The seed industry in Kenya has grown tremendously over the years from a monopoly in the 1950s to date with over 130 registered seed companies, after the liberalisation of the industry in the 1990s. This has resulted in the increased seed production hectarage and volumes of seed that require to be certified.
Authorisation of private persons to undertake seed certification activities on behalf of the regulator was permitted in the year 2012 through the amendment of the Seeds and Plant Varieties Act. The function that was initially fully carried out by the regulator Kenya Plant Health Inspectorate Services (KEPHIS) was opened up to the private sector allowing self-regulation. This followed the efforts made by the Seed Trade Association of Kenya (Stak) which represents the interests of seed companies in Kenya, to create an efficient enabling environment for seed business.
Self-regulation presents a number of benefits to the seed industry as was verified through learning visits to both South Africa and Zambia, facilitated by Kenya Markets Trust (KMT). The authorization model in South Africa allows the seed trade association (South African national seed organization, SANSOR) fully carry out seed authorization, whilst Zambia practices a hybrid model similar to what is currently implemented in Kenya. Zambia is renowned for crop breeding, variety development, and seed production and is a major exporter of maize seed in Africa.
The hybrid seed authorization model benefits the Kenyan seed industry by reducing the lead time in the seed certification process. This allows seed companies to meet the timelines in providing certified seeds to farmers. According to KEPHIS, this new hybrid model of authorization reduces costs and increases efficiency and hence profitability due to increased productivity. Other benefits of authorization are reduction of pressure on the government as the only provider of regulation services consequently freeing government resources to concentrate on formulating policy and playing an oversight role.
The scope of authorization covers field inspection, seed processing inspection, seed sampling, testing, labeling, and sealing. Authorization gives authority to inspectors, analysts, and independent entities who are authorized to perform specified functions under the Seed and Plant Varieties Act (Cap 326). The authorized persons undergo training by KEPHIS appropriate to the activities which they would be authorized to undertake. There are currently 32 private inspectors, 10 private analysts, and five private entities (seed companies) who are authorized. Stak envisages creation over private inspectors and analysts’ professional body. This body will bring on board all private inspectors under a professional body within Stak, representing the entire seed industry.
Whilst authorization has its benefits, it requires a high standard of integrity from the authorized persons. Authorized private entities must be individuals and/or institutions that rate quality higher than short-term profits, and there must be a strong legal and arbitration regime.
Authorization also requires a good working relationship between players in the seed sector, with a clear demarcation of the role of each player. Consumers, who are farmers, must also be empowered and well-informed about the benefits of authorization and self-regulation, especially the out-growers.
Out-growers must also be sensitized on self-regulation as they play a pivotal role in the critical stages of seed production at which quality of seeds is determined. Farmers on the other hand other end users and equally should be well informed to enable them uptake certified seeds to improve their productivity and livelihoods.
This article was first published in the Saturday Nation of June 12, 2021.