- Theme One—Extending Seed Market Frontiers: Regulatory systems often dictate who can sell what seed and in which markets. These aspects are typically governed through measures such as registration of seed dealers and functions, which sometimes include venues. Governments may also restrict the sale of seed to registered entities selling formally certified seed, leaving smaller farmers outside of recognized market channels. These regulatory aspects of “seed market frontiers” will directly impact whether farmers can access seed of the right quality and variety at the right price to increase on-farm productivity. Flexibility in who can sell seed (seed producers, vendors, and dealers) and in which market locations can be particularly important for the informal seed sector. Innovations such as the seed clubs in Vietnam  that have enabled community-based seed schemes have been particularly helpful in extending seed market frontiers for farmers and have strengthened quality control through local government participation and support as well. In addition, flexibility in the rules and guidelines governing seed variety registration and release and plant variety protection (PVP) and plant breeders’ rights (PBR) will have a longer-term impact on access, availability, and affordability of seed.
- Theme Two–Liberalizing Seed Quality Control Mechanisms: Reliable seed quality is a shared concern across seed systems, and many regulatory systems are designed to monitor the quality of seeds before they reach the market. Different approaches have emerged to balance policymakers’ interest in guaranteeing the quality of seed in the market while encouraging market entry for high quality traditional varieties. These can include systems that blend formal seed certification with more flexible models (including quality declared seed (QDS), self-certification, and truth-in-labeling approaches) and those in which the certification process has been fully or partly privatized (including authorization of private seed inspectors).
2. Materials and Methods
3. Results—Thematic Area: Extending Seed Market Frontiers
3.1. Regulatory Aspects of Extending Seed Market Frontiers
3.2. Flexible Regulatory Approaches to Registration of Seed Actors and Venues
3.3. Flexible Regulatory Approaches to Seed Variety Registration
3.4. Flexible Regulatory Approaches to Plant Variety Protection
3.5. Key Findings: Regulatory Approaches for Extending Market Frontiers
- Adopting flexible approaches for the registration of seed actors and crop varieties can allow for the inclusion of informal seed actors—and local or traditional seed varieties—in the market. Registration of seed sector actors is often a regulatory gateway to other activities, such as legally selling seed in the market, and rules and regulations in this area have a particularly significant impact on farmers.
- If countries do choose to require registration of seed sector actors, different regulatory options exist. These range from registration requirements that explicitly differentiate between informal and formal actors (India’s system draws this distinction, for example) to more flexible approaches to registration with exemptions for small farmers selling certain types of seed (examples include Peru, Brazil, Myanmar, Tanzania, and Vietnam).
- Some countries also maintain flexible approaches to crop variety registration and release, including registration of farmers’ varieties [20,40], as illustrated by the cases of Peru , Brazil, Benin, and other countries. These can include differentiated variety registration procedures with reduced testing requirements (Benin, for example, only requires VCU or national performance trials for landrace varieties). Flexible approaches can also include the adoption of different seed catalogues or variety lists for local, landrace, traditional, and farmers’ varieties.
- For plant variety protection, some countries emphasize farmers’ rights and may even allow protection for traditional varieties, as illustrated by the systems of India and Peru. This regulatory element could have an impact on farmers’ ability to save, exchange, and reuse farmer-saved seed. International agreements, particularly the International Treaty for Plant Genetic Resources for Food and Agriculture, do allow some flexibility, but countries must exercise it and recognize rights for farmer-saved seed; see [9,15].
- Informal actors can also be integrated into the system through legal recognition of community and farmers’ associations and seed clubs, such as the seed clubs that have driven inclusive seed system development in Vietnam , seed village schemes in Myanmar, and seed cooperatives in Zimbabwe.
- As the Vietnam case study also highlights, sub-national government can play a critical role in registration of farmers and farmers’ associations as well as registration of crop varieties, particularly when some autonomy exists vis-à-vis the national government. As has been the case in Vietnam, local government can also facilitate quality assurance (discussed in greater detail in Section 4) through training, extension support, and even acting as a guarantor of locally produced seed. This strong connection with the local/provincial government can be particularly important for building resilience in local seed systems, which has lessons for the current COVID-19 pandemic.
4. Results—Thematic Area: Liberalizing Seed Quality Control Mechanisms
4.1. Regulatory Aspects of Liberalizing Seed Quality Control Mechanisms
4.2. Regulatory Approaches to Seed Quality Control
4.3. Mixed Quality Control Systems
4.4. Key Findings Liberalizing Seed Quality Control
- Alternative regulatory approaches and mixed regulatory systems, which combine different approaches to quality assurance, can mitigate challenges associated with formal seed certification systems, including the need for an advanced regulatory system and supporting infrastructure, heightened capacity of the public sector, and implementation gaps, among others.
- Formal seed certification processes are often viewed as cumbersome, costly, and inefficient in markets with large informal sectors and production of farmers’, landrace, or traditional varieties. Alternative mechanisms for quality assurance exist and can be better adapted to farmers’ varieties, including QDS and truth-in-labeling.
- While the benefits of QDS are still being assessed, Uganda’s use of QDS shows that it can coexist alongside a formal certification system, reducing farmers’ costs and increasing revenues .
