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1. Introduction

The 1996 World Food Summit concluded that more assistance and realistic approaches in the agricultural sector are needed if food security were to be achieved and sustained in most developing countries, including most Central and Eastern European Countries (CEEC), the Commonwealth of Independent States (CIS) and other Countries in Transition (CT) (FAO, 1997). In response, the Rome Declaration on World Food Security, and the World Food Summit Plan of Action have established the foundation for diverse paths in guaranteeing food security. The strengthening of the seed supply sector is one of the main strategies for every region.

Agricultural policies aimed at achieving food security in a country must emphasize seed system strategies that will ensure the availability of quality seed of improved, locally well-adapted and appropriate varieties to farmers in a timely and affordable fashion. Guaranteeing farmers ongoing access to high quality seed can only be achieved if there is a viable seed supply system to multiply and distribute the seeds of plant varieties that have been produced or preserved, and if mechanisms have been established to assist farmers in emergency situations.

An assessment of the seed sector in the CEEC, CIS, and other in-transition countries in the same area (hereafter termed: the region) is important before any realistic strategy for future development of the seed sector for this region is designed. The seed supply systems in 29 countries of the region are examined and issues relevant to the seed production and distribution in the region are evaluated in this document. Furthermore, the document notes important linkages between the seed supply systems and other services offered to farmers in the region. Alternative strategies for policy-makers that can be adapted according to the prevailing conditions in each country are also explored. The information provided in this assessment was assembled from general sources, special and project reports, ad hoc seed questionnaires received from National Focal Points, and from information collected by consultants who travelled to several countries of the region, including Albania, Belarus, Bulgaria, Czech Republic, Hungary, Kazakhstan, the Former Yugoslavia Republic (FYR) of Macedonia, Poland, Russian Federation, Slovakia, Ukraine and Uzbekistan.

The document comprises six main sections. The first section briefly describes some common characteristics of countries in the region, climatic and agro-ecological features, socio-economic conditions, natural resource conservation and management, and plant genetic resources (PGR) issues. The agricultural sector of the region is assessed in the second section. The seed sector is evaluated in the third. The fourth discusses factors affecting the seed sector in the region, and the fifth includes a call for action that comprises guiding principles and a plan of action. Conclusions and recommendations for future improvement are presented in the last section. Summary information on the agricultural and seed supply sectors in each of the 29 countries (based on information available at the time of writing) is included at the end of this report.

As for other regions, there is a need to establish a forum for discussing seed policy and programmes among stakeholders of the region, with the ultimate aim of ensuring food security through seed security.

1.1 Some common characteristics of the region and food security

The 29 countries covered in this assessment are distributed over a vast geographical area, ranging from central Europe to central Asia. This grouping has in common their recent politico-historical upheavals in a socio-economic context, rather than uniform geophysical and natural characteristics. In fact, these countries were classified as “centrally planned economies” and had reached a considerable level of economic integration, interdependence among themselves, and a degree of independence from foreign influence. At present they are referred to as countries in transition to a market economy, and their former degree of integration and isolation has considerably diminished.

The agricultural sector is important within the region in terms of area available, production, contribution to domestic economy and the population size. The first phase of the transition coincided with a lack of financial resources and a fall in internal demand; since nearly all countries in the region were similarly affected, limited compensation was expected to come through external demand from traditional trade partners. This contributed to a decline in agricultural output and increased the risk of food insecurity. In fact, one of the major challenges facing the majority of CEEC, CIS and CT countries is to achieve national food security within a sustainable agricultural framework, while pursuing the process of conversion to a market economy (Erjavec et al., 1999; Csaki and Nash, 1998; Matthews, 1996). A table giving comparative agriculture-related data for region is provided as an annex to this paper (see page 113).

