Farmers in Africa to get quality seeds in new drive

Friday February 17 2017

A small-scale maize farmer. Small-scale farmers in eastern Democratic Republic Congo are struggling to get access to improved seeds due to a nascent seed industry, an inefficient business environment, poor infrastructure and insecurity in some areas. PHOTO | FILE

A small-scale maize farmer. A continental initiative aimed at enhancing food security through the production of quality certified seeds has opened in Nairobi. PHOTO | FILE 

By KENNEDY SENELWA

A continental initiative aimed at enhancing food security through the production of quality certified seeds has opened in Nairobi.

The African Agricultural Technology Foundation (AATF) has established the QualiBasic Seed Company Ltd (QBS) with an initial investment of $8.4 million from the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation to be spread over five years.

The initiative, an early generation seed production entity, will supply quality planting materials to small and medium seed companies. The firms will then use the foundation seed to produce certified seeds for sale to farmers.

After five years, the firms will be invited to own QBS through the sale of shares. QBS will start with maize seed from Eastern and Southern Africa, with production hubs in Kenya, Zambia and South Africa before moving to other cereals and legumes.

AATF executive director Denis Kyetere said operating a functional foundation seed production system could cost a firm $500,000 per year, which is costly for many SME seed firms.

Centralised system

“Investing a similar amount to operate a centralised system that services various firms would make foundation seed production more efficient, benefiting from economies of scale and the use of the most ideal agro-ecologies,” said Dr Kyetere.

It is estimated that SME firms could reach over 60 per cent small farmers in sub-Saharan Africa, but for production processes and the lengthy period required to release quality seed. The minimum is five seasons or 2.5 years in Kenya and up to five years in some countries in Southern Africa.

Over $1 billion has been invested in Africa through various global crop improvement programmes including maize hybrids. Unfortunately, the access and subsequent benefits of these varieties are yet to be significantly realised at the farmer level.

The Bill & Melinda Gates investment in QBS targets smallholder farmers especially women, and seeks to help them realise the full genetic gains of climate resilient crop varieties.

AATF deputy director of Agricultural Development Enock Chikava said the partnership will help ensure that foundation seed is available to seed companies, as well as increase productivity of land, incomes and nutrition for farmers.