In preparation for the 2021/22 cropping season, the SADC Secretariat convened a virtual meeting of the Technical Committee of Directors of Crop Production on 22-24 November, 2021. The committee is responsible for regular review and monitoring of regional instruments guiding the crop sector.
The Technical Committee addressed a number of topics including enhancing domestication and implementation of the Regional Crop Development Programme and the implementation of the SADC Plant Genetic Resource Centre programmes and projects.
The meeting discussed progress and updates on the implementation of the Regional Crop Development Programme (2019) by Member States, SADC Secretariat and partners; and Assessment of regional preparedness for the cropping season 2021/22 by all parties participating. It reviewed and validated draft regional instruments and frameworks for enhanced attainment of priorities outlined in the Regional Crop Development Programme (RCDP) (plant genetic resources issues, fertilizer and irrigation).
The Committee noted that in view of the prediction of good rains in most parts of the Region by the Southern Africa Regional Climate Outlook Forum (SARCOF) in August 2021, Member States should prepare for a possibility of flooding and cyclones. Furthermore, the predicted weather forecast also provides a conducive environment for breeding of locusts and other transboundary pests and diseases, calling for enhanced monitoring and surveillance.
Reports from Member States indicate significant levels of preparedness for the upcoming cropping season, including availability of subsidy programmes that promote access to inputs for smallholder farmers. Member States also reported reduced impacts and incidences of plant pests and disease as a result of capacity building support provided by the SADC Secretariat and partners. For instance, the European Union funded Support to the Operationalisation of the SADC Regional Agriculture Policy (STOSAR) project has facilitated training of officers from Member States in the management of key plant pests and provided equipment to support surveillance and monitoring.
The support provided has also enhanced timely reporting and implementation of control interventions. In addition, the Member States have improved communication among themselves through either bilateral and multilateral arrangements in the fight against the problematic transboundary plant pests and diseases. This common understanding to work together has further minimised the impact of fall armyworm, tomato leaf miner (Tuta absoluta), maize lethal necrosis disease and Fusarium wilt TR4 (Foc TR4) diseases that pose a serious threat to the regional food security and trade.
The Committee also noted the need to strengthen coordination with other sectors such as the private sector, academia, research and other ministries as the crop sector is not only about production and productivity but also includes issues of market access and value addition and agro-processing. In the quest to address cross-sectoral coordination challenges, a matrix of stakeholders to be engaged both at national and regional level was developed.
The RCDP recognised the need for the Region to address climate change through promoting climate smart agriculture and resilience to the harsh weather patterns not favourable to crop production. Among the areas given priority and regional attention is the increase of area under irrigation.
The Committee noted that the SADC Secretariat is in the process to engage a consultant to develop a regional irrigation policy framework. The policy will not only facilitate the increase in the area under irrigation but also promote coordination for all water sector players. The committee noted that the initiative resonates well with Member States' ongoing efforts and aspirations to improve the area under irrigation for crop production.
The Committee also noted that SADC Secretariat is currently in the process of developing the regional fertilizer framework in collaboration with the UN Food and Agriculture Organisation (FAO). The proposed framework will promote efficient and improvement in the use of fertilizers as most Member States are using far below recommended application rates and SADC Member States, except South Africa, lag behind in fertilizer use when compared with other regions.
One of the key challenges of fertilizer use in Southern Africa is that Member States are at different stages in the development and implementation of the fertilizer policies and regulatory frameworks. The situation creates difficulties in regional trade and affects free movement of fertilizer across borders. The framework will, therefore, contribute to the smooth regional fertilizer trade and creation of sustainable fertilizer markets in the Region.
The Committee recommended the speedy finalisation of the framework to ensure improved access and availability of inputs in the Region.
The Technical Committee meeting of Directors of Crops considered updates from the SADC Plant Genetic Resource Centre based in Lusaka, Zambia, on the implementation of its programmes geared towards crop sector development. In this regard, the Committee reviewed and validated the SADC Gene Bank Standard Operating Procedures (SOPs) which were developed as a recommendation from the external audit of the SADC Secretariat, the Board of Auditors, after noting that the SPGRC and its network was operating without any SOPs. The Procedures will therefore, serve as guidance in the day-to-day running of the SPGRC.
The Committee also reviewed and validated guidelines for establishing community gene banks to help guide National Plant Genetic Resource Centres (NPGRCs) in establishing community-based gene banks in an effort to strengthen collection and preservation of national gene pools.