By Christine Lagat
ENTEBBE, Uganda, May 24 (Xinhua) -- Virulent pests and diseases that are ravaging Africa's forests with profound intensity pose new threats to their survival, experts said at a forum in Entebbe, Uganda on Wednesday.
The experts drawn from the fields of botany and entomology noted that tree pests and diseases are spreading fast in many parts of Africa thanks to climate change as well as weak surveillance and early warning systems.
Professor Harrison Kojwang, a Kenyan Forestry, Environment and Natural Resources specialist noted that both exotic and indigenous tree species in Africa have not been spared attack by pests and diseases.
"The forest pests and diseases have been more pronounced in the east and southern African region. They are to blame for massive loss of revenue to plantation owners and even small scale farmers," Kojwang remarked.
He spoke to Xinhua on the sidelines of the ongoing regional workshop on sustainable forestry management attended by Africa's policymakers, scientists and green advocates.
Kojwang noted that changing weather patterns and unregulated cross border movement have fueled the spread of lethal tree pests and diseases in Sub-Saharan Africa.
He added that achieving the UN targets on forest cover in Africa is at stake unless countries take pro-active measures to contain diseases and pests ravaging trees.
"The challenge of forest pests and diseases deserve serious attention in this content. Countries should avoid panic reaction and instead invest in better ways to mitigate these threats," said Kojwang.
He proposed strengthening of an inter-African phytosanitary agency to prevent spread of pathogens and insects that attack tree species.
"Preemptive measures like surveillance and awareness creation targeting communities and forestry professionals is key to manage the challenge of tree pests and diseases," Kojwang said, adding that Southern Africa tree plantation owners have pioneered innovative ways to contain lethal pests and diseases.
African countries should prioritize investments in research on improved tree species that are resistant to attack by pests, diseases and climatic stresses.
Dr Paul Bosu, the Deputy Director at Ghanaian Forestry Research Institute said that investment in hybrid tree seedlings coupled with well equipped laboratories will boost response to forest pests and diseases in Africa.
"National governments should invest in disease and pest resistant planting materials to promote growth of forestry sector in this continent," said Bosu.
He urged African countries to harness indigenous knowledge that could strengthen war against pathogens responsible for spreading diseases in natural and man-made forests.