Seed Potato Certification and the work of the UNECE

posted in: Seed Certification
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Dr Stephen Ogden, Secretary, New Zealand Seed Potato Certification Authority


The New Zealand potato industry has operated a seed potato certification scheme for 90 years.  In that time yields have increased from 14 tonnes per hectare, to an average of 51 tonnes.  The scheme must continue to adapt, innovate, and respond to grower needs, and to do this we need to look outwards and see what the rest of the world is doing in seed potato certification.  Amongst our wide network of contacts and interactions, Potatoes New Zealand is an active participant in the work of the UNECE Specialized Section on Standardization of Seed Potatoes.


So what is the UNECE? 

The United Nations Economic Commission for Europe is one of five regional economic commissions operating under the United Nations, and the most active in the area of agricultural quality standards.  The UNECE was established in 1947 to encourage economic cooperation and development in post-war Europe.  UNECE includes 56 member States in Europe, North America and Asia, but all United Nations member States can participate in the work of UNECE, and over 70 international professional organizations and other non-governmental organizations take part in UNECE activities.

Above – Palais des Nations (the Palace of Nations), Geneva



The Specialized Section on Standardization of Seed Potatoes

The UNECE Specialized Section on Standardization of Seed Potatoes has the aim of facilitating fair international trade by creating a harmonized commercial quality certification system, and harmonized quality requirements for seed potatoes.  Participants in this work are a group of experts who are actively involved in operating seed potato certification systems in their own countries at a senior level.


As you would expect, the group has strong representation from European countries, but also from the USA and Canada.  In the last six years, representatives of the New Zealand, South African, and Australian seed potato certification schemes have become increasingly involved in the Specialized Section.  This has had a positive impact on the work of the group, bringing fresh perspectives and encouraging the group to adopt a more international focus.


The UNECE Standard on seed potatoes sets out the minimum standards for quality of seed potatoes, including classifications, inspection and sampling, tolerances, packaging, and labelling.  The Standard is constantly reviewed and any changes go through a rigorous approval process.


To help certification authorities to implement the Standard (and their own schemes), the Specialized Section has developed a series of guides.  These are not part of the standard, but provide advice on how to apply the standard.  These include the “UNECE Guide to Seed Potato Diseases, Pests and Defects” (and a disease app), the “UNECE Guide to Seed Potato Field Inspection”, the “UNECE Guide to Seed Potato Tuber Inspection” and the “UNECE Guide to Operating a Seed Potato Certification Service”.


Below – Some of the UNECE seed potato publications



The Section also reviews virus testing methods, emerging pests and diseases, developments in true seed production, standards for mini-tuber and tissue culture facilities, and standards for sampling and inspection.  As a part of the United Nations System, the Specialized Section also contributes to capacity development and the Sustainable Development Goals.


Insert the SDG poster?


Why be part of this group?

The work of the group is described above.  All of the work is voluntary, members of the group take on additional work that is over and above their day to day jobs.  Without willing participation, the work of the Specialized Section would not get done.  I am convinced that the willingness of the Southern Hemisphere participants to be involved has reinvigorated the work programme.


But as well as the formal work programme, at every meeting there are present 15-25 of the most experienced and knowledgeable seed potato certification experts from around the globe.  This provides a unique opportunity for us to learn about new methods, developments, challenges and practices both during the meeting and afterwards.


As CEO Chris Claridge put it at a recent Seed Potato Certification Authority meeting, Potatoes NZ values participation in this forum and others like it as they demonstrate that the NZ Seed Potato Certification Scheme is on a par with international standards, gives access to latest knowledge and trends, supports the status of seed from which export potatoes are grown, will add to industry confidence, and enhance the status of the NZ potato industry as a desirable industry for investment.