28 April 2011, Rome - A pan-African network of seed testing laboratories has been established by the African Union and the African Seed Network with the support of FAO to speed up the harmonization of a continent-wide seed market in traditional and non-traditional crops.
Initially based in Nairobi, the Forum for Africa Seed Testing (FAST) will fast track the implementation of laws to harmonize the sector and promote seed testing and quality control, including the drafting of seed testing protocols for major crops for both public and private companies.
FAST will also help to increase exchanges of germplasm, the genetic component of an organism which in this case is seed collections, as well as other technical innovations among seed laboratories in Africa.
“The problem of poor seed quality has plagued African agriculture for years and has, in part, contributed to the failure of the green revolution in Africa,” said Robert G. Guei, Senior Officer with FAO’s Agriculture and Consumer Protection Department.
“Inadequate supply of quality seeds for both food and cash crops is one of the biggest bottlenecks to food production on the continent, contributing to food insecurity, impeded economic growth, reduced seed trade amongst countries and created a dependence on seed and food,” he said.
FAST will also provide for the first time a regulatory framework for a number of important African food crops such as a black nightshade (Solanum nigrum), a medicinal plant also used as a vegetable in Ethiopia and other east African countries especially during the lean season and Cleome gynandra, or African cabbage.
Important food security grains such as fonio, a crop widely eaten in the Sahel region of West Africa, will also benefit from the existence of FAST.
“If we could harmonize seed quality testing methods for these tropical crops then we would be doing a great deal to enhance and support the continent’s native seed trade,” said Guei. FAST was established at a meeting of African seed experts organized by FAO last month in Bamako, Mali.