b'SINCE YOU ASKEDBY: NIELS LOUWAARSSUSTAINABLE SEED SYSTEMS,A BASIS FOR UNFSS!T he whole world is discussing theWhat remains are farmers and pri- because they realise that breeding is in sustainability of food systems in thevate seed systems. These too have lim- their own interest!run up to the United Nations Fooditations. According to FAO studies, aSo, when speaking of sustainable Systems Summit (UNFSS) in Septembersignificant percentage of farmers is unableseed systems in terms of seed security for 2021. It is good to look at the whole foodto save seed for technical or economic rea- the diversity of farmers, we must admit chain as a system where the weakest linksons and rely on local grain markets thatthat also both farmers and commercial defines its strength. As the system startsthey use as seed. Farmers seed supplyseed systems have their limitations. This with seeds, the question arises what areis also strongly anticyclic: after a goodmeans that there is a need for particularly sustainable seed systems? In my view,season with dry harvesting conditions,government and NGOs, but at times also these are systems that over time secureeverybody has seeds; after a poor season,private sector, to reduce limitations in the the availability of affordable seeds thatfarmers neither have seed themselves, norfarmers seed systems that will remain can yield acceptable quantities of pre- their neighbours upon whom they wouldessential for so many. We cannot say that ferred product quality. commonly rely. Furthermore, there arethe private sector will resolve all the seed How to do this? The UNFSS willchallenges with the landracesonce con- issues as soon as policy hurdles are broken speak about a diversity of seed systemssidered perfectly adapted to the conditionsdown. Increasing sustainability of farm-that farmers use in different parts of thewhere they evolved inbut the diversityers seed systems could be done through world and how these affect Food Systems.embedded in those landraces is not likelycommunity seed banks, public and par-By identifying the main operators into keep up, now that climate change andticipatory breeding, and supporting sci-these seed systems, we can analyse theirurbanisation occur at an advanced pace.entifically bred varieties to be included in performance in terms of sustainability. This does not mean that farmers seed sys- farmers seed systems. The private sector The public seed multiplicationtems are irrelevant, but we cannot countcould also play a role by sharing its knowl-and distribution systems that sprungon romantic ideas about the 10,000 yearsedge about seed conditioning and allowing up during the second half of the Greenthat we have all depended on such sys- its varieties to be shared in near-subsist-Revolution under the leadership oftems. Those 10,000 years had both periodsence farming systems.the FAO and World Bank in the Globalof prosperity and massive hunger. Government also has a role to play South appeared utterly unsustainable.Private seed systems are effectivein making private seed systems more Enormous investments in governmentand sustainable provided: a) the marketssustainable, mainly through appropriate farms, contract growing schemes, seedthat provide the funds to continue themregulation of seeds and the protection of conditioning plants and distribution net- to operate last, b) sufficient competitionvarieties, and by public-private partner-works have supported the disseminationto secure innovation and c) a reasonableships in breeding research. of Green Revolution varieties but provedprice can be charged. This means thatThe private sector must admit that economically unsustainable. Almost allalso these systems have their limitations,it cannot provide all types of seeds to all have been sold off, privatized, or other- i.e., they operate well for commercial seedfarmers and that policy space is needed wise dwindled into oblivion. NGO seedproducts like vegetable and hybrid maizefor them. Policies must make sure that provision systems, notably in (post-)seeds but are unable to supply small- the different seed systems can operate emergency situations, perform poorlyholder food security crops like cowpea,side by side. From a farmers point of view, with regard to the quality and timelyfingermillet and many others. This prob- obtaining different seeds from a diversity supply of seeds, and the adaptation oflem is much less in more market-orientedof sources is the only way for the seed varieties to the needs of disaster-struckfarming systems where farmers can pay,system to be sustainable.farmers. Finally, the addiction of aidnot only for the seed production costs, but organisations to continue supply afteralso for companies to invest in breeding.Niels Louwaars is the Managing the actual disaster has shown to kill localIn The Netherlands, farmers are in fullDirector at Plantum. This article does seed initiatives by communities and pri- agreement on the obligation to pay thenot necessarily reflect the views of all vate investors.breeder for the use of farm-saved seedPlantum members.52IEUROPEAN SEEDIEUROPEAN-SEED.COM'