The development of the South African seed industry over 300 years is briefly reviewed. Indigenous peoples made extensive use of local biodiversity for food, feed and fibre. With colonization in 1652 an increasing number of varieties was introduced from Europe and today more than 90% of food is derived from alien crop species. Farmers' selections were replaced by official plant breeding projects 90 years ago. Initial Government programs were rapidly taken over by private seed companies and cooperatives. Improved varieties, good quality seed and modern farming systems were instrumental in establishing an efficient food production industry. Establishment of seed trade associations from 1942 onwards led to founding of the South African National Seed Organization in 1989. This body not only represents the trade, but has also taken over functions from Government. Currently the seed trade is adapting to deregulated marketing, modern biotechnology, genetically modified varieties, biodiversity conservation, and a political shift towards focus on small scale, emerging farmers.
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