Previous Page Table of Contents Next Page

4. Factors affecting the seed sector in the region

Every seed production and supply system of the region originates from the traditional pattern that existed when the countries had centrally planned economies. Today’s differences between countries depend on how much progress each of them has made in the transition to a market economy and in diminishing the operating role of the public sector. Differences may be accentuated by the appearance of an informal seed supply system.

Issues related to seed have in recent years become increasingly more complex. The reason is the involvement of more stakeholders: not only government policy-makers and public sector employees dealing with the seed sector, but also managers of seed companies, professionals in charge of research and plant breeding activities, marketing, trade and credit specialists, farmers, farmers’ organizations and investors. The old issues have acquired a new relevance because the seed sector is competing with other economic sectors, and its future dimension depend on the level of efficiency and profitability it can achieve within the national and regional economies.

4.1 External developments that influence the seed sector

Improvements in the agricultural sector in general

This paper has drawn attention to the main issues within the agricultural sector of countries in transition, namely: the privatization of the farming system; the limited farm earnings that have reduced the demand for inputs; the need for restoration and maintenance of irrigation systems; the need to replace obsolete operating equipment; the lack of financial resources and of credit facilities; and the resulting drop in agricultural production. It is expected that as soon as the situation begins to evolve positively there will be an increase in the demand for higher quality seed and for standard agricultural inputs (fertilizers, pesticides, etc.).

Government investments in rural infrastructure and general agricultural policies, which are normally determined independently of the needs of the seed sector, can indirectly exercise a profound influence on the growth and structure of the seed supply sector. Investments in rural roads, markets and storage facilities can substantially reduce the cost of improved seed by decreasing transport, processing and distribution costs.

Seed production and food security

Seed is the single most important input in crop production. It carries the genetic potential of the variety and determines the ultimate productivity of other inputs. The main role of other inputs in crop production is to exploit to a maximum the genetic potential of the seed. Therefore, seed is and should always be the basic prerequisite of any food security scheme.

Trade and international agreements

The region imports and exports seed as well as several agricultural products. With the advent of the Uruguay Round Agreements, the establishment of WTO and applications for membership of regional entities (e.g. the European Union), countries are obliged to review their national regulatory legislation in the relevant sectors. A number of these agreements have direct positive impact on the seed sector.

Liberalization reforms

Privatization is touching practically all sectors in the region, with agriculture and the seed sector being no exception. In many countries, it is no longer a question of whether or not to privatize the sector; it is rather a question of how soon and to what extent the process should be pursued. Completion of privatization will require further reforms and policy adjustments on the part of the public sector. Good governance, minimal bureaucracy and the provision of adequate services will be essential for ensuring a high level of productivity of the entire seed sector.

Emergency rehabilitation of disaster areas

Provision of seed in emergency situations constitutes a major first step in the rehabilitation of agriculture in most of the stricken areas. Due to inadequate seed stocks and poor infrastructure, countries rely on donations of seed from outside the country. If due care is not taken, untested seed can bring many problems, including pests, diseases and unsuitable varieties.

In collaboration with other organizations and donor agencies, FAO has spearheaded efforts to build viable national seed systems and to develop the international guidelines needed to regulate production and movement of seeds (Kelly, 1989). While some of the factors and problems that have hampered seed sector development in the past still persist, the situation is now compounded by the emergence of new concerns, as discussed above. Policy-makers are facing new challenges and problems that require changes in policies and strategies.

4.2 Favourable factors found in the region

In spite of an overall decline in production and serious constraints to increasing productivity, the agricultural sector of the region has potential for consolidation on a stronger basis and for ensuring food security. Below are favourable factors found in the region, on which to base a development strategy for agriculture as a whole and for the seed sector in particular.

Limited population growth in the next 15 years

Forecasts for population in the entire region for 2000 (402 090 000 people) and in 2015 (404 315 000 people) imply an average increase of 0.6% over 15 years. This means that efforts to improve the agricultural sector and the food security situation will not be undermined by a fast growing population. It is correct to say that in those countries where the population is expected to grow, there are already food shortages, but not all those countries are densely populated; countries with increases in population expected above 10% in the next 15 years are: Albania (12.5%), Azerbaijan (13.7%), Bosnia and Herzegovina (10.2%), Kyrgyzstan (16.2%), Tajikistan (25.3%), Turkmenistan (25.0%), Mongolia (24.0%), Uzbekistan (22.9%) and Turkey (22.5%).

Larger holdings in the future

While additional land with good soil will not become available, there are developments that should modify the average size of farms. In countries like Turkmenistan, virgin lands continue to be converted into arable land, and some land is still available to buyers or users in several CEECs. Then, as individual economies develop, part of the population that is currently in agriculture can be expected to switch to other sectors, a trend that has already started. Estimates based on projections indicate that by 2020 there will be a decline of some 40% in the agricultural population. Thus, a significant number of small or marginal farms should become available for consolidation into larger units.

Traditional links between the academic and scientific environment and the agricultural sector

These relations have facilitated for decades the conduct of important tests and the transfer of technology to the production world. Even if roles are changing with the transition, it should not be too difficult to maintain fruitful relations between the academic and scientific world and plant breeding activity.

