By James Hester, Director of USAID’s Office of Natural Resources Management
Witchweed, an invasive species contributing to crop loss in Africa. Photo credit: USDA APHIS PPQ Archive
African farmers lose more than $7 billion in maize crops from the invasive witchweed, according to estimates by the United Nations. Overall, agricultural losses to invasive species may amount to more than $12 billion for Africa’s eight principal crops. African farmers are not alone in this challenge – worldwide, invasive species are among the larger causes of reduced food production and post-harvest losses.
In addition, invasive species can be major vectors for human and animal diseases that were previously not found in a region. Malaria, West Nile virus, Rift Valley fever, and Lyme disease are just a few of the many diseases that are spreading as the insects that carry them find their way into new regions and countries.
Africanized bees, fire ants, snakehead fish, kudzu, carp, water hyacinth, and thousands of other species are spreading to countries where they are not native, and in which few or no natural predators exist – creating serious economic and social issues.
To get a handle on this problem, USAID, along with a large group of partners, have collaborated to develop an innovative, international invasive species compendium – a scientific database of invasive species, animal diseases, and affected areas around the world. This new internet-based system is available for public use at no cost. It presently contains a bibliographic database of about 1,500 invasive species, along with more than 65,000 records and full text documents, both of which are updated weekly.
This is a living compendium, and it will continue to grow over time. It is structured to help scientists with expertise in invasive species communicate with each other, and to support each other – from across the globe if necessary – as they work to address the problems created by invasive species. It also includes common names in addition to the Latin taxonomic names, as well as other non-technical materials so the general public can take advantage of the depth of knowledge this new website offers.
The website features a library with sections on the characteristics of invasive species, the way they are dispersed, and the impacts they have on economies, habitats, and societies. It also addresses how to detect, manage, and control invasive species. This video introduces the database and explains how to use it.
USAID, along with USDA and other international donors including the U.K. Department for International Development, the Canadian International Development Agency, and Australian Aid, among others, all helped fund this project. USAID’s partner in developing the technical database was CABI – a private, international organization with 46 member countries dedicated to the generation, accessibility, and use of knowledge for sustainable agriculture, environmental management, and human development.