Sustainable agriculture is an essential factor to advancing trade within COMESA and the rest of Africa. Over the last two decades, Africa has remained a net food importer, with agricultural accounting for about 60% of Africa’s total trade in agricultural products. Furthermore, agricultural product imports account for around 13% of total imports.
The COVID-19 pandemic has brought agriculture and food security issues to the fore and it presents a formidable threat to trade in agricultural commodities. This has necessitated bringing together experts to discuss and come up with practical recommendations to cushion the sector from pandemic related disruptions.
This is what informed the COMESA Business Council (CBC) webinar on 27 July 2020 themed: “Unlocking Food Security Through Improved Seed Trade in COMESA”. This was a public-private consultative platform on agricultural transformation and improved trade within COMESA and brought together regional seed producers and traders.
Discussions hinged on, access to quality and affordable seed; trade facilitation in the movement of seed across the borders during COVID-19, measures to curb illicit trade in seed and policy and regulatory frameworks to facilitate investment and increased seed production and trade among others.
Among the key recommendations of the Webinar was the need to develop harmonized legislation across the region and one stop shop to provide relevant permits for the seed industry. Participants noted that some of the authorities are not based at one place which in turn increase costs and time for getting the necessary documentations. They agree that strong inter-agency regulatory processes and information flows need to be put in place to map out simpler clearances processes at domestic and trans-boundary trade facilitation level.
The meeting also recommended that a peer review be conducted to monitor the authenticity of seed in the region to avoid cases of counterfeit and those found wanting to be penalized. This will be done through strengthening the supply of the volumes of truly certified seeds marketed in the region, as well as information sharing campaigns, which is key in sensitizing farmers on quality seeds.
The CBC was urged to engage local seed companies and governments to strengthen the existing business environment, as this is will motivates companies to make investments in countries that they are operating. It will strengthen dialogue between different actors in the seed sector for the sustainability of the industry.
Further, CBC was called upon to come up with a seed statistics information system. This will address the challenge posed by lack of real-time trade data on seeds, which delays and affects decision making process.
Currently, COMESA is working with Member States to benchmark seed standards and regulations to International accepted standards. This needs involvement of both private and public sector mostly through private-public dialogue so that policies are well informed and also practical solutions can be identified.
Panelists included the Regional Director for Syngenta Foundation East Africa, Mr. Osure George, Regional Head Africa & Middle East at Advanta Seeds, Mr. Ndavi Muia and the Corporate Engagement Lead – Africa for Bayer Crop Science Mr. Jimmy Kiberu. Others were, Dr. John MacRobert, the Acting Chairman for Zimbabwe Seed Trade Association and Mrs. Providence Mavubi, Director, Industry and Agriculture at COMESA. CBC Chief Executive officer Ms. Sandra Uwera moderated the Webinar.