Olive Thiong'o (CCAFS)

photo Olive Thiong'o (CCAFS)

Lack of quality and improved seeds in the COMESA region contributes to food insecurity and poverty, COMESA Assistant Secretary General, Administration and Finance Ambassador Nagla El- Hussainy has observed.

Speaking at the official opening of the COMESA Seed  Harmonisation Implementation Plan (COMSHIP) Development Partners Meeting held on the 17th July, 2014 at Intercontinental Hotel in Lusaka, Ambassador Nagla called for access to quality seed for small-scale farmers to increase productivity.

“Among the small-holder farmers, the availability of quality seed in terms of variety accessibility and volumes in the COMESA region is low at only 23%. This indication confirms that only one in every four small-holder farmers has access to quality seed or in some cases improved seed”, she said.

Ambassador Nagla said in order to meet CAADP commitments and to solve the challenge of food insecurity, COMESA Ministers of Agriculture at their meeting in Seychelles in March 2008, directed the Secretariat to expedite the harmonization of seed trade regulations and standards in the region.

She said it was for that reason that the Alliance of Commodity Trade for Eastern and Southern Africa (ACTESA) as a specialized agency COMESA was mandated to harmonise seed trade regulations and standards in the region through an extensive consultative process.

Ambassador Nagla disclosed that the draft COMESA Seed Trade Harmonisation Regulations, adopted by Ministers of Agriculture in September 2013 was endorsed by the COMESA Council of Ministers on 24th February 2014 in Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC) during the COMESA Summit.

Officially opening the Meeting, Ministry of Agriculture Permanent Secretary, Mr. Julius Shawa disclosed that Zambia’s expected bumper harvest was as a result of provision of quality seed and fertilizer to farmers through the Farmer Input Support Programme by the Zambian government.

In a speech read on his behalf by Dr. Catherine Mungomba, Mr. Shawa said COMSHIP provides leverage for Zambia as one of the leading exporters of seed to neighboring countries to participate in the increased market for seed in the COMESA region.

“We are happy that ACTESA managed to harmonise the seed trade regulations in less than two years. This will facilitate farmer’s access to improved varieties from all COMESA member states through simplified customs procedures, speedier variety releases and distribution”, Mr. Shawa said.

Speaking at the closing of the COMESA Seed Harmonisation Implementation Plan (COMSHIP) Development Partners Meeting on 17th July, 2014, ACTESA Acting Chief Executive Mrs Gizila Takavarasha said giving farmers quality seed and fertilizer without market support will be a wasted effort.

Mrs Takavarasha said her organization as the implementing agency of COMESA was developing seed and fertilizer programmes to support farmers to increase productivity in the region.

She said apart from developing the Seed Trade Harmonisation Programme, her organization was also designing a Fertilizer Standards Programme for in-put distribution.

“To measure the effectiveness of our intervention, we are developing a Regional Food Balance Sheet. We’ve requested member states to submit national food balance sheets which will be consolidated into the Regional Food Balance Sheet”, Mrs Takavarasha said.

Speaking on behalf of Development Partners, Alliance for Green Revolution in Africa (AGRA), Chief of Party for Scalling Seeds and Technologies Partnership in Africa (SSTP) Richard Jones said the seed sector was critical for increased productivity.

Mr. Jones said the Seed Sector was highly regulated due to outbreaks of diseases and pests which was affecting free movement of seed in the region.

He commended ACTESA for initiating dialogue with various stakeholders in the seed sector through the development of the COMESA Seed Harmonisation Implementation Plan (COMSHIP), resulting in a remarkable degree of consensus within a short period of time.

ACTESA is the agency of COMESA implementing programmes within the CAADP framework focusing mainly on Pillar II on Market Access and Pillar III on Food Supply and Hunger Reduction.

The workshop was moderated by the African Seed Trade Association (AFSTA).

Among the Development Partners that attended were the United States Agency for International Development (USAID), Department for International Development (DfID), European Union (EU), Food and Agriculture Organisation, World Food Programme (WFP) and the Alliance for Green Revolution in Africa (AGRA).