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Monday, 17 August 2015

Ensuring quality of agricultural inputs and produce

By Bob Aston
Ensuring quality of agricultural inputs and produce as well as plant health is an important aspect of the agricultural sector in Kenya. This is a mandate that Kenya Plant Health Inspectorate Service (KEPHIS) has been carrying out in the Country since 2006 with an aim of preventing adverse impact on the economy, environment, and human health.
The government regulatory organization under the Directorate of Agriculture in the Ministry of Agriculture, Livestock, and Fisheries is providing an effective and efficient science-based regulatory service for assurance on the quality of agricultural inputs and produce thereby promoting sustainable economic growth and development.
On August 12, 2015, a group of 35 farmers drawn from various Maize Value Chain Groups (VCG’s) in Laikipia County travelled a distance of more than 180 kilometres to KEPHIS Nakuru to learn more about the organization. The Agricultural Sector Development Support Programme (ASDSP)-Laikipia supported the farmers visit.

History of KEPHIS Nakuru 

KEPHIS Nakuru is one of the regional offices through which KEPHIS offers services to the whole country. Previously, it was the Kenya Inspection Service (KIS). It then became the National Seed Quality Control Service (NSQCS) under Kenya Agricultural and Livestock Research Organization (KALRO).
The farmes holding a discussion at the KEPHIS Nakuru premises
It became a national center for seed quality control in 1979. Upon the formation of KEPHIS in 1996, NSQCS mandate became KEPHIS’s.
Mr. Charles Onyango, KEPHIS Nakuru Regional Manager noted that they serve eight counties namely Nakuru, Laikipia, Samburu, Baringo, Kericho, Bomet, Narok, and Nyandarua.
Services provided
Mr. Onyango said that they implement KEPHIS mandate in Nakuru through quality assurance, phytosanitary, training, and farmer advisory services.
Areas that the organization is involved in include: plant variety testing; administration of plant breeders rights; seed certification; post seed certification surveys; post entry plant quarantine; registration of seed merchants, seed growers, and seed sellers; inspection of import/ export plant materials; and pest and disease diagnosis.
Others include: enforcement of Bio-safety requirements jointly with National Bio-safety Authority; analysis of agricultural inputs (fertilizer, animal feed and agrochemical formulation among others; agrochemical residue analysis in agricultural produce and animal tissues; soil and irrigation water analysis for nutrient status and suitability; environmental monitoring for contaminants; trade facilitation; and training and farmer advisory.
Farmers being shown one of the sections of the Seed Testing Laboratory
“We have to advise the government and the general public on appropriate seeds and planting materials. We co-ordinate all matters relating to plant health,” said Mr. Onyango.
KEPHIS Nakuru has two (2) laboratories. The seed Testing Laboratory, was established in 1944 but moved to Nakuru in 1979. The International Seed Testing Association (ISTA) accredited the laboratory in 2002.
The accreditation has helped the organization to access the International Rules and Seed Testing and other publications as well as aiding in promoting of trade between Kenya and other Countries.
Established in April 2015, the Molecular Diagnostic Laboratory’s main objective is to diagnose the Maize Lethal Necrosis Disease (MLND) in maize seed. The lab has so far tested and reported on over 300 MLND samples. It has a potential to expand to other fields of study in the modern seed industry.
Seed certification and quality documentation
Mr. Onyango noted that that the organization lays a lot of emphasis on seed certification. This helps in enforcing government regulations, promoting agricultural trade, curbing the spread of plant diseases and plants and ensuring that inputs/produce offered for sale to farmers meet minimum government set quality standards to maximize their crop production.
He said that they do certification in accordance with Seeds and Plants Varieties Act Cap. 326. The process ensures maintained seed quality during multiplication (bulking) in the field and assures the quality of seed in sale outlets by continuous post certification monitoring.
“We only release seed varieties that will be beneficial to our farmers. Seed varieties must be tested for at least two cycles before it is released,” said Mr. Onyango.
Mr. Onyango holding a discussion with the farmers
He said that farmers should always ensure that they buy seeds from certified stockists and they should demand for seed test certificates when in doubt whether seeds are genuine. 
He added that KEPHIS and the Ministry of Agriculture, Livestock and Fisheries always address issues of fake seeds when they are informed.
“Most farmers do not usually demand for official receipts with lot numbers when they purchase seeds. This usually makes follow up difficult when seeds do not germinate. It is important to always keep the receipt until after germination,” said Mr. Onyango.
He advised farmers to avoid carry stocks-seeds remnants at the end of planting season. Respective seed companies need to re-test the viability of carry over seed lots. He said that farmers should ensure that when they buy seeds the lot numbers are genuine and KEPHIS-generated. Farmers should also avoid suspicious looking packing.
Some of the international organizations affiliated to KEPHIS include: Union for the Protection of New Varieties of Plants (UPOV); International Seed Testing Association (ISTA); Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD) for Field Seed Schemes; Codex Alimentarius Commission-Food safety; International Plant Protection Convention (IPPC); Cartegena Protocol on Biosafety–handling of GMOs; and WTO – Sanitary and Phytosanitary Agreement (WTO-SPS).
The visit also provided an opportunity for the farmers to learn about seed handling and selling, seed procurement, quality marks, and documentation, seed certification, MLND, and agronomics.
KEPHIS is an ISO 9001:2008 certified. Amidst many challenges, KEPHIS Nakuru has continued to play an important role in ensuring provision of quality agro-inputs and facilitating international trade in plants/plant produce.
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