By Aghan Daniel I *
In African agriculture, seeds play an important role in food security but may also constitute continental sources of introduction and spread of plant pests and diseases.
Variations in national standards for seed certification and quality control and in quarantine and phytosanitary measures for seed have often been cited as impediments to seed trade in these valuable inputs hence stifling the growth of the sector.
These issues dominate debates and discussions in many seed production and trade related gatherings.
One area that has however been neglected and indeed hidden in the sector is how to effectively manage their wastes, which include but are not limited to expired seeds, waste water, empty chemical containers, seed bags and expired fertilizers.
It was therefore gratifying to see this subject stirred a lot of interest from seed companies during the 20th largest gathering of seed companies in Africa organized by the African Seed Trade Association. Known as the AFSTA Annual Congress, the event, which ended on March 5, 2020 in Livingstone, Zambia, as usual brought together who is who in the seed sector from all over the world.
The delegates noted that whereas most of them are world class producers of seed, managing their wastes remained a challenge as it was mainly done by burying, burning or simply piling them within the firms’ compounds.
This could, however, soon become a thing of the past if seed companies could borrow a leaf from an approach being undertaken by the Zambian seed industry under Zambia Seed Trade Association (ZASTA).
According to ZASTA, they have delved into an initiative that deals with maize seed waste management without compromising the environment.
The initiative, which has clearly shown early signs of innovativeness, is hoped to be soon picked up by the rest of Africa, if the early signs are anything to go by.
In the words of Ms. Perrine Nkosi Kasande, a Senior Inspector of Waste Management at Zambia’s Environmental Management Authority, the seed companies are transforming their waste management in compliance with the country’s Extended Producer Responsibility law, a move that should be embraced by all seed companies in Africa so as to transform waste management.
This law, mainly referred to as EPR (Extended Producer Responsibility) Regulations came into force on 3rd August 2018. Since then, the Regulations is one of the tools that the Zambian Government relies on to manage, in an environmentally sound manner, packaging materials such as plastics and their resultant waste. The seed industry is required to register under this law. Once they do so, they are expected to present to the government a strategy on how they will manage their wastes from the seeds and the containers.
According to the Executive Secretary of the Zambia Seed Trade Association, Dr Watson Mwale, the seed companies have aligned themselves with the global approach by the seed sector in waste management starting with maize seed waste.
“Our action has been informed by the fact that we deal with processes that handle chemicals, packaging materials, expired seeds among other things. All these accumulate into huge quantities, which call for engagement with proper professional conduits that can help the Zambian seed sector to properly dispose these materials that contaminate the environment if left unattended,” added Dr Mwale.
How does the approach work? The new waste management solution starts with a seed company ordering waste collection service by a licensed and approved transporter (Geocycle), which then hauls the waste to Lafarge, a local cement manufacturer for disposal. Through Lafarge’s Cement Kiln, the hazardous waste is destroyed through co-processing, which results in the generation of heat energy with no waste or by products. Any emissions are strictly monitored by the company.
“We closely monitor the emissions coming from the burning of waste at our central control room to ensure emissions are within acceptable limits for the environment,” says Ms. Bwalya Ndhlovu, Alternative Fuel and Raw Materials Supervisor, Lafarge.
In a sector that produces an estimated 1500 tonnes of maize seed waste per year, thus far: 2,816 tonnes of expired seed, 115 tonnes of expired chemicals, 20 tonnes of seed bags, 6 tonnes of plastic containers have been co-processed by Geocycle.
The costs of disposal are estimated at around US$ 135 per tonne to treat seed waste and US$ 650 per tonne for empty containers and expired chemicals.
“We are aiming to reduce this cost through adding value to the waste through recycling,” says Andrew McNaught, the lead consultant from Tandem adding that the cost reductions are expected to be realized this year with the 2020 focus being on enabling recycling of chemically contaminated plastics (in a safe and environmentally sound way) and adding value to treated seed waste.
This initiative is being spearheaded by Syngenta Seedcare with the support of Tandem Circular Consulting to facilitate research, innovation, design and implementation on the ground. The project involves eight seed companies namely Kamano Seeds, Syngenta, Seed Co., Zamseed, Bayer, Corteva Agriscience, Klein Karoo and AFRISEED.
Like Zambia, many countries in Africa experience challenges in seed waste management as there are limited solutions and service providers for disposing complex and hazardous waste streams.
*The writer is the Communication Officer at the continental seed trade association body, The African Seed Trade Association (AFSTA)