SEARCA webinar discusses strengthening seed systems in Southeast Asia

  • By Jean Rebecca D. Labios
  • 3 February 2021

LOS BAÑOS, Laguna, Philippines – The Southeast Asian Regional Center for Graduate Study and Research in Agriculture (SEARCA) conducted its 22nd SEARCA Online Learning and Virtual Engagement (SOLVE) webinar titled SOLVE Food Insecurity through Efficient and Innovative Seed Systems on 27 January 2021 via Zoom and Facebook Live.

The speakers with SEARCA Director Dr. Glenn B. Gregorio and the SOLVE Platform TeamThe speakers with SEARCA Director Dr. Glenn B. Gregorio and the SOLVE Platform Team

The webinar presented an opportunity for seed practitioners and aspiring seed growers to gain insights on the ins and outs of the seed industry in the region, and the importance of having a sustainable seed system to tackle food insecurity. Webinar speakers included Dr. Siang Hee Tan, Executive Director of CropLife Asia; Dr. Mary Ann Sayoc, Public Affairs Lead of East-West Seed International; and Mr. Ruel Gesmundo, Chief of the Philippine Department of Agriculture’s Bureau of Plant Industry – National Seed Quality Control Services (DA-BPI-NSQCS).

Dr. Tan discussed the seed initiatives of CropLife Asia and how they position themselves as a collaborating agent between organizations and countries in the region to help develop seed systems and regulations. According to Dr. Tan, the baseline of farming is seeds. Thus, CropLife Asia not only champions the discussion on how to get innovations into the hands of farmers, but also invests on R&D that focuses on delivering the best genetic traits into the seeds through plant breeding innovation. In this light, CropLife Asia proactively engages in providing safe and secure food by introducing new and innovative science and technology to contribute to food security and improve living standards. The company has three priority areas in its Seeds Program, namely: seed movement, variety protection, and variety registration. The seed issues impacting the growth of the industry, noted Dr. Tan, are outdated seed policies and regulations, lack of harmonized and transparent seed movement across borders, and use of illegal seed practices. With these, CropLife Asia places itself as a trusted partner of governments and various seed associations by coordinating and aligning with stakeholders to identify regulatory issues and information gaps, and to determine key recommendations to address these concerns. Dr. Tan stressed that the establishment of networks, like across ASEAN+3, helps in strengthening the seed sector. With the rapidly changing environment, it is important to work with regulators to help bring seeds to farmers so they can cope with the demand on the ground. With different associations in the region, CropLife Asia tries to help upgrade seed systems to expedite moving the correct seed traits and technology into the hands of farmers.

Dr. Sayoc’s presentation focused on East-West Seed’s contribution to solving food insecurity through its initiatives that are in line with the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) agenda. East-West Seed advocates for a robust vegetable seed industry that provides jobs to people across the value chain. As a market-oriented plant breeder in Southeast Asia, the company contributes to improving nutrition and creating sustainable economic opportunities for smallholder farmers around the world. Dr. Sayoc stated that smallholder farmers are key to food security and they represent the most important sector in food production. Hence, in all of East-West Seed programs and initiatives, working with farmers is a priority. They adopted an inclusive business model where 90 percent of seeds sold by East-West Seed are produced by smallholder farmers. Moreover, East-West Seed impacts food security, nutrition, and health by “seeding” the horticulture industry through plant breeding. The company developed varieties that are high-yielding, disease resistant with good fruit quality, transportability, and storability. The company recognizes that farmers should have the opportunity to make informed choices about which seeds to plant, thus promoting quality seeds and better agronomic practices that result to higher productivity and profitability. East-West Seed also advocate respect for intellectual property rights as in the case of plant variety protection. They also push for an enabling environment and science-based regulations, fully supporting plant breeding innovations and traditional breeding. To make a meaningful impact, East-West Seed actively engages with key stakeholders by conducting programs and initiatives that involve, for example, school children, youth, and women.

Mr. Gesmundo shared the value of seed quality assurance. Seed quality control plays a vital role in the seed system to ensure the availability of high-quality seeds and its accessibility to farmers. The use of such high-quality seeds results in an increase in production yield, which goes in line with the DA’s campaign for Masaganang Ani, Mataas na Kita, the common vision for the country’s food security. To support the crop production sector, the government promotes the use of high yielding quality material to increase crop production by providing high quality seeds and planting materials. According to Mr. Gesmundo, the goal of any seed program is for farmers to have access to high quality seeds. Through seed certification as quality control mechanism, it is ensured that high quality seeds and planting materials are available to the farming communities. When using accredited and registered varieties in the Philippines, farmers are assured of quality seeds and the identity and source of their crop varieties of choice. They are also given access to credit facilities and crop insurance. The BPI-NSQCS, as the seed certifying agency in the Philippines, implements quality control procedures in certifying both seed stock production of government seed farms and institutions, as well as private seed growers. They are also responsible for seed testing and issuance of results of laboratory analysis and tags.

During the open forum, the speakers addressed questions and comments from participants which were mostly about how seed practitioners and aspiring seed growers can join and participate in the seed value chain. The discussion also tackled not only the localization of hybrid seeds, but also international seed movement and cross-border imports.

At the end of the webinar, Mr. Gesmundo reiterated that seeds are vital inputs in agricultural efficiency, and that assuring seed quality will help boost farmer productivity. Dr. Tan emphasized the importance of collective work between associations to help build a resilient seed industry, as well as good leadership of governments to enable farmers to secure certified seeds and improve their livelihoods. Dr. Sayoc reflected that seed is the starting point of any food production and to push for a healthy seed sector is to have an enabling environment that promotes science-based regulations and multi-stakeholder engagements.