Food insecurity is a condition of low level of food intake. It can be of a transitory nature in times of crisis, but becomes chronic when of continuing nature. Undernourishment is chronic food insecurity, in which food intake is insufficient to meet basic energy requirements on a continuing basis. The State of Food Insecurity in the World of 1999 reported that the estimated percentage of undernourished population in countries in transition was 6% during the 1995-97 period, corresponding to 26 million people (FAO, 2000). Of these, 4 million (4% of the population) were in Eastern Europe and 22 million (7% of the population) in the Former Soviet Union (FSU). In developed countries, the number of undernourished was 8 million, or less than 2.5% of the total population (876 million).

Based on estimates from FAO (FAO, 2000), there were six countries with an undernourishment ratio between 20% and 34% (considered moderately high) of the population: Armenia, Azerbaijan, Bosnia and Herzegovina, Kyrgyzstan, Mongolia and Tajikistan. Twelve countries had a ratio between 5% and 19% (moderately low): Bulgaria, Croatia, Estonia, Georgia, Moldova, Macedonia (FYR), Russian Federation, Turkmenistan, Turkey, Ukraine, Uzbekistan and Yugoslavia. Albania, Latvia and Slovakia had a ratio between 2.5% and 4%. The remaining eight countries had a ratio below 2.5%.

The above information is supplemented by data on the availability of food supplies, in terms of average per caput daily calories, during the 1995-97 period. The figures ranged from a maximum of 3341.5 calories in Poland, to a minimum of 2121.7 in Tajikistan. Seven countries had an average below 2500 calories, eleven were between 2500 and 3000, and only eight were above 3000. The lowest yearly variation was in Romania, with 3 calories; for seven countries with less than 3000 calories, the yearly variation exceeded 100 calories; the highest year-to-year variation was in Armenia, at 192.7 calories.

Serious emergencies have arisen in the region in the last decade, including belligerence. Civil strife and war created large groups of internally displaced persons (IDPs) and refugees. In 1999-2000, there were special reports of FAO/GIEWS concerning Macedonia (FYR) (7 July 1999), Albania (7 July 1999), the locust situation in the CIS (29 July 1999), displaced population in the Caucasus (7 October 1999), Azerbaijan (8 December 1999) and Georgia (10 December 1999), and political turmoil in Tajikistan in 1993-98. Wherever crises occurred, these emergencies occurred; there were wastes of precious resources that would have been useful to the populations affected and to sustain the transition process. The minimum result was a higher incidence of food insecurity.

According to FAO/GIEWS, in November 1999, eight countries in the region (out of a total of 34 worldwide) had shortfalls in food supplies, requiring exceptional and or emergency assistance. The countries (with the number of people assisted by the World Food Programme (WFP) in year 2000) were: Albania (60 000), Armenia (170 000), Azerbaijan (485 000), Bosnia and Herzegovina (182 000), Georgia (182 000), the Russian Federation (Ingushetia, 150 000), Tajikistan (20 000) and Macedonia (FYR) (20 000). There have been food pledges for the Russian Federation, the Kyrgyzstan, Tajikistan and Uzbekistan. According to FAO estimates (FAO, 1998a), in the CIS, people estimated to be in need of targeted food aid were 16% in Tajikistan, 13% in Armenia, 11% in Azerbaijan, and 7% in Georgia.

1.2 Agro-climatic regions

According to Koeppen's classification, as used by FAO for the Global Climate Maps, three types of climates that are relevant for agriculture are found in the region.

Temperate type climates prevail in the west of the region, where the influence of the Mediterranean or the North Sea are felt, but there are other locations in the dryer centre or east of the region where the topographical feature or the neighbourhood of an internal sea (Caspian Sea or Aral Sea) create the conditions for temperate types of climates. Conversely, mountain areas in the western part of the region (e.g. in the Balkans and in the Carpaths) have cold climates. Countries with temperate climates are Albania, Hungary, the western part of the Czech Republic, Macedonia (FYR) and Poland, part of Slovakia, most of Croatia and Bulgaria, Yugoslavia, the southwest of Romania, the south of Ukraine's Crimean coast, the Black Sea coast of the Russian Federation and of Georgia, the Caspian Sea coast of Azerbaijan, and restricted mountain areas of Turkmenistan, Turkey and Uzbekistan.

