State-of-the-Art Digital Microscope Positions Zambia for Increased International Seed Trade

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Wednesday, July 21, 2021
Theresa Mutiti Lab Technician Testing Seed
USAID supported Seed Trade Project

Every National Seed Authority requires state-of-the-art equipment to enable seed purity testing. In late 2020, the Zambian Seed Control and Certification Institute (SCCI) reached out to USAID-managed Feed the Future Southern Africa Seed Trade Project (Seed Trade Project) flagging their need for a modern digital microscope. In response, the Seed Trade Project awarded the Institute a US$9,000 in-kind grant to procure the digital microscope. The high-end microscope was delivered in April 2021 and followed by virtual training on its proper use and functionality on May 20, 2021.

Food safety begins early in the food chain – from the moment seed is produced through the point food reaches the family table. Zambia’s Ministry of Agriculture aims to prevent, control, and contain plant diseases, invasive pests, and weeds as a way of enhancing both national and regional agricultural production, productivity, and food security. This is done through the SCCI, which is Zambia’s National Seed Authority (NSA). But for Zambia to trade high-quality seed internationally, it must be proficient in international standards such as the Other Seed Determination (OSD) tests, which are audited by the International Seed Testing Association (ISTA). Passing those audits had become a serious challenge, though – until now.  

“SCCI had been using an obsolete microscope for OSD testing. Every time we sent results to ISTA, we were failing because we couldn’t identify the weeds in the samples,” says Mr. Bruce Chulu Simbunji, the SCCI Chief Seed Officer in charge of Testing Laboratory Services.

These failures threatened the country’s ISTA accreditation and position as Africa’s largest maize seed exporter. OSD tests are an ISTA requirement and were most recently adopted by the Southern African Development Community (SADC) Harmonized Seed Regulatory System (HSRS). As the regional policy for the production and trade of improved seed, the SADC HSRS ensures that the Member States meet certain requirements for regional seed export, and in turn, protect the food people consume and their environment. All seed must be inspected and certified, confirming it is free of foreign seeds, pests, and plant diseases, as well as anything that would prove harmful to the food chain and human consumption. 

“We are there to put controls on the quality of seed that is on the market. We don’t want junk out there. For quality control, seed testing is very vital. If a test fails, the poor seed won’t be released on the market, and this is a good thing for farmers who want to make something at the end of the day,” says Ms. Theresa Mutiti, SCCI Senior Seed Analyst. With this new equipment, SCCI can meet expectations for quality seed control. “This is a modern digital microscope used in almost all ISTA accredited labs around the world. With it, SCCI has improved our ability to identify foreign bodies in ISTA samples (during audits). Purity testing will now be done accordingly because we have the necessary equipment,” stated Mr. Simbunji. “Further, with this new digital microscope, we can now see even the tiniest weed – this wasn’t possible with the previous microscope.” 

Since its beginning, the Seed Trade Project has supported the SCCI in several other ways. In 2019, the Project installed a modern cold storage facility following a 2015 fire that destroyed the much smaller original facility. The new facility, equipped with a modern cooling system, can store up to 10,000 reference seeds for all 16 SADC Member States. The Project also supported SCCI with the installation of Zambia’s Online Seed Certification System, the Seed Lab, moving the Institute from paper-based to online service delivery for over sixty thousand clients. All these efforts contribute to the safe production and trade of seed across the SADC region, ultimately leading to increased food production, trade, and, ultimately, food security.

About the Seed Trade Project

The Feed the Future Southern Africa Seed Trade Project is funded by the USAID Southern Africa Regional Mission, and implemented by DAI Global, LLC, from December 2015 to December 2021. The primary goal of the Project is to improve the availability of and access to high-quality seed in the Southern African Development Community (SADC) countries. It is designed to support SADC and Member States’ leadership by providing the necessary technical assistance for harmonizing policies and regulations governing seed trade in the region. The work facilitates seed trade across the region, integrating small and isolated national seed markets into one larger SADC-wide market trading high-quality seeds.

 

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Last updated: August 31, 2021

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