SeedAssure a complete software scheme of agile (bespoke but also regulatory compliant) field-based data collection applications that sit on an interoperable platform that can incorporate existing client programs for data and document exchange between multiple agencies all along the value chain, securely and in real-time. The applications on the platform are well-tested—over 20M successful field checks to date—and enable our customers to achieve very high levels of safety and compliance (e.g., ultralow pesticide residue levels). The systems have provided many African companies real-time decision-making capability while ensuring continuous improvement end to end in their supply chains. These systems are commodity agnostic, and can be applied to almost any agricultural commodity, and work at national, regional, and international levels and are compliant to standards, with public regulatory agencies also as clients, so very much scale-able.
All these tools enable (and require) companies to demonstrate their products meet regulatory, safety, and labelling standards for both consumption and trade. This leap in quality assurance and traceability boosts investor confidence among both local companies, who have been averse to investing in new products for fear of the regions’ notorious regulatory and trade entanglements; as well as global investors looking to procure and trade in Africa, but were wary of quality assurance. Making these investments safer with quality assurance and traceability that can be proven, traced, and accessed at any point along the value chain (or border) could very well catapult investment in Africa’s agriculture sector, boosting economic growth and food security across the region.
What’s the problem?
Access to healthy seed is recognised as critical for food security, yet a major bottleneck to a vibrant seed industry lies within the certification process. In the early 1990s, structural adjustment programs (SAPs) privatized many parastatal seed companies and opened up the seed sector to private investment in many countries, spurring a proliferation of commercial seed companies and creating a $42B global industry that has increased the choice of crops and varieties available to farmers through the formal commercial sector.
If fully deployed, the SeedAssure digital certification system will galvanize trade and investment in African seed sectors and catapult access to improved seed products to farmers across the region.
Before reaching the farmer, new varieties must go through multiple levels of production, each requiring a quality inspection, with the risk of failure (and losses) at each stage. Add to this additional trade compliance regulations if moving across borders, making certified seed production a significant investment for companies as well as farmers. Despite the SAP’s, seed quality control and certification has remained firmly in the public domain, whose capacity has not kept pace with the sector’s expansion: most African regulatory agencies are overwhelmed with the expanded private sector requests, and lack the personnel, softwares and tools to handle the such a workload, which spans large distances and is still largely paper-based, creating a slow and costly process vulnerable to inaccuracies. As a result, there is a backlog of seed inspections, misdiagnoses, inadequate technical support for quality issues, and responses to urgent national issues like fake seed and disease outbreaks is severely limited. These difficulties not only compromise quality, but create significant risk for commercial producers, dis-incentivizing new product adoption, variety turnover, and regional trade.
While setting of standards and oversight of seed certification must inherently be in the public domain, several countries have supported the privatization of inspection services to delegate the high workload. Maintaining a single, high-level professional standard and also a single platform to manage all the data to be generated by these new corps of Inspectors would be ideal for public and private sectors. Regionally, efforts such as COMESA’s adoption of the Seed Trade Harmonization Regulations to implement a Seed Certification System, which includes accreditation of laboratories; licensing and registration of seed inspectors, samplers and analysts (COMESA, 2014), but these policies need to be actualized with tools and training. Despite these positive steps, it is recognized that a wider and more cohesive effort is needed across the African seed sector to put in place systems that both enhance the capacity of the private sector to produce quality seed and the public sector to support quality seed production at a pace and scale that can match the scope of this problem.
Vision: More seed produced by fewer growers of better quality at lower cost with fewer resources.
- Solution Concept
Provision of seed inspection services by licensed third-party providers using digital data input software—SeedAssure—with Certification and oversight from regulatory agencies. SeedAssure is a digital data platform that is easy-to-use, off-the-shelf and readily integrated into multiple systems. The software employs standardized, up-to-date quality measures and disease monitoring modules. The platform is not a ‘reinvention of the wheel’, but indeed supports existing ‘tried and tested’ methodology used in inspection for years—it simply sets out to make the process faster, more efficient, more effective and more sustainable for all partners in the supply chain.
- How it Works:
Beginning with sales of the device, SeedAssure requires inspectors to register online and subscribe to the application (inspector registration can also be linked with NPPO Inspector licensing and tracking, providing another axillary benefit in Inspector corps management.) Field data is uploaded in real-time to a central cloud-based platform, and inspection records are geo-referenced and tagged to production site identifiers, with reports transmitted to stakeholders on a ‘Need’ and ‘Action’ basis. Seed companies then subscribe to an online account to access the database and their records (plus software updates and support), paying for inspection services as needed. Inspection records then are transmitted to producers and, when ready, to regulatory agencies for certification and product licensing. NPPO’s then also subscribe to the platform and train their staff on its use.
The SeedAssure platform is tailored to each country’s Seed Act requirements and Certification process, and also aligned with Regional Trade protocols, and establishes a 360-degree view of production or processing data for clients. It can also be readily integrated into other business softwares, so clients don’t have to lose previous IT investments or discontinue softwares they currently use.