Availability of trained personnel

Trained professionals and technicians exist in good number throughout the region. In several countries, they are poorly paid and there is a high risk of their quitting their jobs. They constitute a valuable resource that takes a long time to create. This asset is lacking in many developing countries and regions.

The expertise of the public sector

In view of the state’s previous direct involvement in outlining strategies and giving direction, providing inputs and advice, and even collecting most of the products, it must have retained through the professional staff of its institutions full awareness of agricultural problems and competence in dealing with them. This is a very important factor, which, if properly managed, can facilitate the transition.

The size of the formal seed sector

Under the former centrally planned economies, with possibly some rare exceptions, there was only room for a formal seed sector; therefore, countries in this region do not have to face the difficulties that several other regions are facing in establishing and developing their formal sector.

4.3 Constraints preventing good performance of the seed sector

Factors impeding high performance of the seed sector in the region are all interrelated and therefore deserve attention if high quality seed production and utilization is to be achieved. Instability of weather conditions, particularly fluctuation in rainfall, is among the chief factors that affect seed production in the region.

While some of these constraints directly affect the productivity of the seed sector, other limiting factors are related to policy measures. The following constraints outline the limitations in the regional seed supply systems.

Use of appropriate varieties and variety development

The seed supply systems in the region have a mutually dependent relationship with the research sector in the variety development phase. However, until varieties that correspond with farmers’ needs, are produced, and on-farm improved seed production is strengthened, the research system will continue to have little relevance to the informal seed supply systems in the region. Adoption of new varieties in the region has sometimes been constrained by:

(i) poor adaptation of new varieties to most farmers’ conditions;

(ii) lack of on-farm variety testing for farmer evaluation;

(iii) and a large number of varieties offered on the market, making it difficulty for the farmer to choose.

Variety development is the foundation of any seed supply programme; constraints in variety development can be summarized as follows:

(i) sometimes national breeding programmes remain unrelated to the actual needs of farmers, and this may explain the large quantity of seed or vegetative propagated material imported for certain crops; and

(ii) the prolonged variety evaluation procedures common in the region often limit the release of local or foreign superior varieties.

Erosion of plant genetic resources

In nearly all countries of the region, plant genetic erosion is a serious problem. It is caused by the replacement of local varieties by genetically uniform high-yielding varieties, environmental degradation and lack of funds to maintain existing field collections. Governments are aware of the need to implement programmes for PGR conservation, but the problem remains a lack of funding.

Inadequate seed security stocks

Some countries of the region that have been affected by serious crises clearly lacked adequate strategic seed reserves for use in emergency situations. Infrastructure for the storage of seed security stocks, at both centralized and decentralized levels, can help to avoid the disruption of agricultural production and loss of local genetic material that results from natural and man-made calamities. Strategic stocks of considerable quantities of certified seed are very expensive and risky to maintain. Rather, the possibility of stocking higher category seeds (Pre-basic) should be considered, with a database established for “carryover” of certified seed in the region, that could be used by countries in need.

National seed policies are institution rather than farmer based

National seed policies in the region tend to be designed to promote national seed industries. They must be adapted to international trade requirements and undertakings, as well as the requirements for countries interested in joining entities like the EU. Seed policies do not focus on the informal seed supply systems, where such systems exist.

Lack of a clear seed strategy

A clear seed strategy is needed in order to plan programmes and projects in the seed sector and to attract investment.

Inefficient extension services in most countries

Due to financial constraints, poor transportation and lack of incentives to motivate extension agents, extension services are relatively ineffective. Lack of adequate extension information is one of the main reasons for the low adoption rates of improved varieties. Extension should play a crucial role in training farmers in on-farm seed production and is therefore a prerequisite for the improvement of the informal seed system. Extension could raise awareness among farmers regarding the merits of the improved seed being introduced, and work towards improving the ability of farmers to control the quality of seed.

Deficient marketing policies in some countries

In many countries of the region, seed marketing remains one of the weakest links in the seed supply chain, thus limiting farmer access to good quality seed. Most countries support the involvement of private seed dealers in distribution of certified seed, including seed for important food crops. However, there are still countries in the region where seed prices are subsidized by the state.

Limited collaboration within the seed sector and between countries

Communication among institutions involved in seed sector development within a country and between neighbouring countries is crucial for the development of seed industries. There is a strong need for information transfer and sharing of lessons learned between institutions involved in the seed sector, which can be achieved through national and international networking.

Activities might include the organization of conferences, workshops and seminars. These activities should facilitate the establishment of linkages within and among countries of the region for the future exchange of information and for research collaboration. With communication channels formulated, countries can learn from each other’s experiences and adapt strategies according to their specific country conditions. Furthermore, these mechanisms could contribute to the formulation of policies relating to the seed sector, for the benefit of each and every participating country.

Limited involvement in international seed related organizations

For countries that wish to be involved in the international seed trade, it is important to establish ties with international organizations such as ISTA, FIS, UPOV and OECD that deal, respectively, with seed testing, seed trade, variety protection, and seed certification. Several countries in the region are not yet members of these organizations.

Previous Page Top of Page Next Page