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Alternatives for seed regulatory reform: An analysis of variety testing, variety regulation and seed quality control

Research reports

This paper summarises the findings of a recently completed project which examined the conduct of seed regulation in developing countries and produced a set of guidelines for seed regulatory reform. The three areas of seed regulation included in the study were: public sector plant breeding (particularly the management of variety testing); variety regulation (registration, performance testing and release); and seed quality control (seed certification and seed testing). Adjustment to seed regulatory frameworks is necessary because of significant changes in national seed systems. These changes include: reductions in budget for public agricultural research; the failure of many seed parastatals; increasing concern about plant genetic diversity; pressure for the establishment of plant variety protection; the increasing contributions of commercial seed enterprises; and the emergence of innovative local level variety development and seed production initiatives.

There are a variety of reasons why current public seed regulation is unsatisfactory. It is not efficiently organised, often uses inappropriate standards, does not offer opportunities for farmer and seed producer participation, and is not sufficiently transparent. At the same time there are a number of options for regulatory reform. In plant breeding, more emphasis should be placed on decentralising variety testing, breeding for particular niches, and making site selection, trial management and analysis more representative of farmers' conditions. In variety regulation, simpler registration procedures are required, and the demands of plant variety protection should not be allowed to bias or limit the development and use of public and farmer varieties. Variety performance testing for release should be made more flexible. In seed quality control, standards should be re-examined for their relevance to particular farming conditions, and much of the responsibility for monitoring seed quality should be passed to seed producers and merchants, accompanied by well-defined public oversight and enforcement mechanisms.

Robert Tripp, Niels Louwaars, W. Joost van der Burg, Daljit S. Virk, and John R. Witcombe