The 1993 National Seed Policy is being reviewed and, soon, Malawi will have a new National Seed Policy. The white paper is in the public for discussions and input. On December 31, I was among the journalists under the Association of Business Journalists (ABJ) to give input through an engagement the Farmers Union of Malawi (FUM) held with the media in Mangochi.
We on the streets found the policy document and the discussion exciting. I think, as common Malawians, most of us are farmers at heart. And like true farmers, we believe that quality seeds are vital for an agro-based economy such as ours.
Quality seeds unarguably, would mean economic doom for Malawi. Being a heavily agricultural dependent economy, the fall of its agriculture, as writer Ephraim Nyondo once described it, is akin to the drying up of oil wells in Saudi Arabia.
Sadly, a majority of us folks don’t really mind about the tiny crop seed-be it maize, tobacco, rice, groundnuts, cotton, etc-but these seeds are the economy. Which is why today, we on the streets will underline why a seed, as small as it looks, controls the destiny of 17 million Malawians.
In fact, it is not just about the seed and the national economy. In the words of FUM president Prince Kapondamgaga, seeds are central too in food crops-because most Malawians consume what they produce.
Research studies show that since 1970, Malawi, just like other countries in sub-Saharan Africa, has seen per capita grain production decline by more than 10 percent.
Increasing the productivity of staple food crops will help poor farmers and consumers, and one of the most sustainable ways to expand food production, FUM experts argue, is to generate new technologies-including staple seed varieties-that are adapted to the constraints of the continent’s small-scale farmers.
Malawi, thus, requires a cost-effective system of seed production and distribution to ensure that appropriate seeds are delivered to farmers. However, that cannot happen without having a robust way of managing these seeds so that not just local farmers benefit but most importantly, the entire national economy.
Managing the seed sector, therefore, begins with the kind of policy that government puts in place to regulate the development, circulation and use of seeds in the country. That is why, government is sassing up the 1993 National Seed Policy.
The energised policy, will aim at having a vibrant, sustainable and dynamic seed industry supported by a comprehensive and dynamic seed policy. It will among others, address the many gaps such as the absence of the definition of the term “seed”. The omission of the definition of seed in the 1993 National Seed Policy limited the scope of commodities that fell under the mandate of the policy. In addition to omitting the definition of seed, the 1993 Seed Policy is also not explicit on issues to do with biotechnology with particular reference to Genetically Modified Organisms (GMOs).
Another gap to be addressed is the issue of sources of seed. The Bill recognises that the seed industry in Malawi is comprised of the formal and informal seed systems as main sources of seeds to farmers. The formal seed system is comprised of local and multinational seed companies, most of which have their own breeding, production and distribution programmes. While the informal seed sector constitutes the major source of seed for the majority of smallholder farmers. Sources of seed in the informal sector are largely from farm saved seed, farmer-to-farmer exchange, local markets, non-governmental organisations (NGOs) and community-Based organisations (CBOs). The sector has to be leveled for both players.
The most exciting news is a proposal for the establishment of a seed commission. The draft policy provides for the establishment of the Malawi National Seed Commission (MNSC) which will be a semi-autonomous institution. The commission will replace the Seed Service Unit (SSU) to improve efficiency in management of financial resources and delivery of services. This, according to the draft, will enhance operations of the seed certification and quality control.
In a nutshell, seed is an important catalyst for the development of agriculture and the availability of quality seed is the foundation for crop production and productivity. The review process has our support.