Lusaka: COMESA secretary general Sindiso Ngwenya has urged member countries to consider genetically modifying their seed to increase yields in the region.
Speaking at the Alliance for Commodity Trade in Eastern and Southern Africa (ACTESA) stakeholders meeting on Friday, Ngwenya said modifying seed as Malawi was doing would increase yields threefold in the region.
'Malawi tried to do some genetic seed modification and they have now increased their yields threefold,' Ngwenya said. 'If all member countries do that, we shall have more than enough food in the region and that would reduce poverty levels especially in rural areas.'
He also said there was need to include private agro dealers as the region embarked on a programme of seed harmonisation.
'We cannot afford to leave out the agro dealers in the seed harmonisation programme,' he said. 'Already, SeedCo a Zambian agro supplier is exporting to other countries, which I will not mention, but they have to adhere to different seed specification in each of those countries. If we harmonise, the seed trade will flourish.'
He said increased production of agricultural crops depended not only on the development of higher-yielding varieties of seeds but also on the efficiency of the systems available to ensure the seeds reach the farmer on time.
'Effective seed marketing is an essential component of activities to improve food security in the COMESA region. Inefficiencies in agricultural seed marketing have contributed to low usage of improved seeds in the region,' he said. 'Some factors include; trade restrictions, restrictive regulations and standards, lack of access to improved seed, diseconomies of scale arising from small national markets, long payback periods and lack of credit.'
Ngwenya said COMESA was committed to enhancing access to improved seed by regional farmers, regional trade in seed and agricultural productivity through seed harmonisation.
Although Zambia is a member of COMESA and is a signatory to the Kinshasa seed harmonisation agreement that was born two months ago, it does not accept genetically modified foods as of March 2004 for health reasons.
In the Kinshasa agreement, COMESA member states agreed to harmonisation of seed laws, policies and procedures.
And ACTESA, the implementing arm for agriculture in COMESA, on Friday signed a memorandum of understanding with an agro dealers association aimed at improving seed supply and sharing best practices in the region.