Thursday, October 24, 2019

SAARC member states agree to institutionalize Seed without Borders

The member states of the South Asian Association for Regional Cooperation (SAARC) has made the decision to develop a permanent framework and mechanism for the Seeds Without Borders initiative during their Regional Consultative Meeting during 3-5 September 2019 in Kathmandu, Nepal.

The meeting, entitled “Seeds without Borders in South Asia” and organized by the SAARC Agriculture Center (SAC) and International Rice Research Institute (IRRI), has identified the multi-country seed sharing agreement as an important component of regional food and nutrition security, and is a key contributor to the mitigation of the adverse effects of climate change on agriculture. 

Over the course of the meeting, the SAARC member states agreed on several recommendations, including that Seeds Without Borders will be the fast-track mechanism for bilateral seed and information sharing; that the SAARC Agricultural Center (SAC) will be the coordinating body and the SAARC Seed Bank will facilitate the seed exchange; that all SAARC member states will be requested to join the initiative and recommend nodal institutions and individuals; and that members will identify potential and popular crop varieties and provide detailed information to be shared on the SAC web portal.

The chief guest of the meeting, honorable Nepal Minister of Agriculture and Livestock Development (MOALD) Chakrapani Khanal, mentioned that Nepal is one of the founding members of SAARC, and the association was founded more than 30 years ago to foster regional cooperation. He liked the idea of fast-tracking the process of variety testing and release, and said that there is no point repeating the same process in another country with similar agro-climatic conditions. “This will greatly save time and money,“ the minister said. “SAARC member states should always work together for the benefit of the people of this region. These kinds of initiatives and agreements will be of great help to farmers in South Asia and beyond. I am delighted that SAC and IRRI are working together with SAARC member states to identify a permanent functional mechanism for the Seeds without Borders framework.”

Speaking from the Chair, MOALD Secretary Dr. Yubak Dhoj GC mentioned that SAARC countries are home to 21% of the world population. “In our region, we have less competition between countries, but we have a lot to share and complement with each other,” he said. “No country, big or small, is self-sufficient in plant genetic resources. Crop varieties are informally crossing country borders, and I believe that Seeds Without Borders can make systematic what is already happening in the region. We need to open up and make our seed systems more flexible and responsive to address emerging demand in the changing context.”

SAARC Director Ishrat Jahan highlighted that this framework will ensure a simpler and smoother exchange of improved seed varieties. “Seed security is food security,” she said. “ SAARC member states need to work together more efficiently to achieve food and nutritional security for all, especially in the face of changing climatic conditions.”

Dr. Krishna Dev Joshi, IRRI Country Representative for Nepal, emphasized that it was time to review the major achievement and gaps of Seeds without Borders in all SAARC member states. “Fast tracking variety testing, release, seed production, and seed delivery can greatly contribute to achieving food and national security and contributing to achieving Sustainable Development Goals,” he said. “The institutionalization of the initiative is fundamental to achieving SDGs for the SAARC region.”

High-level delegates, led by the Joint Secretaries of Afghanistan, Bangladesh, Bhutan, India, Maldives, Nepal, and Sri Lanka, participated in the meeting. They presented the views of their respective countries while the presentation by Pakistan was made by pre-recorded video. Other participants included Bioversity International, The Asian Development Bank, Nepal Agricultural Research Council, and agriculture experts from across the region.

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