September 5th, 2019
A study by seed scientist Dr. Joe DeVries found that farmers in countries where improved seeds are readily available reported increased yields each year. In comparison, the output stagnated for countries where improved and climate resilient seeds were not in supply.
Dr. DeVries and his team studied data from 15 countries, where the Alliance for a Green Revolution in Africa (AGRA) has helped set about 120 private seed companies producing 150,000 metric tonnes of high-yielding seeds against 15 others where the improved seeds were non-existent. Dr. DeVries was a former Vice President of Program Development and Innovation at AGRA.
“The latter 15 countries, with approximately 320 million people of whom 38 million are farmers, maintained the same quantity of yields as five decades ago,” said DeVries.
With these findings in mind, DeVries, and his Seed Systems Group (SSG), which was officially launched at the African Green Revolution Forum (AGRF), in Accra Ghana, are now moving towards introducing improved seeds in the countries that are presently unserved.
It is a mammoth task costing $80 -100m, but Dr. DeVries says the target of increasing farming yields across the continent is worth pursuing as it will cushion Africa against potential pressures arising from its rapidly increasing population.
Africa is presently home to more than 1.2 billion people, which is expected to double by 2050, presenting a mounting challenge for the continent to feed its people, grow its economy, create decent jobs and improve the quality of life for its citizens.
But with the continent majorly depending on agriculture for sustenance – 70% of all the food consumed – it follows that the SSG’s intervention might be coming at the right time.
For a quicker pace to goal, Dr. DeVries says it will require the SSG to engage the innovativeness and vast reach of the private sector. Still, he does not disregard the importance of governments in the creation of value chains with fellow scientists confirming that public private partnerships are critical in fast-tracking the uptake of improved seeds by farmers.
Mr. Enock Chikava, Deputy Director Agriculture, Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation, focused on the establishment of strong working partnerships between private sector players and governments in the production and distribution of seeds. Mr. Chikava also notes that partnerships between improved seed producers is critical for genetic gains.
“Public private partnerships are important for the development of seed systems that give farmers access to superior inputs; partnerships across the private sector, on the other hand, are important for the further improvement of seeds,” Chikava said.
An excited DeVries adds that his team will use all resources within their capacity to reach as many farmers as possible.
“Public education is important in promoting uptake and we will use all means to get to as many farmers as possible, we will use community radio roadshows and other techniques that properly reach our target demographic properly,” DeVries said.
Ultimately, says Gloria Boakyewaa Adu, a maize breeder at the Council for Scientific and Industrial Research (CSIR) Crops Research Institute,” all efforts go to waste if farmers are not aware of the existence of the improved seeds or have no capacity to access them.”