Seed industry gears itself to feed the growing population

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The global population is growing by the minute and, according to experts, is likely to exceed 9 billion by 2050. The area on which food is produced, however, is not seeing the same growth.  The seed industry, which carries much of the responsibility, needs to tackle this challenge to ensure that enough food is produced. The South African National Seed Organization put this issue, together with others, under the radar at their 29th National Congress recently held in Pretoria.

According to the chairperson of Sansor, John Odendaal, South Africa carries the even more challenging responsibility of feeding our continent’s population, which is projected to more than double in the same time period, to over 2 billion.

The past season has been volatile for the seed industry as the 2017 planting season was variable and dry. Odendaal says that significantly less maize has been planted in the western lower rainfall parts of the country. It is also common knowledge to the industry that a lot more sunflower and soya bean crops have been planted. The net result of the reduced plantings is reflected in Sansor financials where membership fees are down by roughly 9%. Revenue from seed certification fees is down by about 3%, which is reflected in slightly less seed being certified.

Industry tackles challenges

One of the big challenges for the industry remains the management of pests and the fall army worm has been reported in all provinces of South Africa, except the Western Cape. Sansor has contributed R100 000 towards the Crop Watch Surveillance initiatives. According to Odendaal, it is suspected that this pest has been here longer than originally thought and that there are two strains, one that preferentially feeds on maize and another that feeds on rice.

Another challenge for the seed industry around the world is the illegal cleaning, treatment and sale of seed without a licence or without the permission of the owners of plant breeder’s rights (PBR). According to Odendaal, to clean and treat seed legally, one needs to be registered with the Department of Agriculture, Forestry and Fisheries (DAFF). “If one wishes to clean and treat seed, one also needs to either own the plant breeder’s rights or have a licence from the owner of the PBR to do so.”

Approximately 80% of soya bean seeds that are planted is done with retained seed, which is not illegal for own use in South Africa, but can be detrimental to the seed industry. The industry therefore implemented a royalty system. The first year of the wheat royalty system was successfully completed last year.

SA gains field in seed production

The chairperson of the Horticulture Division Committee at Sansor, David Malan noted at the congress that seed production in South Africa has continued to increase over the last couple of years. Various factors contributed to this shift to produce seed in South Africa, but the main reasons still seem to be the quality of the seed produced in the designated areas, the stability of seed production as well as our ability to stay competitive in the international market.

The horticulture division is also in discussion about the occurrence of Candidatus Liberibacter Solanacearum (LSO) that can severely affect important crops like potatoes, tomatoes, peppers, tobacco, carrots and celery. This proved to be a concern to seed production areas like France and Italy that produce carrot seed for Japan, Korea and China. Apparently all these countries have now either prohibited or limited the import of carrot seeds from Europe. As South Africa’s crops are  free from this disease, this can be beneficial to promote South Africa as a preferred carrot seed producer. South Africa will only allow carrot seed to be imported that has been produced in areas declared free from this disease or if the seed was treated with hot water.

Industry fights for exports to South Korea

Consignments of forage oats and rye produced in South Africa were rejected in South Korea during 2016 and 2017 due to the presence of the bacteria, Pseudomonas syringae. This was not detected during tests done in South Africa. Sansor liased with DAFF to request South Korea’s testing protocol as well as permission to use it in South Africa. Therefore, exports could be tested before shipment, eliminating the risk of rejection. According to the chairperson of the Forage Division Committee at Sansor, Riaan Roselt, exports have since been running smoothly. – Elmarie Helberg, AgriObrit