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Developing the African seed industry

March 16, 2015
  • East Africa
  • Central Africa

A reliable supply of high-quality seed is of vital importance to the growth and development of African agriculture. Yet, Africa is a minor player in the global seed trade, accounting for less than 2%. Constraints holding back investment, progress and trade in this crucial sector include a highly fragmented seed system, inconsistent policies, standards, regulations and procedures, high costs for registering new varieties and an inadequate infrastructure to support the development of the seed industry.

seeds cover copyA CTA publication with contributions from actors closely involved in the seed sector of Central and East Africa examines the various seed systems in use and describes the policy environment and the value chain actors involved, including universities, enterprises and farmers’ and women’s groups, as well as regulatory and other support agencies.

The groundwork for Seed systems, Science and Policy in East and Central Africa was done at a cross-learning workshop jointly held by CTA and the Association for Strengthening Agricultural Research in East and Central Africa (ASARECA) in December 2013. It was organised to bring together key academics, researchers, experts, farmers and policy-makers, so as to share research results, knowledge and experiences, draw policy lessons and plan interventions to promote seed entrepreneurship.

Lessons for policy

Published in English and released in February 2015, the publication includes a CTA/ASARECA policy brief which will be available in French in the coming weeks. It offers some important lessons about the barriers hampering development of the seed sector and the collective action needed to make it more dynamic and  economically viable. A key finding is that Africa needs to develop and integrate its various seed systems if it is to increase its present contribution to the global seed trade. Quality improvements in the informal seed systems and improved linkages with the formal seed systems are critical. A strategic partnership of research, enterprise and government will be needed to achieve this goal.

“African farmers need quality seeds. And Africa needs to increase its share of the global seed trade,” said Judith Francis, CTA Senior Programme Coordinator, Science & Technology Policy, who coordinated the publication. “Neither goal can be achieved if the policies, regulations and quality assurance schemes are not in place and properly enforced. African countries and scientists also need the infrastructure, such as laboratories, to move this sector forward.”

Progress and proposals

Some progress is already under way. The launch of the Eastern Africa Seed Committee (EASCOM), with support from ASARECA, is promoting the adoption and implementation of harmonised regional seed regulations, standards and procedures, with a total gain estimated at more than US$727 million (€ 688 million) for the Eastern and Central Africa region. But there is still much work to be done in ensuring that policy-makers are better informed on the many inter-related issues in seed industry development, so that implementation of national and regional policies and programmes can move forward swiftly. 

Other recommendations include strengthening capacities in seed delivery systems, mobilizing investment to drive commercial seed innovations, achieve greater cohesion between stakeholders so as to identify gaps, provide reliable data on seed markets, develop interventions and inform policy processes, ensure more research on local and introduced varieties that are adopted to local environments and training for seed system actors.

Stronger regulatory institutions, implementation of harmonised seed standards, procedures and regulations and conformity with international seed standards will all be critical to developing the African seed sector. Joint seed business ventures between private companies and universities and national agricultural research institutes could do much to ensure that new varieties are marketed and accessed by farmers. Lastly, stronger engagement of actors in designing and enforcement of intellectual property rights would help to motivate seed producers, plant breeders and the private sector in investing in research to develop new and improved varieties.