Seed industry critical in feeding Africa – Zaranyika
SEED CO Zimbabwe managing director Denias Zaranyika was recently elected the African Seed Trade Association (AFSTA) president at the 2016 AFSTA annual congress held in Nairobi, Kenya. Zaranyika who took over from Nicholas Goble of South Africa, had been vice president of the organisation for the past two years. Below is a question and answer interview with Denias Zaranyika (DZ).
What does this mean for you and Zimbabwe?
DZ: Thank you. Africa recognises that our systems are one of the most efficient, robust and progressive in Africa hence this is befitting reward for the excellent work Zimbabwe is doing.
Again, the country has scored many firsts in agriculture including being the first to come up with a commercial hybrid maize seed, SR52. We were also first in breeding for the deadly grey lead spot disease in maize and rust in soyabeans. These were major world breakthroughs that made history.
I therefore see this development as a good challenge. I therefore promise to lead this organisation with the utmost transparency and boldness to face the myriad of challenges currently facing the continent’s agricultural sector.
Having said that, this is not something that can be done by the board of AFSTA alone. We need to be working closely with all partners and various other stakeholders whose responsibility it is to feed the more than one billion people on the African continent. Looking at just that statistic you can tell the critical role that the seed industry in Africa plays in feeding its people; not only do we feed them every day but a minimum three times in that day.
You mention challenges facing the sector, and the continent at this particular time, what are some of these and how best do you think you will be able to tackle them during your tenure.
DZ: As I accepted the baton stick, I was under no illusion whatsoever to the many challenges facing both the seed industry and our continent in general in terms of food and nutrition security. We therefore need to acknowledge the various responsibilities that lie ahead for us as a board and the general membership of AFSTA at large as seeds people. Some of the non-negotiable and top of mind dashboard items that immediately come to mind, that we need to tackle with renewed focus and vigour, include climate change mitigation issues. We need to accelerate the development of early maturing cultivars and water use efficiencies among our farmers and people. There is also the issue of food security. Here I need to reiterate what the Kenyan Minister of Agriculture, Livestock and Fisheries, Will Bett, told us when he officially opened the meeting, that being seeds men, for us is a calling.
We also need to look very closely and work with our farmers in terms of productivity and yields. This is a common problem across the continent. We know our farmers are proficient in what they do, but we need to help them improve their yields through the use of appropriate seeds, land and crop management initiatives. By making our farmers productive, I have no doubt that that would make farming a viable business. That would also address the other major challenge that we are facing on the continent – that of rural urban migration. We find that many of our people tend to move to the urban areas thinking that there are better livelihoods there. They do not realise that agriculture is such a key sector that supports those big industries that you find in urban areas and which is becoming an attraction as a source of employment. As seeds people we also need to be wary of changes in eating habits and ensure that our agricultural industries are supplied with appropriate seeds to meet those demands.
With specific focus on the seed industry, some of the challenges confronting us include ensuring the growth of seed trade regionally, continentally and inter-continentally. At the same time, we also need to ensure that we develop crop varieties that have strong tolerance and resistance to the emerging diseases with particular emphasis on maize lethal necrosis disease (MLND) which was first reported in sub-Saharan Africa in 2011. The disease cause major losses to maize crops, decreasing food security and the ability of smallholder farmers to provide for their families. The disease can cause 30 to 100 percent crop losses in farmer’s yields depending on the severity of the incidence.
The world is becoming a global village hence as a continent, we must ensure that there is strong regional cooperation, thus East Africa, West Africa, North Africa and Southern Africa in all our seed activities.
International trade is a must but with special emphasis on growing exports; and enhancing collaboration with International organisations and Institutions; and ensuring that the various cooperating partners get value from their investments in AFSTA, and vice versa.
On the surface, addressing all these issues would appear like a daunting task. How therefore do you expect or see your new board facing up to all these issues
DZ: We strongly believe that closer collaboration among all key stakeholders is critical to assure the continent of security in terms of seed, food and nutrition. This is achievable if the seed industry and all other stakeholders aligned their priorities and played their part with the right focus. Already this focus is in line with the declaration and commitment made by African leaders at a meeting of the heads of State and government of African Union Member States in 2013 in Addis Ababa, Ethiopia, to end hunger in Africa by 2025 under the Framework of the Comprehensive Africa Agricultural Development Programme.
I would want to believe that some of the issues and challenges that you have mentioned above were part of the deliberations of the just ended AFSTA congress in Kenya?
DZ: Indeed, apart from a solid framework for exchange between the major players of the African seed sector, the conference also discussed current issues affecting seed production and trade in Africa which included climate change, the impact of dwindling fortunes of pollination on seed production and seed harmonization regulations in Africa, among other high payoff items.
Earlier on, you alluded to efforts to a seed harmonisation project; and I would want also to believe that this is one of the issues that your organisation is currently looking at.
How far are you towards the realisation of seed harmonisation among African countries?
DZ: AFSTA was mandated by COMESA to cooperate closely with the All Alliance for Trade in Eastern and Southern Africa, a specialised agency of COMESA whose main aim is to harmonise seed regulations and policies in COMESA member states.
The areas for harmonisation include seed certification standards, variety release systems, phytosanitary measures and seed import and export procedures and documentation. The targeted crops are maize, cotton, rice, wheat, sunflower, groundnuts, beans, cassava, soya beans, potato, sorghum and millet. I am pleased to say that, working through our national governments, a lot of work has been accomplished towards seed harmonisation a process that will see us moving forward towards opening trade opportunities to enable quicker release of new varieties which will greatly improve farmer access to these new seeds.
At the end of your tenure in two years, what do you hope to have achieved?
DZ: The next three years are vital for Africa to replenish dwindling silos and it is imperative that the right partnerships — private public partnerships — are put in place to drive this programme. Obviously it is my wish to see the realisation of a much closer working relationship among all the various stakeholders to ensure a seed, food and nutrition secure Africa.
And what would you want to be most remembered for as the AFSTA president?
DZ: Also critically important is the fact that as we breed seed, we must also breed jobs throughout the value chain.
I would also want my board to have enhanced the quest for AFSTA not only to display lots of maturity and professionalism in our quest to champion the promotion of trade in the provision of quality seed and technologies in Africa, but also made gigantic strides in enhancing food security and livelihoods for the people of our beautiful continent.
I am however, very pragmatic but at the same time confident that through the various activities of AFSTA, we will face head on the challenges and continue to march towards ensuring sustainable solutions to agricultural production, nutrition and food security.
Over the seven years or so that I have been on the AFSTA board, I have come to realise through my interactions with the many stakeholders of the association from all over Africa and beyond that there is great zeal among all of us to work for a better, food secure world.
Your last word
DZ: AFSTA’s mission statement is very clear: To promote trade in quality seed and technologies in Africa for the benefit of members and farmers. In support of that very clear mission statement and continental focus are two very simple guiding and cardinal principles: Strong partnerships and farmer productivity are the bywords that will enable us to make this planet, our only planet, a better place free of hunger and malnutrition.
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