How African companies are breeding quality seed for smallholder farmers

It started in 2006 when agricultural scientists from different African countries came up with the idea of forming Alliance for Green Revolution in Africa (Agra) to develop pioneering solutions to challenges facing African farmers.
A key objective was to empower seed companies to breed quality seed of crop varieties grown by farmers as well as increasing the quantity. Agra’s Programme for Seed Systems (Pass) was to achieve the objective.
The programme gets higher yielding, well adapted seed to small-scale farmers in Africa to increase farm-level productivity, income and food security as well as opportunities for market access.
Dr Joe DeVries, director, Pass, speaking at a recent meeting in Kampala, said when Agra started, seed companies in Africa were producing on average less than 300 metric tonnes.
Now, two companies in Ethiopia and Nigeria are producing more than 800,000 metric tonnes of seed and are about to hit the set goal of 100,0000 metric tonnes.
Agra is running a three-year project, which started in 2013 with over 70 seed companies that were represented at the meeting in Kampala.
The key crop varieties the companies are breeding using conventional and biotechnology tool include maize, rice, sorghum, beans, groundnuts, cassava, cowpea, wheat and sweet potato. In general, the seed companies are breeding 475 varieties in different parts of Africa
“We work with seed companies that are already producing seed ranging from 300 metric tonnes to over 800,000 metric tonnes provided they are breeding high quality well-packaged seed by giving them financial grants,” Dr JoeDeVries said.
“We also link them to other partners capable of giving them financial support and we sensitise both the seed companies and farmers about good seed production techniques, quality management as well as building strong African seed business.”

Required target
The Agra team in ranking the countries on the progress of quality seed production has Nigeria as leading, followed by Ethiopia with Uganda and Tanzania third and fourth. In East Africa, Rwanda, Burundi and South Sudan are ranked as upcoming countries.
Much as seed companies are trying to increase productivity, they are faced with challenges such irregular rainfall, disease and pest burden, lack of foundation seed and inadequate funding, among others, thereby failing to acquire the required target.
In his remarks, Joseph Bazaale, commissioner, ministry of Agriculture, said Sub-Saharan Africa still leads in seed distribution in the entire continent with Uganda having 25 registered companies trying to serve the interest of farmers.
“Uganda has the potential in terms of good soils and good climate. As such, it is possible for our farmers to plant in three seasons meaning we can hit the target of producing good quality seed to supply the entire Sub Saharan Africa,” the commissioner said.
“In Uganda ,we are running the seed industry in partnership with other regional collaborations like COMESA and we are glad to learn lessons from companies in Nigeria and Ethiopia which are already excelling.”
Uganda’s seed industry is fully liberalised with the government making its contribution through public research institutes that provide foundation seed to private seed dealers for further multiplication.
Currently, the demand for seed in Uganda is between 30,000 to 35,000 metric tonnes but the target is 14,000 to 16,000 metric tonnes for assorted crops.
So far, Pass has dispersed $200m to seed companies under the project. The remaining balance will be dispersed this year.
In all, Agra is coordinating the initiative with regional offices in 17 countries. These include Burkina Faso, Ethiopia, Ghana, Kenya, Liberia, Malawi, Mali, Mozambique and Niger. Others are Nigeria, Rwanda, Senegal, Sierra Leon, South Sudan, Tanzania, Uganda and Zambia.

alominda@ug.nationmedia.com

SOURCE: Daily Monitor

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