Seed Investments: Best Practices & Progress Made
This post was written by the following employees of AGRA (Alliance for a Green Revolution in Africa): George Bigirwa (Deputy Vice President, Program Innovations and Development), Jane Ininda (Head of Seed Systems Development), and Joseph Ahenda (Seed Regulatory Specialist).
Funded by the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation, Rockefeller Foundation, USAID, DFID, KFW, and Embassy of the Kingdom of the Netherlands, the Alliance for a Green Revolution in Africa (AGRA) has––since its establishment––made significant investments in enhancing seed systems’ growth in Africa. Through active engagement in the seed sector, the organization has accumulated a wealth of experience on seed systems in different countries in Africa. This post shares some best practices learned, key progress made, and further areas for growth.
8 Key Insights
- Demand for Technology: There is an increased demand by farmers across the continent for more knowledge of, and greater access to, better technology. The KIT Annual Outcome Survey of 2019 shows how AGRA’s downstream delivery models (seed companies, agro-dealership and private sector-led extension) led to 80% percent adoption of improved technologies.
- Local Private Company Participation: Currently, each AGRA country has an average of 6 local private seed companies actively participating in seed production and marketing. This was not the case 10 years ago.
- Regional & Multinational Company Involvement: AGRA’s investment in local seed companies and distribution through a network of agro-dealers has attracted regional and multinational seed companies in a number of countries. The latter companies were initially hesitant because of low seed demand, unfavorable policies, and high costs for doing business
- Accessibility to Inputs: Access to inputs combined with right information on suitability and use of improved seed and fertilizer close to the farmer is a key to driving change. Farmers are now accessing inputs in close proximity of less than 10 km as opposed to over 30km when AGRA started.
- SMEs, Productivity, & Income: Additional local SMEs in seed systems (out growers, seed companies, agri-preuneurs such as VBAs) drive business. As a result, productivity and farmers’ incomes are rising.
- Crop & Variety Choices: Farmers have additional crop and variety choices to fit their needs, ecological suitability, and survival––in terms of stresses and shocks. This covers positive attributes such as drought tolerance, early maturing, and disease resilient crops.
- Struggle for Government Buy-In: Some governments have lagged behind in adopting and supporting seed quality regulation and certification service.
- Move Towards Private Sector: Governments have responded to AGRA calls to develop and revise seed policies and laws that touch on liberalization of the seed markets, variety releases, and early generation seed supply. Most governments are now moving away from a public sector dominated seed production, subsidy, and markets towards liberalized private sector driven seed industry.
Over the years, AGRA has achieved much in the Seed System sub-sector. We have built the professional capacity of 600 national research system breeders and seed practitioners to avail quality seed in both public and private sector (and as a result, 670 improved crop varieties were released of which 431 are being commercialized by private seed companies). We have worked with governments to formulate policies and regulations that facilitate access to public bred varieties by private sector for the benefit of farmers. In addition to growing the Africa seed capacity from 12 seed companies––producing only 2,000MT of maize hybrids in 2006––to 101 seed companies in 2018, which now produce more than 141,000MT of seed per year; we have also supported 38,000 agro-dealers who make inputs available to farmers in their local areas––thus reducing distance travelled from over 30 km to less than 10km. And finally, between 2017 to present, 19,940 village-based advisors (VBAs) who are local entrepreneurs providing extension services to compliment public extension agents have been recruited and trained; and in just two years, the VBAs have reached 6.3 million farmers in 8 AGRA countries (Nigeria, Ghana, Mali, Burkina Faso, Mozambique, Tanzania, Rwanda and Kenya).
However, the seed sector in Africa still faces some challenges and AGRA continues to intervene to fill in the gaps by concentrating on several seed system interventions areas––such as supporting different models to bridge the gap in early generation seed (EGS) supply; improving seed production and marketing; increasing farmer awareness to enhance adoption; and supporting national regulatory agencies and seed quality assurance.
4 Continued Efforts
- Addressing Shortage of Certified Seed and Seed Companies to Produce Seeds of Improved Varieties
The percentage of farmers in sub-Saharan Africa using seed of improved varieties is still less than 20 percent––which demonstrates a clear need to invest more in seed production systems. This is occasioned by acute shortage of certified seed, unavailability of improved crop varieties, limited number of seed companies, few agro-dealers, and a general low demand for certified seed. For long international and regional seed companies shied away from many African countries citing unsuitable business environment and small market size for certified seed. This led the farmers to continue using poor recycled local varieties with low yield potential.
