Effective seed policy reforms needed to ensure food security

29Dec 2021
Geoffrey Nangai
The Guardian
Effective seed policy reforms needed to ensure food security

AGRICULTURE is still one of the key sectors integral to economic transformation of Tanzania. The sector employs over 70 per cent of the Tanzania population and comprises mostly of smallholders who cultivate at least 90 per cent of the arable land.

In order to feed the world population by 2050, the World Bank and the UN Food and Agriculture Organisation (FAO) say that food production must increase by half. A figurative war is fought regarding the approach to increase production, but the biggest victims will be smallholder farmers.

Seed is the foundation of agriculture and without seed there can be no agriculture and hence no food for human survival.

Tanzania has adopted a couple of national agricultural strategies since attaining independence that include Agricultural Sector Development Strategy I in 2001, Kilimo Kwanza in 2012, and the second Agricultural Sector Development Strategy II (ASDS II) adopted in 2014, all geared towards transforming agriculture sector from subsistence to commercial.

The Tanzania Development Vision (TDV) 2025 also envisages raising the standard of living of Tanzanians to medium income country by ensuring food security, improving incomes and increasing export earnings.

Accoding the Changing Seed and Plant Variety Protection Laws in Tanzania Report published by the African Centre for Biodiversity (ACB) in 2016, the seed supply for agriculture in Tanzania is derived from both the formal and informal (the latter also known as local or farmer-saved seed system). Over 90 per cent of the seed originate from the farmer managed seed system while 10 per cent comes from the formal seed sector. The farmer-saved seed system however remains unrecognized and unsupported despite providing at least 90 per cent of the seed used by farmers.

Studies conducted by the ACB in 2014 in Morogoro and Mvomero districts found that over 80 per cent of local maize, legume and rice seed in use was non-certified and the majority of farmers kept recycling seed from the previous harvest.

Famer-saved seed systems are guided by local technical knowledge and standards and by local social structures and norms.

In Tanzania, farmer-saved seed systems remain predominant with the majority of farmers still growing old varieties while practicing recycling.

According to the USAID Report 2013, famer-saved seed system is another important source of seed in Tanzania accounting for about 75 per cent of the seeds available in Tanzania while the formal sector contributes only 25 per cent.

In Tanzania, it is estimated that only 4 per cent of the sorghum seed originates from the formal seed system, with the balance of 96 per cent being seeds sourced by farmers from informal systems.

About 95 per cent of the area planted with common beans consists of recycled or seeds informally sourced by farmers while the remaining 5 per cent is supported by the formal seed system.

It is also estimated that only 2 per cent of cassava is planted with improved planting materials while 98 per cent is planted with recycled or shared stem cuttings.

Tanzania’s seed legislation however does not recognize farmer-saved seed systems and local varieties and doesn’t allow participation of smallholder farmers in seed production.

Policy-makers stress that there are no restrictions regarding the manner in which farmers use, save and exchange their own seeds, as long as the seeds don’t enter the commercial market.

The Tanzanian seed system has grown over the years as observed from the increase in seed enterprises, improved seed support services and overall increased volumes of certified seeds.

The Seed Law reform however neglected farmer-managed seed systems and their contributions to the seed sector in Tanzania. In particular, the Seed Law does not provide exemptions
for smallholder farmers with regard to on farm-saved seed.

According to the Section 5 of the Seeds (Miscellaneous Amendments) Act 2014, any person who sells seed which is not certified in this act commits an offence and upon conviction shall be liable to a fine of not less than 100mn/- and not more than 500mn/- or to imprisonment for a term not less than five years and not more than 12 years or both.

Section 6 notes that upon conviction for an offence under this section, the court may in addition to a penalty imposed, order any seed or equipment used in commission of offence to be forfeited and destroyed without compensation.

According to Section 26 (1) of the Seeds Regulation 2007, no seed shall be certified unless it has been produced, inspected, sampled, tested, and complied with the standards set.

It’s against this backdrop that agriculture stakeholders call for the need for reviewing the Seed Act 2003 and its regulations of 2007 to recognize farmer-managed seed systems, arguing that this will help in improving food safety and Security.

  The stakeholders urge that there is need for specific exemptions for smallholder farmers as provided under the Ethiopian Seed Law (Seed Proclamation No. 782/2013), which recognises and provides exemptions for farm-saved seeds.

According to the Tanzania Alliance for Biodiversity (TABIO) Coordinator Abdallah Mkindi, reviewing the Seed Act will help to preserve traditional seed species from extinction.

“The Seed Law should be reviewed to provide exemptions for farm-saved seeds and restrict only those persons who sell traditional seed species that are not certified as certified,” Mkindi said.

He noted that there has been an increase in diseases due to consumption of foods that have been produced using farm inputs like pests and fertilizers.

“Long time ago, diseases like heart attack and diabetes were uncommon because people consumed healthy and safe foods. We need to go back to the drawing board and use our traditional farming practices that includes using farmer-saved seeds,” he added.

Bakari Mongo, Chief Executive Officer of the Tanzania Organic Agriculture Movement (TOAM) said that there is need for a nationwide sensitization campaign to educate farmers on the health risks of rampantly using farm inputs like pesticides and fertilizers.

“There should be a long-term strategy to ensure that farmers use farm inputs as cautiously as possible so as to protect their own health and that of consumers,” he said.

Mongo said that there is need for various players in the agriculture sector value chain to play their part so as to ensure sustainable food production.

“There is no shortcut to food safety and security. Everyone needs to play their part to ensure that agriculture production meets all the safety requirements,” he said.

Establishment of traditional seed bank

Deputy Minister for Agriculture Hussein Bashe while officiating at the Second National Ecological Organic Agriculture Conference organized by TOAM in Mtwara Region in October this year hinted that plans were underway for Tanzania to create a bank for traditional seeds in a move aimed at promoting indigenous farming.

Bashe noted that the creation of the traditional seeds bank would go along with the establishment of a department that will specifically deal with organic farming.

The Tanzania Agricultural Research Institute (TARI) will be tasked to research and produce traditional seeds with a view to conserving seed varieties for organic farming.

It is equally important for the government to continue monitoring and evaluating various seed systems in the country to manage their contribution to sustainable food production.