Wednesday, October 14, 2015

Nothing less than a seed revolution for smallholder farmers

The challenge, however, is to ensure that improved seed reaches smallholder farmers  — including those at the “last mile” — through sound investment in seed systems.

Farmers typically use two types of seed systems — formal and informal. The first offers modern crop varieties in the form of high-quality “certified” seed, which is generally made available through research organizations, private seed companies, and sometimes emergency relief agencies. Informal or traditional systems move a range of varieties — both local and modern, and of variable quality — through local markets, social networks, and farmers’ own seed stocks.

For decades, nearly all investment in seed systems has focused on supporting the formal model (both public and private). Yet, farmers continue to source the lion’s share of the seed they sow from informal channels. Recent large-scale studies involving 40 crops and 10,000 or more observations (mostly from Africa but also Haiti) document this puzzling conundrum with precision. Farmers were found to obtain 90.2 percent of their seed from informal systems, including 50.9 percent from local markets. Meanwhile, formal sector agro dealers supplied only 2.4 percent of the seed — and most of that was just maize and hybrid vegetable seed. The figures for grain legumes are even more striking: 98 percent from the informal sector and 64.4 percent from markets.

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