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Development Law Service Newsletter - May 2016 - #2

 

Engagement between the formal and informal seed sector: a contribution to ending hunger and malnutrition  

In the context of ending hunger, achieving food security and improving nutrition and promoting sustainable agriculture, Target 2.5 of Goal 2 of the Sustainable Development Goals, commits the international community, by 2020,  

“to maintain the genetic diversity of seeds, cultivated plants and farmed and domesticated animals and their related wild species, including through soundly managed and diversified seed and plant banks at the national, regional and international levels, and promote access to and fair and equitable sharing of benefits arising from the utilization of genetic resources and associated traditional knowledge, as internationally agreed”.

In this context, it is interesting to consider ongoing explorations of policy and legislative responses to this Target. In March 2016, an “Expert Meeting on the Impact of Seed Laws on Smallholder Farming Systems in Africa: Challenges and Opportunities” was convened to discuss the challenges created by certain seed law provisions to farmer seed systems and the policy and legal mechanisms that can support these seed systems in order to strengthen smallholder farmers’ seed security and livelihoods1. During the Meeting, a number of challenges – and possible solutions – were identified, and are highlighted in this piece.

Farmers in many developing countries face serious fundamental problems related to access to quality seed and improved varieties of crops species suited to their needs and adapted to their agro-ecological conditions. In these countries, the formal and informal seed delivery systems co-exist in large part. In many countries, national policies and laws do not recognize or support the informal seed sector. Smallholder farmers usually resort to either or both of these systems for different crops and for different seasons. Strengthening both formal and informal seed systems is an integral part of the sustainable use of plant genetic resources for food and agriculture (PGRFA).

A key question is whether, and how, national or regional policy frameworks can support an integrated approach by allowing interactions between the formal and the informal seed systems.  

Some answers to this key question may be found in the FAO Voluntary Guide for National Seed Policy Formulation (Voluntary Guide)2. This important tool aims to assist developing countries in formulating effective seed policies, creating enabling environments for seed sector development, and facilitating the access to, and use of PGRFA. The Voluntary Guide calls on national governments to recognize the informal sector’s important role in seed supply and promote support in appropriate areas such as extension, training schemes for farmers, community seed banks, germplasm conservation, and seed quality control, or even promote official recognition of some of these activities, as well as the importance of the role of women in these various functions. This requires clear provisions in national policies and laws on the respective roles of the formal and informal seed sectors to enable coordination between the components of both seed systems.

There is also a need to further reflect on and formulate legal mechanisms that support farmer seed systems or an alternative quality insurance mechanism for farmer-based systems. In the context of the Meeting, it was also agreed that pilot institutionalization in selected countries should take place.

LEGN will continue to contribute to the development of innovative approaches in order to design relevant and contextualized legal frameworks which ultimately contribute rapidly and effectively to ending hunger and malnutrition.


1. The meeting was organized under the auspices of the Integrated Seed Sector Development (ISSD) Africa Programme. ISSD Africa is a partnership with the Wageningen UR Centre for Development Innovation and the Future Agricultures Consortium and is funded by the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation and the Dutch Ministry of Economic Affairs. The report of the Meeting can be found here.
2. The Voluntary Guide was endorsed by FAO’s Commission on Genetic Resources for Food and Agriculture in January 2015.

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