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Harnessing Innovation And Data To Ensure Seed Delivery

The International Maize and Wheat Institute (CIMMYT) conducted a three-day meeting on seed systems and how to deliver better varieties to farmers and consumers. The forum with the theme: Harnessing Innovation and Data for Enhanced Last Mile Seed Delivery, was from October 31-November 2 2023 in Nairobi.

Over 15 countries mainly from West and East Africa attended. These included Uganda, Tanzania, Mali, Nigeria, Malawi and Ghana, among others. The participants were mainly from national programmes that are equivalent to the Kenya Agricultural and Research Organization (Kalro).

Included among the 26 partners in attendance were non-governmental organizations that deal with communication, business and how to develop and promote information on new varieties. The Centre for Behaviour Change and Communication (CBCC) Africa, Syngenta Foundation for Sustainable Agriculture and New Markets Lab were among them.

The Director for the programme on Dryland crops which works with sorghum, millet, groundnuts, finger millet and chickpea and pigeon pea, at CIMMYT, Kevin Pixley said, “The objectives of the meeting included developing business cases that would help inform seed companies and farmers which varieties are the most useful, successful and valuable for farmers and consumers.”

The ravages of climate change make it more difficult for farmers to produce successful crops. Access to better seeds is paramount. “A farmer needs to know which variety will mature earlier, is more nutritious, resistant to heat or drought and this information helps a farmer to make a better choice so that they can have more profit to themselves and also produce better varieties for consumers.”

CIMMYT is concerned that many varieties are released but are never greatly adopted. “We need to be aware of what consumers want and what the farmer needs to be more resilient in the face of changing climate,” Pixley said.

The participants were reminded that on-farm trials in hundreds of locations, and on more farmers’ fields should be conducted and the farmers should tell the scientists which ones they prefer and why. “This approach would help us know which ones to release and commercialize,” Pixley said.

The Seed Systems for Dryland Crops and Partnerships Lead at CIMMYT, Dr. Chris Ojiewo, treasures the seed. He terms it the most important in the whole value chain. Good quality seed that has good genetic potential for greater yield, nutrition, income, and adaptability to changing variable climate is what farmers need.

Dr. Ojiewo recognizes how critical food, nutrition and income security are for farmers. “Dealing with dryland crops means handling crops with relevance to climate change,” he said. “These should fit into the farmers’ diversity that enables them to bounce back in case of a bad year and still harvest something.”

Dr. Ojiewo hypothesized about the low uptake. It could be that some of the varieties are not necessarily meeting the needs of the farmers. The breeders might have developed a seed for resistance to a particular disease or tolerance to drought or early maturity. “But that breeder might have missed some key critical issues that the farmer is interested in,” Dr. OjiewO said.  “It could be as simple as the colour, taste, cooking time, or the size.”

The Director for the programme on Dryland crops which works with sorghum, millet, groundnuts, finger millet and chickpea and pigeon pea, at CIMMYT, Kevin Pixley, addressing the meeting participants drawn from over 15 countries.

Farmers seed companies, processors and traders need to know what the good traits are that make them compelling to buy, trade in them or commercialize them.

Ojiewo laments that most of the varieties are released in very little quantity. Picking on the example of six kilograms of groundnuts, he cites their multiplication factor which is not more than 10. This means, from one generation to the next, all you can get is 60kgs. “How many farmers can you supply with 60 kgs?” he asked. Four generations would be required to reach tones.

“We want a situation where we say we are looking for 10, 000 tones and we get it quickly,” he said. “We need irrigation to get an early generation of seed to quickly multiply and be able to reach the farmers.”

Another reason hampering the uptake of new varieties is due to some attached sentimental values. “Some farmers don’t listen when you suggest to them about crops other than maize,” Dr. Ojiewo said. “Regardless of how low-yielding some varieties are, farmers will continue growing them. There’s a need for behaviour change from farmers.”

Dr Ojiewo disclosed that in the regions that attended the meeting, the varieties that have been released are in the range of 40. Most countries are producing less than 10 varieties.

“Breeders need to start with the winning variety in the market and study it,” Dr. Ojiewo said. The reasons need to be analyzed.

Mafouasson Apala Epse Tontsa is from Cameroon. She works for the National Agricultural Research Institute (IRAD). “We came here to see what is happening in variety delivery,” she said. She added, “We want to take into account how to organize partnerships. When we go back to our country we also try to implement based on what we have seen here.”

Hellen Opie is a Socio economist working for the National Research Organization in Uganda. “We have a model where we work with research-linked farmers to produce early-generation seed. They work closely with the breeders. This has helped us to increase the amount of seed that we produce.”

The Technical Director at the CBCC, Dr, Catherine Lengewa said, “Our work within the seed systems is encouraging communities and farmers to change behaviour.” After the seed has been produced and is in the market, “We encourage the adoption of this seed. At community levels, we implement different behaviour change interventions to help ensure that farmers and communities understand why they need improved seed.”

CBCC is implementing innovative models in Kenya, Uganda and Tanzania through youth and women quality centres. It advocates for the availability and accessibility of seed so that communities and farmers do not have any reasons for not adopting the improved seed. “We focus on ensuring that we use interventions that are available at the last mile so that we get to reach every household.”

Source : Kenya News