Monday, 15 September 2014

To improve access to seeds for African farmers, we need more than technical solutions

seed packets
Inside the agro-vet by STEPS Centre (Flickr),
used with kind permission

Despite huge investment from governments and donors in seed sector development in Africa over the better half of a century, access to quality seed remains a great challenge for smallholder farmers across the continent.

Addressing this challenge is a complex task, and requires an integrated, multidisciplinary and innovation systems approach. Certain aspects of the greater challenge may be best addressed at regional level, through the collaboration of countries, experts, seed programmes, and their associated organizations and institutions in the public and private domains.

A select number of challenge areas have been prioritised for deeper exploration and intervention through an action-oriented research and learning approach during the Piloting Phase of the Comprehensive Programme on Integrated Seed Sector Development in Africa.

These include:
  • Promoting entrepreneurship: ISSD Africa sees a challenge in promoting entrepreneurship in more than just the typical seed value chains, such as maize.
  • Improving access: unless we improve access to those varieties developed in the public domain, they are destined to stay on the shelf.
  • Impacts of global commitments: African seed sector stakeholders, in government, in development and in industry, need to be more critical in their evaluation of global commitments in terms of the implications upon national seed sector development strategies and their domestication into local realities.
  • Coherence and strategy: last on the agenda of the Piloting Phase is addressing the challenge of keeping national investments in the seed sector coherent, cohesive and strategic in meeting the ambitious targets of the Comprehensive Africa Agriculture Development Programme (CAADP) and the African Seed and Biotechnology Programme (ASBP).
Technical solutions, while essential, are only part of the answer. While straightforward technical solutions may provide the important building blocks - such as high yielding hybrid varieties and knowledge on seed business management - what is absent is the architecture for further shaping and combining these building blocks.

For this we require integration of technical and social systems, technologies and institutions, knowledge and good will, if we are to be successful in addressing such a complex challenge in a changing environment.

By Gareth Borman, Centre for Development Innovation, Wageningen UR