Comesa steps up to shield farmers from sub-standard seeds

Wednesday May 15 2019

A farmer consults a storekeeper before buying

A farmer consults a storekeeper before buying seeds in order to ensure he buys only certified ones. FILE PHOTO | NMG 

ROSE MIREMBE
By ROSE MIREMBE
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FAUSTIN NGILA
By FAUSTIN NGILA
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The Common Market for Eastern and Southern Africa has launched an online seed label verification system which will see all local seed in member states countries sell those branded with the trading bloc’s logo, in order to shield farmers from fake and uncertified products that had flooded the market.

The launch, through the Alliance for Commodity Trade in Eastern and Southern Africa Seed Programme, also scored another first by introducing Comesa Regional Certificates to be issued by national seed authorities. This is also expected to boost seed trade in the 21 countries.

Speaking at the Comesa Secretariat, the pedigree global strategy director, Selorm Branttie said the seed labels and certificates will promote the use of genuine seed and eventual elimination of fake seed from circulation.

“This is the first time that seed certificates and verification will be done electronically, and the farmer will be able to trace the source of the seed and authenticity of the seed without difficulty,’’ Mr Branttie added.

During the two-day training for seed companies on ordering, use and trading using the Comesa seed labels and certificates Mr Branttie emphasised need to eliminate the trade and use of fake seed saying it has greatly contributed to the poor performance of 80 million smallholder farmers and food insecurity in the Comesa region.

According to the statement, the online seed verification system is a region wide initiative to harmonise trade in certified seed by having one common label and certification system where for every seed package that will bear a Comesa sticker, it means the source of that seed has been documented and can be tracked by the receiving end.

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Currently, despite efforts to match seed trade policies across the region, most countries in Africa still use different procedures to name and register seed varieties where one variety might have a diverse name in each country it’s sold in, with each country performing its own tests and data used for quality control is usually on paper rather than online.

One of the seed companies commented how such a situation forced the company to apply for new variety registration with new data for each country that they operate in which in the long run cost them time and money.

According to Dr John Mukuka, Comesa regional seed programme co-ordinator, adopting the new system for seed products and digitalisation can help improve the harmonisation easing comparative data sharing across the border.

Pioneers

Statistics by the FAO, Kenyans consume 100,000 bags of maize a day and yet the maize yields there have a low averaging 1.66 MT/ha compared with 2.55 MT/ha for Uganda and 3.44 MT/ha for Ethiopia due to uncertified farm inputs; including seeds.

The Kenya Plant Health Inspectorate Service (Kephis) in September 2017 launched a text-based service to protect farmers from fake seeds, powered by mPedigree.

Kephis MD Esther Kimani said the move was aimed at rooting out unscrupulous traders who sell untested seed varieties that perform poorly, causing farmers losses.

“These fake seed sellers have also been the cause of food shortages that make Kenya spend billions of shillings on imports annually. The new security service targets small scale farmers who buy between one and five kilogramme packets of seeds,” Dr Kimani said at the time.

Comesa has become the first regional trading bloc to launch an online seed label verification system globally. The system will assist the region boost trade in certified seed.

According to their statics, total seed being traded in the Comesa, East African Community and Southern African Development Community member states averages $1.4 billion which is equivalent to less than two per cent of global seed trade, and is estimated to reach $5 billion in the next five years.

Seven Comesa states out of 21 have so far aligned their national seed laws to the Comesa seed harmonisation implementation plan. The EAC’s Rwanda, Kenya, Uganda and Burundi. There is also Malawi, Zambia, and Zimbabwe, members of SADC.

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