August 2, 2017: Joining the one hundred and twenty six (126) other successful participants, some twenty (20) Plant Quarantine Officers from sixteen (16) countries in the Region were told ‘you are the gatekeepers’ by Senator the Honourable Clarence Rambharat, Minister of Agriculture, Land and Fisheries at the Opening Ceremony of the University of the West Indies’ Faculty of Food and Agriculture (UWI FFA) 7th Annual Regional Plant Quarantine Officer Training: Principles and Procedures Course.
In his stirring Address which was well received by the participants, Senator Rambharat said ‘a gate works both ways – keeping what you want in and keeping what your want out; [but] it all depends on your mindset’, outlining four (4) critical areas which can influence the success of the Officers as gatekeepers and the outcome of this Training Programme; namely, that:
- ‘We should be looking for clarity, if not certainty’, in terms‘what can and cannot be done and where the flexibility lies’;
- ‘Accessibility of information’ in the context of the use of information technology for efficiency and effectiveness, including the e-services of TTBizLink
- ‘Strike a balance between minimizing the risk of the movement of material and animal products and balancing that with the interests of the end users’; and
- ‘Capacity building’ since we should‘spending time on people and developing their capacity to make use of what we do have available in the Region; which is far more important than building institutions’
The call to work towards developing a strong network of Plant Quarantine professionals across the Region was made by all speakers.
Other speakers included:
· Professor Brian Copeland, Campus Principal, UWI St. Augustine stated that the ‘University continues to support the growth and development of the Region in excellence in the delivery of national academic programmes of impeccable standard to a range of demographics’, noting the significance of the role of Plant Quarantine Officers who are, in his words, ‘our countries’ first line of defence preventing the entry of pests and diseases that can cause untold damage to the environment and the economy’;
· Dr. Vyjayanthi Lopez, Plant Production and Protection Officer, FAO Barbados spoke at length about the importance of the role played by Plant Quarantine Officers and announced that in 2020 the International Year of Plant Health will be celebrated the world over;
· Mr. Wayne De Chi, Agricultural Scientist, USDA APHIS IS made a call to all to ‘play your part in improving the plant quarantine service in your country’. He also noted that a major reason for the USDA’s support of this course is ‘the need to professionalize the plant quarantine service in the Caribbean Region’; since these officers now have a ‘greater role with respect to trade in agriculture and agriculture related commodities’;
· Ms. Carol Thomas, Inter-American Institute for Cooperation on Agriculture (IICA) said of the session that ‘over the years well over one hundred participants have successfully completed this programme [and] this is a major improvement towards improving the knowledge base of Plant Quarantine Officers across the Caribbean; and a significant step towards achieving harmonization with respect to inspection techniques’
· Dr. Wayne Ganpat, Dean, Faculty of Food and Agriculture said that the role of the Plant Quarantine Officers were to ‘safeguard the Region for plant pest and diseases’;
The Opening Ceremony of the two-week long course was hosted on Monday 31st July, 2017 and will run until August 11th, 2017. This Programme was first offered in August 2011 as a pilot over a five-day period at the University of the West Indies, St. Augustine Campus. In 2012 and 2013, the course was expanded and also modified on the basis of feedback received from the first cohort of Plant Protection and Quarantine (PPQ) Officers.
Key funding partners and collaborators included the Government of the Republic of Trinidad and Tobago; the Government of Jamaica; EU; FAO; USDA; IICA; UWI; among others.