Improving food security and resilience is a top priority for the Feed the Future initiative and the Southern African Development Community. Poverty, drought and chronic disease continue to plague the region resulting in food system failures and chronically inadequate nutrition. Increasing access to a variety of nutritious food and making sure it is safe for trade and consumption is paramount and the main purpose of the Feed the Future Southern Africa Seed Trade Project. While 2020 has been marked with many challenges, the Seed Trade Project worked successfully with SADC Member States and seed stakeholders, especially seed companies, to make substantial progress this past year. Following is a list of the top wins for SADC countries, seed producers and farmers.
Better, More Diverse Seed Leads to Higher Yield Crops and Improved Nutrition
Since the inception of the Seed Trade Project in 2016, the number of improved seed varieties listed on the SADC Seed Variety Catalogue has increased from 25 to 91, expanding well-beyond maize to include cotton, sorghum, beans, groundnuts, soybean, Irish potatoes and wheat. Any seed listed on the regional catalogue has undergone a rigorous testing and certification process, and has been approved for production and trade to ANY of the 16 Members States that make up SADC.
Benefits: The list of benefits to both seed stakeholders and the general population are numerous. For seed companies, the streamlined process means they only need to apply and get approved by two SADC national seed authorities. Once reviewed and signed off by the SADC Seed Centre, these improved varieties can be marketed in all 16 nations, cutting down years of process to bring a new seed variety to market. And with the spike in improved varieties listed on the catalogue that are resistant to climate shocks and pests, farmers can now request a specific variety from their nearby agro-dealer and be assured that it is of high-quality and suitable for their particular soil and climate conditions. Better seed reaps better yields, which benefits farmers economically, as well. Finally, the increased diversity of seed means better nutrition for the general population, especially new protein sources like beans and legumes.
Regional Standards for Seed Trade Widens the Market
The SADC Harmonized Seed Regulatory System is a set of regionally agreed upon guidelines for seed trade, helping to standardize seed variety release and registration, seed certification and quality assurance, and quarantine and phytosanitary measures for seed. The Seed Trade Project works with national governments to help them align their national seed legislation to the regional guidance. While this has been a long and arduous process, this year, Zambia became the first SADC nation to fully domesticate the SADC HSRS in August. This means any seed produced in Zambia that meets not only the national, but regional standards, can bear the SADC seed label and certificate and be exported to any SADC nation. Not far behind Zambia are both Mozambique and Zimbabwe. Both nations have made significant progress in 2020 to align their national seed laws and get closer to acceding to the SADC HSRS.
Benefits: What does this all mean? The SADC HSRS has the potential to transform 16 isolated markets into one regional market, making it far easier to move high-quality seed consignments across national borders. From a policy standpoint, this is very good for business and economic prosperity as it levels the playing field for any seed producer, large or small, who has an approved seed variety on the regional catalogue, allowing them to market their seed across to any or all 16 nations. For national governments, increased exports mean much sought after forex, helping to stabilize inflation rates. From a food security standpoint, any seed carrying the SADC label and certificate can move quickly across national borders in response to humanitarian efforts, drought, pest invasions and other causes of seed deficits or poor crop yields.
Stress-Testing Proves the System Works and Leads to Scale-up
In September 2019, Seed Co. Zambia Ltd became the first seed company to produce and export hybrid maize seed from Zambia to the DRC using the SADC HSRS. The success of this pilot led to partnerships between the Seed Trade Project and three small, emerging seed companies – Lake Agriculture of Zambia, Zimbabwe Super Seeds Cooperative Company (ZSS) of Zimbabwe, and Peacock Seeds of Malawi – to further stress-test the system and ensure it works for any sized seed company, large or small. Between all four pilots, three surpassed or met expectations, producing surpluses that allowed improved seed to stay on the local market as well as be exported to Mozambique, which had been hard-hit with back-to-back cyclones in 2019 and continuous problems with fake seed on the market.
