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Breakthroughs for a Vibrant Seed Sector in Africa


Smallholder farmers in Africa face challenges in getting reliable access to sufficient quantities of quality seed of superior varieties at the right time and at affordable prices, and this affects their agricultural productivity, incomes and resilience. The seed sector suffers from poorly functioning external seed quality assurance mechanism and certification services that are mostly centralized and publicly-run, often complicated by the rampant cases of fake/counterfeit seed. In addition, poor and inadequate financing of seed businesses hamper the development of seed sector in Africa since most seed entrepreneurs still rely on own-savings to finance their businesses due to lack of collaterals. Also, farmer-based seed systems in many African countries are poorly recognized and supported in the current seed laws, perhaps as a result of a general bias towards major market crops in the existing legal frameworks and poor participation of smallholder farmer representatives in the law development and implementation. These challenges must be addressed in order to transform the African seed sector and avail quality and affordable seed of superior quality of preferred varieties to smallholder farmers.

Since September 2014, the Program on Integrated Seed Sector Development in Africa (ISSD Africa) has engaged in action learning research and network development towards the collaborative identification and analysis of complex and potential solutions that are of strategic importance at the national level, but need to be tackled at the continental and regional level. At a recently concluded conference in Nairobi, seed experts and key stakeholders from across Africa met to discuss the various challenges affecting smallholder seed sector development in Africa. The two-day conference, whose theme was “Breakthroughs for a vibrant seed sector in Africa”, was used to share findings of the two-year action learning projects with a view to translating these into change agenda. The conference also was meant to strengthen the ISSD Africa learning and innovation platform. Key topics discussed at the conference included: effective mechanisms for quality control, finance options for seed business, making business out of low-profit seed, and seed laws that promote an integrated seed sector. Other topics included variety information for seed producers, agreements for access to public varieties, support to Africa Union’s Comprehensive Africa Agricultural Development Program (CAADP) and the African Seed and Biotechnology Program (ASBP).

While there is no systematic methods of quality assurance in the informal seed systems, external quality assurance mechanisms also function poorly and certification services are mostly centralized and publicly run. There is need therefore to build stronger internal and external mechanisms for seed quality control, and support a review of certification systems. In addition, flexible and innovative options are needed to cater for seed entrepreneurs operating in diverse systems, including value chain financing, grants, contracts and loan guarantees. To promote seed policies and laws that also include legal space and support for farmer-seed systems, there is need for awareness creation on the importance, roles, and needs of smallholder farmers, including stronger representations of smallholder farmers in seed law development and reviews. Also, while progress has been made in variety development and release, access to varieties in the public domain still remain a challenge. Novel mechanisms are needed to get information on new publicly-released and public sector-managed (i.e., local varieties in gene banks) varieties to farmers and at scale. In addition, improved access to foundation seed is crucial for an effective seed value chin development.

In many African countries, there is very limited coordinated action to ensure that seed sector development activities align with the stated CAADP and ASBP commitments. Whereas there is increased policy interest and commitment at national level to develop a more pluralistic and integrated seed sector, the policy support and investment still favors the formal seed systems. Improved implementation of seed sector development priorities in the Africa Union’s CAADP-ASBP agenda and aligning these with National Agricultural and Food Security Investment Plans (NAFSIPs) can contribute to more strategic and coordinated interventions at national level, thus enhancing improved access to quality seed for farmers.

ISSD Africa program supports the development of a market-oriented, pluralistic and vibrant seed sector development in Africa that can provide smallholder farmers with access to quality seed of superior varieties. The program is guided by four themes: promoting seed entrepreneurship, increasing access to varieties in the public domain, matching global commitments with national realities, and supporting the Africa Union Commission (AUC) Comprehensive Africa Agriculture Development Program (CAADP), the African Seed and Biotechnology Program and the seed sector development. Activities have been carried out in 10 African countries: Burkina Faso, Burundi, Ethiopia, Ghana, Kenya, Mali, Tanzania, Uganda, Zambia and Zimbabwe. The ISSD Africa Secretariat is hosted at Tegemeo Institute of Agricultural Policy and Development, Egerton University.

By Dr. Miltone Ayieko, Regional Coordinator at the Integrated Seed Sector Development Program in Africa (ISSD Africa)

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