African seed companies called to serve poor farmers

By Rebecca Chimjeka

Delegates at the Club 10000 MT seed companies’ conference convening in Lilongwe, Malawi’s capital have agreed at promoting local African growth seed production to do better business and effectively serve the smallholder farmers.

The meeting is being hosted by the Nairobi-based Alliance for a Green Revolution in Africa (AGRA).

“The greatest challenge facing the African continent is meeting our food needs. We are now in Malawi, a country that just a few years ago couldn’t feed itself but now not only feeds itself but also exports to its neighbors,” said AGRA executive director Dr Namanga Ngongi. “The time has come where small seed companies can produce enough seed to take over the responsibility from governments.”

He also advised the seed CEOs to be bold in their plans to be able to compete from the multinational companies that are also marketing seed in sub-Saharan Africa.

Currently, the smallholder farmers constitute over 70 percent of Africa’s agricultural sector which is the mainstay way of most economies on the continent.

Director of Program for Africa Seed Systems (PASS) Dr. Joe De Vries since hybrid seed has never been possible for government agencies, Africa must develop its own private seed sector.

“To solve the breeding problem, more people should be brought into the breeding profession and that it be done in closer collaboration with farmers.

“The growth of private seed companies in Africa has been truly remarkable. It extends from situations where countries have seen their first seed companies be born and grow into major new forces on the agricultural scene. This has been the case for Mali, Burkina Faso, Niger, Sierra Leone, Liberia, Rwanda, Ethiopia, and Mozambique.

“But the creation of these private seed companies has had impact well beyond the mere production and sale of seed. As a result some governments have established entirely new seed policies as in the case of Ghana, Tanzania, Ethiopia, Mozambique, and now Nigeria,” he said.

AGRA’s Program for Africa’s Seed Systems (PASS) began five years ago to increase smallholder farmer’s access to higher yielding seeds of staple food crops.
The program has already achieved significant success with the majority of farmers who accessed the new seed reporting dramatic increases in their harvests.

By 2017, PASS will add 40 new private, independent seed companies to the 60 already established under the first phase of the program.

In Malawi, AGRA through its Program for Africa’s Seed Systems (PASS) is supporting a range of activities in partnership with the Government of Malawi and other partners, which include funding crop breeding programs that have resulted in the release over 20 new varieties of crops like beans, sweetpotato, pigeon pea, and cassava.

Also, in the pipeline are four excellent, new maize varieties that are awaiting release which are already highly sought after by seed companies.

AGRA is also supporting four local seed companies in Malawi, who are producing some of the seed being used in Malawi’s input subsidy program, and the development of an agro-dealer program which is enabling farmers in rural areas access seed of their choice and on time.

AGRA through PASS has provided scholarships to 6 Phd students and 7 Msc crop scientists some of whom have returned home and are breeding in the public sector to develop new farmer preferred varieties.

These efforts will build structures to get improved seed in the hands of smallholder farmers to increase production and decrease dependence on aid, according to PASS.

AGRA was founded in 2006 through a partnership between The Rockefeller Foundation and the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation.

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