What are systems approaches, when are they used, and why we need standardised methods to support their design and validation

Phytosanitary systems approaches are a way to address biosecurity risks that may arise from domestic or international trade of agriculture or horticulture produce.

The International Plant Protection Convention (IPPC) recognises systems approaches as one of four options for pest risk management that may enable market access. The four pathways are:

  • Demonstrate that pests of concern are not present in the traded commodity’s place of production. This is commonly known as ‘Area freedom’
  • Demonstrate that the traded commodity is not a host for pests of concern – also known as ‘non-host status’
  • Apply a single-point, post-harvest phytosanitary treatment  – also known as an ‘end point treatment’ or
  • Apply a ‘systems approach’ of multiple phytosanitary measures

The IPPC defines phytosanitary systems approaches as the integration of different phytosanitary measures, at least two of which act independently, that cumulatively reduce the risk of pest and pathogen movement to the appropriate level of phytosanitary protection.

International Standards for Phytosanitary Measures (ISPMs) are standards adopted under the IPPC, and guide the development of protocols under each of the pest risk management options. Standards that are most relevant for systems approaches are:

In some cases, systems approaches enable agricultural, horticultural, nursery or timber products to be exported without an endpoint treatment. This allows producers to capitalise on their good farm practices and integrated pest management systems, and may help reduce the use of pesticides and fumigants.

When systems approaches might offer a good solution

Systems approaches could be considered in a range of situations, such as when:

  • endpoint treatments are not available, expensive, affect quality or shelf-life, prolong the time to market, or diminish the market value of the produce
  • endpoint treatments provide more protection than might actually be required, for example, for lower-risk or uncommon pests
  • chemical treatments such as sprays, dips or fumigants may be withdrawn from the market, or access is restricted, or are not accepted by trading partners
  • the pest pressure, exposure or susceptibility of the produce is low and management practices throughout the production systems minimise the risk of pest infestation or movement

Where systems approaches are used for market access

Phytosanitary systems approaches are used to address biosecurity risks from the trade of fresh fruit and vegetables, cut flowers, timber and live plants. They can also be used to reduce the risk of pests being moved on carriers such as vehicles, soil and processed goods.

While there are many systems approach-based protocols in place for international trade, there is significant opportunity to increase their application. Currently, systems approaches tend to be applied to pests that are considered to be lower risk. A well-designed systems approach-based protocol, however, also has the potential to deliver an acceptable level of protection for high risk pests and pathogens. It is important to note that the importing jurisdiction will determine the level of protection they consider appropriate to protect human, animal or plant life or health within their territory, and the required level of efficacy for a phytosanitary protocol.

Through our research, we have reviewed 60 publicly available protocols. The review showed that systems approaches have been used for a wide range of pests, mostly on citrus, solanaceae, pomefruit and avocado fruits. Systems approach-based  protocols have been accepted by many countries, including the USA, Taiwan and Japan. Systems approaches are widely used to support domestic (interstate) trade in Australia, with protocols in place for pests of citrus, blueberry, strawberry, solanaceae, table grape, mango, stonefruit, and custard apple. Further details can be found in our published review, here:

A risk framework for using Systems Approaches to manage horticultural biosecurity risks for market access

Why standardised methods and tools are needed

A key limitation to the uptake of systems approaches has been a lack of agreed, rigorous methodologies to underpin the design, and demonstrate the efficacy of, combined phytosanitary measures – particularly compared to end-point treatments.

As a result, trading partners may have poor confidence in proposed systems approach-based protocols and, therefore, are less willing to accept them.

Our research aims to address this by developing and testing methods and tools that guide the selection of phytosanitary measures and validate their effectiveness when combined in a systems approach.

What our research is delivering

We aim to build on research efforts from around the world and contribute to the development, testing and harmonisation of the concepts and methods that underpin phytosanitary systems approaches.

The standardised methodologies developed through this research can be used to:

  • Categorise and quantify how individual phytosanitary measures contribute to reducing risks
  • Determine an efficient mix of phytosanitary measures to manage pests of concern
  • Validate the efficacy of the selected mix of measures, using qualitative and quantitative models
  • Develop comprehensive data packages that support a proposed systems approach for biosecurity risk management

We are also working on tools and quantitative models to bring stronger rigour to key elements of systems approaches such as pest monitoring programs, insect trapping densities and sampling protocols.

By applying consistent methods, biosecurity stakeholders can build greater confidence in systems approaches.

How can scientific tools support key decision points in the biosecurity risk management process?

The schema below outlines the steps taken to manage biosecurity trade risks, and the relationship between science and decision making. Although this website is relevant to all four steps, its primary focus is on managing pest risks that have already been identified through Pest Risk Analysis. The purpose of the tools is to support the development of combinations of measures that are effective yet least trade restrictive and consistent with IPPC Sanitary and Phytosanitary (SPS) Principles.

Schema showing where science can support decision making in the biosecurity risk management process
Schema showing where science can support decision making in the biosecurity risk management process

Schema showing where science can support decision making in the biosecurity risk management process

Further details about the scientific tools developed through our research to support biosecurity risk management and phytosanitary systems approaches can be found on our Tools and Resources pages.