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July 29, 2008

Policy reforms needed for African farmers to access improved maize seed

African policy experts on July 28 called for reforms to be introduced in maize seed sector in order to meet farmers' needs.

Senior policy makers from 13 sub-Saharan Africa countries meeting in Nairobi to deliberate ways to improve farmers' access to new maize seed including an increasing number of forthcoming drought tolerant maize varieties said at issue are policies that constrain the production, release and marketing of improved seed varieties.

Citing a study undertaken in 14 African countries, the policy experts said maize seed production in sub-Saharan Africa last year, similar to previous years, fell short of farmers' demand. The region was only able to meet 28 percent of its farmers' effective demand for improved maize seed, according to the International Maize and Wheat Research Center (CIMMYT).

The experts said a wide range of reasons contribute to this situation, including farmers' demand and seed production capacity of the maize seed sector. In several instances, restrictive national policies and trade regulations prohibit effective production and marketing of improved seed varieties and this continues to undermine food security and farm incomes in Africa.

The regional policy workshop is being organized by the Drought Tolerant Maize for Africa (DTMA) Project, which is jointly undertaken by CIMMYT, the International Institute of Tropical Agriculture (IITA) and a wide range of public and private sector institutions in sub-Saharan Africa.

The experts are discussing the 2007 study that gathered views of 156 representatives of seed companies, national agricultural research institutes, and non-governmental organizations in Angola, Benin, Ethiopia, Ghana, Kenya, Mali, Malawi, Mozambique, Nigeria, South Africa, Tanzania, Uganda, Zambia and Zimbabwe.

Stronger national seed laws and regulations are in order, according to Dr. Augustine Langyintuo, the economist at CIMMYT who led the 2007 seed sector study that, among other things, profiled maize seed producers and the varieties marketed in the region, and identified the factors constraining efficient seed production and distribution.

"Seed trade should be liberalized and, at the same time, seed quality better monitored," he says. "This and measures to avoid undue delays in variety release will have huge pay-offs."

"Regional harmonization of seed laws should also be expedited, so that seed released in one country but also useful in similar agro-ecologies of neighboring countries can be shared," says Dr. Langyintuo.

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