Context Matters: Insights from Bangladesh’s Seed Policy Reform Journey
Policy systems strengthening can be a complex, conceptual process. The work depends on local context, requires careful navigation and agility, and often takes a significant amount of time before tangible changes result. To pursue inclusive seed policy goals, the Feed the Future Bangladesh Policy LINK Agricultural Policy Activity (Policy Activity) collaborates with local, influential actors, including the Government of Bangladesh and the Bangladesh Seed Association (BSA), the largest national private sector platform representing seed companies and dealers. By engaging a range of stakeholders, a movement was developed to facilitate more inclusive agriculture policy processes, including work in seed policy. Promising signs of change have emerged from these collective efforts to influence seed policy reform in Bangladesh.
Major policy shift
On August 27, 2023, the Ministry of Agriculture (MoA) lifted a five-year embargo on companies registering and marketing new seed varieties in Bangladesh, reducing the restriction to just one year. This major policy shift paves the way for sustainable agricultural growth amid an acute need to increase the supply of quality seeds. The Government of Bangladesh estimated that in 2021-2022, there was a supply of only 405,989 metric tons of quality seed supplied from government and private sector sources, against a demand of 1,254,836 metric tons. The shortfall was met by farmers’ own sources without quality assurances.
Mr. Anis Ud Dowla, president of the BSA, noted that the policy reform marks a major milestone for agricultural growth in Bangladesh, allowing the private sector to boost seed supply. Similarly, Mr. Abu Zubair Hossain Bablu, director general of the MoA’s Seed Wing, acknowledged that with quicker release of seed varieties and increased agricultural productivity, crop diversity and farmers’ incomes are set to grow, leading to better nutritional outcomes and more affordable market prices.
Facilitating complex policy dialogues
Although the imperatives for growing the seed sector have long been known to policymakers and the private sector, aligning these stakeholders around a common agenda has been challenging. The Policy Activity’s partnership with BSA was a conduit for constructive dialogue between influential seed sector stakeholders, including government agencies, private sector players, development agencies, academics and communities. As informed facilitators, the Policy Activity supported BSA in undertaking policy analysis, regional and national consultations, and expert debates over an 18-month period.
Through this process, the Policy Activity helped elevate the voices of public- and private-sector stakeholders in the national conversation around seed policy. One result was the submission of a March 2023 seed policy brief to the MoA with a set of 10 recommendations:
- Reduce five-year registration embargo to market seeds.
- Eliminate dual licensing requirements from the Seed Wing and the Department of Agricultural Marketing.
- Review Harmonized System Codes between Plant Quarantine Rules 2018 and Customs Tariff 2022-2023.
- Reform Seed Certification Agency to Department of Seed Certification.
- Promote private sector growth.
- Diversify membership in the National Seed Board.
- Establish a full-fledged Plant Quarantine Authority.
- Establish the Plant Variety Protection (PVP) Authority and the development of the PVP Rules 2022.
- Strengthen higher education curricula on seed education.
- Promote easier access to seed finance.
“These early signs of success are encouraging,” said Mr. Abdullah Sazzad NDC, chairman of the Bangladesh Agricultural Development Corporation and previous director general of the MoA’s Seed Wing. “The reduction of the five-year embargo will enhance agricultural production. Furthermore, the recommendation to reform the Seed Certification Agency to a department is now awaiting approval, and should this be approved, this will be another milestone within the agricultural sector,” he said.
As shown in the seed policy reform journey, establishing common ground, facilitating consensus and developing a movement on policy issues requires a long-term approach that depends on stakeholder collaboration and collective action. Establishing strong partnerships and relationships is key to sustaining momentum. The Policy Activity and BSA continue to engage in constructive dialogues with champions within the government seed system to follow up on the recommendations in the policy brief. The BSA President has also recently submitted a request to the Respected Secretary of Agriculture for a speedier resolution to eliminate the dual licensing requirement, as outlined in the policy brief’s second recommendation.