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EAC smallholder farmers call for better management of seeds

Africa is currently grappling with food crisis caused by a number of reasons, including the soaring fertilizer prices, extreme weather, and disruptions caused by the Covid-19 pandemic.

According to the African Development Bank (AfDB), fertilizer prices have increased by 300% in Africa since the outbreak of the Russian conflict with Ukraine that disrupted supply of the agricultural input. Currently, the continent is facing a fertilizer shortage of two million metric tonnes.

This has since sparked debates on how best to boost resilience among farmers.

Farmers across Sub-Saharan Africa believe there should be a harmonized farmer-managed seed system which is the principal source of seeds for food crops in Africa.

Although African governments are joining regional agreements on intellectual property and trade blocs that benefit corporations and the industrial seed system, farmers also have suggestions that they wish policymakers would consider.

Recently, the Eastern and Southern Africa Small Scale Farmers Forum (ESAFF) in collaboration with Alliance for Food Sovereignty in Africa brought together farmers and smallholder seeds producers within East African Community to engage them on the importance of Farmer Managed Seed Systems (FMSS) as well as deliberating on guidelines for the harmonisation of seed regulatory frameworks in Africa and popularize the FMSS policy framework that was developed last year.

In an interview with Oscar Mpiranya, the National Coordinator of ESAFF in Rwanda said that so far, Rwanda has effective seed-managed systems.

“The only challenge that Rwandan farmers are facing is using imported seeds that are sometimes not compatible with our soil. We need to empower local seed multipliers both technically and financially to be able to produce seeds that are compatible with our soil. That way we will address the issue of food crisis,” said Mpiranya.

The bulk of farming in Africa is still mainly done by smallholder farmers and it is clear from previous studies that farmer-managed seed systems stand out as the most reliable and affordable source of seeds and germplasm for the vast majority of smallholder farmers.

According to Beatrice Egulu, Policy Officer, Department of Agriculture, Rural Development, Blue Economy and Sustainable Environment at the African Union Commission, in spite of laudable advances that have been made in seed sector development in recent times, many challenges still persist and need to be addressed.

Among the challenges she highlighted include seed quality assurance and certification, seed production, seed marketing, import and export documentation and procedures when it comes to seeds, and packaging among others

During the online meeting, the chairperson of ESAFF echoed a call to the African Union to ensure that seed processes on the continent are driven in parallel by peasant collectives, not by the seed industry.

“African Union should ensure that processes related to the future of the continent’s seed and food systems be subject to full democratic procedures in which interest groups like farmers participate effectively and fully, in accordance with the relevant provisions of international conventions,” he said

Original article: New Times Rwanda

Author: Edwin Musoni