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Seed trade reforms to drive agricultural growth

Harmonising the seed trade is essential to provide smallscale farmers with access to a wider variety of improved seeds at lower costs (© CIMMYT)
Harmonising the seed trade is essential to provide smallscale farmers with access to a wider variety of improved seeds at lower costs
© CIMMYT

The first stage of an agreement to remove obstacles to seed trade in East and Southern Africa has been thrashed out by policymakers. In a bid to improve food security and place agriculture centre-stage as Africa's engine for growth, the measures to certify, test and inspect seed and review customs procedures among 19 countries in the Common Market for Eastern and Southern Africa (COMESA) region are expected to give smallscale farmers better access to quality seed at lower prices, boosting crop yields. The agreement will be presented for policy approval in mid-2011.

The discussions took place in Lusaka during a Seed Certification Technical workshop hosted by the Alliance for Commodity Trade in Eastern and Southern Africa (ACTESA), a COMESA agency with a mandate to improve regional representation of smallscale farmers at policy level. Initially, the agreement is expected to focus on better access to improved seed for 12 crops: maize, rice, groundnuts, cotton, beans, cassava, wheat, potato, sunflower, sorghum, soy beans and millet.

Dr Chris Muyunda, ACTESA chief executive officer, states that harmonising the seed trade is essential to provide smallscale farmers, who make up about 75 per cent of farmers in the region, with access to a wider variety of improved seeds at lower costs. "Without quality seed, the use of inorganic fertiliser, smallscale farmer irrigation, plant protection products and good agricultural practices will be rendered useless," he says. Currently, barriers to seed trade include limited access to quality seed, non-clean seeds infected by pest or diseases, and few available agricultural inputs.

Zambia's Ministry of Agriculture and Cooperatives Permanent Secretary, Abednego Banda, urged COMESA to urgently address the current model of seed trade in the region which he said is weak, hindering the productivity of smallscale farmers. The workshop, introduced by the COMESA's Regional Agro-Inputs Programme (COMRAP), is the first of a series of technical workshops intended to increase agro-business capacity in member states. Conclusions will be synthesised into a technical agreement which will be sent to the COMESA council of Ministers for approval in May 2011.

Written by: Georgina Smith

Date published: December 2010

 

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