Southern Africa after the Year 2000 Floods: Seed-Initiative

Open Letter from the Southern African region addressed to regional and international bodies in disaster relief and developmental assistance

March 2000

The Southern African region is currently reeling under the havoc being inflicted by cyclone Eline and Gloria, and uncounted communities in the flood stricken areas of Botswana, Mozambique, South Africa and Zimbabwe have already lost most of their food, shelter, seed material and livestock. This is a tragedy for the livelihoods of families and communities in affected rural and urban areas, and will undoubtedly have serious economic implications, as most countries will try to come to terms with the reality of these devasting floods.

In this context, we applaud the efforts being made by various local and international organisations as they are battling to bring in assistance in an endeavour to save lives and provide the immediate necessary relief supplies to the flood victims.

However, with regard to the restoration of a sustainable agriculture in future, we are appealing to the regional and international community, and to organizations in disaster relief and developmental assistance to take precautions:

  1. to prevent the importation of inappropriate seeds to the Southern African region which can undermine agrobiodiversity and thus food security for years; and

  2. to support efforts to reconstitute locally adapted planting material and quality seed material/varieties, like indigenous landraces or famers' varieties appropriate to the various ecosystems.

As pointed out by the FAO's Global Plan of Action for the Conservation and Sustainable Utilization of Plant Genetic Resources for Food and Agriculture: "Food aid, combined with the importation of often poorly adapted seed varieties, can lower yields and keep them low for years. While addressing the immediate crisis, such practices can exacerbate hunger conditions, undermine food security and increase costs of donor assistance well into the future."

In our view, the disaster in Southern Africa requires the co-operation of governments, private sector, NGOs and Civil Society in the region and beyond in an effort to put in place a co-ordinated initiative, and mechanisms at the national and sub-regional level, which are capable to deal fast and sustainably with this unfortunate situation.

Therefore we propose the following steps to be taken:

1) There is need to initiate country specific seed requirements assessment by crop and quantity. In this context we are appealing to the Southern African Development Community (SADC) Food Security Co-ordinating Unit to:

a) immediately start specific initiatives in collaboration with other SADC sectors, seed companies and NGOs to put in place a framework which should start right away to work on the seed needs of each country affected by the floods;

b) find out about the capacities of the flood affected Member States to meet the seed demands of farmers and communities, as well as their abilities to contribute to sustainable solutions.

2) From April onwards the wintercrops can be sown to the fields in Southern Africa.
There is an urgent need to compile current seed stocks/reserves held by the public, and private sector, by local breeders, and farmers and NGOs in the region by crop and possible by variety in-order to determine what is locally available. This will enable those who would like to purchase and assist flood victims, to initiate contacts and purchase appropriate relief seed supplies in time. Such information need to be shared within the region and abroad to form the basis of the regional seed strategy requirements.

As a first and fast response to the disaster an immediate review study of seeds stock in the region is actually being initiated by Community Technology Development Trust and SADC Plant Genetic Resources Centre and conducted in order to compile a data base of the reserves by country and institution. This study will probably be available at the beginning of April 2000 to those who may want to purchase such local seed for relief purposes.

3) The next step would be the identification of those countries and stakeholders which have the capacity to multiply such seed during this coming winter season, that is May to October 2000. Local, national and regional initiatives and institutions, of the formal as well as informal seed sector, have to be included in this effort as they do possess local knowledge as well as necessary contacts.

Ways to restore agricultural production in the flooded areas:

Commercial agriculture
For most large scale commercial farming, recovery will be based on financial assistance to enable purchase of inputs for the next farming season as well as rehabilitation of the damaged infrastructure.

Small-Scale Farming
For the rural smallholder farming communities, the majority in the region, recovery will be much more complex. The floods have resulted in the complete loss of their ways of life. The types of seed lost are not easily replaceable. This is because each community and household normally maintain their own distinct types of varieties nurtured through generations of selections and maintenance.

Short-term Solution
The immediate solution would be to restore farming which forms a livelihood as quickly as possible. This will entail distribution of even those varieties that are not familiar, but are from similar areas in the region. However, the choice should be for open-pollinated varieties of a wide range of varieties. This way the seed can act as a starting base for the farmers to make future selections and the larger the number of varieties the more future stability is ensured.

Long-term Solution
The types of varieties preferred in these areas may be known and in some cases small representative samples of some of the varieties may be available from local seed companies, research institutions and genebanks. In this case a programme of seed multiplication should be started to increase seed to required amounts for re-introduction in areas where they are lost.

We suggest that this will be the ideal and appropriate route to take as this will avoid seed importation with regard to the sowing/planting season from October 2000 onwards. We urge the regional and international community, and organizations in disaster relief and developmental assistance to consider the suggested route particularly otherwise there is always the risk of bringing in seed materials which are not adapted to the regional eco-zones, farming practices, cultural and food habits of the communities.

Concern related to genetically modified varieties

Moreover, the major concern of the plant genetic resources conservation community, is another current threat associated with seed importation: as there is the possibility of receiving hybrids, unadapted cultivars and genetically modified crop varieties related seeds as relief, without prior approval by the flood-affected countries.

In the case of genetically modified crop varieties, donating countries and other bodies must declare them before providing such assistance. This will protect our region from becoming a testing ground or a dumping ground for such genetically modified seed materials. The same applies to food aid imported from countries growing such varieties.

In addition to local and regional producers/breeders and farmers, institutes related to the Consultative Group on International Agricultural Research (CGIAR), such as the SADC/CIMMYT, SADC/CIAT, SADC/IITA and SADC/ICRISAT programmes for maize, bean, cowpea, sorghum and pearl millet should be involved in the winter seed production of cereals and grain legumes. This will enable the region to be able to cope with the seed requirements of these countries well ahead of time and avoid panic when the 2000/2001 cropping season approaches. Secondly, the aspect of importing seed materials which are not suited to our region and particularly genetically modified crops should be avoided.

We are calling the international and regional community concerned in assisting the flood affected countries and communities to join hands in an effort to restore a sustainable agriculture in the Southern African region after the floods thus to emphasize on establishing a system that will strengthen local farmers' and communities' abilities to restore food security and agriculture.

The Southern African Seed-Initiative is initiated by:
SADC Plant Genetic Resources Centre (SPGRC), Zambia and
Community Technology Development Trust (CTDT), Zimbabwe

Undersigned by (individuals and/or organizations):
Batsalano Coyne - Tika-Tikwe BioResources Trust, Botswana
Dr Mkamanga - SPGRC, Lusaka-Zambia
Dr Mpofu - Seed Services, Zimbabwe
Ms S.Ncube - Hivos, Zimbabwe
Ms J.Chidavaenzi - Centre for Total Transformation, Zimbabwe
Ms Machiri - SADC Food Security Network, Zimbabwe
Mr E.Chiwona - Malawi Plant Genetic Resources Centre, Malawi
Maxwell Mapako - Biomass Users Network, Zimbabwe
Ebbie Dengu - ITDG, Zimbabwe
Godfrey Mwila - Min. of Agric. Food and Fisheries
Ute Sprenger - Africa Committee, Foundation Umverteilen!, Germany
Mr Mugwagwa - Biotechnology Trust of Zimbabwe
Mr Shoko - National Action Programme (DNR), Zimbabwe
Bernd Scheel - Action for World Solidarity (ASW), Germany

24 March 2000

SADC Plant Genetic Resources Centre (SPGRC), Zambia
Community Technology Development Trust (CTDT), Zimbabwe
Africa Committee, Stiftung Umverteilen!/Foundation Redistribute!, Germany.


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