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Sustaining seed production in Africa

Self Help Africa has been working to develop effective seed production systems (© Self Help Africa)
Self Help Africa has been working to develop effective seed production systems
© Self Help Africa

Small farm sizes, uncertain land tenure, poor soils, hot, dry conditions and pests and plant diseases, all hinder African farmers in their efforts to produce adequate quantities of food. And climate changes have placed additional burdens on farmers, who must now also contend with unfamiliar new challenges such as extended periods of drought, unseasonal flooding, increasing temperatures, and the emergence of new plant diseases and pests that threaten crops and production.

For the past decade, Self Help Africa, an international development agency, has been working to develop effective seed production systems that would allow farmers to produce and distribute certified quality seed at a community level. "Improving the availability of good quality seed and planting material is vital to the global effort to eradicate hunger," says Self Help Africa's Malawi director, Amos Zaindi. "In sub-Saharan Africa, providing access to seed varieties that are more robust and can better cope with a changing climate, and can allow households to diversify their production is central to many efforts to increase smallholder food production."

Community seed multiplication

Self Help Africa's initiative does not just focus on the need to produce seed that will enable farmers to increase their yields: "Climate change has taken our seed multiplication programmes into areas that are providing farmers with access to both climate-resilient early maturing varieties, and to crop seeds that can withstand the challenges of global warming," Zaindi adds.

In Zambia, Ethiopia and Malawi, Self Help Africa is seeking to develop community seed systems that take knowledge and research, undertaken in the laboratory, and transfer it to the hands of smallholders who become seed producers and suppliers in their own community.

Farmers are working to produce seed varieties that are more robust and can better cope with a changing climate (© Self Help Africa)
Farmers are working to produce seed varieties that are more robust and can better cope with a changing climate
© Self Help Africa

Much of this work has been based on developing both new and existing farmer organisations - seed grower associations and/or seed multiplication cooperatives and unions - and adopting a multi-stakeholder approach that also involves government researchers, seed quality control authorities and private sector companies working in the seed sector. Both private enterprise and state services provide a valuable outlet for the marketing, sale and distribution of certified seed that is being produced by these local farmer groups.

In Zambia's remote Western Province, the Kamasika Seed Growers Association illustrates how effective community-based seed multiplication is assisting local food production in the face of climate change. The 100 smallholder farmers, who are seed growers with the Association, received training and support in seed multiplication techniques from Self Help Africa and government advisors on the technical requirements for producing certifiable seed. The farmers were then linked to a new state-run seed testing laboratory, established with support from Self Help Africa in nearby Mongu town, to ensure that the seed being produced met the requisite germination, moisture content and other standards required to attain certification.

The group has since opened two retail shops where they sell farm inputs, including certified groundnut, bean, sorghum, maize and vegetable seed that they are producing, and in 2011 supplied several thousand smallholder farmers across the Province. The new seed varieties allowed smallholder farmers to produce winter crops, rotate crops in their fields to reduce nutrients in the soil leaching, and also enabled many to produce vegetables on a small-scale under irrigated conditions. As a result, the 100 members of the Association were able to diversify their own crop production, and earn significantly more from the sale of the certified seed that they were also producing and selling.

In Malawi, farmers are growing improved orange sweet potato that was multiplied by community based seed groups (© Self Help Africa)
In Malawi, farmers are growing improved orange sweet potato that was multiplied by community based seed groups
© Self Help Africa

Local seed producer, Mary Banda, from Mabwera village in southern Malawi knows that her seed multiplication work is having an impact on the lives of people in her community. "We don't get the same rainfall here that we did in the past, and we must adapt to it," she explains. "We have done this by developing more extensive irrigation networks in the dambo (wetland) area around the village, and have also sought to address climate change by producing our own early maturing varieties of maize, and by promoting the production of groundnut in the locality. We also promote the use of manure and composting crop residues, and encourage farmers to rotate the use of groundnut with their maize, fixing nitrogen in the soil."

Policy changes

Self Help Africa is also actively engaged in scaling up local seed businesses and bringing experiences from practice into the policy arena. This initiative is taking place under the African Union's African Seed and Biotechnology Programme (ASBP), a project that is taking place in collaboration with Wageningen University in The Netherlands. Challenges such as the limited availability of early generation seed, access to improved and adapted varieties of food security crops, and seed quality control mechanisms are being prioritised, in addition to changing the focus of seed provision from the existing government and NGO distribution model to a more sustainable market-based system.

Policy work in this area is in its early stages but, according to Zaindi, will eventually lead to a position where greater support and investment will be made in a market-based formal seed sector, and where current shortfalls in availability of drough-tolerant and improved variety certified crop seed will be widely available to Africa's millions of smallholder farmers.

Written by: George Jacob, Self Help Africa

Date published: May 2012

 

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We have many varieties of Sesame,Groundnut,Green gram,Cumin ... (posted by: shiroya rasik)

 

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