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Farmers wary of draft Seed Policy

The Draft National Seed Policy is supposedly meant to ensure farmers in the country achieve increased agricultural productivity, food security and reduction of poverty but farmers have observed that the policy infringes on some of their rights.

The farmers have said the policy, among other things, turns a blind eye to farmers’ rights relating to plant genetic resources.

They also say it restrains them from being involved in local seed variety preservation.

The concerns have been raised by farmers who are involved in local variety seed conservation project through seed banks in Rumphi.

The project is being implemented by British charity, Find Your Feet, with funding from the European Union and the Development Fund of Norway.

The farmers have described the policy as a rip off of their rights.

“Farmers cannot afford to be buying seed every growing season. If this policy goes ahead, it means that government is failing in its duty to protect farmers who are growing and rely on local varieties,” said Prince Gondwe, one of the lead farmers in Mkombezi area in Mpoyola village in Rumphi district.

Gondwe, speaking during a media tour organised by the Centre for Environmental Policy and Advocacy (Cepa), said some of the local varieties are slowly becoming extinct, hence the need for their preservation.

“That is why we took it upon ourselves to preserve those that are there. But with the new policy stating that only those varieties that are not found on the market should be kept in seed banks, we are worried that the restriction will lead to the extinction of all local varieties,” he said.

Seed Bank chairperson Lingostar Kanyenda said the policy was infringing on the right to sell and use seed of choice.

“Government is promoting decentralisation and matters of democracy promote power to the people. But with the way the policy has been crafted, it means the powers are still at central government.

“Farmers need to pick seed of their choice and seed banks should be used in areas where local varieties are available for preservation,” he said.

Farmers in Mangochi, Chiradzulu and Dowa have shared similar sentiments asking for the policy to strike a balance between formal and informal seed sector.

“Farmers in my village have known the performance of hybrid varieties through Fisp (Farm Input Subsidy Programme) but since time immemorial we have been depending on the local varieties. So in asking us to buy seeds yearly, government is favouring multinational companies in the formal sector,” said Mavuto Makina of Traditional Authority Chitera in Chiradzulu.

The policy reads in part: “Maize, sunflower and tobacco will remain under compulsory certification due to their mode of pollination. All certification standards such as source of seed, land history, isolation distance time and frequency of inspection will have to be adhered to when growing these crops. Such standards shall also apply to other crops such as legumes, in order to maintain and sustain genetic and physical purity.”

Malawi’s seed industry comprises both formal and informal seed systems that provide seeds to farmers.

The informal seed sector constitutes a major source of seed for the majority of smallholder farmers while the draft policy focuses only on the formal seed system as it is regarded as the only one that has scientifically traceable sources and mechanisms of the genetics in the seed used.

The policy also contravenes some treaties including the International Treaty on Plant Genetic Resources for Food and Agriculture on the protection of farmers’ rights.

The International Treaty on Plant Genetic Resources for Food and Agriculture recognises the contribution that the local and indigenous communities and farmers make towards the conservation and development of plant genetic resources.

Cepa’s programme manager, Helbert Mwalukomo, says the draft policy should not be rushed into being implemented.

Instead, it should incorporate other stakeholder’s views.

“It would be better if farmers and other stakeholders in the informal sector were also allowed to have an input in the policy. Farmers feelings should be visible in the policy so that it becomes a voice of all,” said Mwalukomo.

District Agriculture Development Officer for Rumphi Youngs Nyirenda also said the policy needs to be reviewed to incorporate views of farmers and other agriculture stakeholders.

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