By Greg Rosenthal
In this age of globalization, the international community has long grappled with a growing plant health challenge: How to move agricultural commodities around the globe without accidentally spreading invasive pests and diseases. Now the world has a visionary new tool at its disposal: the ePhyto Hub. This computer system enables the global, digital exchange of “ePhytos,” which are electronic phytosanitary certificates. ePhytos attest that a country’s plant or plant product exports meet the importing country’s plant health requirements, and that minimizes the risk of pest spread.
Since 2015, USDA’s Plant Protection and Quarantine (PPQ) program has provided funding and technical expertise through the International Plant Protection Convention (IPPC) to help develop and implement the ePhyto Hub. The IPPC is an international plant health agreement with 184 participating countries, including the United States. The agreement aims to protect the world’s plant resources from the introduction and spread of pests, and to promote safe trade.
“In 4 short years, the IPPC’s ePhyto Steering Group has made significant progress,” said PPQ’s Export Services Deputy Director Christian Dellis, a longtime member of the group and its current Chair. “Last year, we launched the ePhyto Hub and the generic national system called ‘GeNS,’ which lets any country without a national electronic certification system access the Hub. Today, 14 countries are exchanging ePhytos through the Hub. About 50 countries are in the process of connecting their national systems to it, and 40 more are working to obtain GeNS.”
Dellis has three specific goals he would like to accomplish during his time as Chair:
“Right now, the countries that are exchanging ePhytos are all sending paper documents in parallel,” Dellis explained. “I hope in the next 3 years to get us to the point where participating countries no longer need the backup paper certificates.”
To further encourage global adoption, PPQ welcomed representatives from 23 African national plant protection organizations to Riverdale, MD, in November 2019 for a first-of-its-kind workshop. The participants learned ways to strengthen their national defenses against invasive pests and how they can exchange ePhytos with other countries. The workshop also helped PPQ build strategic relationships with leaders from a region that is quickly becoming a big player in the global arena.
“Although our countries are on opposite sides of the world, this workshop helped us see that we are on the same page when it comes to safeguarding national agricultural resources against invasive pests and protecting our countries’ food security,” said Deputy Administrator Osama El-Lissy. “This common bond has become the building block for what I hope will be a long-term relationship with these countries.”
The current COVID-19 pandemic has revealed another benefit of ePhyto use. This global public health emergency has led to flight cancellations, travel restrictions, and courier delays that could slow the arrival of paper certificates. In addition, paperwork is more difficult to process when workers must maintain healthy social distancing at the workplace. For all of these reasons, the IPPC is urging countries to maximize ePhyto use over paper certificates to prevent the potential for port delays.
To learn more about the ePhyto solution or the work of the ePhyto Steering Group, visit their site at https://www.ephytoexchange.org. See how it works in this short video.
The United Nations declared 2020 as the International Year of Plant Health(IYPH) and then extended the celebration through July1, 2021. This worldwide campaign is promoting the value of our precious plant resources and the need to safeguard them against invasive pests. To celebrate IYPH, each month Plant Protection Today is highlighting how PPQ safeguards America’s agricultural and natural resources against invasive pests, and facilitates the safe trade of agricultural products. Read our article on IYPH to learn more—and how you can join this once-in-a-lifetime event!