Differences in the institutional response to an invasive plant disease in different countries and potential links to social-ecological outcomes

Sara Garcia Figuera, Neil McRoberts

Contact: sgarciafiguera@ucdavis.edu

The international regulatory framework for plant health has traditionally promoted centralized networks in response to biological invasions, in which the national plant protection organization (NPPO) of a country is given the authority and resources to coordinate actions across national, state and local scales. However, research on the design of governance networks and theories of social-ecological fit suggest this type of top-down approach may not always provide efficient solutions to invasive species problems. In fact, recent failures in engaging local actors in the response to biological invasions have highlighted the need to review current strategies and pay more attention to the social dimensions of this emerging problem. The aim of this study was to characterize the governance networks that were built in response to the introduction of huanglongbing disease of citrus (HLB) in Brazil, Florida, Mexico, California and Argentina. HLB is considered the most destructive disease of citrus worldwide. It is caused by a bacterium that is transmitted by a flying insect, and all citrus species are susceptible. Once a tree is infected, fruit become bitter and drop prematurely, and the tree ultimately dies. The disease was originally described in Asia, but it has spread to the American continents and it is threatening citrus production worldwide. It was first detected in Brazil in 2004, then in Florida in 2005, in Mexico in 2009, and in California and Argentina in 2012. Each of these regions has created its own governance network to coordinate HLB control following international guidelines. Because some of the regions seem to be controlling the spread of the disease better than others, we wanted to assess if the level of control achieved could be associated with certain features of the governance network, being aware of differences in the ecological system that might be influencing the social-ecological system outcome. A model of the governance network in each region was built by identifying the main organizations at the national, state and local scales, as well as the main flows of information, through data mining of published materials and conversations with selected actors. Network descriptive statistics and methods were used to identify the most relevant organizations in each of the networks and to evaluate the differences between them. This is a first approach at assessing social-ecological system fit in the response to HLB, which provides a unique case study to explore the performance of institutions in different ecological contexts and contribute to the development of a theory of when particular institutional arrangements may lead to better social and ecological outcomes. Studies such as this are timely, because NPPOs are re-evaluating the design and implementation of phytosanitary regulations in light of increased international trade of plant products and their associated pests. In some cases the proposed governance networks have de-emphasized centralization to favor local initiatives and bottom-up collective action. Policy-makers would greatly benefit from analytical tools capable of guiding the robust development of new phytosanitary regulations, and our work is one contribution to a growing interdisciplinary approach to biosecurity governance.

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