Harmonizing seed policy in Eastern and Central Africa: lessons from a public-private partnership model
Michael Waithaka, Manager - Policy Analysis and Advocacy Program, Association for Strengthening Agricultural Research in Eastern and Central Africa
Miriam Kyotalimye, Programme Assistant, Association for Strengthening Agricultural Research in Eastern and Central Africa
In recent years, public-private partnerships have been promoted as a model for attracting investments, optimising resources, improving efficiency and enhancing delivery and impact of interventions aimed at improving the performance of the agricultural sector, especially in developing countries. The Eastern Africa Seed Committee (EASCOM) exemplifies a public-private partnership that evolved to address the gaps in policy and practice regarding production and trade in seed across 11 countries in eastern and central Africa. This article discusses how EASCOM was formed, its mandate, operational mechanisms and achievements, and reviews how EASCOM prioritised the agenda for seed policy harmonisation and the factors and resources that were harnessed to generate successful outcomes.
Genesis of the Eastern Africa Seed Committee
In the 1960s, Asian and African countries were said to be similarly developed in terms of parameters such as economic growth rates. By the 1990s, the Asian countries had made remarkable strides in economic performance and their agricultural sectors had been transformed and were recording food surpluses. Meanwhile, African countries had not seen equivalent levels of economic growth and to date, many have struggled to transform their agricultural sectors. Limiting factors have included the restricted adoption of new and improved technologies such as improved seeds. Several reasons exist for this, including low investments in research and development, limited access to improved seeds (e.g., high-yielding varieties), cumbersome and conflicting policies and weak institutions. In response, the Association for Strengthening Agricultural Research in Eastern and Central Africa (ASARECA) in 1999 analysed the status of seed sector policy in eastern and central Africa and concluded that enactment and implementation of harmonised seed policies, regulations and procedures was needed.
The initiative initially focused on Kenya, Tanzania and Uganda. Other countries were also engaged, but primarily as observers in regional workshops. It was evident that regulatory reforms require inclusive participation of stakeholders from technical, political and legislative organisations. Technical agreements on standards, procedures and regulations for the seed industry based on best practices and scientific evidence were proposed to stakeholders including policy makers, regulators, seed producers and farmers.
Resource persons prepared papers for each pilot country detailing policy options to: facilitate the unrestricted movement of seed and other germplasm across national borders; create a regional market for seeds to allow economies of scale and scope in seed production; attract investments in seed multiplication and distribution; and, improve service delivery of seeds to farmers. From this evidence, stakeholders representing the private sector, breeders, regulators and policy makers from the pilot countries and observers from the non-pilot countries agreed on cross-cutting issues for rationalisation at country level and harmonisation at the regional level. The technical agreements on seed policy harmonization were in five key areas: variety evaluation and release; seed certification; plant variety protection; phytosanitary regulations and; seed import and export procedures (ECAPAPA, 2002). These agreements identified areas for regulatory and procedural reform at country level. A regional seed working group was mandated to implement the desired changes. Administrative/procedural issues were allowed to proceed under existing legislation, but with improvements in administrative procedures and regulations. However, desired changes concerning legislative issues had to wait until requisite laws were considered and as such were accommodated under existing legislation where possible.
By 2002, limited progress in anticipated reforms had been achieved, mainly due to an imbalance in representation which favoured breeders in the seed regional working group. EASCOM was established in 2004 with a more balanced public-private partnership. In each country, EASCOM brought together representatives of the private sector through the national seed trade association; the technical arm through the national breeders’ association; the regulatory arm through the national seed certification agency, and the policy arm through the ministry of agriculture. EASCOM’s mandate and responsibilities include: review of seed policies, laws and regulations; strengthening of national seed and plant breeders’ associations; operationalisation of harmonised agreements; development and maintenance of databases; capacity building; seed market development and representation in regional economic blocs, - as discussed in the following section.
Fulfilling the EASCOM mandate
Review of seed policies, laws and regulations
The technical agreements have formed the basis for the review of seed legislation in ASARECA member countries. EASCOM supported the national stakeholder review processes, provided technical backstopping and legal support to the drafting process, and facilitated parliamentary retreats and media releases. Achievements to date include:
- Tanzania Seed Act of 2003;
- Rwanda Seed Act of 2003;
- Uganda Seed and Plant Act of 2006;
- Tanzania Seed Regulations of 2007;
- Kenya National Performance Trials Regulations of 2009;
- Burundi Seed Act of 2012; and
- Kenya Seed Policy of 2012.
Ethiopia’s draft Seed Proclamation 2013, Kenya’s draft Seeds and Plant Varieties (amendment) Act 2012 and Tanzania’s Plant Breeders’ Rights Act 2012 have set the pace for acceding to the International Union for the Protection of New Varieties of Plants (UPOV 1991), and Uganda Seeds Regulations are awaiting publication.
While harmonisation focused on getting countries to agree on key areas affecting the formal seeds sector, the informal sector was not neglected. The Tanzania Seed Law of 2003 recognises farm-saved seeds through a quality-declared system. The revised Acts in Kenya and Uganda now formally recognise the informal sector.