Cold climates prevail in the centre and in the north, and in all mountain areas; in particular in the eastern part of Czech Republic and of Poland, most of Bosnia and Herzegovina, Slovenia, part of Slovakia, most of Romania and of Moldova, areas in the south and centre of Bulgaria, Estonia, Latvia and Lithuania, Belarus, most of Ukraine, the Russian Federation and Armenia, in areas of Georgia and Azerbaijan, in large areas of the north, east, south and west of Kazakhstan, in Kyrgyzstan, Mongolia and Tajikistan. With such climate, crop seasons are short because they are limited at the beginning and at the end by frost.

Dry climates, mostly steppe climate, are found (from west to east) on the Black Sea coast of Bulgaria and Romania, in small areas of Moldova, the south of Ukraine, in the Russian Federation north of the Caucasus mountains and along the border with Kazakhstan, most of Kazakhstan, part of Turkey, in Turkmenistan, and Uzbekistan. Desert climates are found in the last three countries and in the north Caspian coast of the Russian Federation and part of Mongolia. High altitude steppe climates are found in the mountains of Tajikistan.

A polar climate is found on high mountains and along the northern coast of the Russian Federation, but conditions are prohibitive for agriculture.

The region is important from the point of view of genetic resources, agriculture, forestry and, where relevant, animal husbandry and fishery. It contains a conspicuous amount of resources, as expected from a large territory with varying climates, soils, river basins, mountains and other characteristics propitious to a rich biodiversity, including both wild and bred species.

The region has rainfed and irrigated agriculture, pasture lands and forests. The highest potential for agricultural production is in valleys with large river basins or plateaux of moderate altitude belonging to the temperate climate areas. Combinations of fertile soils, water and moderately dry or cold climates also provide considerable potential for agriculture.

All 29 countries of the region produce wheat, barley, coarse grains, potatoes, fruit and vegetables. Twenty-eight countries produce pulses, 25 maize, 23 sugar beet and tobacco. Sunflower seed is produced in 18, and soybean in 17 countries. There are ten countries growing cotton on an area exceeding 10 000 ha. Grapes, olives and citrus are also grown in the region. On the one hand, the extensive range of products testifies the efforts made to obtain varieties adapted to local soil and climatic conditions, but, on the other hand, the three types of climates mentioned have permitted high quality seed production for all adapted crops.

Climates remain within their general pattern, but weather conditions change and may cause significant year-to-year fluctuations in the output of crops. Adverse conditions that affect crops severely are frost, rain, wind and drought when they are in excess or unexpected. They may be so severe that they may reduce crop production to a degree that causes food shortage and requires compensating imports. The region is large enough to have every year some countries favoured and others affected by weather conditions. In the FAO/GIEWS food crop assessment report of April 2000, it was pointed out that 11 countries in the region had favourable weather conditions for the 1999/2000 season, five countries had unfavourable conditions, three with both conditions, and ten with normal conditions.

1.3 Economic status of the countries in the region

The countries in the region were centrally planned economies. They all had a highly developed, complex system of planning, in which all aspects of rural life were measured, analysed, forecast, planned and controlled. Although established on a model of strong central control, the system was hierarchical in structure, and was based at regional and local levels on a developed apparatus of professional institutions engaged in tasks of monitoring, measuring, gathering data, analysing statistics, mapping and drafting plans and exercising strict control.

In FSU, the system included a level concerning republics. The governing party set the goals and policy objectives, and the central planning bureau and “branch” ministries followed these by devising general plans, detailed plans and very detailed directives. In some cases, these policies were in the form of “Concepts” and “five-year plans,” and the most important policies were submitted for adoption as legal normative acts. However, since the system rested almost exclusively on administrative relationships (without civil law), every act, plan, concept and directive was considered to have binding legal force on all subordinate administrative and production units, and on all individuals. Land was treated as state property and the system created very large collective farms.

Currently, the central planning bureaux have been phased out or abolished, and the “branch” ministries are gradually being divested of their powers as direct managers of production enterprises and as “owners” of stocks of land and other resources. The apparatus of subordinate research, planning and data gathering units remains; however, its institutional structure is undergoing change.

