The African Union(AU) on Wednesday launched a new initiative to improve access to quality seeds for small-scale farmers across the African continent amid efforts to boost food production in the post COVID-19 pandemic era.
Various studies estimate that farmers in Africa lose up to 70 percent of their food production because of low quality or counterfeit seeds.
The 2019 Access to Seeds Index for Eastern and Southern Africa, for instance, found that in Uganda, 30 percent of the seeds planted by farmers are fake, a reality replicated across many African countries.
In the new initiative, the African Union Development Agency-NEPAD (AUDA-NEPAD) and the African Agricultural Technology Foundation (AATF) have signed a collaboration agreement that will among others facilitate a joint method of ensuring quality seeds are available to farmers.
Denis Kyetere, the executive director of AATF said the collaboration provides an opportunity for the smallholder farmers to benefit from innovative and value-adding agricultural technologies.
“With the smallholder farmer at the center of decision making, AATF emphasizes the need to get innovations to farmers rapidly and effectively to optimize benefits,” said Kyetere.
According to the African Seed Access Index, the challenge of fake and substandard seeds is partly responsible for the huge disparity in maize production among African countries, with Egypt producing an average of 7.7 tons per hectare compares to Ethiopia’s 3.7 tons and Kenya’s 1.5 tons per hectare.
Under the new initiative, the idea is to replicate best practices in seed production and certification from one country to many African countries.
It also involves sharing research findings across the continent with seed companies to ensure quicker implementation by the farmers.
Specific key areas of the agreement include addressing challenges in the production of quality foundation seed, a key area of attention for AATF that is already working with the continent’s small and medium seed enterprises to ease production of quality certified seed.
The two organizations will also focus on strengthening seed certification and variety release policies and processes, including the development of the private sector and licensing of new agricultural technologies.
Ibrahim Assane Mayaki, chief executive officer of the AUDA-NEPAD said the new partnership is guided by the core principles and values of the African Union especially the realization of Agenda 2063.
“As articulated in Agenda 2063, Africa’s sustained growth, competitiveness and economic transformation require sustained investment in new technologies and continuous innovation in areas such as agriculture, clean energy, education and health. This agreement will help contribute to this goal,” said Mayaki.
So far, various African countries have launched different methods of assisting farmers to detect contraband seeds.
The Kenya Plant Health Inspectorate Service requires certified seed manufacturers to print a concealed digit on seed packets which the farmer scratches and sends to the agency via a mobile phone, which then confirms if the seeds are genuine.
A similar verification system was launched last year in Tanzania and earlier in Ghana. It utilizes the deepening use of mobile phone to reach out to small-scale farmers.
The 21-member Common Market for Eastern and Southern Africa has also launched an initiative known as the Alliance for Seed Industry in Eastern and Southern Africa that enforces stringent seed regulations and educates farmers on hazards linked to counterfeit seeds.