Increasing Seed System Efficiency in Africa: Concepts, Strategies and Issues

December 1, 1999 - Author: , Julie Howard, and , with Anwar Naseem, Mariah Wanzala and Kei Kajisa

IDWP 77. Mywish Maredia, Julie Howard, and Duncan Boughton, with Anwar Naseem, Mariah Wanzala and Kei Kajisa. 1999. 60 pp. Increasing Seed System Efficiency in Africa: Concepts, Strategies and Issues

Seed can play a critical role in increasing agricultural productivity: seed, together with
environment, determines the upper limit of crop yields and the productivity of all other
agricultural inputs to the farming system. In the mid-1970s, governments and donors recognized
the critical role of seed in agricultural transformation and began to provide substantial support
for seed system development. Most of these resources were used to establish large-scale
parastatal seed corporations, technical laboratories, processing plants and certification
departments. In Africa these efforts achieved only limited success in a few crops such as hybrid
maize and sorghum, leaving the majority of smallholders unserved. Parastatal seed systems
supplied only about 10% of total seed planted each year. About 60-70% of seed used by
African smallholders is saved on-farm, and the remaining 20-30% is borrowed or purchased

The key problems faced by the large-scale parastatal seed organizations were (1) high costs of
production and distribution related to consistently low levels of effective demand, and to the
high cost of transport from centralized seed production facilities to rural areas; (2) a relatively
narrow range of crops/varieties that did not meet smallholder needs; (3) inconsistent seed
quality; and (4) escalating financial problems in countries where government programs
provided subsidized seed to farmers, but budgetary transfers to compensate parastatals for the
subsidies were delayed or not made. As a result of these problems, seed parastatals grew
increasingly dependent on state or donor subsidies during the 1980s. Many of them were
subsequently dissolved and support to other components of the seed system was dramatically
reduced as part of structural adjustment programs implemented across Africa.

Although seed parastatals were not effective in meeting the needs of smallholders, for-profit seed
firms have not yet filled the gap and smallholder access to improved varieties has worsened in a
number of countries following economic reforms. Since the mid-1990s, non-governmental
organizations (NGOs) have become increasingly active in varietal testing and promoting the
development of smallholder seed firms. Given the critical role that improved varieties play in
increasing agricultural production, a key question is how to facilitate the development of a seed
system that is capable of generating, producing

Tags: cross-country, idwp

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Mywish Maredia

Mywish Maredia

Duncan Boughton

Duncan Boughton

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