Some units have been retained as part of the administrative organs of government, ministries, regional and municipal administrations. Others have acquired independent status as enterprises, or non-governmental educational or intellectual organizations. The relations between these new forms of institutions and the state are not always clear. To a large extent, the structure of these entities reflects an attempt to “spin off” commercially valuable activities into private organizations and to retain, under the state budget, those elements that do not provide the opportunity for profit.

Because the change requires time and is far from complete, these countries have been termed Countries in Transition (CT) to a market economy. Not only have they had to modify radically their institutional system, but also their financial, production and trade structures. Reflecting local characteristics and socio-economic development, progress has been much faster in some countries than in others.

In a market economy, products need to be fully competitive in quality and price in order to remain attractive to both local and international markets. Prices must cover all production costs and provide income that maintains the capital invested and provides profit.

There are significant differences in the economic situation of individual countries within the region. Some have a developed industrial sector or natural energy sources like oil, natural gas and coal. A few countries have both, but most have none. The result is a wide variation in the yearly per caput Gross National Product (GNP) as estimated by the World Bank for 1998, applying the Atlas methodology (Table 1). Nine countries are in the low-income bracket (US$ 760 or less), ten countries have lower middle income (US$ 761 to US$ 3 030), seven countries have upper middle income (US$ 3 031 to US$ 9 360) and only one country (Slovenia) reaches the high-income group with US$ 9 780 (for two countries - Bosnia and Herzegovina, and Yugoslavia - there are no data available).

Table 1. General information on the countries in the region


Total area* (km2)


Agriculture production index*
(Av. 1997-99)

GNP per caput**
(US$; 1998)

% GDP growth

Agricultural value added
(as % of GDP)**

Total (‘1000)

Agriculturally employed (%)


28 750

3 100







29 800

3 520







86 600

7 734







207 600

10 236



2 470



Bosnia and Herzegovina

51 130

3 972







110 910

8 225



1 220




56 538

4 473



4 650



Czech Rep.

78 680

10 244



5 150




45 100

1 396



3 360




69 700

4 968







93 036

10 036



4 480




2 717 300

16 223



1 330




198 500

4 699







64 586

2 357



2 380




65 200

3 670



2 540



Macedonia FYR

25 710

2 024



1 690




33 700

4 380







1 566 500

2 662







323 250

38 765



3 910




238 390

22 327



1 450



Russian Feder.

17 075 400

164 934



2 250




49 010

5 385



3 700




20 251

1 986



9 780




143 100

6 188







774 820

65 546



3 160




488 100

4 459







603 700

50 456







447 400

24 318






Yugoslavia FR

102 173

10 600






SOURCES: * = FAOSTAT website ( ** = World Bank website (

Based on the World Bank data for 1998 (Table 1), 21 countries had positive growth in GDP, ranging from 1.8% (Kazakhstan) to 10% (Azerbaijan). Negative growth in GDP was recorded in six countries, ranging from -8.6% (Moldova) to -1.7% (Uzbekistan). There were no data available for two countries (Bosnia and Herzegovina, and Yugoslavia).

As mentioned previously, strong integration formerly prevailed among the countries of the region. However, with the advent of the transition process, various changes have taken place. Following the creation of CIS, some of the internal trade within FSU changed to international trade among CIS countries and more trade with partners from outside the region due to more attractive cost/quality ratios of the items on offer, special credit lines made available and faster payment for items they require. In some cases, significant economic problems of former trade partners, often with considerable delays in payments, modified and sometimes interrupted the former trade flows.

The capacity to sell products on national and international markets influenced the variety, quality and volume of production. In some cases, products that were formerly widely exported throughout the region are now produced only for local consumption because they are not fully competitive in a true market situation.

For several CEECs, the transition to the market economy is combined with the objective of joining the European Union (EU). The requirements for this do not necessarily conflict with those of the transition. Countries are provided with guidance and assistance from the EU, and the institutions of the EU review progress made. A similar situation prevails when joining the World Trade Organization (WTO).