Further, the success of the SADC HSRS pilots has led to commitments from Seed Co. Zambia Ltd, Lake Agriculture and Zimbabwe Super Seeds to scale-up seed production and export high-quality seed. Seed Co. will export 1000 MT of hybrid maize seed to the DRC, Lake Agriculture will export 850 MT of maize and common bean seed to Lesotho, Mozambique and Eswatini, and Zimbabwe Super Seeds is planning for 300 MT of sugar bean seed to Mozambique
Benefits: The success of the pilot productions and exports has reinforced that the SADC HSRS can work for any seed company, helping them enter new markets in a fraction of the time at a fraction of the cost. It is also motivating seed companies to register their improved seed varieties to the regional catalogue and pushing production of high-quality seed to a greater scale. The combination of better seed, more diverse varieties, and increased production has the potential to increase economic prosperity for participating nations and seed companies. Further, it’s driving competition, which is great news for farmers.
Technology is Streamlining Processes, Cutting Cost and Waste, and Modernizing Labs
In 2020, the Seed Trade Project ramped up efforts around technology upgrades and transfers in several SADC nations, namely Zambia, Malawi and Mozambique. To improve seed quality assurance and test for plant diseases and pests, the project procured state of the art laboratory equipment for the national seed authorities in all three countries. In addition, the project scaled up implementation and operationalization of tailored Online Seed Certification Systems in Malawi and Mozambique following a successful pilot in Zambia. The project went on to train NSA staff and seed inspectors on how to use the systems to better serve seed companies in their production efforts.
Benefits: The Online Seed Certification System is a game changer for seed production and exports. By moving manual systems to digital platforms, each implementing country can streamline and more accurately track information as it relates to the production of seed, from inspections to testing to certification. Inspections alone used to require the inspector to go in person to the NSA to deliver paperwork, costing valuable time and money. Now, data from seed inspections throughout the crop maturation period can be uploaded from a mobile device from anywhere. Laboratory improvements are also ensuring seed is of high-quality and free of invasive pests and diseases. With state of the art equipment in key locations, especially border points, seed consignments can be double-checked before moving seamlessly across national borders bearing the SADC seed label and certificate.
Sound Policy, Planning and Training Create Upward Cycle of Sustainability
Sustainability has been at the heart of the Seed Trade Project in 2020. Efforts made to advance SADC Member States toward accession to the SADC HSRS, installation of new state-of-the-art laboratory equipment, movement from a paper-based seed certification system to an Online Seed Certification System, and showcasing the success of seed production and export pilots have all contributed to the development of a sustainable regional seed trade system. For human and institutional capacity-building, the Seed Trade Project adapted and conducted trainings for online platforms in the midst of the COVID-19 pandemic, supporting national partners (NSAs, NPPOs and seed trade associations) who identified and trained seed growers, staff, seed inspectors, plant health inspectors, border and customs officials and other relevant staff. Trainings went one step further as the Project aimed to build knowledge and awareness in Malawi, Mozambique, Zambia, and Zimbabwe of the OECD Seed Schemes and the numerous benefits of membership, including trading seed at the international level. Lastly, and critical to long-term sustainability, the Seed Trade Project focused on the operationalization of the SADC Seed Centre in 2020, including working with the SADC Secretariat to incorporate the Seed Centre into the SADC Plant Genetic Resource Centre (SPGRC), which allowed the Seed Centre to use the legal standing of the SPGRC to begin operating.
Benefits: Now that the SADC Seed Centre has legal standing to operate, they can start charging fees for regional variety release and maintenance, further boosting its sustainability efforts. The Centre has also appointed of Ms. Tilabilenji Phiri to be the Seed Centre Coordinator as of November 2020, which will alleviate the backlog of applications for regional seed variety release. And all capacity-building activities, from modernizing seed testing labs to training seed companies on SADC HSRS guidelines, are proving fruitful as scale-up productions and exports ensue and national governments take the lead in shaping their country’s seed trade future.