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5. A call for action

Given the present status of the seed sector in the region, it is clear that further efforts are needed in order to complete the transition for the seed sector as well. Action is required on different fronts, with the full participation of all stakeholders from both the public and private sectors, and especially farmers and their organizations. The development and implementation of a seed strategy would require a high degree of cooperation, as well as the review of comparative advantages among countries in the region.

To guide future development of seed supply systems in a country, it is first necessary to evaluate their existing systems. An evaluation should focus on the general socio-economic status of the farming community, the level of development of the seed supply systems, and the existing infrastructure. The outcome of such a study, along with the consideration of major seed policy issues such as those elaborated in this document, could provide important guidelines when formulating policies and strategies for the development of national and regional seed supply systems.

5.1 Guiding principles

It should be underlined that privatization requires administrative and legislative adjustments as well as different professional talents and managerial skills, together with the involvement of a broad range of stakeholders in seed supply systems. The process of transition itself requires acceptance and disposition to change, and in particular to surrender and to assume responsibilities. What is not immediately available can be acquired through professional development and training, or by involving or hiring fully trained people.

It is of paramount importance that countries in the region create conditions conducive to the strengthening and liberalization of their seed supply systems. Where an informal seed supply system has developed, it should not be ignored. It is, therefore, important that governments study and eventually establish linkages between the formal public and private sectors, variety development and seed production, and the informal on-farm and community-based seed systems (Jaffee and Srivastava, 1992).

Policy-makers responsible for seed development should encourage more regional cooperation for further development of the seed sector, thus ensuring food security for the region. Opportunities for collaboration should be created at both regional and subregional levels.

5.2 Elements for a Plan of Action

In the following sections, a wide range of actions and measures to improve the performance of the seed sector are proposed. Several countries in the region may have already adopted some of these actions and measures. It is therefore up to each country to consider recommendations that have not been implemented, and to develop policies, reforms and actions appropriate to their specific conditions.

5.2.1 Involve all stakeholders in the drafting and adoption of a seed strategy

The participation of all stakeholders in the development of a strategy is important in order to ascertain that all views are expressed before arriving at a conclusion, which should result in a spirit of “ownership and commitment” by each party concerned.

5.2.2 Facilitate greater private-sector involvement, starting from areas where it has comparative advantage

In dealing with privatization and the question of how to proceed, three points need to be considered. First, the liberalization of the seed sector should be a staged, but not too slow, process. Any change in public-sector involvement in activities such as variety development, seed production, seed processing and marketing should be gradual and selective. Second, it should be recognized that, on the part of government, privatization requires considerable adjustments in administration and legislation. Third, privatization implies different skills and managerial approaches.

5.2.3 Define clearly the respective roles of the public and private sectors, and strengthen coordination between them.

While the public sector in the region has been extensively involved in variety development, most governments now recognize the critical need for participation of the private sector in plant breeding. In an effort to increase private-sector activities, it is essential to:

(i) develop legislation encouraging private-seed-sector involvement in plant breeding and seed production. This should include the revision of legislation related to variety release and notification, quality control and seed certification, and the establishment of PBR. Unless there is a variety protection law put in place and observed by the government, it is unlikely that private companies would become involved in variety development;

(ii) provide private seed producers with access to the lines and varieties developed by the NARS, including access to breeder or foundation seed;

(iii) facilitate the importation of germplasm and certified seed when needed; and

(iv) improve the seed market by developing varieties that fit farmer needs, and ensure effective distribution.

5.2.4 Enhance efforts to increase the rate of adoption by farmers of improved varieties

Support programmes aiming at variety development that fit farmer needs and encourage higher rates of adoption of good quality seed. Facilitate the selection of good quality seed through appropriate information and advisory services (or demonstrations).

Plant breeding efforts should be integrated into farming communities that possess the knowledge and genetic material in landraces that have been used and preserved for generations. In addition, farmers’ specific requirements and their reactions to newly released varieties should be integrated into the ongoing selection process, with on-farm testing as part of the programme.

5.2.5 Maintain an efficient extension system

Extension work could focus on raising 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 seeds. Extension should play a crucial role in training farmers in on-farm seed production and becomes a prerequisite for the improvement of informal seed systems where they exist.

Maintaining an effective extension system requires significant ongoing resources. Therefore, all effort should be made to make efficient use of extension services when most needed. To this end it is necessary that:

(i) countries in the region recognize the critical role of extension services in the development of the seed sector and agriculture in general;

(ii) development agencies and NGOs in agricultural extension be encouraged to participate; and

(iii) the role of research in agricultural extension, which can lead to an increase in the efficiency of extension services, be strengthened.

5.2.6 Use and enhance professional and technical capabilities

In general, the region has qualified technical staff that need to be retained in the seed sector through properly financed programmes. However, their knowledge and skills need to be increased, and if they leave their job, new technicians must be trained to replace them.

