The draft Seed Bill 2019 has proposed a maximum fine of K50 million and 10 years imprisonment for seed-related offences, a development expected to bring sanity in the seed sector.
The fine is a huge increase from the Seed Act, 1993, whose penalties are seen to be lenient with a maximum fine of less than K1 million and less than two years imprisonment, in a way fueling the seed trade-related malpractices.
Agricultural experts believe the softer fines were encouraging unscrupulous seed traders to continue tricking unsuspecting farmers as the fines were not a deterrent to the continued malpractices in the sector.
The draft bill, which has been touted as all-encompassing of the needs of various stakeholders and could help spark growth and transformation in the agricultural sector, is expected to be tabled in the forthcoming sitting of Parliament.
In an interview on Thursday, Prince Kapondamgaga, chief executive officer of Farmers Union of Malawi (FUM), an umbrella organisation representing about 1.5 million farmers, commodity associations, traders, processors and producers, agreed that the proposed penalties are “strong”.
“The new Seed Bill, 2019 definitely sends a serious signal to all seed practitioners to put their acts together to ensure sanity in the seed sector, to remain committed to providing quality seed products and services and to ensure the protection of farmers and thereby transform the agricultural sector,” he said.
FUM, with financial support from the Alliance for Green Revolution in Africa (Agra), provided technical support in the drafting and review process of the bill.
The farmers’ organisation says it is satisfied with the consultations for the bill, which have been all-inclusive. The final consultation is expected to be held in Lilongwe next week where all input from various stakeholders will be consolidated by officials from Ministry of Justice and Constitutional Affairs before the bill is taken to Cabinet.
In an earlier interview, Seed Traders Association in Malawi (Steam) chairperson John Lungu called on government to consider enacting the Seed Bill to complement the Seed Policy.
He said the Seed Bill 2019 would deal with weak punishments on seed-related malpractices in the seed industry.
Minister of Agriculture, Irrigation and Water Development Joseph Mwanamvekha said government was aware of the need to enact the Seed Bill and that various stakeholders were engaged to provide input before the bill is brought to Parliament.
The offenses outlined in the bill include tampering with any seed so that it does not represent the bulk from which the samples were taken, tampering with any seed lot or batch, defacing, altering or removing any index or other official record of the seed or selling uncertified seed.
The bill, among others, proposes the establishment of the National Seed Commission, whose chairperson will be appointed by the President and comprise members who are expected to be well versed in the sector.
However of concern to some stakeholders is that of the seven commissioners, only two—a representative of the seed companies and farmers—are seen to be independent with others being ex-officials from government.
This scenario could affect the operations of the commission, whose functions include charting a national direction and establishing national priorities in variety release, seed certification and quality control development.
The bill also proposes the establishment of the seed fund, whose money will be appropriated by Parliament, to finance activities required to administer and enforce seed certification and quality control.n