KENYA– Leading organizations in agricultural policy, trade, and technology transfer met in Nairobi in early December 2018 to identify bottlenecks in the implementation of harmonized seed regulations within the Eastern and Southern Africa region and develop an action plan towards eliminating challenges.

The action plan developed after two days of deliberations will accelerate seed variety release and deployment, making it easier for seed varieties to be deployed in areas with similar agro-ecological conditions without necessarily going through lengthy procedures. 

This will also boost regional trade in seed and agricultural produce.

The consultation workshop was organized by African Agricultural Technology Foundation (AATF) in collaboration with African Development Bank and Alliance for Commodity Trade in Eastern and Southern Africa (ACTESA). 

It brought together delegates from 21 member countries of the Common Market for Eastern and Southern Africa (COMESA).

“There is urgent need to push for harmonization of existing policies, regulations and protocols through regional policy dialogue and consultation workshops to assess what exists, identify gaps and support required reforms on the part of Bank’s regional member countries to accelerate policy harmonization,” said Nnenna Nwabufo, the Bank’s Deputy Director General,  East African Regional Hub.

Experts at the meeting completed a status report on the progress of COMESA Seed Harmonization Implementation Plan (COMSHIP) at regional and country levels; a costed action plan identifying technical and financial support required for evidence-based policy review and harmonization.

They also completed a road map and work plan to help fast-track  implementation of COMSHIP in COMESA member countries; country work plans to ensure in-country policies and regulations are updated to meet regional standards for harmonization of seed policies.

“The injection and utilization of new innovative technologies – especially technologies that address the dual goal of increasing production and productivity while ensuring responsible management of the environment and responding effectively to climatic change and other variables – are key to Africa’s food security,” said Denis Kyetere, Executive Director, AATF. 

“Getting these technologies into farmers’ hands in good time will not only ensure returns on the heavy investment already made but will also ensure Africa has the ability and means to reap from its agricultural potential,” he added.

The meeting highlighted the need for partnerships, as this will be key to successful elimination of the barriers to the harmonization of existing policies, regulations and protocols, and technologies reaching smallholder farmers.

“The need for partnerships, collaboration and networking and particularly public-private partnerships that will not only ensure that technologies reach farmers and stimulate innovation but also encourage growth of agriculture as a business, nurture private sector growth, which will in turn grow interest and employment opportunities for youth and support women’s participation,” Kyetere said.

The African Development Bank launched the Feed Africa Strategy to support regional member countries produce their own food. 

Subsequently, the Bank commissioned the Technologies for African Agricultural Transformation (TAAT) as a flagship program of Feed Africa and a major global initiative designed to boost agricultural productivity in Africa by rapidly delivering proven technologies to tens of millions of farmers to enhance their productivity that has been on the declining trend in recent years.

“For most varieties, the process of variety release takes at least 2 years. This implies that if the same variety has to be released in 10 countries, this will take at least 20 years. Africa clearly cannot wait this long.” Nwabufo, said.

‘‘Much ground has already been covered towards full implementation of COMSHIP. With the Bank’s partnership through the TAAT policy enabler and other associated organizations, we are hopeful that the remaining milestones will be achieved soon and that the COMSHIP dream will soon be fully realized’’ said  John Mukuka,  acting CEO of ACTESA.

“Clearly, delivery of productivity-enhancing technologies at the scale envisaged by TAAT program will require streamlining national policies, laws and regulatory frameworks so that varieties/breeds released in one country could be utilized in other countries with similar agro-ecological characteristics. 

This will speed up regional seed harmonization efforts currently gaining momentum, albeit at different paces,” said  Francis Nang’ayo,  TAAT Policy Enabler Compact Leader/Head of Regulatory Affairs.