SADC Seed Companies Scale-up Production and Export Under the SADC Harmonized Seed Regulatory Systems.
“It is only the farmer who faithfully plants seeds in the Spring, who reaps a harvest in the Autumn.”
Ask any farmer, and they’ll say this quote by B.C. Forbes, founder of Forbes Magazine, is a truism – a way of life – not just a metaphor for how to live life. Prosperity comes to those who literally plant seeds.
But nowadays, with climate change, invasive pests and plant diseases, not every seed is equal. Through the Feed the Future Southern Africa Seed Trade Project (Seed Trade Project), the U.S. Agency for International Development (USAID) is showing that a little upfront investment can be catalytic to long-term prosperity and food security.
Sowing the Seeds: Pilot Productions and Exports Substantiate Regional System
Beginning in 2018, the Seed Trade Project awarded Seed Co. Zambia Ltd. with a $100K grant to pilot production of high-quality maize seed under the Southern African Development Community’s (SADC) Harmonized Seed Regulatory System (HSRS). The SADC HSRS is a set of regionally agreed upon standards that govern seed production and trade, covering three technical components: Seed Variety Release, Seed Certification and Quality Assurance, and Quarantine and Phytosanitary Measures for Seed. Seed companies who register their improved seed varieties on the SADC Seed Variety Catalogue and receive approval from the SADC Seed Centre can then proceed with production and export, following the guidelines, to any of the 16 SADC Member States.
The Seed Co Zambia pilot production and export proved a tremendous success. By September 2019, Seed Co Zambia, with the help of the Zambia National Seed Authority known as the Seed Control and Certification Institute, produced 226 MT of hybrid seed valued at $376K. Further, the export moved seamlessly across national borders, from Zambia to seed deficit Democratic Republic of Congo. The success of Seed Co.’s pilot export sparked interest from several other seed producers vying to break into the SADC market, and resulted in the Seed Trade Project awarding three emerging seed companies with $100K grants each to further pressure-test the system – Lake Agriculture of Zambia, Zimbabwe Super Seeds Cooperative Company (ZSS) of Zimbabwe, and Peacock Seeds of Malawi. These additional pilots collectively produced 475 MT of high-quality seed, and 316 was exported to Mozambique which had been hard-hit by Cyclones Idai and Kenneth in Spring 2019. Each seed company matched USAID’s investment, as well. Therefore, in total, 701 MT have been produced under the SADC Harmonized Seed Regulatory System of which 516 MT have been exported, proving that the System works.
These pilot exports were the first time improved varieties crossed national borders bearing both the SADC seed labels and certificates, allowing the consignments to clear customs in minutes—not hours or days. The SADC seed labels and certificates have also proven useful in helping recipient countries quickly identify high-quality seed from fake or substandard seed. As Seed Co Zambia’s Country Manager for DRC and Angola, Mr. Stanley Malekani states, “The SADC seed labels are an advantage for border post clearances and assist in distinguishing genuine seed from fake seed in the DRC. It’s just one more benefit of producing seed under the SADC HSRS.”
Future Prosperity: Scale-up Efforts in Progress
Of the four seed companies who participated in the pilot productions and exports, three returned to the Seed Trade Project to sign commitments for scale-up productions and exports under the SADC HSRS during the 2020/21 planting season. However, this time, they did so without additional grant funding—only technical support and guidance from the Seed Trade Project.
ZSS Managing Director Nelson Munyaka shares, “The respect the SADC HSRS gets in the region makes it an ideal production standard which we can use further. As Zimbabwe Super Seeds, we are going to continue using the SADC HSRS whenever we have orders going outside the country – it makes our life easier”.
Seed Co Zambia is currently committed to producing 1,000 MT of its hybrid maize seed for anticipated export to Angola and the DRC; Lake Agriculture is committed to 850 MT of its improved maize seed for anticipated export to Eswatini, Lesotho and Mozambique; and ZSS is planning to produce 1,100 MT of high-quality sugar bean seed for export to Botswana, Mozambique and Namibia. This scale-up would mark a 421 percent increase in seed production under the SADC System, from 701 MT to 2,950 MT, and dramatically broaden the market for each seed company, which previously, would have taken over a decade to accomplish. As Lake Agriculture Managing Director Mike Jackson states, “The flexibility of having SADC registration and SADC certification means that the entire region is available as a market. This coming season we are producing 850 MT in Zambia, all of which will be SADC certified. We are looking to produce legumes with semi-commercial farmers with at least 20 hectares which will be exported within the SADC region.”
Each company is currently at different stages of production, with anticipated exports set between September – November 2021.
The Farmer Who Faithfully Plants…
With only a $400K catalytic investment spread across four seed companies, USAID has already seen a sizeable return on its investment. The total value of the pilot exports was $917K while local sales reaped $351K, for a total of $1,268,000 year to date. And through the current scale-up activities, again without any further financial investment from the Seed Trade Project, it is anticipated that the number will easily quadruple from its current total.
In addition to the new markets available to seed producers and increased profits, another benefit of producing and exporting high-quality seed under the SADC HSRS is the potential for much-needed forex to enter each exporting nation. Lastly, farmers across SADC are spoilt for choice, gaining increased access to improved seeds that will allow them to grow higher yield crops, further increasing both nutrition and food security for the region, as well as for their families.
ZSS outgrower farmer Ms. Otilia Chimonero shares, “I have already received my payment for the seed which I delivered to ZSS. As a family, we plan to build a three-roomed house and I’ll send my children to school through college level. I have gained a lot of knowledge growing seed with Zimbabwe Super Seeds, and I am willing to continue growing seed using the SADC standards.”
About the Seed Trade Project
The Feed the Future Southern Africa Seed Trade Project is funded by the USAID Southern African Regional Office, and provides targeted technical assistance to facilitate the implementation of the SADC Harmonized Seed Regulatory System, which aims to boost seed trade across the region, integrating smaller, and more isolated national seed markets into one broader SADC market. Implemented by DAI Global, LLC, the Seed Trade Project is part of a regional policy effort to improve agricultural productivity, food security, and nutrition in the SADC region.