Op-Ed by Elsa Timana, Head of Mozambique’s National Seed Authority

By: Elsa Timana, Head of the National Seed Authority, Ministry of Agriculture and Rural Development, Government of the Republic of Mozambique.

According to the United Nations-led Food Security Cluster in Mozambique, an estimated 3.9 million people are severely food insecure and require urgent humanitarian assistance. Mozambique also has a seed shortage. The main drivers of this extensive food insecurity include conflict (northern); residual effects of the 2019 Cyclones Idai and Kenneth (northern and central); floods (northern and central); droughts (southern and central); and a prevalence of fake and substandard seed permeating the market. Further exacerbating matters is the COVID-19 pandemic. Of all those affected, 1.5 million were already food insecure pre-COVID-19 and an estimated additional 2.4 million were pushed into acute food insecurity due to the impact of COVID-19 pandemic.

The simultaneous and consecutive shocks have left our most vulnerable populations with limited options to cope, much less able to thrive. And while partners are doing their best to reach Mozambique’s most affected with food and livelihood assistance, our nation needs a more sustainable plan for long-term food security. 

Mozambican seed companies have been plagued with a very limited capacity to produce high-quality seed at scale, attract qualified personnel, and invest in research and breeding due to significant financial limitations.  These financial and resource limitations further drive weak coverage for seed quality control and assurance – no vehicles to conduct crop inspections, no lab equipment to test and certify seed, and no seed labeling system to indicate seed quality. 

Through a joint partnership with the Southern African Development Community (SADC), U.S. Agency for International Development (USAID) and the Government of Mozambique’s Ministry of Agriculture and Rural Development, we are working to come up with sustainable, long-term solutions that deepen food security for our nation and provide a pathway toward economic prosperity.

And we are already reaping the benefits of this collaboration.

With the assistance of the USAID-funded Feed the Future Southern Africa Seed Trade Project, Mozambique has advanced its Seed Legal and Regulatory Framework by determining areas of alignment with the SADC Harmonized Seed Regulatory System and reforms needed to accelerate domestication.  Through the development of eight policy briefs supported by the Seed Trade Project, Mozambican seed stakeholders and government representatives are working to improve the seed sector business environment, productivity and availability of quality seed.  Together with the Association for the Promotion of the Seed Sector in Mozambique (APROSE) and the Mozambique’s Seed Trade Association (MOSTA), we are developing an action plan to improve performance of the seed sector based on recommendations from these eight briefs and policy discussions.

We are also addressing the issues of individual and institutional capacity and shoring up our infrastructure to ensure quality seed is circulating in the Mozambican market.  Through the partnership with the USAID’s Seed Trade Project, more than 150 personnel have been trained according to regional and international standards: border agents including plant and seed inspectors, customs officials, clearing agents; agro-dealers; staff from the National Seed Authority (NSA) and National Plant Protection Organization (NPPO); academia; and seed producers (both individuals and companies). The Seed Trade Project has supported Mozambique in modernizing important infrastructure, critical for ensuring seed quality and control.  We now have an Online Seed Certification System, which dramatically cuts costs and time for seed producers, and enables Mozambique to comply with the SADC Seed Certification and Quality Assurance System requirements and is ready for OECD accreditation.  But the support has not stopped there.  The Seed Trade Project has also procured and delivered state-of-the-art seed testing laboratory equipment for the Chimoio Seed Laboratory to improve our seed quality assurance system, and provide high-quality seed testing services that comply with regional and international seed testing requirements (SADC and International Seed Testing Association (ISTA)).  It will further improve the quality of seed testing and enable the Seed Department to fully implement the SADC Harmonized Seed Regulatory System. 

Lastly, we have worked hard to replace fake and substandard seed with high-quality, improved seed that can deliver higher yields, withstand climate shocks, and resist pests and want to make farmers aware of their availability.  Beginning in 2019, the Seed Trade Project began working with the seed companies to pressure-test the SADC HSRS.  To date, there have been four pilot seed productions under the regional guidelines, two of which have exported to Mozambique between October and November 2020. Lake Agriculture of Zambia produced 250 MT of improved maize seed and exported 216 MT to Mozambique in October.  Similarly, Zimbabwe Super Seeds Cooperative Company produced 228 MT of improved sugar bean seed under the regional guidelines and exported 100 MT to Mozambique in November.  Normally, it would take Mozambique three years to return to its status quo prior to the cyclones, replenishing parent and regular seed supplies. However, with the influx of the 316 MT under the SADC HSRS and other consignments of improved seed ahead of the 2020/21 planting season, Mozambique’s ability to recover has drastically improved.  It has also been announced that Seed Co. Zambia, Lake Agriculture and Zimbabwe Super Seeds are all scaling up their production of improved seed under the SADC HSRS in 2020/21, and plan to export to Mozambique, Angola and the Democratic Republic of Congo later in the upcoming year using the SADC Seed Label. 

Seed companies continue to register their improved seed varieties on the SADC Seed Variety Catalogue, which now boasts 89 high-quality seed varieties including maize, sorghum, beans, Irish potatoes, wheat, cotton, soybean, and groundnuts.  These seed varieties are accessible to farmers in any SADC nation, including Mozambique and can be sought after through agro-dealers. 

So, What is Next?

All of these efforts have positioned Mozambique for success and we must not let this opportunity slip through our collective fingers.  We must see to it that our national seed policies fully align with the SADC’s Harmonized Seed Regulatory System. We must strengthen Mozambique’s seed quality control and certification system and insist on strict seed quality control at both the national and regional levels. And we must continue to enable seed companies with practical knowledge and skills, so they can comply with the regional standards and enable the development of the national seed industry.  If we can keep focused on these agenda items, Mozambique’s agricultural sector can grow, farmers can gain economic benefits from a broader regional market, and we can all weather the shocks that are bound to come because seed can move more seamlessly between us and our neighbours. 

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SADC Member States can align their national seed policies with the SADC HSRS.

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