Seed World

Ensuring Continuous Breeding and Innovation in South Africa, A 5-Year Review

With an increase in disease pressure and climate change around the globe its important to ensure farmers have access to the most appropriate varieties for local challenges. Self-pollinating crops can be saved after harvesting from one season to the next season. This is common practice in South Africa where approximately 65% of wheat and 80% of soybeans are produced from farm-saved seed. For this reason, seed and technology companies are hesitant to invest in new variety and technology development, as their return on investment is ineffectual. To ensure that farmers continue to receive the newest technology, the South African Cultivar and Technology Agency (SACTA) was established. The main purpose of SACTA, is to collect and distribute statutory levies for breeding and technology that have been imposed on specific self-pollinated crops.

Wheat and barley were the first two crops on which a levy was imposed, followed by oats and soybeans. The average rate of levy collections on the most important crops is >90% at a total cost of about 5.5% of gross income. It is clear that, South African farmers and seed companies can collaborate to ensure food security as well as enhanced varieties for improved agriculture in South Africa.

Breeding, testing, and the introduction of new varieties is a process that takes several seasons to complete. South Africa is fortunate to still have local breeding programmes, where unique, adapted varieties can be developed and marketed. Although these programmes are local, they make use of genetic material licensed from companies abroad. The breeding and technology levy system provides a means of incentivizing the companies who make their lines available for breeding purposes.

One of the conditions of having statutory levies is that at least 20% of the levies collected have to be allocated to suitable transformation projects such as, the upliftment of emerging farmers. For rendering the administration service SACTA is allowed a facilitation fee that does not exceed 10% of the total levies collected. The remaining portion, which is the bulk of the levy, has to be distributed to qualifying seed breeding companies according to their respective market shares. The market share of each participating company is determined by means of agreed formulae in respect of each crop.

As a result of the SACTA levy, soybean producers are now finally able to access newer soybean technologies (INTACTA Roundup Ready2 Pro®) that is already available to several countries. South African producers should have access to the same technologies and possible advantages these technologies may bring as their international counterparts.

New alliances have been entered into with regards to wheat breeding programmes, which will further enhance the need for high yielding wheat varieties. A local seed company entered into an agreement with NAIB (National Institute of Agricultural Botany) in the UK, to collaborate in a project aimed at overcoming yield limiting factors in SA, using modern breeding techniques.

Another South African seed company has also applied to be a collaborator in wheat breeding programmes at The Agricultural Research Council in Australia. This research project is aimed at developing wheat genetic material by using modern breeding techniques to breed wheat varieties that can overcome production stress situations. This work will be done on existing South African wheat plant material. To participate in projects such as this, a substantial financial contribution has to be made which would not have been possible without the current breeding and technology levy.

The existence of SACTA and the system of a breeding and technology levy has brought a level of surety that we in South Africa, have an effective system whereby seed breeding companies can be remunerated for their investments in bringing new varieties to the market. This system should be supported and maintained as it is highly effective and unique in ensuring genetic advancement of self-pollinated crops in agriculture.