The Government of Tanzania has moved a step closer to approving standards for different classes of seed for sweetpotato, cassava and potato. Addressing stakeholders at a final joint consultative meeting held on March 3, 2015 at the Agricultural Research Institute- Kibaha, the acting Director General of the Tanzania Official Seed Certification Institute (TOSCI), Dr. Hamis Mtwaenzi, said TOSCI is determined to seeing that the proposed standards receive ministerial assent. Dr. Mtwaenzi added that the certification process will ensure seed producers are giving farmers quality planting materials hence contribute to improved food security and poverty reduction. He also emphasized the importance of a joint approach and dialogue among cassava, potato and sweetpotato stakeholders since the three crops have common challenges. Unlike cereals, the three do not require compulsory certification at the moment.
Protocols and standards for Quality Declared Planting Material (QDPM) for vegetatively propagated crops were published by FAO in 2010 but are yet to be adapted to national conditions at country level. Previous project interventions have highlighted that quality assurance is important due to disease and pest constraints. Sweetpotato production is particularly hampered by viruses in single and complex infections (i.e. sweetpotato virus disease (SPVD)) and weevil infestation, both of which can be transferred through planting material. In Tanzania, formal inspection and certification schemes exist for grain crops only. Vegetatively propagated crops (VPCs) including sweetpotato have been left behind due to the perceived low status of the crops. However, with increasing commercialization, there has been a growing interest to introduce certification and inspection procedures for VPCs. The concerns of the authorities are to prevent the spread of plant borne diseases and protect farmers from unscrupulous seed traders. However, the characteristics of VPCs – in particular the bulky and perishable nature of their planting materials - means that the process of certification used for seed of grain crops cannot be simply transferred for use in VPCs.
The meeting at Kibaha brought together cassava, potato and sweetpotato stakeholders to share experiences across the crops and present and review the standards with the TOSCI legal team. For sweetpotato stakeholders this was the culmination of previous meetings hosted by Lake Zone Agricultural Research and Development Institute (LZARDI) and TOSCI in collaboration with the International Potato Center (CIP) in 2014 and 2015 to discuss and develop seed standards (Pre-basic, Basic, Certified 1, Certified 2 and Quality Declared Seed). The draft standards were presented at the joint cassava, potato and sweetpotato stakeholders’ workshop held at ARI- Kibaha. The next step is now for the legal team to present the standards to the Minister of Agriculture, Food Security and Cooperatives for assent after which they will be officially published.
The journey towards domestication of the FAO QDPM standards for sweetpotato in Tanzania started in 2009. The idea to validate the FAO standards for sweetpotato was proposed by Dr. Ian Barker (then Head of Virology at CIP) as part of the Sweetpotato Action for Security and Health in Africa (SASHA) seed system intervention, ‘Marando Bora’ (Swahili for Quality Vines). In 2011 a pilot study was initiated at the Lake Zone with the objective of testing different approaches for a community based QDPM inspection scheme based on the FAO QDPM protocols and standards. A participatory workshop was held in October 2011 to prepare the inspection procedures based on the FAO protocols and standards. Three inspection models were then investigated. These were: “self-inspection” centered on existing practices for farmer selection of material; “team inspection”, where the local village-based agriculture extension provider inspected the multiplication plot together with the decentralized vine multiplier (DVM); and “external” inspection where the district-based crop protection officer conducted the inspection. The hypothesis which was tested was that the implementation of QDPM guidelines through a team inspection system would improve vine quality produced by decentralized vine multipliers (DVMs) in a cost effective way. The pilot was conducted over two seasons in 2012.
For the first season, 64% of all plots inspected achieved the “acceptable” standard based on the locally negotiated tolerance levels, but this reduced to 55% of plots in the second season. If the FAO tolerance levels and standards were used, 25% and 14% of plots would have been scored as acceptable in each season respectively. The parameter which was most contentious was for signs of weevil infestation. In the FAO standards, the tolerance level is set at “zero”; however, multipliers argued that they knew how to harvest only the upper part of the vine to avoid weevil eggs and to treat the vines with appropriate pesticides. They proposed that local conditions should be taken into account, and that the tolerance level should be 10%. After completion of the pilot studies engagement with the national regulatory bodies continued in order to feed the experiences from the field level into the national process.