- Public accreditation of private seed inspectors has been introduced in several countries (e.g., Peru, Zambia, Zimbabwe, and Kenya) to increase certification capacity. This is a promising model, although implementation challenges are still being reported in some systems.
- Truth-in-labeling, a quality assurance method that relies on the private sector, could be applied to a wider range of varieties if appropriate quality systems are established, including at the community level.
- Seed clubs, cooperatives, and community seed associations play a pivotal role in helping smaller farmers develop and maintain a commercial presence in the market while maintaining quality standards, as highlighted by the Vietnam and Zimbabwe case studies. In Vietnam, the local government worked with farmers to uphold standards set by the Ministry of Agriculture and Rural Development and provided essential training and extension support. This approach proved to be instrumental in both maintaining quality in the market and helping farmers bridge the divide between informal seed exchange and sale of formally certified rice varieties.
- Regulatory flexibility can also be applied through seed class definitions, and some governments have formally recognized both QDS and other seed classes such as “standard seed” that have paved the way for a wider range of quality seeds in the market. Currently, with S34D’s support, Kenya is planning to pilot implementation protocols for standard seed certification approaches for a select set of crop varieties. At the regional level, SADC contains provisions recognizing QDS as a seed class, which is a notable innovation in regional trade law. Uganda and Zimbabwe have recognized “standard seed” and “standard grade seed” as seed classes, which allows for commercialization of a broader range of varieties.
- Designing interventions to improve seed regulatory systems requires assessing and understanding the national context, including the system of national law (common law, civil law, mixed approach, etc.), the interplay between the national and sub-national government, and the relative level of development of the various seed systems in the country.
- Seed laws and regulations must be considered when designing any business models that impact seed systems in a country. This will impact long-term viability and sustainability in the market and factor into the “demand pull” needed to create long-term market development.
- Regulatory gateways link one part of the seed system to another, and these linkages (e.g., the link between seed variety registration and commercial sale) can be very important intervention points for strengthening both informal and formal seed systems. In some cases, regulatory gateways can be reduced by establishing different requirements for different types of seed in the context of the same regulatory process, such as Malaysia’s identifiability test for crop variety registration and plant breeder’s rights for farmers’, community, and traditional varieties.
- Regulatory practices at different market stages (e.g., pre-commercialization and commercialization) can also highlight important common ground. For example, the way in which QDS has developed to allow for more local commercialization of seed (see Section 4 on quality control mechanisms) could provide insight for building flexibility into crop variety registration. QDS seeds sometimes do not need to undergo formal variety registration in order to be sold in the market, but they are still subject to quality control measures before they can be commercially sold, highlighting that some regulatory considerations can be prioritized while others are treated more flexibly under certain circumstances. It is, however, important to note that QDS can also come with challenges, including limitations in crops and market and the higher costs associated with decentralized monitoring and quality assurance .
- Country ownership is an essential component of successfully introducing regulatory flexibilities or reducing regulatory gateways. In particular, the roles of local, national, and regional governments will be critical, as the case studies cited have shown. In essence, capacity building is not just about seed companies, but it also involves farmers, non-governmental bodies, and government stakeholders.
- As some examples in our study have highlighted, given the right opportunities and platforms, farmers can develop and release their own varieties, which can then be scaled up for wider market distribution.
- Local seed systems need to be strong to sustain shocks and build resilience. In designing and implementing policies, decision-makers must factor in the role that informal seed systems play in last-mile markets.
Institutional Review Board Statement
Informed Consent Statement
Data Availability Statement
Conflicts of Interest
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|Registration Approach||Country||Key Takeaways|
|Comprehensive Registration||Colombia||Strict regulatory approaches can exclude smallholder farmers and other informal actors from the system.|
|Differentiated Registration||India||Differentiated regulatory approaches establish different requirements for formal and informal actors and often provide the most flexibility.|
Flexible approaches can result in extended access to seed systems, while maintaining quality standards and registration controls.
Even when flexible, most systems impose some restrictions on venues or crop varieties that can be traded by informal actors.
|Partially Flexible Registration (Exemptions)||Peru||Other systems exempt smallholder farmers from registration under certain circumstances, generally when trading with other informal actors.|
While these do not draw as much of a distinction between formal and informal actors as the differentiated approaches, these exemptions can allow smallholder farmers and other informal actors to participate in seed systems.
|Seed Quality Control Approach||Country Examples||Key Characteristics|
|Quality Declared Seeds (QDS)||Madagascar|
|Certification of Private or Third-Party Inspectors||Zambia|
|Seed Clubs and Associations||Vietnam|
|Element||Seed Certification||Truthful Labeling|
|Type of seed||Breeder seed, foundation seed, certified seed, improved seed||Breeder seed, source seed, label seed, improved seed|
|Mandatory||Voluntary||Compulsory if certification is not done.|
|Who does the certification?||Authorized agencies (Seed Quality Control Centre (SQCC) and Regional Seed Testing Laboratory)||Seed producers|
|Procedure to follow||Procedure set through regulations; inflexible||Flexible procedure; producers can allocate available time to monitor quality|
|Who is responsible?||Certification agency is responsible.||Producers are responsible|
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