COMESA is set to become the first Regional Economic Community in the world to introduce the use and distribution of seed labels and certificates as a way of improving access to quality seeds in the region.
This development is expected to impact positively on approximately 130 million people in COMESA who are currently food insecure and experiencing chronic poverty and hunger for failure to get quality and improved seed.
According to the Assistant Secretary General in charge of Programmes at COMESA Dr Kipyego Cheluget, out of 80 million small-holder farmers in the COMESA region, only 20% have access to quality and improved seed.
He was speaking in Lusaka during the opening of a regional meeting to discuss modalities of rolling out COMESA Seed Labels and Certificates.
“The potential total seed market in COMESA is at two million metric tonnes of quality and improved seed,” said Dr Cheluget who was represented by Senior Investment Officer Mr Joseph Mpunga. “However, the region is currently producing and accessing less than 520, 000 metric tonnes of quality and improved seed. This has continued to impact negatively on the people.”
This challenge is attributed to the fact that, the regional seed market is fragmented into small national markets, whereby each country operates its own seed policies and regulations different from other COMESA Member States.
As a result, seed companies enter any of the national seed markets available. This is not only costly to the private sector but also results in prolonged delays before good quality seed can find its way to the farmers.
Dr Cheluget added that although COMESA is home to some of the major seed producing countries in Africa such as Egypt, Zambia, Zimbabwe, Kenya, Malawi and Uganda, the levels of supply remain stagnant with each country differing in the laws, procedures and systems applied to the seed value chain.
He said: “Companies are left to focus only on the domestic markets and thus unable to supply other markets in the region that may have greater demand.”
Once operational, the COMESA Regional Seed Certificate will be issued by National Seed authorities upon verification that a seed lot registered on the COMESA Variety Catalogue was inspected, met COMESA field standards and underwent laboratory analysis.
Speaking at the same forum, the Permanent Secretary in Zambia’s Ministry of Agriculture Mr Julius Shawa said the country is committed to introducing harmonized seed trade regulations. Mr Shawa who was represented by the Director at the Seed Control and Certification Unit Mrs Mable Simwanza said the draft document will soon be signed off.
The one-day meeting was attended by Seed companies that operate in the region including Monsanto, MRI/Syngenta, Seedco, Pioneer Dupont, HZP, East African Seed and Pannar. Government representatives from Egypt, Rwanda, Kenya, Malawi, Uganda, Swaziland, Zambia and Zimbabwe participated in the meeting.
COMESA through its specialized agency the Alliance for Commodity Trade in Eastern and Southern Africa came up with the COMESA Seed Harmonisation Implementation Plan (COMSHIP) to expedite implementation of the harmonized regional seed regulations.
The overall goal of COMSHIP is to implement the COMESA Seed Trade Harmonisation Regulations to enhance seed production, reliability, seed trade including increasing the competitiveness of the seed industry in the Southern and East African Region.
So far, five COMESA countries namely Burundi, Rwanda, Kenya, Uganda and Zimbabwe have completely aligned their national seed laws to the COMESA Seed System. Ethiopia, DR Congo, Malawi and Zambia have draft aligned seed regulations that require gazettement at national level.
So far, COMSHIP has been launched in seventeen COMESA countries; Burundi, Comoros, Djibouti, DR Congo, Egypt, Ethiopia, Kenya, Madagascar, Malawi, Mauritius, Rwanda, Seychelles, Sudan, Swaziland, Uganda, Zambia and Zimbabwe.