Kenya is ahead of its regional peers in making seeds accessible to smallholder farmers, but scores poorly in its fight on counterfeits a new seed index has revealed.
The index dubbed, The Africa Seed Access Index, TASAI, the first of its kind in Africa, dedicated to monitoring the state of Africa’s rapidly evolving seed sector, issued detailed scorecards on seed development and distribution in Kenya, Uganda, South Africa and Zimbabwe, with a focus on increasing choices for smallholder farmers.
Kenyan seed companies outshine all other countries in making seed accessible to smallholder farmers in miniature packs of less than five kilos.
Agriculture experts say this is important because in Kenya, as in most other countries in the region, smallholder farmers account for the majority of crop production, and they want seeds in relatively small packages.
“It’s crucial that smallholder farmers in Africa have access to a wide range of crop varieties, because small farms are the mainstay of food production in the region,” said Joe Devries, the director of the Program for African Seed Systems at the Alliance for a Green Revolution in Africa (AGRA). “Seeds may not be a cure-all, but without a healthy seed sector, it’s hard to see how African farmers can satisfy the food demands of a population growing faster than any on earth and adapt to the effects of climate change that are rapidly altering farming conditions.”
Traditionally in Kenya, the cost and scarcity of high quality seeds in Kenya has held back many smallholders in achieving the highest yields, as well as limiting them in trying out new crops. But the first moves by small, local producers into top quality seed production is now opening doors for agropreneurs to experiment with new, more lucrative crops.
Leldet Seed Company Ltd in Nakuru is typical of the companies now leading the way in expanding seed options to farmers, by taking on the high registration and approval fees, but then packaging seeds for under-utilised seeds such as pigeon pea, sorghum, soya beans, chick pea and ground nut into tiny, sample packets, for farmers to use for their own trials.
As a private company with a750 hectare farm, Leldet has drawn on help from international organizations and research institutions to help more than 5,000 farmers access improved seeds at affordable prices.
Farmers have long shied away from purchasing top quality seeds due to the prohibitive charges and the bulk packaging. However, taking a lead from the success of fast-moving consumer products in rural areas, Leldet came up with the idea of reducing the size of packets of seeds and fertilizers to help smallholder farmers take the first steps to scale-up production.
The small packets can be bought for just a few shillings, enabling farmers to try out the seed before risking their money on large purchases for uncertain results.
Leldet has been aggressive in marketing the small packs to farmers through farmer field days and agricultural shows. The small packs are sold in 80g for Sh10, or 400g at Sh50, as opposed to, for example, a 50 kilogram bag of fertilizer which goes for Sh2,500 to Sh3,000. On average 150 farmers are reached on a single field day.
But even as the country makes successful strides in providing high yielding, fast maturing and drought resistant seed varieties to smallholder farmers, the country is grappling with the fake seeds menace which is threatening to reverse gains made in the sector.
According to research by the Kenya Agricultural and Livestock Research Organization (KARLO), roughly four out of ten seed packets in the country contain fake seed, and three quarters of Kenyan farmers have planted fake seeds at some point.