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January 06, 2012

SADC establishes seed center

The Southern African Development Community (SADC) has established a centre to address seed supply challenges in the region.

The SADC Seed Centre is aimed at facilitating the co-ordination and implementation of the regional Harmonised Seed Regulatory System (HSRS).

The centre is housed at the SADC Plant Genetic Resources Centre in Lusaka, Zambia, and is financially supported by the Swedish Development Co-operation (SDC) and United States Agency for International Development (USAid).

The HSRS, which was endorsed at the 2007 SADC Council of Ministers meeting, aims to increase the number of available seed varieties to farmers, promote investment in the seed sector, and make it easier and cheaper for seed companies to introduce seed varieties in other SADC member states.

In a statement issued last week, SADC Seed Centre interim co-ordinator, Kalipochi Kawonga, explained that the seed supply systems in the region are currently weak and the movement of seeds from one country to another is problematic due to fragmented regulatory frameworks.

"Access and availability of quality seeds to farmers continue to impede agricultural productivity in the region, despite agriculture being one of the most important sectors for economic development," he said.

Programme officer for cereal production at the SADC Secretariat, Simon Mwale, said the use of improved seeds amongst small-scale farmers is low and rarely exceeds ten per cent in most SADC member states, and yet these farmers produce up to 80 per cent of the key staple food crops in the region.

"If the regional HSRS is successfully implemented, both national and regional seed suppliers will find SADC a more attractive market with lower costs and simpler administration of seed trade," he said.

Overall benefits will include increased investments in the seed sector, increased seed production, access to more varieties, and increased competition.

Farmers will eventually be offered access to a wider portfolio of quality seed products at a more affordable price.

The SADC HSRS comprises three components, namely the SADC Crop Variety Release System; the SADC Seed Certification and Quality Assurance System, and SADC Quarantine and Phytosanitary Measures for Seed.

The SADC Variety Release System provides for a shorter period of testing and releasing on new varieties instead of the current system of testing new varieties for two to four years in each member state.

Under the HSRS, a variety ought to be released in two member states and thereafter that variety will qualify to be marketed in the entire SADC region where the agro-ecological conditions suitable for that specific variety are similar.

"This is an improvement to the current scenario where seed markets are segregated, small, and difficult to access. In each country a new variety must go through lengthy variety testing and release procedures before seed can be marketed," said Mwale.

In addition, seed companies are compelled to select only a few countries in which to invest in variety testing and release. However, this denies or delays farmers' access to new products.

The SADC Seed Certification and Quality Assurance System introduces the use of common terminologies, standards, procedures, seals, labels and a certification scheme in order to guarantee the production and sale of high quality seed throughout the region, while the SADC Phytosanitary Measures for Seed System promotes the safe movement of seed with respect to pests and diseases.

Mwale said the existing variations in national standards for seed certification and quality control and in quarantine and phytosanitary measures for seeds also complicate the trading of seed between countries and cause difficulties for the efficient movement of emergency seed consignments.

The HSRS seeks to address the aforementioned problems by integrating smaller and isolated national seed markets into one larger SADC market for seeds.

This, in turn, will promote the entry of new improved varieties in the region and ease the movement of quality seed from countries with surplus to countries in need of seed.

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