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[NAIROBI] The spread of alien species that cause environmental or economic harm needs to be looked into seriously in Africa.

There is an urgent need to create effective systems to fight such species as they constitute a serious threat to food security and livelihoods in Sub-Saharan Africa.

This was one of the main issues discussed during a workshop organised by the International Centre of Insect Physiology and Ecology (icipe) in collaboration with CABI (the Centre for Agriculture and Biosciences International) and the International Institute of Tropical Agriculture this month (21–22 February) in Kenya. 

Smallholder farmers in Africa who contribute greatly to food production and security face invasive species challenges that should be addressed immediately.

Sam Otieno

Key players in the agricultural sector such as scientists, farmers and international development partners came together to create a strategy to reduce the spread and impact of invasive species through high-level scientific and policy dialogue that will strengthen coordination among relevant authorities.
Listening keenly to the proceedings, I gathered that most African countries lack the capacity to prevent introduction of these species and strategies for rapid response in management of any invasion whenever they occur, leading to panic and unwise decisions such as excessive pesticides, which harm the environment.
Thus, smallholder farmers in Africa who contribute greatly to food production and security face invasive species challenges that should be addressed immediately.
For example, invasive species negatively affect the animal industry by lowering forage yields and quality, interfering with grazing and poisoning animals, and thereby increasing the costs associated with livestock production.
From the meeting discussion I got convinced that providing quality earth observation data will be of great value to farmers in helping them know the spread of invasive weeds and how to implement correct measures such as biological control methods. Information sharing with other farmers will also promote adoption of preventive measures. Such information will help farmers to take an economically viable solution.
 For example, an invaded area with the Prosopis juliflora, an invasive weed in Africa that is native to Mexico, South America and the Caribbean, can be converted into charcoal to generate income.  
The meeting made me realise that taking correct measures to tackle invasive species is not only key to achieving productivity in agriculture and the eradication of poverty and hunger but it can lead to a sustainable environment.
This piece was produced by SciDev.Net’s Sub-Saharan Africa English desk.