Some countries have signed commercial treaties with neighbouring countries that directly or indirectly contribute to advance in the transition. The transition requires a significant change in the roles of the state and that of the private sector, supported by appropriate changes to legislation and government regulations. The state has maintained a general guiding or advisory role, retreating mostly from direct production and supply activities. It had to develop a taxation system in order to finance its basic activity and, where necessary, special schemes for sectors like agriculture that need support.

The private sector had to reach the market in order to obtain credit and develop further. Foreign companies and capital expanded their presence in the region and contributed to acceleration of the transition process; clear examples are in the banking, car manufacturing and agricultural machinery sectors in CEEC.

The transition process has been supported by regional and international institutions and organizations that have been providing financial resources, technical and humanitarian assistance, such as the World Bank, United Nations Development Programme (UNDP), FAO and the EU special programmes, as well as by several bilateral organizations and non-governmental organizations (NGOs).

The few oil and natural gas producing countries of the region (Azerbaijan, Kazakhstan, Romania and the Russian Federation) use export earnings from those products to sustain the economy. Those resources have also attracted capital for investment. However, there is no evidence that the agricultural sector of those countries has benefited significantly from that situation. Countries that must import oil are always at a disadvantage, particularly when prices are high on the international market, as in mid-2000.

Within the former system of centrally planned economies, some countries specialized in the export of a particular commodity, such as tea (Georgia), flax (Lithuania and Ukraine), and cotton (Uzbekistan, Turkmenistan, Tajikistan, Kyrgyzstan, Kazakhstan and Azerbaijan). Others exported commodities such as tobacco (Croatia, Bulgaria, Georgia, Kyrgyzstan and Macedonia (FYR)), vegetables (Albania, Azerbaijan, Bulgaria, Croatia, Hungary, Kyrgyzstan and Tajikistan), cereals (Bulgaria, Croatia, Hungary, Moldova, Poland and Romania), fruits (Bulgaria, Croatia, Georgia, Kyrgyzstan, Moldova, Romania, Slovenia and Tajikistan), grapes (Kyrgyzstan, Macedonia (FYR) and Moldova), potatoes (Georgia and Poland), and seeds (Hungary, Yugoslavia, Croatia, etc.). Some data on seed production in the region are provided in Table 2.

Several countries have made considerable progress in farming horticultural crops, which has enabled rural populations to diversify their diet, farmers to reach urban and transborder markets and earn immediate cash. In some cases, these efforts have resulted in establishing a position in international trade.

Table 2. Seed production of main crops in 1999 (tonnes)



Oil Crops








30 000

3 313




34 200


30 000


12 000



100 000


76 000

3 200

6 000



20 000


60 000

9 000

220 000



1 844 000

Bosnia and Herzegovina

12 500

7 335

3 200



30 000


164 700

16 800

43 750

13 500


76 299


26 826

6 620

7 345


1 835

95 061

Czech Republic

194 000

12 000

118 600



220 000


12 000


38 000



97 000


16 000

20 000

5 000

20 000


45 000


250 000

61 000

64 041

9 000

2 501

114 747


1 300 000

14 000

250 000

4 000


300 000


115 000

1 400

19 000



80 000


16 000


35 000



250 000


80 000


110 000




Macedonia FYR

32 000


10 680



27 464


55 000

12 000

8 000

18 000


114 000


38 000





13 000


667 000

15 800

230 000



3 100 000


420 000

125 000

48 118

7 244

16 695

1 050 000

Russian Federation

5 565 000

23 000

2 745 000

300 000

40 000

7 500 000


85 000

11 400

43 000

2 340


59 400


7 904

3 960

1 804



19 680


26 000

4 000

3 000



9 000


1 800 000

50 000

754 000

16 350

2 000

430 000


120 000

8 000

15 000



1 500


2 200 000

32 000

650 000

150 000

2 000

4 650 000


270 000

25 000

26 000



55 000


176 750

60 000

13 600

1 752

5 720

220 000


1.4 Natural resources conservation and management

The region is suffering from degradation of the environment, and from specific problems that vary with the location, where negative factors or agents are affecting soils, water and air, and, ultimately, agricultural production. For this reason, reducing environmental degradation while conserving natural resources is one of the main challenges facing most countries in the region when addressing the issue of sustainable agriculture and food security.

