FAC Working Paper 16

Participation, Commercialisation and Actor Networks: The Political Economy of Cereal Seed Production

Published on 1 August 2010

This paper examines the changing framework of cereal seed policy in Ghana from a state-led public sector service in the 1960s to a commercial sector activity in the 2000s, and the implications of these changes. The work argues that attempts to privatise seeds during the 1980s and 1990s under structural adjustment were not very successful, since private sector investors were unwilling to invest in the poorly developed seed sector. Subsequent interventions have built networks of civil society organisations working in conjunction with private and public partnerships to create a social, economic and knowledge infrastructure for the emergence of private seed markets. The paper examines the narratives about seeds that inform and mobilise these networks for the development of commercial seed. It is argued that there is an inherent tension within seed development between the participatory networks of plant breeding and the commercial networks of seed certification and distribution. Participatory breeding is based on farmers’ evaluation of new varieties, incorporation of farmers’ varieties and knowledge into breeding and open access relations between breeders and farmers. Through these relations, farmers also gain access to unreleased varieties, which they experiment with and distribute through their own networks. In contrast with this, commercial networks are concerned with ‘manufacturing’ markets for seeds, where low demand exists and farmers usually multiply their own seeds. This results in strategies that see seeds as objects in themselves that can be appropriated, rather than as products of a largely public process of development. This results in narratives that portray commercial seeds as the panacea for the problems of farmers and depict the main constraints in agriculture as resulting from the lack of reach of commercial seed and agodealers into the rural areas. Thus a commercial Green Revolution is portrayed as the solution to food security issues in Africa. This approach, with its appeals to agricultural modernisation, is effective in mobilising support in the state, since state agricultural organisations are often embedded in agricultural modernisation paradigms. By stressing the importance of the private sector, these approaches appeal to the dominant neoliberal concerns in macroeconomic policy and the increasing power of agribusiness. However, the support of donors and new private foundations for building commercial markets and subsidising commercial seeds and the transaction costs of seed and input markets tends to lock farmers into agribusiness interests and contracts. The assumptions about markets and improved seed serve to marginalise and undermine both the participatory basis on which breeding was organised during the seventies, and the search for more creative and critical solutions to the constraints of agricultural modernisation in the diverse, risky and uncertain environments that characterise much of Africa. The paper examines the new narratives about seeds, the impact of neoliberal reforms on the seed sector, and the interactions and conflicts that characterise the various actor networks that constitute seed development in a case study of the Northern Region of Ghana.

Cite this publication

Amanor, K. S. (2010) Participation, Commercialisation and Actor Networks: The Political Economy of Cereal Seed Production, FAC Working Paper 16, Brighton: Future Agricultures Consortium