Better seeds help African farmers see higher yields and incomes

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Millions of farmers in Africa are now harvesting two to three times more grain compared to 10 years ago thanks to improved availability of and access to high yielding, high-quality seed according to estimates by the Alliance for a Green Revolution in Africa (AGRA).

In a newly-released publication tracking the work of the Programme for Africa’s Seed Systems (PASS), an AGRA initiative covering 18 countries, the organization says farmers in many of these countries are harvesting yields of up to 5 metric tons per hectare, up from an average of about 1 metric ton before the programme was started.

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Under the programme which spanned 10 years, more than 600 new varieties of major African crops have been bred and released. In addition, 112 local, private seed companies have been established, up from 10 in 2007 in the whole of sub-Saharan Africa excluding South Africa. As a result, over 600,000 MT of high-quality, high-yielding seeds have been produced and distributed to an estimated 15 million farmers, with significant impact on yields and income. The distribution has been done through a network of about 20,000 private, village-based agro-dealers who have been trained and supported to set up small rural shops that bring the seeds closer to farmers.

Speaking at the launch of the book, the AGRA President, Dr. Agnes Kalibata, observed that establishing a viable system for the supply
of quality, high-yielding seed is an essential component of agricultural transformation.

“Initiatives like PASS are contributing to a new image of African agriculture that is far from the scenes of low productivity and widespread rural poverty of previous decades. Today, many farming households are getting double and triple yields leading to higher incomes. They also have access to crops that are more nutritious, that are drought and pest resistant, and that cook faster using less firewood and saving both the environment and time,” Dr. Kalibata said.

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“Increasing the supply of improved seeds will continue to play a crucial role in growing Africa’s economies through agriculture, but will be made more sustainable, we believe, through the development of the entire food value chain espexially by private local agri-businesses, more forward looking policies, and stronger regulatory institutions,” she said.

Dr. Joe DeVries, AGRA’s Vice President for Program Development and Innovation, noted that the work of PASS has helped farmers to increase their productivity and wellbeing. “We are really pleased to see that farmers across the continent have adopted the new seed. But, the really good news is that crop yields in several countries are increasing for the first time in decades,” said Dr. DeVries.

“It is extremely gratifying to see that this catalytic investment of about $300 million in the national seed sector across the continent over the last decade has yielded a good harvest and laid the foundation for Africa to feed itself,” he added.

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According to the book, entitled, The PASS Journey: Seeding an African Seed Revolution, launched today, the transformation of the agriculture sector is critical to Africa’s economic prosperity. An improved agriculture means food security for all and growth of agri-based enterprises resulting in job creation, especially for the youth.