Virtual seed sector visit to the Netherlands by Egyptian delegation

Earlier this month a delegation of Egyptian decision makers engaged with counterparts in the Netherlands to exchange knowledge and experiences on plant variety protection, breeders’ rights and variety inspection. Originally planned as a study visit, due to COVID 19 this was transformed into a hybrid event. In Egypt, the delegation met in a meeting venue in Cairo. Dutch and international participants joined via video conferencing.

Seeds event

The meeting responded to the joint objectives of Egypt and the Netherlands to provide an enabling environment for plant breeding, seed production and seed trade to provide farmers access to improved varieties of horticultural and field corps. Egypt faces a particular challenge to produce sufficient food and agribusiness jobs for a growing population in the context of climate change and water scarcity. There is an opportunity for more seed breeding efforts focussed on the specific needs of Egyptian farmers, as well as seed production providing skilled R&D jobs. The government of Egypt has expressed its interest to attract Dutch seed companies to provide their technology and expertise to investments to strengthen the seed sector in Egypt.

Potato seed

From Trade to Investment

The Netherlands’ tradition of agri-business, entrepreneurship and innovation has led to the presence of world-class seed companies using the Netherlands as a base for global breeding and seed production programmes. Various of these companies export their seed varieties to Egypt. Some have taken steps towards local trial stations for specified breeding programmes aimed at the Egyptian market, and some are active in local production of hybrid seeds with Egyptian partners. For these companies to take further steps to move from trade to investment an effective system of plant variety protection and variety registration is essential.   

Better varieties to benefit farmers

Since 2002, there is a law on Plant Variety Protection in Egypt. In 2019, Egypt acceded to the International Convention for the Protection of New Varieties of Plants (UPOV). Currently Egypt is in the stage of implementing this new law. The situation in the Netherlands could be used as an example of how such a system works in practice. Better implementation of the Egyptian system will increase the number of applications. This will allow the introduction of better varieties in Egypt for the benefit of farmers. This bilateral study visit was followed by a virtual meeting between Egyptian delegation and UPOV Secretariat.

The private sector’s policy recommendations

During the meeting, presentations were provided about the Egyptian and Dutch systems for seed registration and plant breeders rights. Attention was also paid to inspection services for horticultural as well field crops by the inspection services NAKtuinbouw and NAK, as the Netherlands is a leader in vegetable and potato seeds. To show the Dutch breeding and seed production sector is private sector led, presentations were made by Plantum, the association of seed companies active in the Netherlands. They stressed the importance of an enabling environment to stimulate innovation for improved climate smart varieties. One particular seed company Rijk Zwaan that has moved from trade to investment presented its recommendations to make the registration and variety protection system in Egypt more business friendly.

Seed inspection

“In countries where the protection system is not working well, breeders are more reluctant to introduce their best varieties” – representative of Plantum

During the session, there were many questions comments and discussion from Egyptian participants. Private sector representatives were keen to play a part in efforts for seed production and breeding. From the public sector, there was an eagerness to learn more to develop state of the art skills and technical competence.

An important step

The meeting was an important step in strengthening relations between the Egypt and the Netherlands in the area of seed sector collaboration. This will work to identify opportunities of mutual interest and benefit for both countries. The findings and follow up actions will be shared for discussion between the Minister of Agriculture and Land Reclamations and the Netherlands Ambassador and in the technical committee meetings on agriculture between the Netherlands and Egypt.

Follow up

Both side agreed about the importance for further cooperation. This could comprise trainings in the use of the UPOV Prisma system, trainings on testing the Distinctness, Uniformity and Stability of various crops and trainings on databases and administrative issues. Two Egyptian experts will be sponsored to participate in an online course on plant breeders’ rights in Wageningen. For seed potatoes, discussions and training on tolerance levels for diseases by NAK would be useful. Finally, it was agreed that Egypt and the Netherland work together to organize a national seminar with public, private and civic stakeholders to raise awareness about the importance of plant breeders rights in Egypt. Perhaps this will create a stepping stone towards a SeedNL partnership in Egypt.