Through Enhanced Support for Farmers Rights in Malawi project with funds from Open Society Initiative for Southern Africa (Osisa), Centre for Environmental Policy and Advocacy (Cepa) is advocating for policy provisions to empower the local seed industry. The think-tank has developed a model issues paper for a proposed policy on farm saved seed (local varieties). Our correspondent TEMWA MHONE caught up with HEBERT MWALUKOMO, Cepa executive director to explain more about the project. Excerpts:
What is model issues paper on a farm saved seed policy?
This is a draft model issues paper for a proposed policy intended to focus on farm saved seed [local varieties]. This is to thrust the support of policy direction on local varieties that are crucial in sustaining development of the agriculture sector that can help people in the country achieve food and nutrition security.
Currently, Malawi has National Seed Policy [NSP] that provides the regulatory framework for seed production, standards and quality assurance. But the instrument, among others, does not apply to and do not recognise the role and contribution of the local seed that is about 70 percent of seed local farmers have and being the backbone of food security in the country.
The proposed farm saved seed policy will, therefore, fill that gap so that the country has an integrated system that empowers both sectors, local and formal.
What are the negative effects of sidelining the local seed industry?
Lack of policy direction on these traditional varieties has negative impact on conservation and sustainable utilisation of these plant genetic resources for food and agriculture. There is no support in terms of conservation and promotion of use of local varieties and knowledge. Crops like sorghum, finger and pearl millets, yams and bambala beans are not discussed at policy level, but farmers depend on them.
All the mechanism that is informal does not have policy recognition and there is no research and extension services support. No one goes to the local farmers to encourage them or learn how they do things in a quest to improve crop production and adaptation to climate change.
The neglect of farmers’ seed or local landraces has also led to increasing genetic erosion and the dominance of a monoculture agriculture economy, itself a threat to sustainable agriculture. It will be a far-fetched dream for the country to achieve food and nutrition security.
How significant are these indigenous crops?
They are crucial in the agriculture sector as they are the breeding blocks in production of hybrid varieties of improved yield, and drought, disease and pest resistance. So, for sustainable production of new improved crop varieties, we must protect the local seed. To achieve food security amid the climate change shocks, people just think of hybrid crops. These imported crops do not do well in all geographical conditions. The local crops are adaptive to local agro ecological zones and they thrive.
If we need food security for the majority of Malawians, this local seed industry must be promoted. The seeds form the bulk [70 percent of seed] of the planting material for smallholder farmers that contribute 80 percent of food in the country. But in most cases the seed is not available for the majority because access to seed is highly regulated as we have promoted growing of improved varieties, a burden to farmers as they need money to access it. These traits should be recognised to have an integrated system that also empowers the local seed industry.
What are the issues raised in the proposed policy?
We do not have a policy framework on how to manage the local seed industry. This conflict with Malawi’s commitment to international instruments, including our own framework called National Biodiversity Strategy and Action Plan that encourages us to promote and conserve genetic diversity [indigenous crops]. In terms of nutrition, the nutrition policy of Malawi encourages intake of balanced meals.
For local farmers, they cannot go to chain stores to buy the six food groups. They have to grow or access the food from the wild in their communities. The absence of the policy means we are also not promoting food diversification, nutrition and health for the masses. The other issue is the market system that does not favour the informal sector. The small holder farmers are exploited by vendors who even do not respect farm gate prices government sets.
Then, what will the proposed farm saved seed policy bring in the agriculture sector?
The proposed policy will build a strong foundation that recognises and benefits the holders of genetic resources and associated traditional knowledge in a fair and equitable manner. This is beneficial to both holders of traditional knowledge and conventional plant breeders, and essential for sustainable utilisation and management of agro biodiversity in general and the seed industry in particular.
The policy will also uplift space for genetic resources including incentivising their uptake on the market, credit, subsidy and protection from unwarranted competition among other incentive considerations.
Do you have any last word to government and concerned stakholders?
There was a National Seed Policy of 1993, which was revised in 2018. It focuses on the commercial seed industry, not the local seed industry. So we advocated for inclusion of the farm saved seed industry that serves majority of Malawian farming communities. The response from authorities was the two cannot be mixed. We understood and hope it was in good faith to do them separately. So, the authorities should live to their promises, and invest much energy and time developing the farm saved seed policy just the way they did with the formal one. n