One of the major issues arising from the series of consultative meetings is the burden of the costs of inspection especially at the QDS level ( i.e. what amount is reasonable and who will pay? Is it the seed producers, TOSCI or both?). Although ultimately it is farmers who will pay if they see that there are benefits from planting seed which has been checked for its quality. Stakeholders who met at Kibaha suggested that the scale of production and profits accrued to the multiplier should be factored in. For instance, it was proposed that at the Quality Declared Seed level multipliers can pay an amount equivalent to 5% of their net income from sale of planting materials. The government can then subsidize the rest. Additionally, it was proposed that decentralization of the inspections will help reduce associated costs. Indeed the decentralized approach using the ‘team inspection’ model came out as the most cost-effective during the aforementioned pilot studies under Marando Bora. The cost of inspecting one site/visit was $25.30 using the District Plant Protection Officer (DPPO) compared to $10 when using the Village Extension Officer (VEO). Furthermore, the inspections only made economic sense when the scale of multiplication increased to about 0.5ha. The cost of inspection should be reasonable such that it does not discourage seed producers nor impede the implementation process. There is also need to understand the level of quality that farmers are willing to pay for and the real demand for clean seed of existing varieties compared to that of new varieties.
The new standards are expected to receive Ministerial assent and go into effect in the next two to three months. Their successful implementation will boost productivity by ensuring that farmers have access to clean planting materials. Any increase in production of sweetpotato, cassava, and potato will have a positive impact on food security. Furthermore, according to a decentralized vine multiplier who attended the Kibaha workshop, certification will play an important role in the development of the market for vines. Meanwhile, together with multipliers and farmers, CIP and national scientists will monitor the implementation of the seed standards and inspection protocols to understand the institutional implications and what benefits actually accrue to farmers. It is also important to continue to test and adapt technologies that can reduce exposure to pest and disease vectors such as the “net tunnel” technology where the correlation between a range of pest and disease parameters and reduction in yield will be validated. In pursuit of quality it is important to be cautious and ensure that over-regulation and bureaucracy do not stifle emerging seed entrepreneurs at birth. Increased yields are vital but only if farmers have access to output markets. A multi-pronged strategy is needed: Breeding to develop virus-tolerant/resistant varieties; strengthening the capacities of farmers to maintain seed quality; and advocating for devolved authority to develop informal quality assurance systems to cover multiple, dispersed, small scale sites; together with laboratory testing of the source material as it enters the seed value chain i.e. at a limited number of facilities.
In their efforts to conserve and understand native root and tuber biodiversity and tap its potential for improving the diets and incomes of people around the world, CIP researchers often record or rely on traditional knowledge. That information can enrich scientific research and enhance the effectiveness of development initiatives, but its use and diffusion is regulated by a growing body of international and national legislation, which must be taken into account and respected by the institution.
CIP scientists and administrators have consequently embarked on an effort to better understand the legal implications of CIP’s use of traditional knowledge, and to move toward a cohesive approach to handling it throughout the institution. An important step in that process was a round table discussion on Access and Documentation of Traditional Knowledge held at CIP headquarters in Lima, Peru on January 16.
The roundtable was organized by Selim Güvener, CIP’s Compliance & Intellectual Assets Manager. He explained that CIP needs to both address its responsibilities under international law governing traditional knowledge and comply with CGIAR Consortium demands that more information be shared with the general public. Whereas international law requires researchers to get the informed and prior consent of indigenous communities for the use or dissemination of their traditional knowledge, the CGIAR Consortium wants member research centers to institute an open access policy by 2018.
As Güvener observed: “How do we balance the obligation of making knowledge available when that knowledge belongs to communities?”
In examining this issue, CIP scientists have benefitted from the insight of Brendan Tobin, a lawyer and research fellow with Griffith University, in Australia. Tobin is undertaking a comparative study of the policies for handling traditional knowledge of institutions in various countries, and will write a briefing paper on the subject for CGIAR. He noted that while CIP researchers may have the best intentions in documenting traditional knowledge, once that information is published or otherwise disseminated, it could conceivably be used for commercial purposes that provide no benefit for the communities.
