Efforts to improve access to quality seeds in the region have got a big boost following the introduction of seed certification by Common Market for Eastern and Southern Africa (COMESA) member countries.
According to a statement from the COMESA secretariat, regional seed distribution certificates will be issued by national seed authorities on verification by COMESA experts.
Only seeds registered on the COMESA variety catalogue after inspection and laboratory testing by COMESA experts will be issued certificates.
The move is expected to help weed out unscrupulous dealers, enhance farmer productivity and ensure the region is food secure, according to COMESA's assistant secretary general in charge of programmes Dr Kipyego Cheluget. The initiative is expected to benefit more than 80 million smallholder farmers across the region. Recent COMESA statistics indicate that only 20 per cent small-scale farmers in the bloc have access to improved seeds.
In the statement to The New Times, Cheluget said COMESA needs about two million tonnes of quality and improved seeds, but is currently producing and accessing less than 520,000 metric tonnes.
"This has continued to impact negatively on agriculture production across the bloc," he added.
He explained that although COMESA is home to some of the major seed producing countries in Africa, seed distribution and access remain low due to unharmonised laws, procedures and systems used by member states in the seed value chain.
Rwanda's high commissioner to Zambia and permanent representative to COMESA, Monique Mukaruliza, said this has made it difficult for farmers to access improved seeds, which has resulted into poor yields and affected the sector's contribution to the bloc's GDP.
According to Mable Simwanz, the COMESA director for seed control and certification, most agro dealers are currently focusing on domestic markets despite the huge business opportunity presented by the bloc. The bloc's Alliance for Commodity Trade in Eastern and Southern Africa came up with the COMESA seed harmonisation implementation plan to expedite execution of the harmonised regional seed regulations.
The overall goal of the plan is to enhance seed production, reliability, seed trade including increasing the competitiveness of the seed industry in the region. So far, five COMESA countries - Burundi, Rwanda, Kenya, Uganda and Zimbabwe - have already aligned their national seed laws to the COMESA seed system.
What dealers say
Fabrice Mugeraneza, an agro dealer in Kigali, said harmonising seed policies and certifying dealers will help streamline seed trade and distribution. He added that the initiative may also result into reduction in the cost of operation, thus improve seed trade and make it more profitable.
The biggest beneficiaries will be farmers as they can now be assured of accessing quality planting materials, Mugeraneza added in an interview with The New Times yesterday.