Crop breeding experts meet to boost seed production

More than 100 African crop breeding experts have been meeting in Nairobi to discuss ways of developing thousands of high performing and high impact seed varieties for smallholders, as Africa continues to lag behind in crop yields due to the lack of a localized crop breeding seed system.

“In Africa, farmers have largely not benefited from improved seeds due to a lack of localized crop breeding and efficient, dependable seed delivery system. And so crop yields in most of Africa have remained one-third of those produced by farmers in other developing regions of the worlds. Good seed is not just the driving force behind good harvests and eliminating poverty and hunger, it’s the foundation for rapid economic growth,” said Jane Karuku, AGRA president.

Speaking during the event, Gebesa Ejeta, World Food Prize laureate, elaborated, “I believe that global food security is the biggest challenge that the world needs to address now and the science of plant breeding is a critical component in that agenda.”

“In a country like Ethiopia, farming technology has hardly improved with farmers using outdated farming practices that do not increase their yields or impact on their livelihoods significantly. For farmers to improve their livelihoods and increase their income we need to see simple science available to people, like improved seeds. If we do not get our act together the continent will be left behind,” Gebesa Ejeta.

The first step towards farmers accessing simple science is ensuring that farmers have access to improved seeds. This has been a major challenge across Africa, with seed companies not able to meet the demand by farmers, resulting to farmer turning to their grains as seeds.

AGRA’s own seed program has begun to address some of these challenges with the majority of farmers accessing the new seed reporting dramatic increases in their harvests. As a result of AGRA’s support to many partners, an additional 40,000 MT per annum of hybrid seed, representing 1/3 of the commercially produced seed in Africa, is now reaching smallholder farmers.

These seeds have been produced by 60 small, African-owned seed companies launched with capital and strengthened by AGRA - a 100% increase in the number of such companies. In terms of food production, this means an additional 4 million MT of staple crops per annum.  AGRA’s experts believe that the tipping point to food security with respect to improved seeds is 500,000 MT per annum of high yielding, improved crop varieties.

“So far, AGRA programs have supported the development of almost 400 new seed varieties and the commercialisation of over 200. The challenge now is how to address the gap between the released varieties and the commercialized. If we can get this right we’ll be able to make lasting impact on the lives of millions of smallholders in Africa,” said Joe Devries, director of AGRA’s seed program.

Written by Bob Koigi for African Laughter