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The development of a strong seed industry is crucial to improve the delivery of good quality seed to farmers and the development of agriculture in Central and Eastern European Countries, Commonwealth of Independent States and other Countries in Transition. In any discussion of agricultural development strategies, the subject of seed has a unique capacity to draw attention and interest. Seed is the primordial input, the embodiment of past harvest and the promise of future ones. It is not surprising that seed is a prominent feature of many proposals for programmes and projects concerned with improving the productivity of limited-resources farmers. In addition, efforts to strengthen the private sector in developing country agriculture often target the seed industry. Unfortunately, these various seed initiatives have had relatively little impact on the majority of resource-poor farmers.

In 1996, the World Food Summit concluded that more assistance and realistic approaches in the agricultural sector were needed if food security was to be achieved and sustained. In response, the Rome Declaration on World Food Security and the World Food Summit Plan of Action have established the foundation for diverse paths to guarantee food security. Improvement in the seed (and planting material) supply sector in the region is one of the main strategies to improve food security.

Guaranteeing farmers ongoing access to high quality seed can only be achieved if there is a viable seed supply system to multiply and distribute seeds of plant varieties adapted to the low-input crop management systems typical of limited-resource farmers. Agricultural policies aimed at achieving food security must emphasize seed supply system strategies that will ensure the availability of good quality seeds and planting materials of locally adapted varieties in a timely and affordable fashion. In addition, it is necessary to develop a regional capability to restore farmers’ seed systems affected by disasters.

The growth of the private seed sector, which is critical to the development of the seed industry, requires the establishment of an enabling environment. This would include the establishment of effective seed legislation, especially provisions for intellectual property rights and seed quality control. In this sense, governments will need assistance in the development and implementation of their seed rules and regulations. In addition, due to the potential threat that modern crop improvement presents to crop genetic resources, which has been recognized by countries in the region, assistance in germplasm conservation practices to safeguard adapted local and improved varieties is also critical in the development of the seed sector. In this regard, a regional advisory body would be needed to guide seed-related assistance at regional and national levels. This body would also advise on proper and effective ways to involve the private sector in the effort to strengthen the seed industry in the region.

Seed supplied through the formal sector is characterized by planned production, some form of mechanized processing, named varieties (registered, released or notified), seed marketed in identified packages, a system of quality assurance for buyers, and, for crops for which it is inconvenient for farmers to save their own seeds, there is clear distinction between seed and grain.

More needs to be known about the agro-ecological and socio-economic characteristics associated with the vast number of crop varieties that farmers, women and men, grow in their fields. Strategies for improving the quality of the on-farm produced seed and planting materials of these crops need to be developed and implemented. There are many stakeholders involved in assisting the limited-resource farmers that depend on the informal seed sector for their livelihood, yet there is little coordination to strengthen the sector as a whole.

It is abundantly clear throughout the CEEC, CIS and CT region that decision-makers are attaching great importance to strengthening the seed sector as a means of improving the food security situation in their respective countries. Equally, it is also clear that they are daunted by the complexity of the subject. More importantly, they are increasingly cognisant of the fact that policy decisions on privatization, seed rules and regulations, incentives and subsidies and other measures affect directly the development of the sector.

FAO traditionally has been instrumental in the technical and professional development of the seed sector all over the word. Now Central and Eastern European Countries, Commonwealth of Independent States and other Countries in Transition are in turn looking for FAO assistance in developing strategies, policies and programmes for the advancement of this very important sector.

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