AUTOMATION IS ON THE CARDS FOR SEED CERTIFICATION AND PLANT VARIETY PROTECTION IN KENYA

By John Syekei Tuesday, February 19, 2019
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The proposed automation of Kenya’s processes for seed certification and plant variety protection is a welcome development that is expected to result in improved efficiencies and reduced cost risks for the seed industry and consumers.

The planned transition from manual to online processes has been announced by the Kenya Plant Health Inspectorate Service (KEPHIS), which regulates matters pertaining to plant protection, seeds and plant varieties. KEPHIS, instituted under the Kenya Plant Health Inspectorate Service Act, No. 54 of 2012, has established a Board to administer the Service functions for the implementation of plant variety protection, plant breeders’ rights and the maintenance of the Plant Breeders’ Rights Register in Kenya).

The Service functions are of critical importance to the local and international seed trade. The Board inspects and grades plants and plant produce at Kenyan ports of entry and exit, effectively serving as a gatekeeper. Therefore, international and local seed traders must register their varieties with KEPHIS.

Existing manual registration and licensing processes have been associated with delays, documentation errors and inefficiencies, including with security, scheduling and processing time. Aware of this, KEPHIS and Trade Mark East Africa (TMEA) have been engaging with each other and industry stakeholders on the potential for harnessing technological solutions.

This follows the technological advances implemented by the international Union for the Protection of New Varieties of Plants (UPOV) Convention. An example is the UPOV PRISMA Plant Breeding Rights (PBR) Application Tool, an online tool that enables seed traders to obtain protection for varieties in their home countries and globally. Advantages of UPOV PRISMA include its multilingual functionality, enhancing accessibility to the registration platform for plant breeders everywhere. It further streamlines and consolidates access to the various PBR application forms through its centralised database.

Kenya ratified the UPOV Convention in 2016, binding all of KEPHIS’s plant varieties practices to UPOV standards. In tandem with UPOV PRISMA, KEPHIS’s proposed automation of the certification and protection processes will establish an efficacious seed certification system to assist seed merchants with data assessment through a more secure, thoroughly documented and time-efficient approach. This will allow online seed merchant registration and certification and provide a request platform for field inspections, sampling, seed processing and payments. Further suggestions for the system include transport, import or export notifications and sale orders, input request slots for seed merchants, growers, testing and phytosanitary certificates.

Ultimately, the system will reduce the cost risks transferred from the supplier to the consumer, and increase seed trade facilitation process efficiencies. This anticipated technological value-add, which is long overdue, reflects KEPHIS’s continual commitment to upholding UPOV standards for greater productivity and is to be welcomed.