Policy Hurdles for Farmer Variety Seed Production and Marketing ;
Opportunity for Innovating Alternatives - The Case for Zambia
Mercy Shibelike , Shibuyunji farmer involved in seed production and marketing of local maize variety, go-by-red. picture taken by Diana Mapulanga
Under the Zambia Plant Variety and Seeds Act, any individual who intends to produce, market or sell seeds of any crop variety can only do so if the variety is registered on the national variety register. The Act stipulates that the Registrar may register any seed variety that satisfies the criteria of being Distinct, Uniform, and Stable, and that does not pose a risk to human, animal, or plant health or the environment.
The formal seed system currently stands to be the only method for seed variety registration, production and marketing. In principle, it does not restrict the registration of any variety, including farmer varieties (FV). However, all varieties registered under this system are required to meet the criteria of Distinctiveness, Uniformity, and Stability (DUS). However, meeting the DUS criteria poses a challenge for many farmer varieties as most farmer varieties are not stable but change from season to season. For instance, in gankata maize variety which is a farmer variety, within the same population, some of the plants will be short while others tall, different silk colors, tassel shape and color to name but a few. The lack of uniformity is what gives farmer varieties resilience against climate change. Despite the absence of legal provisions that prevents the registration of farmer varieties, DUS criterion automatically prevents the registration of farmer varieties.
SCCI field visit to check on the progress of the seed production and marketing work being done in Shibuyunji. The SCCI was impressed with the performance of the local maize variety being multiplied and encouraged the farmers to have it released. Picture taken by Joseph Mwitumwa
The utilization of farmer varieties is restricted due to their classification as grain and not seed, resulting in the inability to realize their full potential; thereby creating reduced opportunities for farmers to benefit from them. The marketing of FVs as seed is prohibited which limits the opportunity for formal seed multiplication. Consequently, a large number of FVs are not well-known or widely used beyond local areas. This situation has the unfortunate consequence of reducing the potential of FVs to contribute to national seed systems for food and nutrition security while broadening the scope of crops that can be produced.
Farmer varieties continue to be undermined while the private sector may see them as competition thus creating fear for the loss of market. Currently, the smallholder farmers constitute a major component of the market for commercial seed. Any effort that will result in them relying on their seed is seen as a threat to the seed companies.
“What I have seen is that local seed is now being appreciated by our local communities because of the way we produced it. People always talk about yield; but what I can say is that yield for local crops is heavily dependent on how you manage the crop, if you manage it properly it can do even better than the hybrid even the weight is better than the hybrid. Last season; I made a lot of money from the sales of the go-by red which I was selling at k12/ per kg while those who were selling hybrids were selling at k5 / per kg. The only thing we are crying for is for our seed to be recognized as seed because it also performs very well, even better than the hybrids.” Mercy.
Innovating Alternative pathways for farmer varieties; Our motivation.
CTDT is in the process of developing an alternative pathway for farmer variety registration. Our motivation is to contribute to the domestication of the International Treaty on Plant Genetic Resources for Food and Agriculture (ITPGRFA). We envisage that the following benefits will accrue from such a system;
- The registration of farmer varieties would increase opportunities for strengthening FMSS and realisation of Farmers’ Rights as outlined under Article 9 of the ITPGRFA.
- It will promote increased and wider use of farmer varieties.
- It will provide means for rewarding farmers’ efforts in variety development and maintenance.
- It will enhance access to a broad range of good quality seed by smallholder farmers.
- It will contribute to conserving and developing crop genetic diversity.
- It Will increase the adaptive capacity of smallholder farmers to climate change.
- It will promote agroecological farming systems.
- It will develop a system of rewarding communities and farmers that are involved in the development and conservation of farmer varieties, regardless of whether or not they are part of the registration process.