Developing a national seed strategy for Iraq

Ineffective seed legislation and strategies are perceived as one of the most significant barriers to improving food security and agricultural production in Iraq. Reforms are desperately needed to establish standards related to the production, registration, and dissemination of seeds – thereby improving the limited access that farmers currently have to improved varieties. 

Improved varieties of seed are a key component of efforts to strengthen food security and raise productivity in Iraq: they can raise yields, resist disease, and tolerate debilitating conditions such as salinization and drought.

Although Iraq’s Ministry of Agriculture recognizes the importance of improved seed, its efforts to enhance distribution and strengthen farmer access are undermined by an ineffective regulatory and policy regime. Faced with enormous capacity constraints, how should Iraq’s government reform the country’s seed sector and directly place improved seeds in the hands of smallholder farmers?   

Support from HSAD partners

HSAD partners are working with Ministry officials to identify policy and regulatory constraints and initiate an appropriate reform and legislative agenda that is capable of effectively raising the productive capacity of Iraq’s agricultural sector. A new seed law and national seed strategy are the key focus of these efforts. 

An ambitious capacity building program is equipping Iraqi officials with the knowledge and skills to develop a national seed strategy that fundamentally tackles current inefficiencies. ICARDA – the HSAD initiative’s lead partner – is playing a supporting role through this whole process, recommending the changes necessary to revitalize the country’s under-performing seed sector.        

Elements of reform

The comprehensive list of required reforms is lengthy – but not insurmountable. ICARDA offers a practical reform agenda that addresses all relevant aspects of a national seed strategy, incorporating distribution, regulatory frameworks, public investment, and private enterprise. Reforms should:               

  • Establish procedures for seed certification which establish standards for resistant, high-yielding varieties of seed, helping to build trust and ensure high adoption rates among Iraq’s farmers
  • Create an appropriate regulatory framework that offers clear and transparent regulations, rules, and laws to promote competition, enterprise, and incentives for innovations, economies of scale and the general development of the seed sector
  • Consider the right balance of subsidies – ‘smart subsidies’ that are short-term with a clearly defined life-span are less likely to encourage dependence, disrupt markets, or place a heavy financial burden on governments     
  • Establish responsibilities, develop enforcement mechanisms, and devote sufficient financial and human resources to ensure that seed policies are applied effectively  
  • Acknowledge the existence of informal seed sectors and support their shift to formal systems where any seeds produced are certified by a body recognized by government
  • Avoid government monopolizing the domestic production and procurement of seed which can deflate prices, reduce effective demand, and disrupt local seed markets
  • Ensure that seed production and marketing systems operate efficiently – policies need to ensure that all segments of a seed system are adapted to local conditions and reflect economic realities. Breeding programs should emphasize crops which offer agro-ecological and economic comparative advantages and can help to secure food security
  • Promote the private sector to carry out the production of quality seed in a cost-effective way
  • Open the domestic market to import certified seeds from other countries and ensure that the domestic agricultural sector is always supplied with sufficient quantities of quality seed
  • Invest in national seed systems to ensure the effective production, distribution, and marketing of certified seed. Failure to do so could result in a suboptimal infrastructure that provides farmers with only limited access to public and private sector breeding and trading of high-yielding seeds
  • Encourage the formation and strengthening of seed associations which can facilitate effective coordination with government and identify bottlenecks that need to be improved by market mechanisms or government interventions
  • Given that certified seed does not by itself generate higher yields, the development of effective extension services is needed to facilitate farmer access to other inputs such as fertilizers, pesticides, irrigation and practices such as crop rotation. Training, equipment and staffing is needed to provide farmers with the right combination of skill and expertise
  • Establish a seed quality assurance service such as mandatory certification, labeling, accreditation, or authorization systems to control production. The FAO’s ‘Quality Declared Seed Production System’ offers a good template which takes a light approach to regulation but still ensures quality. 
  • Consider contingency emergency plans to ensure the availability of a diverse stock of high quality seeds when short or long-term crises threaten food security and safety. Mechanisms are also needed to help countries cope with climate change: stocks of strategic foodstuffs; reserves of proven breeder seeds; or early warning systems.               

 

As the HSAD initiative moves forward over the coming months, the initiative’s partners will work alongside Iraqi officials to implement reforms and create an all-encompassing national strategy that fundamentally tackles the constraints that farmers face accessing quality seed. The result will be improved productivity for Iraq’s smallholder farmers and strengthened food and nutritional security for the country’s consumers.