Asia and Pacific Seed Association: Living in a challenging yet exciting time

4th Jan, 2017

Founded in 1994, the Asia and Pacific Seed Association (APSA) is the largest regional seed association in the world with more than 600 members from more than 50 countries worldwide Interview Katie Lau

With its secretariat headquarters in Bangkok, APSA promotes sustainable agriculture through the development, production and trade of quality seeds within, to and from the Asia-Pacific region, and continues to maintain strong links with a number of key international organisations such as the Food and Agriculture Organisation (FAO), CGIAR institutions, the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development, and the World Trade Organisation. Heidi Gallant, Executive Director of APSA, provides more insights into what the association means to its members.

Can you tell us more about your members?
Our members represent the entire spectrum of the seed industry in both the public and private sectors, including national seed associations, government agencies, public and private seed companies, and associate members, which represent organisations outside of the Asia region. A majority of our members are seed enterprises, including breeders, producers, distributors, retailers, exporters and importers. Countries with the highest number of members are China (20%), India (19%), Pakistan (7%), Bangladesh (7%), Japan (7%), Thailand (4%), South Korea (4%) and Chinese Taipei (4%).

How busy is your association when it comes to organising events?
APSA keeps busy year-round organising and participating in meetings, workshops, tours and events. Our main event is the annual Asian Seed Congress (ASC), which is held around November in a different host country every year. The inaugural ASC was held in Chiang Mai, Thailand in 1994, and our latest edition, the 23rd ASC was held in Incheon, South Korea. Next year, our 24th ASC will take place in Manila, in the Philippines.

What is the Asian Seed Congress (ASC) about?
There is a three-day exhibition in which hundreds of trading booths, tables and private meeting rooms are set up, for members to conduct business and market their products and services directly to other delegates and accompanying persons. The ASC is also an opportunity for our National Seed Associations, Special Interest Groups (SIG) and Standing Committees to meet and participate in workshops and technical sessions to discuss important developments in the industry.

We invite expert speakers to give presentations at these sessions; the subject matter varies by group and their respective areas of interest. For example, this year our Vegetable & Ornamentals SIGs learned about new gene editing breeding techniques such as the CRISPR/Cas9 system. Our seed technology and biodiversity group were given insight into the biological seed treatments market; our field crops group exchanged data and trends for wheat and pulses, and so on.

Any examples of international collaborations?
In late September this year, we led a delegation of mostly Chinese seed operators to India for a hybrid rice study tour in collaboration with the National Seed Association of India. Next year, our vegetable and ornamentals SIG is planning a study tour to France while our hybrid rice group is looking to go to Vietnam, and possibly Australia for a cover crops tour. In February we’ll be hosting Solanaceous Round Table discussions in Bangkok, bringing together private and public stakeholders and experts in the trade of chillies, tomatoes, egg plants, potatoes and tobacco.

We also host phytosanitary meetings, which, in a nutshell, involves the movement of seeds across borders – regulations, quarantines, customs et el. We have a very dedicated secretariat and have just relaunched a user-friendly website to help keep track of everything smoother for all of our members.

What do you look for in venues and destinations for your events?
Logistics, infrastructure costs, government, economics and seed industry activity are all factors in determining where to host congresses. Because our headquarters is in Thailand, it’s much easier practically to organise congresses here more regularly than other countries. In considering new host countries and potential venues, we look at the facilities at and near the venue, which need to be up to standard. Many of our delegates need to travel many hours via plane to get to the congress destination (especially those flying in from Europe or the Americas) so we can’t have them stuck in traffic or on a broken-down bus on their way back to their hotel out in the middle of nowhere, for example.

Convenience is key. We tend to choose venues with great hotel selection within walking distance to the convention centre. Again, member interest and feedback is also weighed in during the selection process. The situation for each seed industry in each country is unique and each country has something new to offer, so we take this into account too.

What is interesting and challenging about serving APSA?
We live in a challenging yet exciting time. With the advent of new technologies, globalisation and automation trends in particular, the growth of many conventional industries has slowed down considerably. In contrast, the world population and demand for food and thus quality seed are growing rapidly, and though our industry faces a lot of supply challenges to meet the demands ahead, these challenges can also be framed as opportunities.

What do you think are the latest trends in the association industry?
A lot of associations are just starting to utilise “new media” channels, especially social media as options for keeping in touch with their members. A lot of associations have been using the same communication tools for many years and managers are educating themselves on how their members get their industry news so that they can use these same outlets to share association events and happenings. As someone working in the NGO/NPO space, I would love to see association management being a specialty of a business administration programme at college or university. There are more and more opportunities in this industry as more associations are formed and existing ones grow. The work is also rewarding and challenging.

How do you see the future of APSA?
Our challenge will be to attract young seed men and women to take part in the association's activities. Volunteering time to an organisation can be a big commitment and can take time away from your personal priorities. However, young people need to see how the network they build during this work and the added value on their resume can really benefit their future career aspirations.

APSA has aspirations to grow our membership in a number of countries where we only have a few members and have more interaction with our current members outside of our annual congress. We will be actively engaging our members in countries where membership is high, like India and China, and I expect our upcoming congress in the Philippines to be our biggest and best to date.

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