Barriers to seed trade between COMESA countries lifted

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The Common Market for Eastern and Southern Africa (COMESA) through its specialised agency, the Alliance for Commodity Trade in Eastern and Southern Africa (ACTESA) has completed the process of harmonizing seed trade rules and regulations for the region. The agreement will ensure smooth flow of seed from one country to another.

ACTESA acting chief executive officer Chungu Mwila said through a speech read for him by COMESA Agro Input Regional Programme (COMRAP) seed expert John Mukaka at a meeting in Addis Ababa, Ethiopia, recently that his organisation had met the mandate that it was given by the COMESA member states.

The finalisation of the rules and regulations will result in removing trade barriers to free-flow of seed among member states.

"We want to ensure free movement of seed from one country to another through a harmonised policy so that obstacles to seed trade across our borders are removed with a view that the regional markets in Eastern and Southern Africa will become more attractive," Dr Mwila said.

Dr. Mwila noted that the harmonisation of seed trade will also enhance farmers’ access to seed through simplified customs procedures and quick seed varietal release procedures in the COMESA region.

The finalisation of the seed regulations and policies comes after a series of meetings whose objectives were to harmonise seed certification systems in the COMESA region in terms of seed classes, regional label colours, content and issuing procedures.

The objectives also included streamlining the roles and responsibilities of national seed authorities and regional offices and seed certification standards for field inspection and laboratory services for 12 crops which include beans, maize, rice, groundnuts cotton, wheat, cassava, potatoes, sunflower, sorghum, soya beans and millet.

The COMESA region faces a number of challenges in terms of seed availability and utilisation. One of the reasons cited for this situation is lack of a well developed seed industry as well as differences in terms of seed rules and regulations which make it difficult for seed to be moved from a surplus area to a deficit one.

The seed industry in eastern and southern Africa is said to be weak. As a result, it constrains small-scale farmers from having quality seed and engaging in good agricultural practices needed to increase crop production.

Some of the factors that inhibit seed development in the region include low agricultural productivity.

For example, maize production among most COMESA member states is about 1.39 tons per hectare compared to 4.47 tons per hectare in some developed economies. ACTESA envisages that with good quality seed and other improved agricultural practices, the member states would be able to achieve their food requirements.

Apart from availability of quality seed, the COMESA region also lacks other inputs such as fertilizers, which if available, are too expensive for most of the small-scale farmers.

Other factors that lead to low access to quality standard seed include insect pests and diseases, and lack of a harmonised and rationalised seed trade within the region that can enable the farmer’s access to seed from countries that have a surplus.

In some cases, seed has not been available due to natural disasters such as floods, drought, hail storm and inadequate parent materials to enable research institutions and seed companies multiply the seed to meet the needs of smallholder farmers within their countries and abroad.

The specific areas covered in the certification scheme include seed certification rules and standards, seed classes, field and laboratory parameters, colour labels, label contents, responsibilities of various authorities and a glossary of terms.

The seed certification scheme is the first among other sub-agreements to be concluded within the seed regulations and harmonisation component of COMRAP.

Meanwhile, the COMRAP programme, which was sponsored by the European Union came to a close on December 31 last year.

The two year programme mainly focused on seed harmonisation, agro-dealer training as well as finance and weather indexing.

The programme has created a base for the ministries of Agriculture in the eight countries where the project worked to among other things link farmers to improved markets as well as seed that will increase farmer productivity.

The programme has also led to farmers’ organisations such as farmers unions to work with insurance companies in security of crops which in most cases the insurance sector is unable to ensure because they consider the agricultural sector risky.

The harmonisation of the seed programme among COMESA member states and the coming to an end of COMRAP marks a milestone in the implementation of ACTESA programmes by members states.

The impact of this programme, though not vivid due to a short-life span will however go a long way in helping improve farmer productivity among member states. The only challenge however, is the sustanability of these programmes among respective member countries.

Chris Kakunta (Zambia Daily Mail)