Speaking at a media conference held recently, Michael Keller, secretary-general of the ISF, said that quality seed could help address some of the world’s most pressing challenges, but only if the seeds reached the farmers.
Stakeholders International Seed Federation’s (ISF) annual World Seed Congress, believe that global access to the latest seed technology will play a vital role in food security as climate change increasingly hinders food production.
This was the overarching message on the opening day of the Congress held this year in Cape Town from 5 to 7 June.
The congress is the world’s largest international gathering of seed professionals and the 2023 event is taking place at a critical moment for global food supply chains, following months of disruption from persistent inflation, climate extremes and conflict.
“This remains a major barrier in Africa in particular. We need greater collaboration across the sector to allow all farmers the chance to reap the gains of quality seeds.”
He pointed to statistics showing that better-quality seed could provide higher yields, removing the need to cultivate more land to lift production.
“Some 1,5 billion hectares have been spared as a result of cereal yield improvements. Improved varieties alone have been credited with up to 50% increases in yield, and hybrid varieties of rice use up to 50% less water, making them less vulnerable to the impact of drought and heatwaves.”
An unproductive regulatory system and friction between the public and private seed breeding sectors were cited as the main reasons only 10% of farmers in Africa had access to the latest seed varieties.
“There’s too much distrust regarding the involvement of private companies in Africa, where seed breeding is predominantly undertaken by public institutions. We need to make space for opposition and competition to serve the collective objective of bringing the best technology to farmers to ensure food security,” Keller said.
Matome Ramokgopa, the chairperson of the South African National Seed Organization, noted that global public investment in crop breeding had flat-lined at US$30 billion (about R580 billion) a year.
Marco van Leeuwen, president of the ISF, lamented that although technology and donor funding existed to bring the latest technology to farmers in Africa, the willingness from governments to allow it to be done was lacking.
“Through this congress, we hope to establish better relationships with all role players to ensure that farmers in Africa are not left behind in crop production.”