Some Good News from Eastern DR Congo

Above left:  Farmers in South Kivu, DR Congo, visit an on-farm demonstration of hybrid maize.  Above right:  First harvest of hybrid maize seed production by Agri-Force Seed Company.

This year marks the start of maize hybrid seed production in Bukavu, South Kivu, DR Congo. Two local seed companies – Agri-Force and Ets Munga – embarked on production of a CIMMYT-bred hybrid, ‘WE5117’, on 12 and 8 ha, respectively.  ‘WE5117’ is a drought tolerant three-way hybrid.  Parental seed of the hybrid was supplied by QualiBasic Seed Company.  

It’s an exciting development for this troubled region where farmers have had little access to improved varieties, let alone hybrids.

A technical team from Seed Systems Group (SSG) visited Agri-Force’s seed production fields in the latter half of February, and what we found was inspirational. 

Hybrid maize seed production is not highly technical, but does require good understanding of the principles of hybridization plus good crop management. For a first-time production, Mr. Herman Matabataba, General Manager of Agri- Force, and his team did a marvelous job. The fields were well-arranged in the recommended 3:1 female:male ratio, the females had been detasseled perfectly, and seed-set was good. The growth of the crop was impressive, with good crop uniformity, plant structure and weed control. Although we could not visit the fields of Ets Munga, the report from Mrs. Nangendo Munga, the company’s owner, is that their fields are also doing well.  SSG expects these two local seed companies to harvest about 50 metric tons of hybrid maize seed in a few months’ time.  

This marks the first commercial production of hybrid maize seed in DR Congo’s history and was made possible through financial support to SSG from USAID and IITA via the “Accelerated Innovations Development Initiative – Great Lakes”, which operates in Rwanda, Burundi, and South Kivu, DR Congo. 

When one considers that maize is grown across DR Congo, and that hybrid seed can easily allow farmers to double or triple their yields, the potential impact of establishing this technology within DR Congo’s seed systems is enormous.

Fifty tons is a significant amount of seed for first time production, and will present something of a marketing challenge. However, in this same season, 30,000 small (100 gram) sample packs of hybrid maize seed were distributed to farmers of South Kivu by Rikolto, an NGO active in the area. These small packs of seed have given farmers a chance to see for themselves the performance of hybrid maize in their own fields. We visited two of these farmers, and while there, several neighboring farmers came to see what was going on. The hybrid looked good in both fields, and farmers expressed their excitement about the prospect of being able to buy this seed locally prior to the next cropping season. 

To support the long-term development of hybrid maize seed supply in South Kivu, it is necessary to undergird the private sector seed companies with early generation seed production through the national agriculture research institute, INERA. Consequently, the production of parent seed of the hybrid is also being undertaken. This doesn’t require a lot of land, but is important to have well-isolated fields and good management. The INERA-Mulungu station, north-west of Bukavu, is an ideal setting for this. The INERA station Director, Dr. Kutunga, and Research Officer, Dr. Rene Civava, have played supportive roles in ensuring sufficient foundation seed will be produced for future certified seed production.

This is the mission of SSG – introducing improved varieties through national agricultural research, engaging local companies to produce and market quality seed, and promoting the benefits of good seed to thousands of farmers while helping to build retail seed networks. Once this chain is set in motion, and farmers get to realize the greater productivity of improved varieties, the system becomes perpetual. 

One may ask, is hybrid seed necessary for these small-holder farming systems? Will farmers really buy the seed? 

Based on the level of interest generated by the sample seed packs, there is a desire to grow hybrid maize. Furthermore, the cost of locally produced seed is less than imported seed. The maize grain price in Bukavu is around $600/ton, while the seed price will come out at about $1800/t, giving a seed:grain price ratio of 3. Hence, if a farmer buys 2 kg of seed, she needs to harvest only 6 kg more grain to cover the cost of the seed.

Local seed systems are a means of empowering communities to be self-reliant and productive. The introduction and production of hybrid maize seed in South Kivu is an exciting development. With a bit more support over the coming years to fine-tune production and marketing processes we envision that an unstoppable seed sector will be established.

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