain’s relevance to food security and took a dim view of placing a high priority on the development of a standard on wooden handicrafts (another topic on the work programme) and not on grain, considering grains importance to food security.

Multiple meetings on the sidelines and considerable debate in the main body of the meeting were needed in order to agree on the way forward. In the end, it was decided that the development of a standard to address phytosanitary issues related to the international movement of grains would continue. The specification for the standard will be revised at the May meeting of the Standards Committee. Those interested in this topic should provide feedback to the contact point of their national plant protection organisation.



  1. grahame jackson on 19th April 2013 at 11:06 PM

    This post reminded me of the work done in the Pacific in the 1990s under the EU-financed PRAP (Pacific Regional Agricultural Programme). Stephen Preston and others wrote a booklet containing guidelines for donors who might wish to help countries with shipments of seeds and vegetative planting materials following natural disasters. These guidelines would be available from the Land Resources Division of the Secretariat of the Pacific Community, or from the SPC library. Well worth the read.

    grahame jackson

  2. argylesock on 20th April 2013 at 9:02 AM

    Reblogged this on Science on the Land and commented:
    argylesock says… People need food. In a crisis, food aid can save lives. But sometimes, food transport has huge consequences which can’t be reversed.

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