ACCESS TO INPUTS


High-quality seed: diffusion at the grass roots level

Two women who started selling seed of a new cowpea variety as a village enterprise, Nigeria. Photo: Ken Giller

N2Africa’s efforts to disseminate improved legume technologies created demand for legume inputs, including improved seed varieties. Access to affordable and good quality seeds at the grass roots level is a challenge, however. N2Africa supported initiatives that promoted sharing of seed between farmers and backed local seed initiatives.

In the first phase of N2Africa, the project applied a model in which farmers received a small starter pack of seed and were asked to repay double the amount of seed they received, in order to make dissemination to other farmers possible. The dissemination of seed was therefore largely led by the project and relatively little effort was put in establishing links with agro-dealers or other official channels.

Sharing seed

Despite the lack of formal access to seed for the improved legume varieties, farmers often shared the seed that they had received with other farmers after harvest. During the first phase of the project, we conducted a study in Ghana, Kenya, Malawi and Zimbabwe in which we explored the diffusion of seed given to farmers involved N2Africa’s demonstration trials. It turned out that more than 90 per cent of participating farmers who were given a seed starter pack of 1-5 kg of legume seed had shared it, on average with four other farmers.

Discussing poor seed germination in Uganda. Photo: N2Africa

The farmers who received this seed from the original farmers shared it further less frequently, although we could trace up to four “generations” of farmers sharing it in some cases. From this study, we estimated that in addition to the 250 thousand farmers who participated directly in the N2Africa demonstration trials in the project’s first phase, another 1.4 million farmers may have received seed of a new legume crop or variety as it diffused from one farmer to the next.

We estimate that 1.4 million farmers may have received seed of a new legume crop or variety

In the second phase of N2Africa, more emphasis was put on improving access to high-quality seed in rural communities by supporting local seed business groups or individuals interested in seed multiplication. In Uganda, for example, N2Africa partnered World Vision and the Integrated Seed Sector Development project (led by Wageningen University & Research) to start building up the capacity of selected farmers’ groups to become local seed business groups (LSB).

Video: Members of the N2Africa team in Zimbabwe reflect on seed quality and variety. Produced by Taskscape Associates

The groups received training to improve their skills in producing and marketing quality declared seeds (QDS) and in institutional development to become a business. The LSB groups are bridging the gap that existed in the grain legume seed sector: commercial seed companies are less interested in promoting grain legume seeds, as farmers can re-use improved seed varieties for a number of years. This makes it less viable for seed companies to multiply and distribute the seeds, in contrast to seeds of hybrid maize for instance, which have to be purchased every season.

N2Africa’s branded legume products marketed by N2Africa farmers in Zimbabwe. Photo: N2Africa

The chair of one of the LSB groups involved, Francis Odyek from Bedijo, has said that demand for soyabean seeds especially is growing steadily. In 2017, the forecast demand was for up to 6 tons of soyabean seed, although only about 4 tons materialized. In 2018, the group grew about 10 tons.

Key challenges

Despite the absence of formal structures, the LSB groups worked as partners with various key stakeholders such as the ministry of Agriculture, Animal Industry and Fisheries (MAAIF) and Makerere University in Kampala. MAAIF’s certification service ensured that farmers buying the seed could be sure of the quality. The groups were also registered with the Northern Uganda Local Seed Business Association (NULSBA), an umbrella group that coordinates the activities of LSBs in Northern Uganda. The association supported the group to ensure quality controls were put in place. They also followed up on links to sources of foundation seed and markets for the seed within and outside the regions.

The key challenges remaining for the business include the lack of capital for procuring enough foundation seed, extreme weather conditions like drought, and the lack of proper demand estimation systems. Work is being done on the last of these through the cooperation with M-Omulimisa, an ICT platform offering market intelligence services.

Highlights

  • More than 90 per cent of participating farmers in Ghana, Kenya, Malawi and Zimbabwe who were given a seed starter pack of 1-5 kg of legume seed shared it, on average with four other farmers.
  • Local seed business groups can bridge the gap in the legume seed sector: commercial seed companies are less interested in promoting grain legume seeds, as farmers can re-use improved seed varieties for a number of years.

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