The African Seed Trade Association (AFSTA) recently conducted its 23rd Annual Congress in Dakar, Senegal, to discuss regional and global seed issues that have an impact on seed production and trade throughout the continent from a scientific and technological standpoint.
Seed movement, plant breeding innovation, seed treatment, phytosanitary measures, Biotechnology, boosting vegetable output through trade of high-quality seeds in Africa, and updates on technologies for African agricultural transformation were a few of the concerns covered.
While making his contribution at the congress, Dr Folarin Sunday Okelola, the acting head of the Plant Variety Protection (PVP), National Agricultural Seed Council, pleaded with governments to ease seed movements in Africa.
“It is expensive, frustrating and tedious to move seed from one country to another even in West Africa alone, leading to some seeds rotting before they reach their destinations,” he noted.
Dr Peter Munyi, speaking on behalf of the African Union, noted that the Africa Continental Free Trade Area (AfCFTA) will soon create a single market for goods and services with a view to deepening the economic integration of Africa.
“To achieve this objective, we will require among others, resolution of the challenges of multiple and overlapping Regional Economic Communities memberships and the expediting of the regional and continental integration processes.
“For us to exploit opportunities provided by the AfCFTA, there is need to harmonize relevant seed rules and standards across the continent,” he said.
Dr Kulani Machaba, President of AFSTA said the Congress keeps growing every year because the seed business experts use it as an avenue to cultivate and grow partnerships, which have helped them to reap prosperity in their work as promoters of quality certified seed trade in Africa.
Prior to the congress, AFSTA’s Communication Officer, Mr. Aghan Daniel, released a statement in which he reiterated the organization’s long-held belief that a highly developed seed industry is essential to the economic growth and prosperity of African countries and that agriculture must be practiced with modern technologies and knowledge.
“For this reason, AFSTA has made continuous 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
“We need to hear from farmers how we can continuously and sustainably bridge the gap between seed companies and the farming community, now more pronounced mainly by the negative impact of climate change. On our side, we will endeavor to work with the farmers to help increase the resilience and profitability of African farming in the face of climate change and other challenges,” he said.
Position of Africa on food security, seed trade
In his presentation at the congress, the AFSTA President, Dr Machaba emphasized that 60 percent of the world’s arable land is in Africa and that despite agricultural production being expected to rise by 30 percent through 2027, nearly 200 million hectares are currently underutilized.
He stated that the African continent spent USD$5 million on research and development in the vegetable and ornamental sector in 2021, which is 0.5 percent of the total amount invested globally.
According to data on field crops (Mordor Intelligence, 2022) which he cited, open-pollinated varieties dominated the market (54.7 percent of the African seed market in 2021); hybrid seeds received a market share of 45.3 percent in terms of value, while seven countries are making headway with commercial biotech crops.
Key problems and solutions
Kulani highlighted four main issues that hinder the seed sector on the continent to include policy encumbrance, inadequate investment in infrastructure, research and development (R&D), and plant variety protection laws and regulations.
In terms of the policy environment, he called on African governments to put in place a more supportive regulatory policy environment to trade than is currently practised. This, he added, includes a streamlined variety registration process, reasonably priced Distinctness, Uniformity and Stability (DUS) trials, and a supportive business environment.
To entice investment from the private sector, nations must also create the platforms and infrastructure they need, such as tax breaks and less bureaucracy.
The president of the seed traders also encouraged massive investment on research and development for companies “to breed/test locally adapted varieties.”
Also, technical trade restrictions should be eliminated, and seed transportation within Africa should be made simple, in order to promote a healthy and sustainable seed trade on the continent.
He stated that the AFSTA ‘Strategic Plan’ would continue to strengthen institutions, influence the regulatory pathway with governments, promote the movement of high-quality seeds within Africa, and implement a set of standardized seed regulations at the regional levels in order to address some of the challenges.