The Malawian government has bowed to pressure to recognise the importance of locally grown crop seed alongside commercially produced varieties.
It is still unclear what impact the development will have on the Common Market for Eastern and Southern Africa’s (COMESA) harmonisation of national seed laws.
Non-governmental organisations fiercely lobbied to oppose the exclusion of indigenous seed varieties in the upcoming revision of the country’s 20-year old policy and law on seed.
“Focusing only on commercially produced seed varieties will not address Malawi’s food security needs,” local media quoted Herbet Mwalukomo, programme director of one of the NGOs that petitioned government.
Mwalukomo said excluding indigenous seed will marginalise the majority of Malawi’s rural farming population who rely on it.
Many farmers also say traditional crop seed, rather than newer varieties, are more accessible and cheaper. Additionally, the local seed is better suited for local conditions and can yield better harvests in the face of climate change.
Most farmers in Malawi obtain seed through an informal system where they exchange seed from their own fields. The formal system consists of local and multinational seed companies, with their own breeding and distribution systems.
Government officials say the original draft policy focused exclusively on the formal seed system because it had scientifically traceable genetic sources, making it easier to control.
It is unclear whether Malawi’s recognition of local seed will conflict with COMESA protocols.