Wageningen University & Research works with international partners to guide seed sector transformation in Africa. With the UN Food Systems Summit and other important global gatherings upcoming, 2021 is an opportune moment for collaborative sharing and learning.
Together with partners, WUR researchers are organising a three-day online interactive conference that will explore durable solutions for persistent problems and help guide seed sector transformation for food security, nutrition and healthy diets; inclusive and equitable economic development; and environmental sustainability.
The online conference will bring together researchers, practitioners, companies and policy-makers to discuss, test, debate and challenge the latest insights and innovations, as well as try to identify opportunities to overcome remaining persistent bottlenecks. Given the COVID-19 situation around the world, a critical challenge for seed sectors in its own right, the entire conference will be online, organised as a programme of interactive ‘drop-in and drop-out’ webinars.
The UN Food System Summit gives encouragement and momentum to identify and frame game-changing innovations to enable food system transformation. Experts from Wageningen Centre for Development Innovation (WCDI) contribute to food systems transformation on a number of complementary fronts, but a major element of this work is on ‘guiding sector transformation’. Walter de Boef, senior advisor at WUR, is leading a multi-partner team of researchers framing sector transformation as a more actionable and practical entry point for wider food systems change.
De Boef: "We are at an important moment in the development, or transformation, of the seed sector in various African countries. Like other agri-food sectors, the seed sector and all its players need to think of the bigger picture. How does our work align with and contribute to desired food systems outcomes? And for practitioners, what systems leadership is required to align these efforts? By organising this conference, we want to give space for dialogue and real critical thinking about the wider implications of our collective seed sector work. In doing so, we want to equip conference attendees with the insights they need to contribute meaningfully in the events around the Food Systems Summit".
The seed team of WCDI lead multiple programmes engaged in seed sector transformation in Africa. The programmes on Integrated Seed Sector Development (ISSD) in Ethiopia and Uganda have facilitated immense change in their national seed sectors over the last decade. Alongside a portfolio of courses and advisory services, the WCDI seed team also coordinates the ISSD Africa Community of Practice (CoP); a network of leading organisations working to address critical seed sector bottlenecks of continental importance.
With ISSD Ethiopia and ISSD Uganda reaching conclusion and ISSD Africa approaching its mid-term, the upcoming conference gives momentum for synthesising key innovations and translating these into recommendations to support further work.
Marja Thijssen leads WCDI’s seed team. Thijssen: "This conference gives us, as well as attendees, a unique opportunity. Through our programmes and partnerships, we have learned so much about what works, what doesn’t and under what conditions. The experiences from ISSD programmes in Ethiopia and Uganda, for example, on topics including Quality Declared Seed (QDS) or supporting Local Seed Businesses (LSB), or how seed and variety promotion improved farmers’ uptake of quality seed, should really be carried into other countries and programmes. And the conference programme enables this; bringing in diverse partners who have different interests and functions across the sector, and giving them space to learn about, and challenge, these innovations. And we give momentum to these insights by linking to new programmes, both in-country and at continental level".
Shaping the future
The opportunity the conference presents has been welcomed by the range of organisations working on seed sector development in Africa. Various CGIAR partners lead sessions, also as partners within the ISSD Africa CoP. They the conference to showcase the embedding of seed system development in OneCGIAR and discuss the Community of Excellence that supports this. As well as this, the African Union Commission (AUC) seizes the moment to launch the African Seed & Biotechnology Partnership (ASBP) Platform and associated working groups. Gareth Borman, ISSD Ethiopia Coordinator and ISSD Africa Topic Lead is on the new platform’s Steering Committee.
Borman: "During the conference we share lessons from the innovations and experiences of on-going and concluding programmes and look to the ambitions of One CGIAR and the ASBP Platform. This gives attendees the chance to help shape the plans and policies that will guide seed sector transformation for the coming decade or longer. The programme of the conference, as well as the range of contributing partners, is wide enough to capture the various priorities that different stakeholders have. And these will be well represented in the upcoming ASBP Platform. We are happy that attendees will have the chance to be part of this important moment".
The conference programme is currently being finalised. Organisers are keen to emphasise that as the conference is online; there are no limits to participation and contact is welcome for additional contributors.