The International Convention on Biological Diversity calls for the benefits of genetic resources to be shared equitably with the ancestral custodians of those resources, and the Convention’s Nagoya Protocol, which came into force in October of 2014, provides a legal framework for the use of traditional knowledge associated with genetic resources. The protocol also requires due diligence in compliance with national legislation, and as Tobin pointed out, more than 100 countries now have laws protecting the rights of indigenous peoples.
CIP researchers who work with rural communities commonly sign agreements with them, but according to Güvener, those agreements may need a standardized language that reflects the implications of the upcoming open access policy. “When it comes to open access, CIP will need a filter for traditional knowledge that determines whether or not there is prior and informed consent for sharing it, and excludes information for which consent hasn’t been obtained,” he said.
“Communities may be willing to share some of their information via open access, but they will no doubt have some information that they don’t want to share,” said Tobin. “Before CIP can establish a policy for the management of traditional knowledge, you have to know how it is being handled now and then determine what changes can be made to comply with international law, without hindering CIP’s ability to do research.”
One of the round table participants was Severin Polreich, a scientist in the Genetic, Genomics and Crop Improvement Center of Excellence at CIP, which partners with communities in potato biodiversity hot spots to monitor potato landraces and document traditional knowledge related to their cultivation and use. He explained that before the program begins work in an area, community leaders discuss and sign an agreement that explains the research and defines the rules for CIPs access to and use of traditional knowledge. He added that he is unfamiliar with the agreements that other CIP researchers are using for their work with communities.
“If we can institutionalize this, it will contribute to our credibility,” Polreich said.
Güvener explained that the proceedings of the round table will be analyzed by CIP’s legal and research teams with the goal of establishing standardized best practices for balancing science needs, compliance with obligations and the rights of indigenous peoples.
As per the agreement, the collaboration will among others things, promote joint research activities, publications, source for research funding and provide internships and job opportunities for students. In addition, the cooperation agreement will see the two institutions conduct breeding work and potato trials at the College of Agriculture and Veterinary Sciences (CAVS) fields and engage staff and students in building research through exchange programmes and short courses.
CIP is an international organization mandated to work with partners to achieve food security, well-being, and gender equity for poor people in root and tuber farming and food systems in the developing world. This is done through research and innovation in science, technology, and capacity strengthening.
Speaking during the signing ceremony, the Vice-Chancellor, Prof. Peter Mbithi welcomed the initiative saying that the University is keen on strategic partnerships that will promote its core business which is teaching and research. He noted that through the partnership, CIP and UoN will embark on a rigorous programme that will ensure research output that improves the lives of Kenyans particularly in food and commerce for farmers. Prof. Mbithi welcomed the proposal by CIP to enhance the University’s teaching curriculum by providing professionals on potato crop to teach at the crop science department. In order to diversify teaching and research, the University will pursue and implement the honorary and visiting professors programme. To this end, student mentorships through sound and well delivered curriculum within a framework of values will be realized.
CIP’s Regional Operations Director, Dr. Adiel Mbabu said that in order to realize its vision of improving the lives of the poor through research of roots and tubers, the organization needs support from key institutions such as the University of Nairobi. Dr. Mbabu highlighted the importance of importance of research in the development of a nation saying that research can be abstract but it needs to be contextualized.
Prof. Lucy Irungu, Deputy Vice-Chancellor, Research ,Production and Extension, Prof. Henry Mutoro, Deputy Vice-Chancellor, Academic Affairs, Prof. Agnes Mwang’ombe, Principal, CAVS, Prof. Bernard Aduda, Principal, College of Biological and Physical Sciences, Prof. John Kimenju, Dean, Faculty of Agriculture and Prof. Julius Mwabora, Chairman, Department of Physics.
Dr. Adiel Mbabu, Regional Operations Director, CIP and Prof. Peter Mbithi, Vice-Chancellor exchange signed copies of the MOU.
This press release was originally released by the University of Nairobi: http://www.uonbi.ac.ke/node/8755