The Seed Systems Group works to establish regular, dependable supply of high-yielding, resilient seed of a wide range of food crops among poor, smallholder farmers to help them improve their crop yields, nutritional status, and income. The Seed Systems Group is a non-profit organization registered in the United States and headquartered in Nairobi, Kenya.
Small-scale Farmers Key to Ensuring Food Supply Amidst COVID-19 Pandemic
Seed Systems Group’s (SSG’s) unwavering commitment to assisting over 38 million small-holder farmers in the furthest reaches of Africa is affirmed by the COVID-19 pandemic and the resultant disruption of food production and supply chains caused by restricted movements and social distancing, affecting access to local markets and availability of labor.
Cooperation and collaboration with the World Health Organization (WHO), governments, public health services, and epidemiologists is imperative in stemming the spread of COVID-19 itself. Like all agricultural agencies around the world, SSG’s work has been disrupted by the COVID-19 pandemic, including a temporary ban on all international flights. Several of our target countries have experienced steep increases in infections. Our thoughts and prayers are with these populations as they confront the pandemic.
Concrete efforts must be geared towards mitigating COVID-19 from exacerbating already-high levels of poverty, hunger, and malnutrition in these agriculture-dependent countries, which are home to over 320 million people yet are left-behind in Africa’s emerging agricultural transformation.
Unlike farmers in nearly every other country in the world, farmers in the SSG’s target counties lack access to high-yielding seed and other modern farming technologies which allow farmers to adequately feed themselves and produce surpluses to generate income. Agricultural systems in these target countries are already vulnerable and any disruption to local production cycles is likely to result in acute food shortages.
SSG calls upon partners to work together in building sustainable and resilient agricultural systems that can weather crises precipitated by climate change and other socio-economic challenges of our time to avert severe hunger and poverty. A food secure Africa is possible in our lifetime!
Our MissionEvery farmer deserves good seed
Rapidly growing populations and a changing climate contribute to widespread child malnutrition and frequent social unrest in rural areas of Africa, and are placing ever-greater pressure on farmers to improve their harvests.
Providing them with access to seed of improved crop varieties bred for higher yields and resistance to climate change, pests and diseases is a proven solution. Improved seed allows farmers to increase their productivity and makes cropping systems more sustainable in the context of a growing world population.
Unfortunately, a large portion of Africa’s poorest farmers who are most in need of better seed don’t have access to it. It simply isn’t available in the rural villages and towns where they live. As a result, their crop yields remain at a fraction of what they could achieve with better seed.
Approximately 38 million farmers live in 15 African countries where there is virtually no access to seed of improved crop varieties, including Angola, Benin, Burundi, Cameroon, Chad, Cote d’Ivoire, the Democratic Republic of Congo, Eritrea, Guinea, Madagascar, Republic of Congo, Senegal, Sierra Leone, and Togo.
These countries are home to over 320 million people where the average rate of child malnutrition is 38 percent. With current population growth rates of 2.8 percent annually, their total population is projected to grow to over 700 million by 2050. With no access to improved seed, the farmers of these countries have little chance of increasing their productivity beyond current, subsistence levels which guarantee lives of poverty and economic exclusion.
It does not have to be this way. Experience in numerous countries of Africa has shown that farmers can reverse decades of declining productivity through the cultivation of higher-yielding, more resilient seed.
A Public-Private Model for Improved Seed Supply in Africa
Breeding & Release of New Varieties
The adoption of high-yielding crop varieties among smallholder farmers begins with teams of crop scientists testing, selecting and releasing improved varieties of the countries’ principal food crops and more nutritious vegetable crops. New traits such as earlier maturity, increased nutrient composition, higher yield, disease resistance, and drought tolerance are one of the best ways international assistance can help local farmers to improve their incomes, diets and adapt to climate change. Direct farmer input is key to selecting the best-adapted and most acceptable varieties.
Seed Enterprise Development
Driving supply of new seed at farmer level requires a critical number of private, independent seed companies capable of producing, processing, and marketing better seed to farmers through an open, competitive market system. Highly capable seed entrepreneurs, including many women and young “agri-preneurs” exist throughout Africa, but often lack the specialized knowledge or capital needed to establish companies capable of producing, packaging, and distributing quality seed.
The final link in the seed value chain is village-level supply of seed through private, local shop owners. Young, village-based entrepreneurs – especially women entrepreneurs – are often crucial to introducing new seed through these small businesses, and will be prioritized for this assistance. SSG will train these emerging business people in practical business management skills. It will also provide start-up, matching grants and technical assistance to local entrepreneurs to open seed and input supply shops. The establishment of private, locally-owned and operated input shops creates another source of rural employment and ensures the regular, dependable supply of seed, fertilizer, and other technologies at a local level.
Private Sector-led Extension
Engaging the drive and energy of private sector to inform farmers of the value of improved seed and other modern practices has proven more effective than traditional, public sector extension. Simultaneous to the establishment of seed supply, SSG will conduct thousands of on-farm demos of new varieties. Self-employed “Village-Based Advisors” (VBAs) will be recruited, trained to teach farmers how to cultivate the new seed using fertilizer, row spacing, weeding, and other modern practices, and rapidly distribute hundreds of thousands of small (50 gram) packs of new seed plus 200 gram packs of fertilizer to fellow farmers.
Seed Policy and Advocacy
Seed systems development also requires direct, consistent engagement with high-level government officials to modernize seed policies and procedures and make them private sector-friendly. Engaged seed policy leaders can, and often do, become champions for seed supply at a national level.
SSG’s proposal is well-timed to take advantage of several recent developments in seed harmonization, which streamline the regulatory process for variety release and registration and national seed certification regimes.
For those of us in agriculture, the parallels between the challenge of ensuring equitable supply of COVID-19 vaccine, worldwide, and the longstanding challenge of supplying improved seed to poor, smallholder farmers are impossible to ignore. Both are biological technologies that require highly specialized knowledge to develop. Both then must become the focus of specialized logisticalMarch 3, 2021
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