Boosting Africa’s seed sector: the need for an integrated approach

30 October 2014

A new comprehensive programme on Integrated Seed Sector Development for Africa (ISSD Africa), to support a vibrant, dynamic and diverse seed sector in the continent, was launch held in September in Nairobi. ISSD Africa is supported by the IDS-based Future Agricultures Consortium, with involvement from IDS Research Fellow John Thompson.

KENYA Makueni
People selling seeds and beans in a market in the town of Wote.
Credit: Panos / Sven Torfinn

A flourishing African seed sector, centred around small farmers, could bring huge benefits to agricultural development and farmers’ livelihoods. But seed systems in Africa are fragmented, and informal systems – which make up the vast majority of the sector and are overwhelmingly used by small farmers – often go unrecognised by policy makers.

A number of speakers at the launch explained the importance of action on this issue. 
Mary Mathenge, Director of the Tegemeo Institute of Agricultural Policy and Development, said the initiative would foster a market oriented, vibrant and dynamic seed sector in Africa. The aim was to provide access to quality seed of superior varieties, both improved and local, by recognising both informal and formal seed systems.

The potential benefits of use of quality seeds can be enormous, said Janet Edeme of the African Union Commission in her keynote address. The benefits included employment, resistance to drought or pests, and greater food security. She pointed to the recent history of co-operation on seeds by African Union, The Comprehensive Africa Agriculture Development Programme (CAADP) and regional bodies, upon which ISSD Africa’s work would build. 

Johnson Irungu, of the Kenyan Ministry of Livestock and Fisheries, said that the vast majority of farmers in Kenya rely on informal systems. A concerted effort of all players in the seed industry and the public sector was needed, as well as partnerships to improve access for farmers. Walter de Boef of the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation pointed out that it was beyond the scope of national governments to solve some of the obstacles to seed access for farmers. Catalytic investment was needed at national level, but action at continental level was needed too. In this a sound evidence base was vital to establish what mechanisms were effective or not.

Gerbrand Haverkamp of the Dutch Ministry of Economic Affairs noted the role that companies, research institutions and governments have had in changing plant breeding. But the seed sector was diverse, he said, and this diversity was often underestimated. Marja Thijssen (Centre for Development Innovation, Wageningen UR) said that the programme would aim to build programmes on a diversity of seed systems, and strengthen seed governance.

She explained that the programme aimed to address four topics:

  1. common challenges to promoting entrepreneurship in seed value chains;
  2. access to varieties in the public domain;
  3. matching global commitments with national realities and;
  4. supporting Africa-wide programmes related to agricultural and seed sector development. 


Video: short interviews

Participants at the event told us about their hopes for ISSD Africa, their thoughts on the challenges faced by the seed sector in Africa, and what Integrated Seed Sector Development means for them (watch playlist on YouTube).

Video: launch event

Full video of the presentations from the launch (watch on YouTube)

Question and Answer session (watch on YouTube)

Further reading

Image: People selling seeds and beans in a market in the town of Wote, Kenya', Panos/ Sven Torfinn.