Tuesday, August 20, 2013

Insufficient seed: A barrier to farmers’ adoption of varieties

In sub-Saharan Africa, insufficient seed of new varieties has been a barrier to farmers’ adoption of varieties for decades. Moreover, seed systems have almost always been divorced from the providers of the varieties — the breeders.

According to Dr Moussa Sié, Africa Rice Breeding Task Force Coordinator, breeders should be responsible for the production of ‘breeder seed’. When the formal seed sector works correctly, the seed service will use the breeder seed to produce ‘foundation seed’, which in turn will be given out to so-called outgrowers (either directly or via a development agency) who will grow ‘certified seed’ — certification being granted by the seed service after field inspection.

It is the certified seed that is sold to farmers. Not that AfricaRice envisages a situation in which every farmer uses certified seed every year — that is just too steep a hill to climb! Rather, AfricaRice sees a situation in which about a fifth (20%) of the rice seed used each year continent-wide is certified, and farmers and the informal seed sector provide the rest. In this way, an average African rice farmer would ‘revert’ to certified seed once every 5 years, and so the quality of rice grain should be maintained.  

Even this vision is a long way from the current situation! “It is important that those millions of farmers who rely on the informal seed sector — saving their own seed or acquiring seed from neighbors or local markets — have access to the best available varieties”, says AfricaRice Deputy Director General Dr Marco Wopereis. In short, that means making the varieties developed or selected by the Task Force available to the whole rice-farming community of the continent. 

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