High quality seed is an important determinant of a country’s agricultural productivity and food security. Enhancing regional food security, therefore, requires deliberate efforts to improve seed production and seed trade systems if smallholder farmers are to access quality and affordable seeds.
A rapid assessment by Africa Lead in 2018 found that mistrust among seed agencies and phytosanitary authorities, poor certification systems, inefficient border operations, and inadequate capacity of seed companies are major hindrances to cross-border trade. Likewise, failure to subscribe to international seed standards has led to countries not establishing the prerequisite infrastructure and surveillance that is required to improve the quality of their seeds. These problems, along with the additional protectionist policies of many member states, restrict the number and volume of crop varieties of certified seeds that are formally traded among COMESA (The Common Market for East and Southern Africa) countries.
Africa Lead has designed a pilot seed activity that focuses on improving regional seed trade by strengthening seed certification systems, border operations, and the cross-border trading capacity of selected seed companies in selected seed crops, routes, and countries.
To guide the implementation of this activity, Africa Lead held an inception meeting for a team of 20 seed experts on 29 January, 2019. Participants in attendance included representatives of the African Seed Trade Association (AFSTA), Kenya Plant Health Inspectorate Service (KEPHIS), COMESA, USAID/Kenya and East Africa, among others.
The main objectives of the meeting were to: collectively reflect on how best to plan and mitigate trade risks that face the seed sector in the region for improved movement of seeds across the region, create a level playing field for all seed companies, and address regional policy constraints like the lack of harmonized standards.
Participants in the meeting identified six countries for potential country engagement and joint learning activities to address seed trade bottlenecks, improve certification processes, and boost cross-border seed trade. Maize was also selected as the crop on which to anchor the seed activity.
In her remarks during the breakout session, Mary Onsongo, Senior Program Management Specialist USAID/KEA, said, “This activity is perfectly aligned to the new USAID/KEA Feed the Future 2019 Strategy whose goal is to raise volume and value of regional trade, and to improve private sector participation.”
Africa Lead will host another meeting to refine the approach, review progress, and agree on next steps for the roll out of the activity on February 22, 2019.