The Horn of Africa is distinct among Africa’s sub-regions in terms of its agriculture, with sorghum, millet, wheat, teff, and barley taking center stage in different agro-ecologies, and diverse forage crop species playing important roles among pastoralists. This part of Africa is characterized by its aridity and dependence on drought-tolerant crops and grass species. Here, farmers prize early maturity and resistance to heat stress above all other traits. However, the Region’s agricultural potential is vulnerable to climate change impacts. The COVID-19 pandemic has further brought agriculture and food-system issues to the fore by presenting a formidable threat to trade in agricultural commodities.
Millions in the IGAD (Inter-Governmental Authority on Development) region are food insecure due to climate change impacts, political and economic instability, pests’ outbreaks, and conflict. Approximately five million farmers and agro-pastoralists in these countries who are without access to modern agricultural technologies, including improved seeds, face an ongoing struggle to produce sufficient food exacerbated by floods and the outbreak of desert locust and Fall Army Worm.
Seed is the basis of crop production and a key input for improving crop production and productivity. Access to quality seed and farmer adoption of improved varieties remains low across many countries in Sub-Saharan Africa. Specifically, IGAD as a region has been a minor player in the seed market due to underdeveloped/absent national and regional seed systems, limited capacities, lack of adoption and implementation of harmonized regional seed regulations, standards, and procedures. Generally, the seed sector at national and regional levels remains fragmented and weak and there is limited cross-border seed trade due to inconsistent policies, high costs for registering new varieties, and the inadequate infrastructure that underpin the seed industry. This breakdown in the seed systems and extension networks has contributed to significant and recurrent food insecurity and loss of livelihoods in the region.
It stands to reason, then, that the seed systems of the IGAD member countries will likewise be distinct and develop along lines that are unique to the region and its history. In a context of rapid climate change, frequent droughts, and high rates of population growth, the governments of this region are bound together by an urgent need to supply their farmers with higher-yielding seed which is adapted to local conditions.
Based on the recommendations of the Seed System Analysis (SSA) report, authored by regional exerts, IGAD has established a Regional Seed Dialogue Forum to guide and coordinate the activities of the Forum and program implementations. The Forum brings together the major seed stakeholders, both state and non-state actors, in the region to increase their synergistic contributions and enhance the use of improved seeds through regional trade. The Forum aims to promote the exchange of learning, experience, and progress in the areas of crop breeding, seed production, farmer adoption of improved seed, seed commerce, and policy improvements. The IGAD Region Seed Dialogue Forum can greatly accelerate the uptake of improved, climate resilient seed across a region of Africa which has experienced frequent periods of drought, hunger, and conflict and greatly improve the lives of millions of farmers and pastoralists across the region.
The Forum conducted its first Meeting for three days – 29 -31 August 2022, in Addis Ababa, Ethiopia. The overall objective of the First meeting was operationalizing the regional seed dialogue platform and develop an action plan. It was attended by participants from IGAD member States, including representatives of the Member States, seed associations, and development partners. In this Meeting. The Forum agreed upon its short-term action plan in the areas of developing the Forum’s governance structure, a regional seed policy, knowledge management, capacity building, and resource mobilization. The Forum has identified seven specific objectives to achieve its long-term goal.
As the Horn of Africa region again confronts widespread food shortages caused by drought, conflict, and the ongoing war in Ukraine, the IGAD Region Seed Dialogue Forum represents one important glimmer of hope for a better future for its people. This bit of progress deserves the full support of the IGAD member states as well as the international community.
IGAD is one of the Regional Economic Communities (RECs) recognized by the African Union. The Region – with a combined population of over 290 million – stretches over an area of 5.2 million km2 comprising the countries of Djibouti, Eritrea, Ethiopia, Kenya, Somalia, South Sudan, Sudan, and Uganda. Some 70 percent of the IGAD region is made up of arid and semi-arid lands, which receive an annual rainfall of less than 600 mm.