EDITORIAL: Harmonised regional policies are farmers’ lifeline

Stakeholders in the regional agricultural sector have expressed concerns over the delay by Common Market for Eastern and Southern Africa (COMESA) member states to harmonise seed policies, which they say is affecting access to and trade in seeds and animal breeds in the bloc.

The experts said the seed regulation harmonisation programme, started in 2015 to solve these challenges, is yet to be implemented.

According to the Alliance for Commodity Trade in Eastern and Southern Africa, access to quality seeds and improved animal breeds by smallholder farmers stood at 20 per cent in the bloc.

The cumbersome and lengthy processes involved in developing and testing new seed varieties had hindered seed trade in the COMESA region.

 The majority of the region’s population depends on agriculture to earn a living; therefore, the challenge must be addressed by member states as a matter of priority. It is not enough to talk about improving agricultural production, food safety or increasing household incomes of rural poor; farmers should have easy access to quality seeds to achieve all these targets.

Besides, many countries in the bloc are always food stressed, and have to rely on food handouts from World Food Programme when the region has rich soils suitable for farming.

So, it is crucial for countries in COMESA to align their national seed laws with the seed trade harmonisation regulations. Besides increasing access to quality seeds and improved animal breeds by farmers, the move will boost production and household incomes, ensure the bloc is food secure, and help cut on the region’s seeds import bill.

This requires political will and partnership between public and private sectors. However, countries must ensure they preserve local breeds that are resistant to weather vagaries, particularly with the onslaught of global warming.