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Harmonisation of SADC seed policy yields results

Ayanda Mdluli Dar es Salaam

While many small-scale seed producers continue to face trade difficulties, the harmonisation of the seed policy in the Southern African Development Community (SADC) appears to have yielded some results.

These results are in the form of greater co-operation, smoother regional integration and simplified regulatory processes and legislation.

The number of SADC farmers facing seed insecurity has not diminished to desired levels, but the initiative that seeks to harmonise seed regulation has managed to identify the core challenges standing in the way of greater economic and commercial integration between the region’s 15 countries.

These were some of the issues shared yesterday by delegates at a workshop in Dar es Salaam hosted by the Food, Agriculture and Natural Resources Policy Analysis Network (Fanrpan).

It was revealed that some of the seed security initiatives under the banner of the Harmonised Seed Security Project would pave the way for greater commercial co-operation between producers and ensure that farmers had the right tools to be major players in the seed market.

One goal identified by Bellah Mpofu, the project co-ordinator at Fanrpan, was to integrate smaller markets into one larger SADC seed market that catered for smallholders and other players at the margins of the lucrative global market.

According to Mpofu, in 1987 a study found that policy frameworks in various SADC countries differed. This meant, for example, that sometimes it was difficult to move seeds from one country to the next because of compliance and regulatory issues that were too complex. All 15 countries in the region had different laws and standards that fragmented the seed market as a consequence.

“The seed market became unattractive because of the standards, so now we need to make it more attractive for investors through harmonising policies and laws and providing easy access across the whole region and building a bigger seed market,” she said.

Fungayi Simbi, an agribusiness specialist at Fanrpan, said the various projects initiated through the harmonisation of seed policy in SADC would also result in the development of seed enterprises in member countries in the form of training and access to smallholders for quality seed varieties.

Simbi said the rate of adoption of improved seed in sub-Saharan Africa remained at less than 5 percent, while 90 percent of farmers in southern Africa relied on the informal sector for seed. The initiative would also enhance the availability of variants and improve skills and seed quality.

Another issue affecting seed production was DuPont-owned Pioneer HiBred’s proposed takeover of Panaar Seed, which is still being contested by the Competition Commission at the Supreme Court of Appeal.

Approval of the deal would split the seed market in South Africa between DuPont and Monsanto, another multinational US conglomerate. The deal would also enable the establishment of a R60 million research group for small-scale farmers and producers.

Although the deal would affect small-scale farmers and integration in the regions, the variants produced by both companies were genetically modified and such seeds were not included in the system, Mpofu said.

Wynand van der Walt, a senior partner at Food N Crop Bio, a company that deals with biotechnology, legislation and seed industry issues, said it was important for SADC countries to embrace globalisation but not lose their heritage.

He said many countries in the region did not have intellectual property rights on their plant variants.

“The multinationals spend as much on research in one day (as) the whole SADC region (spends) in one year, which is why we need to protect our heritage and ensure that we negotiate partnerships where they can adapt to African conditions and technologies. We must learn to negotiate,” he said.

Ayanda Mdluli is hosted this week by the Food, Agriculture and Natural Resources Policy Analysis Network at its annual high-level regional food security policy dialogue.

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