Well planned and effectively executed training programmes can considerably improve the skills and competence of technicians in different aspects of seed technology. Trained staff can then act as a vehicle for the transfer of technologies to farmers. This can be accomplished by:

(i) improving graduate and postgraduate degree course programmes in seed science and technology, in collaboration with local universities;

(ii) initiating regional training programmes;

(iii) developing cost-effective local training programmes;

(iv) seeking international collaboration in the development of training modules; and

(v) providing domestic funds where available and seeking international financial support.

5.2.7 Ensure cost-effective use of land

Support the use of appropriate cropping systems and develop policies promoting the availability of agricultural inputs, including irrigation water, to farmers.

5.2.8 Ensure the establishment of efficient seed distribution systems

The privatization of the seed distribution sector should not be done at the expense of farmers in remote areas. The involvement of those farmers and of local distributors in the seed distribution activity improves the availability of seed to farmers.

The problem of seed accessibility to rural farmers is the result of higher costs for seed handling and transport. This could be partly solved by establishing seed outlets and markets in the proximity of farming communities; a decentralized system for seed multiplication would reduce these costs. Therefore, governments should develop decentralized strategies for seed multiplication and storage. The decentralization of seed production could also facilitate the production of improved varieties that require less intensive management and inputs.

Another reason that storage has been established in centralized facilities is because sophisticated equipment and highly trained staff is readily available. Efforts should be made to provide appropriate equipment and technical assistance at a decentralized level, thus improving seed availability to farmers.

5.2.9 Develop strategies for the conservation of plant genetic resources

Plant genetic erosion is a serious problem in the region. It is caused by: the replacement of local varieties by genetically uniform, high-yielding varieties; population pressure; overgrazing; and environmental degradation. The loss of traditional varieties, which have diverse characteristics, is reducing the genepool available to breeders. Therefore, governments must institute strategies that ensure the conservation of PGR. However, it should also be recognized that the conservation of germplasm by itself is of no value if it is not used to develop new products and varieties, which will increase the yield of crops. As elaborated in the FAO Global Plan of Action (FAO, 1996), governments should focus on:

(i) in situ conservation and development, which include surveying and inventorying PGR for food and agriculture, supporting on-farm management and improvement of PGR, assisting farmers in disaster situations to restore agricultural systems, and promoting in situ conservation of wild crop relatives and wild plants for food production;

(ii) ex situ conservation, including sustaining existing ex situ collections;

(iii) the use of PGR to promote sustainable agriculture and to develop new markets for local varieties and diverse plant products; and

(iv) promoting PGR networks, developing early warning systems to monitor the loss of PGR for food and agriculture, expanding and improving education and training, and raising public awareness on the value of PGR.

5.2.10 Take measures to institute seed strategic reserves and seed system restoration mechanisms

If not already done, infrastructure for the storage of seed security stocks at centralized and decentralized levels should be established. The possibility should be considered of stocking higher category seeds (Pre-basic), while establishing a database for carryover of certified seed in the region that could be used by countries in need. In addition, mechanisms that facilitate the return flow of seeds of locally adapted varieties during or subsequent to disasters should be established. This would help avoid disruption of agricultural production and loss of local genetic material due to natural and anthropogenic calamities.

5.2.11 Strengthen linkages between research, extension and seed production

The long-term effectiveness of seed programmes depends, to a large extent, on the coordination of the various sectors involved, including research, extension, seed production and infrastructure systems, as well as farmer participation. These factors should be treated as subsystems in a holistic approach to technology generation and transfer in agriculture. Therefore, more attention should be paid at the planning stage to ensure the integration of these various components.

5.2.12 Explore opportunities for inter-country collaboration at both the regional and subregional levels

Opportunities could include the development of databases and common registries of farmers’ varieties and improved cultivars; harmonization of seed regulatory measures; and joint ventures in seed development and production. Other collaborative efforts might include the formulation of regional seed associations, possibly with subregional chapters, and the establishment of a Regional Seed Council or Board, or similar executive or consultative bodies, to oversee and promote such regional endeavours.

5.2.13 Participate actively in international seed-related organizations

For countries wishing to be actively involved in global seed trade, it is important for them to establish ties with international seed organizations such as ISTA, FIS, UPOV and OECD, working respectively on seed quality testing, seed trade, variety protection, and seed certification.

5.2.14 Establishment of regional networks

It is expected that the development of regional seed and plant genetic resource networks, for a number of defined and priority issues, would facilitate reaching, in a coordinated manner, national, regional and global targets for sustainable development and seed security. All stakeholders should be represented and participate actively in order to have balanced views and results, and for them to develop a sense of “ownership” and “commitment” to implement recommendations.

The individual networks should be established with clear membership, leadership, terms of reference, agenda and deadlines for reporting and concluding activities. In addition to their established mandates, the networks should be able to provide information to the general public through appropriate use of mass media, and even attract potential donors for international technical and financial assistance.

5.2.15 Integrate the formal and the informal seed supply systems

Without collaboration between the formal and informal systems, where the latter is of a significant size, it will be difficult to achieve full-scale quality improvement in seed production. Collaboration is also fundamental for the preservation of farmers’ traditional varieties and protection of indigenous germplasm from genetic erosion.

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