Informal channels of selling seeds pose quality assurance issues

By Beth Nyaga

Small, family farmers in Africa purchase more than half of their seeds every year through local markets and other informal sources.

As it appears most smallholder farmers in Africa are not reliant on seeds saved from year to year.

Instead, some 55 percent of seed they plant is purchased—mainly from local markets or from friends and fellow farmers.

“Smallholder farmers are far more likely to purchase seed rather than rely on saved seed,” said Louise Sperling, a Senior Technical Adviser at Catholic Relief Services (CRS).

Sperling led the research while working with the International Center for Tropical Agriculture (known by its Spanish acronym CIAT).

The study’s conclusions were drawn from extensive interviews with farmers in Kenya, Malawi, South Sudan, the Democratic Republic of Congo, Zimbabwe, and Haiti that were conducted as part of the Seed System Security Assessment (SSSA).

The assessment contains extensive information on over 10,000 farmer transactions across ten different seed sources for 40 different crops.

The challenge smallholder farmers are facing is that most of their purchases are going through informal channels like local markets, which don’t have access to many of the new crop varieties that could help farmers improve nutrition and adapt to climate change.

According to Sperling and her co-author, Shawn McGuire of the University of East Anglia (UEA), findings indicate that supplying the farmers with a wider selection of crop varieties is a significant and untapped business opportunity—for both formal and informal seed sellers.

“Innovations in crop science will be of little value to smallholder farmers if they are not matched by innovations in seed delivery,” McGuire said. “We need to see the formal sector more firmly focused on serving the needs of smallholder farmers and it is especially important to realize the potential of local markets as a source for seeds.

“Selling seeds through more informal channels poses challenges for quality assurance, but they are not insurmountable,” Sperling said.

The bottom line is we need to be more open to new ways of getting seed to farmers.

 

  

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