Training of Trainers (ToT) Sessions Aid in Strengthening Inspection Capacities in West Africa

Group photo of all participants

Cotonou, Benin, 5 December 2023 – The International Institute of Tropical Agriculture (IITA) in Benin recently hosted an intensive training program aimed at enhancing the inspection capacity and knowledge base of 47 competent authorities and phytosanitary inspectors. The week-long training sessions, conducted from 5th to 9th December 2023, focused on the ECOWAS harmonized phytosanitary inspection and decision-making guide—a vital resource in maintaining plant health standards.

The comprehensive training program, designed to build competent trainers capable of conducting effective step-down trainings across various countries, saw the participation of not only experienced inspectors but also 15 dedicated women, strengthening gender-inclusiveness in the field. This initiative aligns with the objective of increased inspector training and promotion of harmonized quarantine operations within countries across West Africa and the Sahel region. By fostering intraregional trade and reducing the spread of plant pests, the training aims to have a profound impact on the agricultural landscape.

The ToT sessions marked the culmination of a four-year process that commenced with pilot trainings for 335 phytosanitary inspectors across all 17 participating countries. The latest initiative provided a platform for inspectors to gain insights into the guide, facilitating a better understanding of harmonized phytosanitary inspection techniques and decision-making processes. Through this collaborative effort, the training program successfully achieved its objectives, including enhanced knowledge and better-equipped inspectors preparing to take on leadership roles.

A participant from Mali expressed great satisfaction with the comprehensive technical document provided during the training. They praised the step-by-step approach to conducting phytosanitary inspections, acknowledging it as a valuable resource for their work. Similar positive feedback was echoed by other participants, highlighting the significance of the training.

Presentation at plenary

The ToT training sessions, conducted in partnership with IITA-Benin, covered various critical aspects of harmonized phytosanitary inspection and decision-making guide. Topics included a refresher course on entomology basics, detailed presentation of the guide encompassing both import and export procedures, updates on relevant International Standards for Phytosanitary Measures (ISPMs), and the integration of the notification system with e-ping of the World Trade Organization (WTO).

Practical exercises were a key component of the training, with participants engaging in hands-on laboratory tasks such as pest identification. Communication techniques were also highlighted as essential skills to effectively convey inspection results. To afford practical insights, the participants embarked on a field visit to the Seme Krake border between Benin and Nigeria.

The participants were divided into seven groups, fostering a collaborative environment which enabled networking and the establishment of a regional platform for information exchange, experience sharing, and communication among national competent authorities and phytosanitary inspectors from the 15 ECOWAS Member States Benin, Burkina Faso, Cabo Verde, Cote d’Ivoire, Gambia, Ghana, Guinea, Guinea Bissau, Liberia, Mali, Niger, Nigeria, Sierra Leone, Senegal, Togo plus Chad and Mauritania. The training also served to reinforce coordination among member states, contributing to the international standards-setting process and the domestication of best practices. Financial support for this endeavor was provided by USAID and USDA-FAS—vital contributions in advancing the regional harmonization of sanitary and phytosanitary standards in West Africa.

Group photo Laboratory and group work

The successful completion of this training program is remarkable not only in terms of the invaluable knowledge it has provided to participants but also for its potential impact in safeguarding plant health within the region. With a cadre of highly trained and competent inspectors, West Africa is better poised to mitigate the risks posed by plant pests while fostering regional trade and economic growth.