What is CISWG?

CISWG is the Caribbean Invasive Species Working Group.  But what does it do?  Why is it necessary?

People today are more mobile than they have ever been.  Not too long ago it was quite unusual for all but the wealthiest to travel to different countries, but now international travel is commonplace.  Some of the people who travel carry with them exotic plant pests and pathogens, sometimes completely by accident, other times because of attempts to move fresh food, plants or animal with the traveller.  Customs and quarantine agents at airports, seaports and at land frontiers, even when equipped with the best tools for detection of unwanted entries, just cannot detect all attempted pest entries.  Meissner et al (2009) estimates that the U.S. phytosanitary inspectors only intercepted about one quarter of the 1.7 million estimated plant quarantine materials which arrived at U.S. airports in the luggage of international travellers.  It is not very likely that Caribbean inspectors were any more successful; indeed with less extensive detection tools, they were probably much less successful.

The problem is not confined to travellers: traded goods, international mail, wood packaging material are also pathways for movement of pests.  Nature also plays a part as storms and ocean currents can carry small pathogens over long distances.

In 2003 scientists of the Caribbean Food Crops Society organised a special 1-day session during their Annual Conference, the session was entitled “Challenges and opportunities in protecting the Caribbean, Latin America and the United States from Invasive Species”.  At the meeting scientists, policy makers and trade specialists from throughout the region came together to discuss the issues caused by introduced pests and pathogens.  This momentum was sustained in follow-up meetings and at a symposium held in Trinidad in 2004 entitled “Facilitating better U.S. – Caribbean trade: invasive species issues.”

During these activities the need for a formal grouping was recognised and thus a number of agencies came together and formed CISWG.  The purpose of CISWG was defined as follows:

  • To develop strategies which safeguard the Caribbean against attacks by invasive species
  • To prevent as far as possible, the introduction of alien invasive species
  • To develop strategies for those which do manage to enter the region
  • To focus on invasive species which present a threat to agriculture and trade in agricultural commodities and products

The next stage was to formalise CISWG and this was done at the 19th Meeting of the CARICOM Council for Trade and Economic Development (COTED); this meeting officially recognised CISWG and also endorsed CARDI as the lead agency in building the necessary strategic partnerships for the control and management of invasive species.

It is very important to understand CISWG and its structures and functions.  Its structure is defined by the following:

  • The region covered by CISWG comprises countries in or bordering the Caribbean Sea and also Bahamas, Barbados, Guyana, Guyane (French Guiana), Suriname and Turks and Caicos Islands.  (This includes English, Spanish, French and Dutch speaking countries)
  • CISWG members are regional, international and national organisations/institutions in the region defined above and which deal with invasive species particularly those which are a threat to agriculture and trade in agricultural products
  • CISWG is chaired by CARDI
  • Governments of countries in the region defined above are invited to name a representative or representatives to CISWG

The CISWG functions are aimed at achieving the purpose as defined above.  CISWG formulates strategic policy recommendations as well as programmes and projects to implement policies and strategies, and bring these recommendations and projects to the attention of the various governments and government bodies.  CISWG may also advise governments concerning existing policies, programmes and projects.  CISWG conducts studies and analyses data relevant to making safeguarding more effective and efficient.

It needs to be emphasised that CISWG is not an Institute and it is not a Board.  It does not have any financial dealings.  It is a networking function which has been successful in coordination, strategy development and project development.

The members of CISWG are:

CABI  CAB International

CARDI  Caribbean Agricultural Research and Development Institute

CARISEC  Caribbean Community Secretariat

CIRAD  Centré de Coopération Internationale en Recherché Agronomique pour le Dévelopment

FAMU  Florida Agricultural and Mechanical University

FAO  Food and Agriculture Organisation

IDIAF  Institute Dominicano de Investigations Agropecuarias y Forestales

IICA  Inter American Institute for Cooperation on Agriculture

OIRSA  Organismo Internacional Regional de Sanidad Agropecuaria

PAHO  Pan American Health Organisation

TNC  The Nature Conservancy

USDA  APHIS United States Department of Agriculture, Animal Plant Health and Inspection Service

UF  University of Florida

UPR  University of Puerto Rico

UWI  University of the West Indies

Nineteen of the countries in the region covered by CISWG have named one or more representatives to CISWG.

