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COMESA Unveils Plans to Lock Out fake Seeds

Local Seed Companies will from early next year sell seeds branded with the Common Market for Eastern and Southern Africa (COMESA) logo to protect farmers from fake and uncertified products that had flooded the market.

Companies will now have unlimited access within the COMESA region after member states endorsed a common label for certified seeds.

COMESA regional seed programme coordinator Dr. John Mukuka says the labeling was necessary to weed out counterfeit seeds from the market and improve production after unsuspecting farmers recorded poor yields from the fake products.

He said the common label will help local farmers access quality certified seeds and at the same time promote trade among member states.

Speaking during a high level consultative workshop ahead of the proposed implementation of the harmonized seed regulation, Dr. Mukuka said at least 80 million farmers within the 21 COMESA member states will benefit from the venture.

“We have ordered printing of COMESA seed labels   that will be used by companies so that they can cross the border without being tested at country level,” he said

Mukuka said the seed trade across the globe was valued at 8 trillion Kenyan shillings with the COMESA only accounting for a paltry 2 percent of the total trade as majority of the 21 member states were importing most of their seeds.

“COMESA seed trade is only at USD 1.5 billion but through the printing of the labels we are hoping that the seed trade will increase to USD 5 billion in the next three years,” he said.

Mukuka explained that out of the 21 countries only seven countries including Kenya have ratified the 2015 COMESA seed harmonization agreement that allows seed trading across the member states.

“We are working with the African Development Bank (AfDB ) to bring the other 14 countries on board and we intend to finalize the road map by the end the two days meeting so that they are at par with the seven.” said Mukuka who is  the CEO of Alliance for Commodity Trade in East and Southern Africa (ACTESA).

The seven countries who have harmonized the seed agreement include Kenya, Zambia, Zimbabwe Malawi, Burundi, Rwanda and Uganda.

Principal Secretary State Department of Agricultural Research Prof. Hamadi Boga said there are certain technologies that Africa needs to transform Agriculture, and the most basic is  having the right seed that will increase productivity..

“With our population galloping and soon overtaking Asia, our productivity is stagnant and declining because farmers don’t have the right technology and we have not also created a business environment for agriculture sector to grow,” he added.

Most Policies Boga noted are government driven and yet globally everything is private sector driven and this is the only we can create wealth.

He said that Africa recently signed a Free Trade Area agreement that is supposed to trade together but because some of the institutions are not in place especially around the issues of seed, it has proven to be difficult.

He gave an example of Kenya seeds having a challenge going to Uganda because of regulations saying ideally harmonizing the regulations is key so that if we develop seeds which are an expensive technology, we can easily and quickly disseminate it.

“Africans need the right technology to transform themselves otherwise we can be condemned to poverty because we are competing with people who have a lot of technology and yet they are struggling with traditional varieties,” Boga said

The PS urged financial institutions to fund seed technology to boost seed production in a bid to help small scale farmers access quality seeds and increase their produce.

Dr. Francis Nang’ayo, of the African Agricultural Technology Foundation (AATF) said harmonization of seeds is important and has to happen for Africa.

He however said passing harmonized regulation might be easy but actual implementations the most important.

“Although Kenya is among the seven countries that have aligned its regulations to COMESA and can be able to trade, the remaining 14 countries that have not should wake up and harmonize the seed regulations so that COMESA can be able to domesticate and broaden its markets to operate,”  Nang’ayo said.

Trade, he added is an integral part of seed harmonization considering Seed constitutes 70 billion USD industry globally thus if Africa can harmonize and create a market for it  then it can be even lucrative market than grain, in the sense that  the cost of seed worth 2 kgs is equivalent of grain that is 20kgs.

Dr. Jona Chianu, Chief Agricultural Economist Africa Development Bank (AfDB) said the bank will set aside funds to create a safety net for commercial banks financing small scale farmers and youth in agriculture as a way of de-risking agriculture

“The threats facing agriculture goes beyond boundaries and if we are limited in issues of technology by boundaries we will not go far,” he added.

Chianu noted if COMESA 21 member countries can implement harmonized policies, seed companies operating in these countries would have more space to do business, and reach even more.

The Common Market for Eastern and Southern Africa (COMESA) was formed in December 1994 and is a free trade area with twenty one member states. So far only seven countries including Kenya have ratified the 2015 COMESA seed harmonization agreement  that allows seed trading across  member states

By Wangari  Ndirangu

 

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