Pan African seed chief decries lack of supportive laws
African governments have been asked to enact laws that can help fast track movement of certified seeds in the region.
The African Seed Trade Association (AFSTA) President Dr Kulani Machaba, while addressing the 23rd Annual Congress of the organization in Dakar, Senegal, added that seed trade in Africa is still low due to restrictive laws and poor adoption of new breeding methods such as gene editing and biotechnology. The Congress attracted 300 delegates from around the world recently.
Experts say that Africa contributes only 2 per cent of the entire global seed trade.
Dr Kulani said only seven countries grow commercial biotech crops in Africa. These are Nigeria, Malawi, Kenya, Sudan, Eswatini, Ethiopia and South Africa.
He appealed to African governments to put in place sound laws to support genome editing and biotechnology to safeguard against food insecurity, noting the current laws discourage seed trade. Genome editing is a method that lets scientists change the DNA of many organisms, including plants, bacteria, and animals.
“Agriculture in Africa must be practised using modern technologies and smart agriculture practices,” said the AFSTA chief.
The meeting came at a time when biotech in Kenya is in limbo with many court cases against the recently lifted ban on genetically modified organisms.
The country is battling a serious food shortage that has forced the government to import more than 42,000 tonnes of yellow maize from Ukraine.
He added, “AFSTA has made deliberate efforts to improve the environment for the seed business through its five-year Strategic Plan with a view to meaningfully contribute to the promotion of the transformation of agriculture into an attractive, modern and sustainable livelihood option for communities throughout the continent.”
He said AFSTA will make sure there is total inclusion of the farmers' voice in a bid to sustainably bridge the gap between seed companies and the farming community which is hard hit by the negative impact of climate change.
“AFSTA works with farmers to help increase the resilience and profitability of African farming in the face of climate change and other challenges,” he added.
According to a United Kingdom (UK) agriculture think-tank Oxford Business Group report, at least 60 per cent of the world’s arable land is in Africa, and about 200 million hectares are unutilised.
However, there is hope for crop production which according to Organization for Economic Corporation and Development (OECD), an international organisation with 34 members globally, and Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) predicts that production will increase by 30 per cent by 2027 while the Intra- African agricultural trade will increase by 15 per cent.
Africa is yet to set aside enough funds for research and development. In 2021 the continent spent Sh649 million which is about 0.5 per cent of what was spent globally.
The size of the certified vegetable seed market in the continent excluding North Africa and South Africa in 2020 was worth over Sh15 billion and Senegal alone enjoyed a 2.1 per cent market share.
A research organisation known as IHIS Markit forecasts in 2021 showed that the vegetable seed markets will grow from 55 per cent in 2020 to more than Sh35 billion by 2030 while open-pollinated varieties dominate the market (54.7 per cent of the African seed market in 2021 and hybrid seeds market share was 45.3 per cent during the same period.
Some of the bottlenecks slowing the growth and competitiveness of the African seed trade include poor regulatory policy.
“We need a favourable regulatory policy environment to trade including a simplified process of variety registration, affordable distinctness, uniformity and stability trials, and a favourable business environment.
Other impediments include intellectual property rights, plant breeding rights and plant variety protection enforcement and infrastructure including tax incentives, reduction of red tape bureaucracy research and development investment and removal of technical trade barriers to facilitate the smooth movement of seed within Africa.
To address these challenges AFSTA has launched an ambitious Strategic Plan: 2021 – 2023 to strengthen institutional coordination and influence regulatory pathways with governments through National Seed Trade Associations.