Seed harmonisation

Seed  is a key input for improving the productivity and crop production and ensuring food security. It is a preferred tool for re-establishing the livelihoods of farmers affected by disasters and to return them to a life in dignity - independent of handouts. Access to quality seed also facilitates food resource diversification and prevention of genetic erosion in rural agriculture.

Seed Trade is essential for both agricultural growth and regional seed security. As a result of various factors, and in particular owing to the diversity of national regulatory systems in the countries, farmers continue to be seed insecure.  Seed markets are segregated, small, and difficult to access. In each country a new variety must go through lengthy variety testing and release procedures before seed can be marketed. Seed companies are compelled to select only a few countries for release. This denies or delays farmers’ access to new products. Variations between countries in national standards for seed certification and quality control, and in quarantine and phytosanitary measures for seed, complicate trading of seed between countries and cause difficulties for efficient movement of emergency seed consignments. As a result of the above, new and existing seed entrepreneurs are not encouraged to invest in the market. Further, seed prices are not subject to efficient competition and farmers’ choices remain limited.

The primary objective of harmonization of seed regulations is to address these problems by integrating smaller and isolated national seed markets into one larger SADC market for seed. This, in turn, will enhance entry in the Region of new improved varieties and ease the movement of quality seed from countries with surplus to countries in need of seed. Both national and regional seed suppliers will find SADC a more attractive market. Lower costs and simpler administration will further encourage local, small-scale seed producers and suppliers to expand their activities.

The overall benefits will be increased investments in the seed sector, increased seed production, more varieties available, and increased competition. In the end, farmers will be offered access to a wider portfolio of quality seed products at more affordable prices. For the region, this will contribute to seed and food security, and thus support efforts to alleviate hunger and poverty.

The SADC Variety Release System

The purpose of the SADC Variety Release System is to make it easier and cheaper for new and existing varieties to gain access to SADC countries. This in turn will stimulate availability of more varieties, encourage more companies to invest in seed business in SADC countries, and thus increase the choices available to farmers.

An important outcome of the System is the establishment and maintenance of the SADC Variety Catalogue and the SADC Variety Database. Seed of varieties listed in the Catalogue can be sold in all SADC Member States without restrictions related to variety.

The System is being operated in close collaboration with designated National Seeds Authorities. Before a variety can be entered in the Regional Catalogue it will need to be released in at least two SADC countries. Only thereafter may the Variety Holder apply for regional release which is done through the National Seeds Authority in one of the two countries where national release was obtained. The application must be accompanied by a reference seed sample, proof of national clearances in the two countries, DUS and VCU test results, and other information as outlined in SADC procedures.

After clearance by the National Seeds Authority, this Authority forwards the application to a Coordinating Unit, in this case, Project Management Unit of the SADC Seed Security Network where the application and the accompanying data are verified and decision taken concerning regional release. After decision is taken, copy of the application is forwarded to the National Seeds Authority in each SADC Member State. In the case of approval, the variety is entered in the Regional Catalogue and in the SADC Variety Database, and may now be sold in all Member States.

A Member Country can apply for permission to prohibit the use of a given variety in its territory if the Country can document in line with procedures of the System that the variety is not suitable for its growing conditions. GMO varieties cannot be listed in the Regional Variety Catalogue until Member States have reached a common stand on GMO varieties.

The SADC seed Certification and Quality Assurance System

The SADC Seed Certification and Quality Assurance System
The purpose of the SADC Seed Certification and Quality Assurance System is to promote that seed of varieties listed in the SADC Regional Variety Catalogue and traded among SADC Member States is of consistently high and known quality, and that movement of the seed is more efficient and thus less costly.

As the System is being adopted by stakeholders, it will:
•    Lead to better seed quality as a result of improved facilities and skills;
•    Save time and resources because importing countries no longer need to re-test the imported seed;
•    Allow more efficient movement of seed in the region through the use of a common seed certification scheme, terminology, standards, procedures, seals and labels; and
•    Facilitate better targeting of relief seed.

As a result of the above, farmers’ access to quality seed will be improved.

All Member States will participate in the System with their staff, facilities and capacities. Designated National Seeds Authorities will license/authorize samplers, field inspectors and accredit/register laboratories, and inform the Project Management Unit of the SADC Seed Security Network about their availability. Seed inspectors and seed samplers to be authorized under the System must have passed a prescribed seed technology course and participated in at least one season’s practical training under the mentorship of an already authorized specialist.

The National Seeds Authorities will also register seed fields and inspection reports issued in accordance with the System and provide formats for SADC seals and labels to companies that are producing seed under the System.

The System will have the following seed certification classes: Pre-basic seed, Basic Seed, Certified Seed (1st. Generation), Certified Seed (2nd. Generation) and Quality Declared Seed. Establishment and development of the SADC System does not imply that seed produced under other quality assurance systems cannot be traded in or between SADC countries. All samples shall be drawn from the seed lots by staff authorized under the System and in accordance with the Rules for Seed Testing of the International Seed Testing Association (ISTA).

Seed traded must meet the minimum laboratory standards as formulated under the System. To ascertain that the System operates satisfactorily, the National Seeds Authorities will conduct post-control tests.

The SADC Quarantine and Phytosanitary Measures for Seed

The purpose of the SADC harmonized Quarantine and Phytosanitary Measures for seed is to reduce costs related to seed trade, and encourage faster and safer movement of seed. This will be reached through (i) establishment of transparent and science-based, common Standards and Procedures for seed movement in SADC, supported by documentation; and (ii) through the introduction of rationalized SADC pest lists for the movement of seed between Member States, and from outside countries into SADC.

The Project Management Unit of the SADC Seed Security Network, with technical support from the SADC Seed Committee (SSC) and National Plant Protection Organizations (NPPOs), will assist Member States with documentation of current Measures and their impacts on seed exchange; facilitate the organization of technical reviews to develop better standards and procedures, and to secure that new initiatives are in line with regional and international agreements; design and support efforts that will secure political support to rationalize and harmonize regulations; assist in establishment of databases to record current national regulations and key documents, issuance of permits (including seed quantities involved), critical issues, and disputes; keep Member States informed via the SADC-FANR Website and through other means; and assist in sourcing funding to support the above activities.

The Project Management Unit will seek close collaboration with the National Plant Protection Organizations and support the organization of regional meetings to address: Development and updating of phytosanitary guidelines and procedures for seed; Identification and recommendation of better methodologies for utilization in the phytosanitary system(s) for seed; and development of methods to monitor and provide technical backstopping to the established system(s).

Two rationalized pest lists have been introduced: (i) A SADC list of pests which require control when seed is traded between SADC Member states, and (ii) a SADC list of pests which require control when seed is traded into a SADC country from outside the Region. The lists only include pests which are of economic significance, are not common in the SADC Region, and are seed borne.

For seed movement between SADC Member States the advantages of the rationalized list include:
•    Testing and quarantine measures for seed are only required for diseases which are not common in all SADC Member States, are seed borne, and are of economic importance;
•    Since all SADC Member States are testing for the same diseases, re-testing of seed consignments on arrival in the importing country may be reduced and eventually no longer be necessary - except in cases where there are concrete reasons to assume that a new pest and/or disease may be introduced;
•    The need for a country to test seed which is to be re-exported after a period in transit may be reduced; and 
•    Since fewer pests will need to be checked at entry points, clearance and entry of consignments will be faster.

In the case of seed movement from a country outside SADC to a SADC country the advantage is: When it has been established by the importing SADC country that the consignment meets SADC requirements then the seed can be moved to any other SADC country without further testing.
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