A recent baseline study (KIT Annual Outcome Survey 2019) commissioned by AGRA established that African farmers were in dire need of quality seed. There was a huge gap between demand and seed supply with an annual requirement of 500,000+MT of seed required annually in AGRA supported countries. For example, Ghana required 14,000MT seed of various crops annually; Nigeria, 109,000MT; Ethiopia, 57,000MT; Kenya, 42,000MT and Mozambique, 24,000MT. The adoption rates of improved seed were low and oscillating at about 3-22 percent depending on the country and region. In the last 10 years, AGRA has––through targeted interventions––turned around the situation to raise adoption rates to above 16 percent––even reaching 66 percent in certain countries and regions. AGRA invested largely in a private sector led seed production and distribution, and as a result, built the capacity of local seed companies and agro-dealers. Seed produced aimed to close the gap between demand and supply; even as seed demand kept rising as more and more farmers became aware of improved seed. As shown below, there was steady progress in seed produced over the course of 10 years.
While the experience has provided lessons that have been utilized to scale up and reach more farmers since 2017 (for example, the AGRA consortia model has shown that crowding in around farmers and different partnerships are required to scale up and create demand for seed supply)––and many input suppliers are happy with the model because the well-organized system is providing ready market for their products and showing commercial viability and sustainability––more work still needs to be done to address the gaps and obstacles impeding seed sector growth in AGRA countries.
- Increasing Progress in Seed Certification and Production in Target Countries
In 2007, most of the target countries apart from Kenya, Zambia did not have functional seed certification agencies (SCA); therefore, the seeds in the market did not go through thorough seed quality assurance during production––which lowered the confidence of farmers and potential investors in the industry. Challenges facing the SCA include inadequate human resource, lack of designated institutions, inadequate facilities like laboratories, lack of (or inadequate) seed legal frameworks, low commitment of the public sector to invest in the industry, and lack of appropriate institutions and improper alignments. AGRA has invested in the target countries to address the mentioned challenges building the technical capacities of the SCAs, engaging and sensitizing the public sector on the need to prioritize the development of seed industry, supporting development of appropriate legislation to enhance seed sector growth, and advising on appropriate institutional establishment and alignment for efficient regulatory service. Despite the limitation of human resource being grave in most of the SCAs of target countries, AGRA is continuing to support them to adopt the system of engaging the private sector in seed quality assurance to reduce the pressure on the public sector.
In this scheme, trained and authorized third parties are engaged in offering seed certification services on behalf of SCA. Besides supporting sharing the workload between private and public sectors, the scheme increases the engagement of the private in seed industry development. In Rwanda, 64 private seed inspectors have been trained for engagement in seed field inspection. Nigeria, Kenya, Uganda, Ethiopia and Ghana are equally adopting the approach.
Whenever the national seed regulatory agencies are unable to provide proper oversight, seed quality is compromised resulting in counterfeit seed finding its way on the market. While this has now become a challenge in many countries, AGRA is continuing to support countries like Nigeria, Ethiopia, Uganda and Tanzania to introduce electronic tags on each seed pack to enable farmers ascertain authenticity of the seed.
The system works by farmers upon buying the seed pack in the presence of the seed seller, scratches the sealed code, keys it in the phone and sends it to a free toll number then immediately gets an instant message to ascertain whether the seed pack is genuine or fake. So far, this system has reduced percentage of fake seed from 34% to 4% in only two years.
- Combating Shortage of Early Generation Seed (EGS)
Most of the improved crop varieties being produced in these countries are from the public breeding programs in collaboration with CGIARs. These programs have been able to release well adapted crop varieties for countries, but the main challenge is maintenance and production of early generations (breeder, pre-basic and basic seed) required for production of commercial seed by seed companies. Most of the public breeding programs do not have the financial and organizational capacities to produce enough EGS for the industry. This has been constraining the flow of EGS to seed production therefore impeding commercial seed production. AGRA has supported several upcoming seed companies through capacity building and to some extent financially to engage in EGS production. The engagement of the private sector in EGS production is desirable as a sustainable option. AGRA has supported, and continues to support, several models for EGS production:
- Public sector: Public institutions (being owners of most varieties produced by private seed companies), are expected produce and make available EGS. However, many of them lack resources in terms of personnel, land, storage and irrigation facilities. AGRA is supporting this kind of initiative in Ghana, Rwanda, Mali, Tanzania, and Burkina Faso.
- Public + Private joint partnership: Under this scenario, the two sectors work together to produce EGS with private sector mostly providing land, crop management, processing and storage while the public teams provide technical backstopping or only playing certain roles. This is currently undergoing implementation in Ghana, Mali, Burkina Faso, Ethiopia, and Mozambique.
