There is need to expedite seed regulation harmonisation programme in the COMESA region to help increase access to quality and improved seeds by farmers and boost production and household incomes as well as ensure the bloc is food secure, experts have said.
According to Argent Chuula, the chief executive officer of the Alliance for Commodity Trade in Eastern and Southern Africa (ACTESA) at COMESA, lack of quality seed contributes significantly to food insecurity and nutrition deficiency in the region as only a handful of countries are food secure.
Access to quality seed and animal breeds by smallholder farmers in the COMESA region is at only 20 per cent, she added, saying most of the seed is imported from outside the COMESA region.
“This has affected the crop and livestock production among smallholder farmers,” she said, blaming the problem on cumbersome and lengthy processes involved in developing and testing new seed varieties, which she said has affected seed trade in the COMESA bloc.
This is in addition to variations in national regulations for seed certification, quality control, quarantine and phyto-sanitary measures for import and export.
Chuula was speaking during a stakeholders meeting in Kampala, Uganda last week.
Participants called for fast-tracking of the COMESA Seed Trade Harmonisation Regulations Programme started in 2015 to promote collective implementation of uniform plans at the national and regional levels. The objective is to assist member states align their national seed laws to the COMESA Seed Trade Harmonisation Regulations.
Dr Charles Mukama, the Uganda COMSHIP Focal Point, said it is imperative for member states to harmonize rules surrounding this particular trade to help improve the livelihood of the small-scale farmers and production of more food at regional level.
In Rwanda, there are still concerns that farmers are not benefiting from regional rules of origin because of high costs of production and low agricultural productivity.
The regional rules of origin prioritise agricultural commodities produced within the region mainly by removing import tax.
In a recent interview, Christine Murebwayire, the chairperson of the Chamber of Rwanda Farmers at the Private Sector Federation, said farmers are not given incentives to produce needed quality and quantity. Murebwayire said though agro-processing factories lack sustainable supply of produce, they do not support farmers to produce the required volumes. She added that the challenge is compounded by lack of requisite technologies, like irrigation equipment, so that farmers can produce throughout the year particularly during dry spells.