Africa’s seed sector is not effective, forcing farmers to rely mainly on informal seed sources and this situation, experts state, has stagnated agricultural growth in Sub-Saharan Africa, threatening food security and economic development.
Joanes Atela, a senior research fellow at the Kenya-based African Centre for Technology Studies, says that African scientists and agricultural researchers should increase efforts to develop seeds that can help smallholder farmers fight the effects of climate change.
“Smallholder farmers are the most hit by the effects of climate change,” Atela told SciDev.Net, adding that farmers need improved seed varieties that can resist or withstand the impacts of climate change such as droughts and flooding. Namibia is prone to both these scenarios and the country has experienced consecutive droughts that have left some 500 000 people in urgent need of drought relief food.
Government is also in the process of finalizing a freshened drought food aid programme and an announcement in that regard is expected any day now from Cabinet.
Atela commended African and international research institutes for investing in climate-smart agriculture, noting that proper coordination is required to ensure that smallholder farmers access such seeds.
Atela was speaking at a recent Integrated Seed Sector Development (ISSD) Africa seminar in Kenya, Nairobi where international agricultural experts stressed that smallholder farmers in Sub-Saharan Africa need sustainable solutions to address challenges of access to high quality seeds.
“Seed is an important factor for agricultural production; it is the main factor of yield and we need to do a lot to improve the seed sector for increased agricultural production,” said Mary Mathenge, director of the Kenya-based Tegemeo Institute of Agricultural Policy and Development, which organised the seminar and administers the ISSD Africa project in Kenya.
Mathenge noted that smallholders in Sub-Saharan Africa are unable to get full information on good seeds and access them, pointing out that circulation of fake seeds is a major problem in Kenya that hinders the transformation of the agricultural sector.
The seminar heard that Africa needs well-functioning, market-driven seed systems and research scientists working with smallholder farmers to improve their seeds.
Strengthening of South-South partnerships would also help to address common challenges in the seed sector, the experts explained. An African-embedded structure and networks of experts would also create a favourable environment for innovation to help match global commitments to national realities.
Other solutions suggested included a need to embrace information and communication technologies such as mobile phones to sensitise smallholder farmers on how to source high quality seeds.
Participants emphasised the importance of involving smallholder farmers in the early processes of seed breeding so that they can own and adopt the seeds