To support the smooth implementation of the harmonised regime, EASCOM facilitated short-term training of over 2,000 seed-industry stakeholders across the East African Community (ECA) on issues such as variety descriptor development, interagency seed certification procedures, compliance with the International Seed Testing Association (ISTA), UPOV convention, the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD) rules, and the production of quality seed in general. Regional training is aimed at exploiting the opportunities available at regional centres of excellence such as the Kenya Plant Health Inspectorate Service to foster standardisation of procedures and build trust among regulators. National training is aimed at addressing local priority capacity gaps while maximizing the numbers trained at minimal cost.
Representation in regional economic blocs
EASCOM contributed to the development of seed regulations under the tripartite agreement between the EAC, the Common Market for Eastern and Southern Africa (COMESA) and the Southern African Development Community (SADC), at the Joint COMESA ministerial meeting in July 2013.
Seed sector market development
Seed policy harmonisation in ECA has contributed to growth in private-sector involvement in the sector and more varieties being bred and released by the private sector. During 2000-2008, 14 seed enterprises released 140 varieties in Kenya, representing a growth rate of 270% over the 38 varieties released 1981-1999. Of these, 43 varieties were from privately owned seed companies (Waithaka et al., 2012). There is minimal threat to the preservation of genetic diversity since the new Acts are consistent with the Convention on Biological Diversity and the International Treaty on Protection of Genetic Resources for Food and Agriculture to which the countries are signatories. For some crops, the private sector does not invest in seed production, for reasons ranging from difficulties in encouraging continuous sale of seeds e.g., for open-pollinated varieties, or for varieties used mainly for food, and where additional yields would not lead to greater profit e.g., for some indigenous vegetables. However, with a growing demand for especially African indigenous vegetables, this scenario is changing rapidly.
In an initiative led by ASARECA, farmers are teaming up with: private-sector seed companies where farmers are linked as outgrowers to a private seed company (e.g., Kenya Seed company); researchers where farmers are organised in groups and work with research institutes (e.g., the Kenya Agricultural Research Institute and the Selian Agricultural Research Institute in Arusha, Tanzania) to produce quality-declared seeds; with regulatory bodies (e.g., the Kenya Plant Health Inspectorate Service and the Tanzania Official Seed Certification Institute) to produce and package the quality-declared seeds. Farmers have also been benefitting from grade improvement: seed is improved and distributed to farmers as foundation seed, which they then sell in the open market. This approach has boosted farmers’ incomes and contributed to improved livelihood in both Kenya and Tanzania. Farmer-saved seeds have been recognised as an important alternative for some open-pollinated varieties e.g. the common bean. Thus, efforts by which the public-sector service providers maintain the foundation seeds, and build capacities of farmers to maintain them on their farms (e.g., the University of Nairobi beans project) provide lessons for new initiatives interested in up-scaling successful models.
Best practices in regional policy reform initiatives
EASCOM’s efforts at seed policy harmonisation can provide lessons and be used to derive best practices for other regions:
- Facilitation of partnerships that bring private sector and public/regulatory authorities together to discuss, build trust, reach consensus and foster collaboration on key issues on what has to change, why and how takes time.
- Recognition of the differences as well as the importance of the various technical experts, scientists and policy makers who have to domesticate the agreements; regulators who have to enforce implementation; and, legislators who enact the agreements into bills and laws, is vital. Bringing these diverse teams together to forge common understanding to achieve the desired goals helps to maintain a healthy balance between encouraging competitive production of seeds and providing oversight for implementing quality control/assurance schemes.
- Dialogue is needed at two levels: national, to identify and clarify issues to be rationalised and; regional to negotiate and achieve consensus on issues which need to be and can be harmonised. Prior to the regional harmonisation efforts, the thorny issues need to be fully distilled so as to gain win-win conditions for all countries. After harmonisation and commencement of implementation, the key concerns are generally on overcoming teething problems, e.g., having the in-country capacities to enforce the harmonised procedures.
- Nurturing of transparency, participatory inter-institutionality and multi-disciplinarity is essential.
- Differentiation on technical, administrative/procedural and policy/legislative issues in discussions and consensus building must be identified, acknowledged and maintained if the objectives of harmonisation are to be achieved.
ASARECA. 2013. Improved indigenous vegetable seeds boost household incomes, nutrition. Association for Strengthening Agricultural Research in Eastern and Central Africa, Entebbe, Uganda.
ECAPAPA [Eastern and Central Africa Programme for Agricultural Policy Analysis]. 2002. Harmonization of seed policies and regulations in eastern Africa. Results and agreements. ECAPAPA Monograph Series 4. ECAPAPA, Entebbe, Uganda.
Waithaka, M., Nzuma, J., Kyotalimye, M., Nyachae, O. 2012. Impacts of an improved seed policy environment in ECA. ASARECA Monograph, Entebbe, Uganda.
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