African Seed Trade Members Meet to Boost Seed Adoption, Distribution

Nairobi, Kenya — More than 350 delegates from governments, research institutions and seed production companies are gathering in Kenya this week to address challenges in getting good-quality seeds to African farmers. Experts say the lack of good seeds is hampering food production across the continent and contributing to the hunger crisis in many countries.

According to U.N. agencies, more than 280 million people in Africa are food insecure, with over a billion unable to afford healthy diets. 

One of the problems is that quality seeds are inaccessible to many African farmers, leading to higher rates of crop failure.

Daniel Agan works with the African Seed Trade Association. He says the delegates meeting in Mombasa are trying to address some of the challenges.  

“We are talking about Africa, which currently is grappling with issues like fake seeds, and counterfeit seeds,” Agan said. “Some people call it counterfeit seeds. We are talking about plant health. How healthy are those certified seeds to be planted in whichever environment? And then we are also talking about the movement of seeds. And that has been one of the greatest elephants in the room in the sense that for seed to move from one country to another has been a very, very big issue.”

In October 2022, Kenya approved the use of genetically modified organisms after a 10-year ban. However, the lifting of the ban has worried its neighbors who were skeptical of the GMO seeds and products.

Tanzania stated that it would monitor its border to prevent any such food from Kenya from entering the country.

Charles Miller, a board member of the African Seeds Trade Association, says countries would benefit if they harmonized their policies so seeds could be shipped across borders with no issues.   

“We work together as an industry to lobby for that harmonization,” said Miller. “And by having the ability to, for example, produce seeds in Kenya and ship them readily when it’s needed to Tanzania or even to Senegal, under the same rules and regulations, it makes for a much more transparent and clear business model. And it also provides much more security to, to those, the other end of the production scheme.”

Another issue is a lack of seeds that can thrive in harsh conditions like drought. Justin Rakotoarisaona is the secretary general of the association. He says there is not enough money to support researchers to produce more seeds that can overcome Africa’s evolving climate patterns.

“For the research, I mean the development of new varieties, there is less and less budget allocated by the public sector to this section, whereas there is no plant variety protection in Africa,” said Rakotoarisaona. “There is, but it is very difficult to implement it. And that implies the private sector may not be motivated to produce or to develop variety because there is no return on investment.”

Charles Miller is also head of strategic alliance for Solynta, a company that specializes in breeding hybrid potatoes, a cross between two inbred potato lines. His company’s product, he says, is an example of what advanced seeds can do for African farmers.  

“We produce hybrid potatoes and deliver those new genetics through a true seed, which is very innovative,” said Miller. “And unlike the traditional seed tubers, you can store our seed for long periods of time without cold storage. You can transport them very easily… So the work, the effort, the sustainability angle when using our seeds is significantly higher than the traditional system.”

For the time being, seed policies across much of Africa are stuck in the status quo.

The regional bloc COMESA, the Common Market of Eastern and Southern Africa, has introduced rules to harmonize the seed trade, but only seven out of 21 countries have ratified the regulation.

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