- Private Sector: Private seed companies coming together and identifying a few among themselves to produce EGS on behalf of the others and eventually sell to the rest. Those selected continue to produce certified seed as well. It is being implemented in Mali, Malawi, Uganda, Mozambique, and Nigeria.
- Standalone companies to produce EGS: These only specialize in production of EGS and do it on orders placed by seed companies. Entities of this kind are few but namely Legacy Crop Improvement Company in Ghana, QauliBasic in Kenya, and GoSeed in Nigeria. (NOTE: This category is more promising and sustainable. The other model is where private seed companies have established internal capacity like having technical staff like a breeder on the team in addition to having facilities like irrigation and cold storage. These companies are able to handle all categories of seed on their own. We are seeing this with some companies in Kenya, Uganda, Tanzania and Nigeria.)
- Investing in Farmer Awareness to Create Demand for Seed
Recent investments in research and development have resulted in availing many technologies on market for farmers to use. However, the uptake of these technologies is still low, and this is in part because farmers are not aware of them. They have neither seen nor tested them. There are several approaches being tried to expose farmers to these new technologies, such as establishment of demonstration plots, holding of field days, holding programs, making adverts and jingles on radios, and distribution of posters and pamphlets. However, the one which is showing more impact is the village-based advisor model (VBA).
The VBA model is a private sector-led extension approach, involving self-employed Village-based Advisors (VBAs) practically teaching small-holder farmers to use improved technologies like seed of improved varieties, fertilizer blends, good agronomic practices (GAP) and postharvest management practices. The VBAs are selected by communities in the villages, undergo training and are then linked to input suppliers. From the input suppliers the VBAs receive 100-300 gm small packs of seed of different varieties which are well labeled indicating the variety and company producing it. The same is true for fertilizer. The small packs are then distributed to thousands of farmers to plant out in their localities alongside their usual varieties in order to make comparisons. The VBAs then also plant slightly bigger plots in strategic locations composed of different varieties and these are referred to as the mother demonstration plots which are later used for field days where farmers are brought together. Input suppliers (seed and fertilizer companies) provide tons of seed and fertilizer to VBAs for demonstration and have found it very helpful to create awareness and demand for their products. Since 2017 when AGRA rolled out this model, 19,940 VBAs have been enlisted and trained and have reached 6.3 million smallholder farmers.
There is increasing evidence that training of farmers by VBAs is effective. The outcome survey (KIT 2019) showed that 87 percent of the farmers that received a small pack from their VBAs after being trained on GAP used the pack for on-farm demonstrations. Adoption rate of technologies by surveyed farmers is approximately 80%. Recent monitoring visits to Tanzania and Mozambique have confirmed that Partner Input Companies are reporting increased sales of inputs by between 20-30 percent.
There is also increasing evidence that VBAs have started to link with private sector companies to generate income which is important for their sustainability. For example, in Mozambique, about 30 percent of the VBAs have either started agro-dealer shops, have become agents of Agro-dealers or are aggregating farmers’ produce for small-holder on behalf of Off-takers from which they are paid a commission. Local processors in the Nacala corridor are saving over 7 percent costs by using VBAs instead of employing agents to aggregate produce. The large Off-takers ETG and New Horizons are now receiving grains through VBA aggregation. In the Tanzania SUKA and Kigoma Consortia, as a result of their demand creation activities, 118 VBAs have opened Agro-dealer shops to supply inputs to farmers at the Village level. In Mali, 30% of the seed sold to farmers by Zamoho Seed Company in 2019 was sold through 27 VBAs. This has in turn interested companies to venture into hitherto perceived risky or non–viable geographies/markets. Regional and multinational seed companies are following suit.
To ensure new superior and climate smart technologies are quickly made available to farmers, AGRA is partnering with Consultative Group of International Agricultural Research (CGIARs) centers namely CIMMYT, ICRISAT and ITTA) through the VBA network to expose farmers through on farm trials to promote adoption.
AGRA interventions in human capacity development, development and release of hundreds of new improved varieties, establishment of local private seed companies, development a network of agro-dealers, farmer awareness creation, EGS and certified seed production, review of seed policy and regulatory environment and support of awareness, and support to national regulatory agencies have helped improve and strengthen seed systems in many African countries. Countries are at different level of development (see table below) and a lot is still required. There are clear indications that the future is bright as evidenced by more supportive policy environment created by governments, investments being made by private sector and the ever-increasing demand for seed of improved varieties.
2 AGRA 2017: Seeding an African Green Revolution: The PASS Journey