CISWG’s first output was on the Caribbean Regional Invasive Species Intervention Strategy (CRISIS) which outlined the strategy for protection against invasive species; this was adopted by COTED at its 21st Meeting as a regional strategy to safeguard agriculture, natural resources and human health against the threats posed by alien invasive species.

CISWG also prepared a Project Proposal entitled the Caribbean Invasive Species Surveillance and Information Project (CISSIP).  CISSIP operationalises CRISIS and has four major components:

  • Pest Survey and Inspection Programme
  • Caribbean Pest Diagnostic Network
  • Invasive Species Information System
  • Public Education Programme

Controlling invasive species is a major activity requiring a large amount of funding and we have to accept that the type of funding required for CISSIP is just not available.  Despite this a mechanism has been found to start the Caribbean Pest Diagnostic Network.  Several regional countries (Barbados, Cayman Islands, Dominican Republic, Guadeloupe, Haiti, Jamaica, Martinique, Puerto Rico and Trinidad and Tobago) have been provided with equipment for distance diagnosis of pests and a training course for some of those countries was held at the University of Florida.

A completed activity of CISWG is the Caribbean Pathway Analysis; this was executed by USDA APHIS and targeted the following:

  • Quantitative analysis of risks posed by airline passengers
  • Quantitative analysis of mail and express courier packages
  • Natural spread of pests in the region
  • Characterisation of tourism/movement of people
  • Characterisation of trade

The comprehensive report is available from the Chair of CISWG.

An important component of CISWG’s activities is networking.  In a region as diverse as the Caribbean activities carried out by one agency are not always known to another agency and often there is duplication of effort.  This can be prevented if an effective networking system is in place.

Among the efforts being monitored by CISWG are:

  • The regional battle to control the Red Palm Mite (Raoiella indica), an exotic pest which is destroying the coconut industry in many countries
  • Global Environmental Forum (GEF) Invasive Alien Species Project; this is being executed by the United National Environmental Programme with the Caribbean region part of the project coordinated by CABI.  CISWG is an official partner to the project
  • Caribbean Region Safeguarding Initiative, a USDA APHIS activity in which CISWG is fully involved
  • Caribbean Plant Health Directors Forum, this is a CARICOM body now in its third year of activities.  CARICOM regularly reports to CISWG on this forum and its various working groups (namely Emergency Preparedness Response, Giant African Snail, Palm Pests and Tephritid Fruit Flies)
  • The Nature Conservancy (TNC) activities in the Caribbean include a Caribbean-wide weed risk assessment.  TNC reports on this and other relevant activities at CISWG meetings.  TNC also invites CISWG to its regional meetings.

CISWG can be contacted through CARDI, its Chair.  The contact person is Bruce Lauckner (blauckner@cardi.org) or phone (1868) 645-1205.


CISWG has benefitted from financial support from the University of Florida under the Tropical and Sub-Tropical Agricultural Reserach (T-STAR) Programme (A Special Grant Research Programme funded by the United States Department of Agriculture (USDA), National Institute of Food and Agriculture).  This funding source has also been used to publish this leaflet.


Meissner H, Lemay A, Bertone C, Schwartzburg K, Ferguson L and Newton L. (2009). Evaluation of pathways for exotic pest movement into and within the greater Caribbean region: vi + 267p. CISWG and United States Department of Agriculture, Center for Plant Health Science and Technology, Plant Epidemiology and Risk Analysis Laboratory, 1730 Varsity Drive, Suite 300, Raleigh, NC, USA.  http://caribbean-doc.ncsu.edu/index.html