Review of evolving seed policy in Southeast Asia

We are looking for an MSc student interested in the assignment described below. The work can be framed as an internship or serve an MSc thesis – carried out as desk-research under supervision of Alliance Biodiversity, Laos and Conny Almekinders (KTI).


The Greater Mekong Subregion (GMS) is a contiguous area in Southeast Asia based on the watershed of the Mekong/Lancang river. The area is often considered to include 6 countries: Lao PDR, Cambodia, Vietnam, Thailand, Myanmar, and the Southern provinces of China. The area includes large land borders, shared agroecological zones and farming systems, and increasing economic integration through trade deals / blocs, with the legal landscape just as complex as the geography.

Seed law is rapidly changing. Several countries have recently passed new laws (Vietnam 2019, Laos 2020, Cambodia – draft circulated), while others have updated existing regulations. These very closely interacting countries lack common policy for seed regulation, varietal registration & exchange, and phytosanitary rules. In addition, mixed membership in international treaties and conventions with implications for seed further complicates the picture (see Figure 1).

membership in 8 key regional treaties.png

Fig. 1. Membership in 8 key regional treaties and initiatives with implications for seed with one or more members in the GMS.

In 2018, FAO set out to clarify the status of seed legislation, and via a questionnaire sent to seed policy actors generated a report on the ‘Status of seed legislation and policies in the Asia-Pacific region’ (2020). Though a useful overview, it relies heavily on volunteered information from third party sources such as the ‘Access to seeds index’, stops short of listing or scrutinizing the policy documents themselves, misses some key regional initiatives, and has some other notable gaps (for example no responses from India or Lao PDR).

To better understand the seed policy environment in SEA, we plan to undertake an analysis of seed regulations focusing on the countries of the GMS.

Our interest

The major issue we are interested in is the legality of the informal seed sector for vegetatively propagated crops (VPCs), and how its status may hamper seed interventions/businesses. This is important because unlike grain crops, these are not propagated by true seed, but rather by clonal material.

The seed systems of major crops in SEA like cassava, banana, sweet potato, and potato are highly international. These are some of the most important economic crops in the entire region, but there is no current harmonization in seed law (working group of ASEAN has not made much progress). Increasingly international value chains & worsening disease scenarios force us to propose seed system innovations without clarity on regulations in each country, seed classes, testing requirements, legality of small-scale and farmer-multiplier seed models, etc…

Our hypothesis is that the major driver of seed legislation change in the region is not usually suitability to purpose or farmer needs, but acquiescence to membership requirements for fast-evolving trade blocs such as ASEAN, TPP, and most recently RECP. This is both a threat and an opportunity – but has been essentially neglected in other recent work on seed policy, for example in Vietnam.

In addition, VPCs are usually not well-represented where rules were really developed first and foremost for grains, i.e. rice & protecting grain seed business interests.

We propose to use 2-3 realistic cases to test against the existing legal frameworks (ref. the seed business cases from Delaquis et al. forthcoming).

Additional information

A list of documents to be consulted exists, and 90% of them are available, already collected and translated to English (including the recent documents for Vietnam and Lao PDR).

The major task for the consultant/student is validation of the list of laws, reading & extracting information from the current legislation from the 5 countries, and likewise searching the 4-5 implicated trade deals for mention of seed trade rules. Estimated time required: 2-3 months including some writing up, depending on the depth of information to be extracted.

We consider that the student does not need specific experience with policy analysis. It does however require a good knowledge of English, and interest in the topic in order to pull out definitions, sections on farmer rights & IP, seed trade rules, etc. This shouldn’t require a trained legal mind – just a diligent one.

Tasks for student/consultant:

1)     Review for completeness and update the lists of legal documents and international group memberships of the 6 countries in the GMS (these lists are already quite complete and available upon request).

2)     Use these lists to create seed policy timelines for each country.

3)     Extract key information from the current seed laws into an excel framework with the definitions used for key elements (e.g. seed, variety, etc.) and other key data describing the legal framework (e.g. seed categories recognized, integration of farmers’ rights), penalties in place for violation, and other key information.

4)     Prepare a written synthesis of the findings for discussion and elaboration with supervisors.