Kenya stands out in the Africa region for its comprehensive regulatory approach to seed quality assurance. Indeed, such regulations are critical to delivering genetic gain and quality seed to farmers’ fields. The Kenya Plant Health Inspectorate Service (KEPHIS), the country’s premier regulator overseeing the country’s market for seed and planting materials, is a well-respected actor in this space, and has demonstrated its capacity as an effective implementor of Kenya’s seed laws, regulations, and guidelines. Its long-standing efforts to weed out counterfeit and poor-quality seed from Kenya’s strategically important maize market are lauded across the region. Yet farmers in Kenya cultivate much more than maize, and KEPHIS’s mandate covers a much wider range of crops. This includes vegetatively propagated crops (VPCs), such as potato, sweetpotato, and cassava, that are critical to the livelihoods of Kenya’s many smallholder farmers. Ensuring that these farmers have access to quality seed remains a challenge.
Working closely with the Kenya Agricultural and Livestock Research Organization (KALRO), the International Potato Center (CIP), and other partners, KEPHIS has made significant advances in regulating the multiplication and sale of VPC seed. But unique challenges remain, which impact in different ways on the women, men, and youth smallholders who produce, exchange, and use VPC seed themselves. The unique biological and economic characteristics of vegetative propagation — bulkiness, perishability, low multiplication rates, and susceptibility to seed- and soil-borne pests and diseases — make it distinct from maize, requiring radically different regulatory approaches to quality assurance. This challenge is most acute in smallholder production systems where VPC seed is often exchanged between farmers within limited geographies, but sometimes without the associated benefits of clean seed or genetic improvement.
The Centre for African Bio-Entrepreneurship (CABE), the Tegemeo Institute of Agricultural Policy and Development, CIP, IITA, and the International Food Policy Research Institute (IFPRI) have been collaborating for several years to expand and deepen the national discourse on seed policy and regulation. Central to this collaboration is an ongoing research and outreach effort to better understand the tradeoffs and policy processes that enable regulatory reforms in the seed sector — the actors, their interests, their histories, and their steps on the road to reform. This work was originally supported by the CGIAR Research Program on Policies, Institutions, and Markets (PIM) , the CGIAR Research Program on Roots, Tubers and Bananas, and the Integrated Seed Sector Development in Africa (ISSD Africa).
Building on the success of this work, in 2022, Seed Equal leveraged cross Work Package expertise to support the groundwork for a national policy engagement process to design new regulatory guidelines for VPCs. The Constitution of Kenya, 2010 (CoK 2010) under Article 11 (3) (b), requires Parliament to enact legislation to recognize and protect the ownership of indigenous seeds and plant varieties, their genetic and diverse characteristics, and their use by the communities of Kenya. Moreover, there are initiatives to provide for an Access and Benefit-sharing (ABS) system that will allow for access and exchange of seed among communities, i.e., recognizing the importance of farmer-managed seed systems. This effort is led by the Ministry of Agriculture, Livestock, Fisheries and Co-operatives with engagement from CABE, CIP, IFPRI, and IITA, among many other actors.
This work speaks directly to at least two of Seed Equal’s End of Initiative outcomes:
- Seed system actors promote uptake of quality seed of new improved varieties derived from breeding programs by women and men farmers in selected countries.
- Government partners in public policy design and implementation actively promote policy solutions to accelerate varietal turnover, adoption, and quality seed use by women and men.
Seed Equal will continue to support this engagement in 2023. The next steps, as required by the Kenyan Constitution, are County and National stakeholder consultations, followed by a Regulatory Impact Assessment (RIA). These processes are overseen by the Sector Wide Agriculture Group (SWAG) to ensure that the draft regulations are revised to reflect concerns raised. By the end of 2023, the new Regulations for Vegetatively Propagating Seeds will have been submitted to the Attorney General’s Office for subsequent gazettement.
While a national consultation process may seem like a lengthy, tiresome means to affecting policy change, it should never be overlooked. Consultations ensure that key groups in Kenya’s agriculture sector — women and men farmers, seed companies, farmer-based seed businesses, and small-scale seed entrepreneurs, as well as national regulators, county administrators, researchers, and extension service providers — have a voice in the change process. And, when combined with effective coordination across organizations and the application of evidence-based analysis, consultative processes can lead to improved institutional architecture for seed sector policy and, ultimately, to delivering genetic gain and quality seed to farmers’ fields.
- McEwan, M.A, et al. (2021). ‘Exploring the regulatory space for improving availability, access and quality of vegetatively propagated crop seed: potato in Kenya’. CGIAR Research Program on Roots, Tubers and Bananas (RTB). RTB Working Paper no. 2021-1. Lima, Peru: International Potato Center.
- Spielman, D.J., et al. (2021). ‘Regulatory options to improve seed systems for vegetatively propagated crops in developing countries.’ IFPRI Discussion Paper 02029. Washington, DC, USA: IFPRI.
- Ayieko, M., Odame, H. and Olwande, J. (2021). ‘Strengthening seed systems and market development in Kenya: Perspectives on political economy and policy processes.’ Working paper no. 71/2021. Nairobi, Ethiopia: Tegemeo Institute of Agricultural Policy and Development at Egerton University.
Header photo: Apical cuttings production, Meru. Photo by N. Ronoh/CIP