Seed Policy in Africa


Properly functioning seed systems are essential to agricultural development and food security. In Sub-Saharan Africa, it can take several years to register new seed varieties in a particular country. This is often true even when the varieties are already available in neighboring countries or fellow member states of common trading areas such as ECOWAS or EAC. Slow registration contributes to restricting smallholders’ access to improved seeds, and therefore further limits their ability to increase yields.

Regional harmonization

Greater regional harmonization of seeds policy would have major benefits. Mutual recognition of varietal registration and easier movement of seeds between countries would significantly reduce costs and delays. Other policy changes would simplify and increase the transparency of procedures related to import/export licenses, certificates of origin, and phytosanitary controls. Taken together, these measures would greatly stimulate suppliers’ and farmers’ investment in seeds, and in other yield-raising inputs such as fertilizers.

Africa’s regional economic communities (REC) are currently taking steps to harmonize certain aspects of seed regulation. However, the task is complicated by some countries’ membership of more than one community. East African Community (EAC), Common Market for Eastern and Southern Africa (COMESA), and Southern African Development Community (SADC) agreed in 2008 to develop a joint Free Trade Area, but this remains to come into full effect. Furthermore, changes in laws and regulations are not enough on their own. REC and member states need to strengthen institutions supporting the legal structures, and, for example, provide corresponding training for large numbers of regulators. The speed and degree of improvement vary considerably between countries.

Seeds2B Policy initiatives

Our policy work focuses on harmonizing regional seed regulations in Sub-Saharan Africa. We recommend actions at national and regional levels. We also assist with the listing of varieties in regional catalogs. In 2014, the Syngenta Foundation commissioned a comparative assessment of regional seed harmonization efforts in sub-Saharan Africa. This focused mainly on Economic Community of West African States (ECOWAS), COMESA, EAC, and SADC. The study found that the four RECs are in varying stages of harmonizing seed variety release, certification, and other measures. At present, different countries regulate seeds quite differently, even within smaller RECs like the EAC. 

The frameworks for regional integration are falling into place. However, the implementation of harmonized seed measures will probably still take considerable time. The most significant factor affecting implementation is that legal measures agreed upon at the REC level must also come into force locally. Most require additional national legislation or regulation, or alterations to existing rules. Changes on paper will also not be enough. Implementing institutions will need to be more fully developed as well.

Analysis of systems and structures

A much deeper analysis of national legal and regulatory systems and structures will be required in order to fully assess regional harmonization efforts. Together with the New Markets Lab (NML), we have developed three country case studies. These measures assess the pace of national efforts to implement regional seed measures. They also investigate the impact of regional harmonization on the effort that seed companies and other stakeholders expend in navigating the regulatory process for seeds. A particular focus is on a variety of releases and registration. 

Since 2016, we have been working with a range of seed companies to help them get varieties listed in the regional catalogs (COMESA, SADC, etc.). We also continue to assess the legal, policy, and regulatory systems for seed and agriculture in general in Sub-Saharan Africa.

Studies and publications