Africa told to improve informal seed sector

Farmers planting maize
Copyright: Mikkel Ostergaard / Panos

Speed read

  • Africa’s informal sector provides 80 per cent of seeds for smallholders
  • But experts have called for a need to address challenges in the informal sector
  • They propose solutions such as increased funding and focusing on neglected crops

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[NAIROBI] Africa’s informal seed sector has been neglected for a long time despite providing 80 per cent of seeds that smallholder farmers use, a conference has heard.
According to experts who attended the Integrated Seed Sector Development (ISSD) Africa Synthesis Conference in Kenya last month (19-20 September), developing the formal and informal seed sectors could significantly help the continent increase agricultural productivity and improve livelihoods.
The experts said that creating innovations to overcome the challenges of the seed sector and a vibrant seed industry could also help Africa improve food and nutrition security.


“Any program that does not address the challenges of the seed sector will not help Africa realise sustainable agricultural development.”

Miltone Ayieko, ISSD

“Any [agricultural] program that does not address the challenges of the seed sector will not help Africa realise sustainable agricultural development,” says Miltone Ayieko, regional coordinator for ISSD Africa project.
Ayieko says that it is time African agricultural stakeholders including governments and scientists took action to address many challenges facing the seed sector on the continent.
“We have to act now to ensure that smallholder farmers access superior quality seed — whether through the formal or informal sector,” Ayieko notes.
Marja Thijssen, the ISSD Africa project coordinator based at the Centre for Development Innovation (CDI), Wageningen University and Research in the Netherlands, added: “The most important thing is that we help smallholder farmers access high quality seeds that will help realise higher yields.”
Thijssen adds that ISSD Africa will continue to help increase awareness of importance of the seed sector, and provide an avenue to share best practices and innovations to improve agriculture.
Rose Mwonya, the vice-chancellor of Kenya’s Egerton University, told the conference that Sub-Saharan Africa countries need to increase funding for agricultural development.
 In an interview with SciDev.Net, Mwonya says that universities could play a significant role in research and formulation of policies if they receive adequate funding.
She also asks African agricultural experts and policymakers to review policies to improve the seed sector, and to take action in implementing policies and research findings that could help advance the seed sector.

ISSD Africa, hosted in Kenya by Egerton University’s Tegemeo Institute of Agricultural Policy and Development, is coordinated by partners including the CDI and the Future Agricultures Consortium.
ISSD Africa’s research projects have been piloted in Burkina Faso, Burundi, Ethiopia, Ghana, Mali, Tanzania, Uganda, Zambia and Zimbabwe.
Andrew Mushita, the executive director of Zimbabwe-based Community Technology Development Trust, said: “We need to develop the seed sector focusing on other neglected but important crops such as soya, wheat and barley.”
 This piece was produced by SciDev.Net’s Sub-Saharan Africa English desk.