CSOs renew calls for the enactment of Commercial Seed Bill into law

Civil society organizations (CSOs) have asked the Tonse Alliance government to champion and prioritize deliberations on the proposed Commercial Seed Bill into law in the current sitting of parliamentarians.

The CSOs, under the Civil Society Agriculture Network (CISANET), think this will provide an opportunity for the legislature to judiciously deliberate and reflect on the provisions of the proposed Seed Bill, propose its improvement to make it complete, and recommend its adoption as a framework law for the commercial Seed Industry in Malawi.

Pamela Kuwali: Cisanet boss

The proposed commercial Seed Bill, among other benefits, guarantees increased farmers’ accessibility to high quality seed of various crop varieties because of increased competition in the seed sector.

It also guarantees increased forex earnings for the country through regional harmonization by integrating small and isolated local markets into one larger regional-wide market trading high-quality commercial seeds.

CISANET National Coordinator Pamela Kuwali said the network recognizes the government’s commitment to allow increased access of high-quality seed for all Malawians for improved productivity and food security leading to nutrition security.

However, Kuwali lamented the slow progress towards tabling the commercial Seed Bill in Parliament in view of the commitments demonstrated by the Tonse Alliance-led government.

“CISANET commends the government in launching a new Commercial Seed Policy in May, 2018 and gazetting new Commercial Seed Regulations in 2018 in order to create a conducive environment for seed industry growth and enhanced availability of high quality seed to farmers.

“It also applauds the commitment by the government to increase access to certified seed by implementing the scratch card system starting 2021/22 Season in its efforts to curb the proliferation of fake seed on the market,” she said.

“CISANET is however concerned with the slow progress towards tabling the commercial Seed Bill in Parliament in view of the commitments demonstrated by the Tonse Alliance-led government,” added Kuwali.

According to CISANET, currently, average production per unit area of land for cereals and legumes remains very low with smallholder farmers realizing less than a ton per hectare while the average national yield trends reveal a yield gap of more than 50 percent between the national average and realizable productivity for some legumes at research stations.

These low production and diversity levels have been attributed to three key areas, which include lack of diversity in agriculture production over the calendar year; poor environmental practices leading to degradation; and poor quality and fake production of inputs, both purchased and produced on farm, including seed.

Thus, the Commercial Seed Bill has been developed as a framework seeking to effectively guarantee the regulation and control of production, processing, sale, importation, exportation and testing of commercial seed, and further to provide for the certification of seed, regulation of release and maintenance of commercial seed varieties.

Sadly, Nyasa Times understands that there are influential politicians with vested interest in seed multiplication, politically-linked private seed multipliers and business gurus who are conniving to frustrate enactment of the 2018 National Seed Bill into law. 

These actors fear that the Bill would strengthen the legal framework thereby thwarting their unscrupulous practices of selling fake seed to unsuspecting, poor smallholder farmers.

“No wonder prevalence of fake seed in Malawi is currently estimated at around 60 percent. The 2018 National Seed Bill seeks to make the law regulating the seed industry align with the seed protocol enshrined within the regional treaties of the Southern African Development Community (SADC) Seed Protocol and the Common Market for Eastern and Southern Africa (COMESA).

“This will enable Malawian farmers to access seed markets within the region, thereby increasing access to genuine, certified seeds. The bill also provides stiff punishment to culprits as opposed to the current 1996 law which has soft penalties,” said a source at the Capital Hill.

He said it is surprising that the Chakwera administration is failing to prioritize “this important bill in the current sitting of parliament, despite the bill aligning well with one of the pillars of Vision 2063, which is centred around increasing agricultural productivity.”

“The Ministry of Agriculture and the Ministry of Justice should work together to expedite finalization of the bill. The whole country should not suffer because of the few greedy individuals who are protecting their dubious businesses at the expense of the many farmers who fall victim to fake seed. It is the local smallholder farmers who would benefit by having greater access to certified, quality seed. It will also enhance the local seed companies to be innovative so that they remain competitive on the market,” he narrated.

Meanwhile, farmer organizations have requested concerned stakeholders, starting with the President, line ministers and the whole Cabinet and members of Parliament (MPs) to ensure speedy finalization and enactment of the Bill in this sitting of parliament.

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