Seed Policy Reforms in Zambia
This post is written by the Rutgers University Policy Research Consortium and authored by Latha Nagarajan (IFDC), Anwar Naseem (Rutgers), Carl Pray (Rutgers).
Raising agricultural productivity is essential to increasing farm incomes, reducing rural poverty, and sustaining economic growth. In turn, technological change is the main driver of increased productivity, underlining the ongoing importance of focusing on technology as a primary change agent. Despite the recognition that technology is important for agricultural growth, it remains under-utilized in many countries, particularly in sub-Saharan Africa (SSA). The use of improved varieties (IVs) — a key ingredient to the success of the productivity-led Asian Green Revolution — is low, accounting for 35 percent of all food crops grown in SSA in 2010. While it is higher for maize (around 60-90 percent depending on the country), many farmers are using older varieties with lower yields. One reason for the limited use of improved cultivars has been the very slow pace of new varietal releases.
In a study titled An Obstacle to Africa's Green Revolution: Too Few New Varieties, it was estimated that across nine crops, on average one new variety was released every two years in Kenya, Tanzania, and Zambia between 2000-2008, and even less during earlier periods. The study also makes that case that historically low rates of variety introduction in countries such as Zambia can be traced to government controls involving variety performance tests and fees, followed by government committees deciding if varieties will be useful for farmers and therefore permitted for seed sales.
An additional reason for the low uptake of new varieties for the case of Zambia especially during the late ’80s was the decline in public research and extension activities, which severely limited the ability of the public sector to provide new varieties during that period. It has been reported that public financial support for maize research activities in Zambia fell by 70 percent between 1985 and 1990. Not only was the supply of improved cultivars limited, but demand for improved seed was also constrained by price controls on maize, overvalued exchange rates, and policies that discouraged local trade. In summary, prior to policy reforms, maize farmers in Zambia had limited options and poor incentives for adopting improved cultivars.
However, since the mid-1990s, Zambia has instituted a number of policy changes that have helped develop a commercial seed industry:
- Mid-1990s: Liberalization/deregulation of the parastatal ZAMSEED
- Freed exchange of local currency to USD and other currencies.
- Allowed Foreign Direct Investment with no restrictions on expatriation of profits
- 1995: Plant Variety and Seeds Act & Seed Law with an amendment to the seed law breaks up ZAMSEED’s monopoly; allows entry of private sector -Seedco, Pannar, Cargill, and MRI
- 1999: National seed policy
- 2007: Plant Variety Protection Act
- 2008: Membership of both the Southern Africa Development Community (SADC) and the Common Market for Eastern and Southern Africa (COMESA)
- 2013: Zambia’s seed regulations amended to conform to the COMESA regulations, to facilitate the movement of certified seed within the region
- 2016/17: Draft regulations to conform with COMESA’s were submitted to the Ministry of Justice for approval in 2016, and approval is still in progress.
The major reason for the privatization and liberalization of the seed system in Zambia was the huge expansion in government debt in the 1980s followed by pressure from donors for structural adjustment in return for debt relief. In 1991 a new market-oriented government was elected. This combination led to a sell offer of government enterprises starting with Zambia’s Sugar Industry Company in 1994. After an unsuccessful attempt to sell Zamseed, the government stopped supporting the coop system that had distributed Zamseed’s seed to farmers. This left Zamseed, which had been a fairly efficient public private partnership of the government, Svalöf the Swedish seed firm, the seed producers association and farmer coops, in a shambles. Maize seed production declined from a high of 20,000 tons in the late 1980s to 400 tons in the early 1990s. The remaining bits of Zamseed were sold to a willing group of managers, and Svalöf gave them its remaining shares.
With the capacity of a publicly run seed industry diminished, the government had to develop a system to provide quality seed to farmers. Maize in Zambia accounts for 70 percent of cereal area (much of it grown by smallholders) and a similar share for total calories (particularly for the urban poor). As the government relied on support from the urban consumers and small farmers to remain in power (Gray & Kohl 2016), it encouraged private firms – both local and foreign – to rebuild the seed industry.
The policy reforms after 1995 were evolutionary processes of change in which economic interest groups such as seed firms, farmers, food processors, consumers, and NGOs interacted with government officials and donors. The reforms were often regulations that had been tried elsewhere, pushed by the economic interest groups who hoped to benefit through channels such as the Zambia Seed Trade Association and backed by studies (often funded by USAID) by economists at government institutes, IFPRI, and Michigan State University. This combination of factors played an important role in the 1999 national seed policy and the 2007 Plant Variety Protection Act.
In recent years, policies intended to improve the functioning of the seed market have been either introduced or changed as evidence of their importance has come to light. For example, stringent quality control to introduce new varieties was considered lengthy and costly, discouraging private sector participation. To address this, Zambia adopted a system equivalent of standard seed, which is Quality Declared Seed (QDS) but certified, although sampling for testing is done at a smaller proportion .
In addition to the groups mentioned above, policymakers have drawn on new sources of pressure both inside and outside Zambia to improve and open up the seed industry. Zambian seed companies have become the most important exporters of quality seed in SSA, which increases their interest in fewer barriers to trade. At the same time, regional organizations such as SADC and donors such as the World Bank and USAID have pushed for freer trade on all goods, not just seeds or agricultural products. Zambia’s membership in COMESA and the amendment of Zambia’s seed regulations to conform to the COMESA’s regulations has also facilitated the movement of certified seed within the region. Much of these changes has come about as a result of studies by new policy research organizations such as ReNAPRI, a regional network of agricultural policy research institutes, operating since 2012, and The African Access to Seeds Index (TASAI), which monitors seed-sector development at the national level and gives an annual scorecard on the vibrancy or competitiveness of the formal seed sector.
Zambia’s formal seed system is now considered more advanced than the seed system of most countries in East and Southern Africa. Key metrics on the impacts of the policy changes include:
A competitive maize seed sector as evidenced by the presence of 30 firms (including multinational and regional firms). Zambia has 118 licensed seed inspectors – 83 private and 35 under the Zambian Seed Control and Certification Institute (SCCI) – that have been licensing private seed inspectors since 1995. SCCI allows seed personnel from the private and public sectors to be licensed to perform seed quality control services, such as seed inspection, sampling, and analysis.
An increase in the number of new varieties annually registered and available from just 19 in the late ’90s to more than 210 by 2016. Of these, 24 were drought tolerant and the average age of the varieties sold in 2016 had shortened to 10 years for maize, 4 years for rice, and 12 years for beans.
An increase in maize seed exports to other SSA countries (37,000 t in 2015). Zambia ranks as Africa’s largest exporter of maize seed to other African countries and accounted for more than 41 percent of Africa’s intra-regional seed trade over the period covered.
Zambian maize yields and production increased during periods of effective plant breeding and seed distribution in the ten years when the public-private Zamseed system was functional following 1976. It increased further when the private sector was firmly in place after 2000, and once again when adoption was supported by fertilizer and seed subsidies and procurement of maize grain by the government. This combination of quality seeds and government support led to yields growing an average of 0.9 t/ha a year between 1996 and 2016. Today, Zambia now ranks second only to Ethiopia for maize yields in Africa.