The future of small-scale farmers in South Africa hinges on access to quality, affordable seeds. If global seed professionals, government leaders, and institutional partners are serious about food security in the country, the country’s seed system must be strengthened.
This heartfelt plea was made by Gugulethu Mahlangu during the World Seed Congress hosted by the International Seed Federation (ISF) under the theme “Shared roots, greater heights”. The organisation is also celebrating 99 years since its inception.
Mahlangu, an award-winning farmer, delivered a keynote speech to over 1 200 delegates at the opening of the three-day congress held at the Cape Town International Convention Centre in the Western Cape.
Seed challenges for small-scale farmers
“Unfortunately, many farmers in South Africa face significant challenges in accessing good quality seeds,” Mahlangu pointed out. “Limited availability, cost of quality seeds can be expensive; these all contribute to the huge bottleneck.”
According to Mahlangu, high seed costs make high-quality seeds inaccessible for small-scale farmers in the country.
“We also have a problem of seed quality assurance and importantly lack of knowledge and information. Many farmers have limited awareness of the benefits of using quality seeds,” she said.
What makes matters worse are regulatory barriers. Mahlangu said seed regulatory policies do not make it easy on farmers to access seeds because of the complex regulations and certification processes.
“I call upon all of us here to join hands to strengthen the seed systems in South Africa. We must invest in research and development to breed and adapt crop varieties suitable for the unique conditions we face,” Mahlangu said.
Including young people
ISF secretary-general Michael Keller said the only way to move forward is through collaboration and the seed industry’s participation in discussions involving them.
“We must be present where we are being discussed. As ISF, we will participate in all the major events in Africa and around the world to put our story forward,” he said.
“Importantly, what we must address is the issue of fake seeds, which continues to be a significant challenge in all countries and affects the output of the food we produce. We need to take action not only as a sector, but also as governments.”
Keller said working in silos is not beneficial to anyone because policy cannot be discussed and agreed upon by only a few. “Partnership with farmers is critical. Whether we are in Africa or Europe, no country is independent when it comes to seeds. Interrelations are important because seeds need to move from one area to another.”
Keller emphasised that young people should not be excluded from the value chain of creating a sustainable seed society. However, he urged the youth to seize the opportunities presented to them.
Seed information sharing
When it comes to the importance and value of seeds, information dissemination and awareness are critical in Africa, said Matome Ramokgopa, the chairperson of the South African National Seed Organisation (Sansor).
“The only way forward is to create communication that will not only be sent to governments but also reach farmers, explaining why it is important to create a working environment for seeds to move across borders.
“We also need governments to follow through on their talk about regulations and creating a conducive environment.”
Sign up for Mzansi Today: Your daily take on the news and happenings from the agriculture value chain.