Towards a Vibrant, Private-Sector Led Seed Industry in Africa
Findings from The African Seed Access Index (TASAI) studies reveal that national seed systems across Africa are at different stages of development. Some countries (notable examples are Kenya, South Africa, Zambia, and Zimbabwe) have a vibrant private sector, up-to-date seed policies and regulations, active public and private breeding programs, extensive rural agro-dealer networks, and a proactive national seed association. On the other hand, in other countries (e.g., Democratic Republic of Congo, Liberia, Madagascar) the seed sectors are still emerging, characterized by under-funded government seed agencies, poorly implemented seed regulations, and a relatively weak private sector.
The African Seed Access Index (TASAI) is a seed industry research initiative coordinated by the nonprofit organization TASAI Inc. The TASAI team works with local seed industry experts to run country-level assessments in African countries. Since 2014, TASAI has assessed the structure and performance of the formal seed sectors in Burkina Faso, Burundi, Democratic Republic of Congo, Ethiopia, Ghana, Kenya, Liberia, Madagascar, Malawi, Mali, Mozambique, Nigeria, Rwanda, Sierra Leone, Senegal, South Africa, Tanzania, Uganda, Zambia, and Zimbabwe.
TASAI’s Theory of Change is illustrated in Figure 1 below. This article focuses on one of these aspects — the private sector — and highlights five findings on the scope and role of the private sector in advancing competitive seed systems in Africa.
Figure 1: TASAI Theory of Change
Private Sector's Role in Advancing African Seed Systems: 5 Findings
1. Local Companies Dominate Africa’s Private Seed Sector
TASAI classifies seed companies in Africa into three categories: domestic (operating in one country); regional (operating in multiple African countries); and multinational (headquartered outside of Africa). For the focus crops under TASAI studies (four key cereal and legume crops per country) African-owned companies (Domestic and Regional) account for at least 75% of companies actively producing and marketing certified seeds (See Figure 2).
Figure 2: Ownership of seed companies engaged in the production of key cereal and legume crops
2. African-owned Companies Still Dominate Maize Seed Markets
By both volume and value certified maize seed comprises the largest share of the formal seed market in Africa. Given the size of the maize seed market, it is no wonder that most companies — multinational, regional, and domestic included — are actively competing for a share. MNCs hold significant market shares in Kenya, Malawi, South Africa, Tanzania, Zambia, and Zimbabwe. However, even in these countries, with the exception of Zambia, the combined market share of African-owned companies exceeds that of MNCs. As shown in Figure 3, African-owned companies — most of which are fairly new — control 60-80% of the market.
Maize market share of seed companies in selected countries
3. Move towards private seed inspection services
Traditionally seed inspection has been the mandate of the government seed agency. As the number of seed companies and the volume of certified seed produced have grown in the last decade, several countries are introducing private seed inspectors to complement the government services. South Africa leads the pack with an all-private inspection service operated by the South Africa National Seed Organization (SANSOR). As of 2019, Kenya, South Africa, Zambia, and Zimbabwe all had well-established private seed inspection systems. Ghana, Malawi, Mozambique, Nigeria, Tanzania, and Uganda have all made substantive steps towards introducing private seed inspection to augment often overstretched public inspection services.
4. Public-Private Collaboration Reduces Counterfeit Seeds
Counterfeit (“fake”) seed is a growing problem in most African countries, threatening the livelihoods of smallholder farmers who unknowingly purchase regular grain labeled as certified seed. Seed companies in the DRC, Madagascar, Malawi, Nigeria, Rwanda, and Zimbabwe have each reported more than 20 cases of fake seed per year. Since most countries do not have a formal system of tracking cases of counterfeit seeds, the reported figures are likely to be a significant underestimation of the problem. In response to this growing problem, several countries have implemented innovative solutions through public-private partnerships. For example, in Kenya and Nigeria, the seed regulatory agencies, in collaboration with the private sector, have launched electronically coded security labels that farmers can use to authenticate certified seed. This initiative is bearing fruit in Kenya; in the most recent TASAI study in Kenya, seed companies reported a 72% satisfaction rating with government efforts to stamp out fake seed — a significant improvement from previous ratings (50% in 2015 and 39% in 2013).
5. Seed Trade Associations Offer a Platform for Private-Sector Advocacy
19 out of 21 countries surveyed by TASAI — all but Liberia and Sierra Leone — have a national seed trade association and/or a national seed sector platform. South Africa’s SANSOR is a model of a well-functioning national seed trade association. It provides a wide range of services to the seed industry, and its members rate the association’s performance as excellent. Other national associations such as NASTAG (Ghana), STAK (Kenya), STAM (Malawi), SEEDAN (Nigeria), TASTA (Tanzania), USTA (Uganda), and ZASTA (Zambia) have developed good working relationships with their respective governments to address critical policy, regulatory, and other issues affecting the industry.
Despite some challenges, in the last decade many African countries have made significant progress towards establishing a strong and vibrant private seed sector serving smallholder and commercial farmers. However, the story of formal seed sector development in Africa is nuanced, with significant variation by country, crop, and year. TASAI’s reports capture this detail by tracking 22 indicators in 5 categories (Research and Development, Seed Policy and Regulations, Industry Competitiveness, Institutional Support, and Service to Smallholder Farmers), most of which are crop-specific.