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PRESS Release

COMESA Assures Inclusiveness in Harmonisation of Seed Laws in the Region

8th April, 2013

In a meeting held on Friday, April 5, 2013 with representatives from Civil Society organisations promoting ecologically sound agriculture and biological diversity, COMESA gave an assurance that the Seed Trade Harmonisation Regulations will be subject to wider consultations with the citizens and relevant stakeholders in the member states before the regulations are finalised. This follows concerns raised by small-scale farmers and Civil Society organisation (CSO) representatives who attended a two-day workshop organised by the Alliance for Commodity Trade in Eastern and Southern Africa (a Specialised Agency of COMESA) at Protea Hotel on 27 and 28 March, 2013.
 
Submissions made by Civil Society and small-scale farmer representatives, contained in a statement to the workshop highlighted the need for the process to involve key stakeholders in the farming community so that they can also have their input taken into account as they would be directly impacted by the Regulations. The CSO representatives called for transparency and an inclusive process with regard to the drafting of the Regulations. A particular concern highlighted was ensuring protection of the rights of small-scale farmers by way of the inclusion of a clause that would explicitly state that the Regulations would not preclude, prohibit or inhibit farmers from sharing, exchanging, saving and replanting their traditional seeds for the conservation and development of plant genetic resources. It was also emphasised that the proposed Regulations should enable COMESA states to retain their sovereign rights and responsibility to require and implement additional safeguards (including national testing of seed when deemed necessary) in accordance with respective national laws.
 
To this end, ACTESA informed the participating Civil Society organisations that it is organising a stakeholders meeting due to take place in Lusaka in April 2013 as part of the efforts to engage stakeholders at national level. The Lusaka meeting is designed to offer an opportunity for key seed stakeholders to submit their views and perspectives on the draft Regulations.

This, according to the organisation, is important in terms of enhancing the relevance of the proposed Regulations, promoting ownership and also ensuring that farmers groups are properly informed of the Regulations and its implications.

The Secretary General of COMESA, Mr. Sindiso Ngwenya said that small- scale farmers will be provided with a chance to express their views on the Regulations. “The document has to reach the small-scale farmers and all stakeholders”, he added.  
 
In response to concerns by Civil Society organisations that the Regulations may pave way for commercial planting of Genetically Modified Organisms (GMOs) in the region, Mr. Ngwenya stated that COMESA did not have a policy on GMOs.
 
Furthermore, the Secretary General indicated that the organisation stands to promote initiatives aimed at increasing productivity of agriculture as a whole by discouraging mono-cropping and dependence on staple foods and support farming systems that maximise the use of locally available resources to increase yields, among other efforts. He also bemoaned the current state of agriculture extension services in most of the countries in the COMESA region, a situation which he said should be changed by investing in small-scale farmer focused extension services and appropriate technologies that would also reduce the burden of farming on the women folk.
 
During the meeting, Mr. Ngwenya said support by the regional body to small-scale farmers and sustainable farming practices, through initiatives aimed at scaling up sustainable organic farming in selected countries within the region is welcome.
 
In conclusion, Mr Ngwenya intimated that COMESA was a people’s organisation and its doors were open for constructive dialogue and practical collaboration to resolve developmental challenges facing the member states. The Secretary General added that COMESA would support efforts by Civil Society that are aimed at documenting viable development practices that would stimulate action from the people and take Africa forward.
 
In an earlier meeting, according to the Chief Executive Officer of ACTESA, Mr. Argent Chuula, lack of availability of quality seed was a key problem facing majority of small-scale farmers in the COMESA region.

COMESA Ministers of Agriculture at their meeting in Seychelles, March, 2008 are said to have directed COMESA Secretariat to expedite the harmonisation of seed trade regulations and standards to facilitate regional trade in the seed sector. In October, 2010, COMESA through ACTESA, begun the process of harmonisation in three technical areas, namely regional seed certification, regional variety release system and regional quarantine pest list procedures.
 
The Civil Society organizations represented are encouraged by the discussions with the COMESA Secretariat and hope that the Secretariat will undertake extensive consultations with CSOs and the farming communities on the drafting of the Regulations.

-ENDS-

Contact:
Zambia Climate Change Network (ZCCN)
Email: zccn.info@gmail.com <mailto:zccn.info@gmail.com>
Phone: +260-211-293716

 


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