Due to the lack of anti-pollution measures, industrial plants have caused substantial damage or threats to the environment; the mismanagement of water resources, or the use of inappropriate land reclamation and farming practices, including inadequate or insufficient machinery, and former overuse of agrochemicals, have caused irreversible damages to soil fertility. The surface of the Aral Sea has been considerably reduced and the concentration of chemicals in the water is increasing. The rising level of the Caspian Sea is threatening the lowlands near the coast. Wind erosion and salinity are typical problems of dry-climate areas.

The region suffered in 1986 from a serious case of nuclear contamination over a vast area that has one of the most fertile agricultural soils in the world. There have also been cases of river poisoning that affected hundreds of farms. Given these conditions, new technologies and practices to increase system productivity must take into account the environment on which they will depend over the short and long terms, as well as the need to ensure sustainable food production.

1.5 Plant genetic resources and food security

The region is rich, with extensive genetic diversity of some of the world’s major food crops, such as wheat, barley, oat, pea, cabbage, cucumber, pepper, sunflower, hemp, beet, grape, apples, berry fruits and nuts (FAO, 1998b). Crop development has, for centuries, depended on the utilization of genepools that have evolved through natural selection in a multitude of diverse ecosystems. However, the genetic diversity of plant resources is rapidly being reduced in certain regions, including the region under review, due to natural and human activity. Without a global effort to preserve biodiversity, there will be little that plant breeders can do to extract genes for incorporation into the new varieties needed to withstand stresses and ultimately enhance the quantity and quality of food crops in the long term.

Genetic erosion is generally caused by the replacement of local varieties by “improved” or exotic varieties, and more recently by the lack of financial resources for the development or the continuity of conservation and management programmes (FAO, 1998b).

Many international, regional and national organizations have a global mandate to conserve genetic resources and minimize genetic erosion. The role played by the farming communities, including those in the region under review, for the utilization and conservation of heterogeneous traditional varieties has been recently recognized by the world scientific communities as critical to the future of agriculture. Although many of these landraces have been lost through replacement by modern varieties in various agricultural systems, there are still ecological niches and remote areas in the region where indigenous germplasm is nurtured and utilized.

All countries in the region care for the collection and conservation of PGR. In situ conservation programmes exist, but - even if restricted in number and in size - they remain costly and underutilized for the production of improved seed and vegetative propagated material. Further expansion of these programmes remains difficult.

Regarding ex situ programmes, most countries started their germplasm collection a long time ago, and some of those collections enjoy a worldwide reputation, as is the case of the N.I. Vavilov All Russian Scientific Research Institute of Plant Industry (VIR) in St Petersburg. These institutes participate in worldwide exchange and research programmes. The principal ones have medium- and long-term storage facilities that are supported by the state, international initiatives or foreign grants.

With few exceptions, the institutes responsible for germplasm collections have been suffering from shortage of funds since the transition began. Their acquisition and conservation programmes need support, as they must retain experienced staff (often tempted to leave for higher paid jobs in other sectors), renovate their equipment, meet relatively high energy costs and mount expeditions. Financing of these collections should first and foremost come from the public sector, as their purpose is to serve the country as a whole. There are countries where collections are relatively new and small, the reason being that these countries were established recently or that the main collection remained in an institute now outside the national boundaries. These collections require both financial and technical assistance.

In general, each country has more than one germplasm collection. In addition to the large one(s), there are specialized collections for plants such as tobacco, hops, grapes, and medicinal plants (FAO, 1998b). It could be argued that too many collections without some regional programme and coordination could result in unnecessary overlap while leaving substantial gaps, in addition to keeping costs high. The matter is left for further analysis and consideration by experts in the region. What is important, however, is that these collections be regularly used for seed breeding purposes in order to benefit from their genetic resources potential, and thus through improved seed ensure a high level of food security worldwide.

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