Sustainable agriculture

Seed systems

Sustainable agriculture - Seed systems
Image: via Flickr (by: World Bank)

Seed is an essential input for crop production. For farmers, access to affordable and high quality seeds is therefore important for increasing agricultural production and productivity. In many developing countries, the formal seed system has shifted from a publicly dominated sector to a privately dominated sector. Nevertheless, the largest share of seeds are still produced by farmers themselves. In this Knowledge Portal topic, the focus is on seed sector systems and technical seed system innovations. Specific focuses are: integrated seed sector development, linking of informal and formal seed systems, balance between public- and private-sector involvement, seed quality and quality control, and seed production.

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Policy options to accelerate variety change among smallholder farmers in South Asia and Africa South of the Sahara
Published by IFPRI,
This discussion paper explores the importance of varietal turnover in advanced and transitional seed systems for food staples in South Asia and sub-Saharan Africa. The genetic improvement of food staple crops cultivated by small-scale farmers is a well-established route to increasing agricultural productivity and improving rural livelihoods. »
The long tail of the seed industry
Published by Bayer Crop Science,
This blog discusses the importance of smaller regional seed companies in the delivery and adoption of new technologies to smallholder farmers. Within the seed industry there is a small group of big global players and a long tail of smaller regional, national and niche players. »
Seven ways seed systems help the world’s poor
Published by CIP,
This blog explains different ways how effective seed systems help the world's poor. An effective seed system can help mitigate the impact of pressures due to climate change by helping smallholder farmers access quality materials that increase crop yields and are responsive to the challenges they face in their fields. »
The support for farmers-led seed systems in African seed laws
Published by ISSD, KIT,
This synthesis report compares regional and national seed laws in Africa, and analyzes the extent to which they support (or undermine) farmers’ participation in seed systems. The paper pays particular attention to how or whether these laws recognize farmers as conservers and breeders of crop varieties, and as potential multipliers and providers of seed. »
The Netherlands, your partner in quality seed
Published by The Government of the Netherlands,
This brochure presents an overview of the role of Dutch companies, policymakers and researchers in the development of quality seed and seed sectors globally. Over the next few years, the demand for food is set to increase. Quality seed is essential in order to meet this demand. »
The contribution of international vegetable breeding to private seed companies in India
Published by Genetic Resources and Crop Evolution Journal,
This article explores the role of international agricultural research when research and development have shifted to the private sector. Results show that as the role of the private sector in vegetable breeding increased, and with it the share of hybrids in the market, the role of international agricultural research shifted from the provision of ready-made varieties to the provision of specific resistance traits. »
Multi-stakeholder framework for intervening in Roots, Tubers and Bananas (RTB) seed systems: User’s guide
Published by CGIAR Research Program on Roots, Tubers and Bananas ,
This working paper presents a tool, designed to help any interested person to understand root, tuber and banana (RTB) seed systems or for use during planning, monitoring, and implementation of interventions in them. RTB crops are important for food security and commerce, especially in the tropics. »
Sweetpotato seed systems in sub-Saharan Africa
Published by CGIAR RTB,
This working paper reviews CGIAR's current knowledge of sweet potato seed systems in sub-Saharan Africa. The aim is to identify gaps and research needs to ensure smallholder farmers can access timely and sufficient quantities of quality sweet potato planting material. »
Options for national governments to support smallholder farmer seed systems: The cases of Kenya, Tanzania, and Uganda
Published by Hivos, Bioversity International,
This publication examines how current seed policies and laws in Kenya, Tanzania, and Uganda affect smallholder farmers’ practices. The investigation is based on three measures: the degree of recognition of the roles and rights of smallholder farmers; the degree to which policy and legal regulations facilitate smallholder-based seed management; and the level of support such regulations provide for smallholder-based seed management. »
Productivity and food security effects of using of certified seed potato: the case of Kenya’s potato farmers
Published by Agriculture & Food Security Journal,
This article assessed the effect of using certified seed potato (CSP) on yield, input use, and food security among smallholder farmers. The recent development of rapid seed multiplication technique has helped to shorten the duration of CSP production and increase the supply of seed. Results indicate that use of CSP is associated with increased yields, sales, and hence income. In addition, users of CSP were less food insecure than their counterparts. »
Community seedbanking to improve the resilience of farmers: the case of Kiziba seedbank in Uganda
Published by Bioversity International,
This factsheet discusses the Kiziba seedbank in Uganda, established in June 2010. The seedbank was part of a project to improve the productivity and resilience of seeds for farmers through enhanced use of crop varietal diversity, focusing on common bean and banana. The project aimed to fill the gap in seed diversity and good seed quality. The project built on the intraspecific diversity that was available on farm to reduce the pressure of pests and diseases, and on farmers' knowledge to develop new low-cost and sustainable methods and management practices to increase diversity. »
A farmers’ perspective on the Access to Seeds Index 2016 and the way forward
Published by Access to Seeds Foundation,
This report published by Access to Seeds Foundation documents the farmers' consultation of the Access to Seed Index 2016 with 35 farmers' organizations from 26 countries. These four meetings marked the start of the development process towards the second Access to Seeds Index scheduled for Q1 2019. During this consultation farmers' organizations gave more attention to the impact of climate change than during the previous farmers' consultation in 2013. The meetings underlined the need to include farmer cooperatives, associations and community seed enterprises in the overall Index assessment. »
Implementing a national community seedbank strategy for South Africa
Published by Bioversity International,
This factsheet describes two case studies of the community seedbank strategy in South Africa. The aim of this community seedbank strategy was to support smallholder communities to revive and improve their traditional seed-saving practices for the sake of food security and sustainable agriculture and conservation of the county's agricultural biodiversity. It also emphasizes the importance of women farmers as active custodians of agricultural biodiversity, which can be seen in particular in the Gumbu case study, where women farmers show active interest and participation in the project. »
Agricultural extension messages using video on portable devices increased knowledge about seed selection, storage and handling among smallholder potato farmers in southwestern Uganda
Published by PLOS ONE,
This article demonstrates that showing agricultural extension videos significantly increased farmers’ knowledge of recommended practices on seed selection, storage and handling. The video messages were delivered through Android tablets to a sample of potato farmers in southwestern Uganda. This research suggests that videos should be crop and context specific, featuring model farmers to maximize the potential of videos to leverage knowledge farmers already possess but may not be confident enough to use. »
Maize seed systems analysis
Published by KIT Sustainable Economic Development,
These four reports by the KIT are analysis of four maize seed systems in Malawi, Zambia, Bihar in India and Chiapas in Mexico. The four documents describe the adoption and impact of improved maize germplasm at small scale farmer level in these four areas. The objective is to understand whether smallholder farmers have access to seed of improved maize varieties, and if so, how the seed sector supports this. »
How small seed businesses can support climate-resilient value chains: Lessons from Uganda
Published by IISD,
This briefing note by the International Institute for Sustainable Development (IISD) focuses on investments by domestic seed companies in quality seeds, including climate-resilient varieties, in developing countries and the climate risk management (CRM) benefits for other actors along the value chain. »
Study identifies candidate genes to accelerate tropical forage breeding
Published by Earlham Institute,
This study, led by CIAT in collaboration with the Earlham Institute and Yale University highlights genetic elements that could accelerate the breeding of vital forage crops for animal nutrition in Africa and Latin America. The study identifies plants that undergo a biological phenomenon where they can reproduce clonally by apomixis. This means that they do not require egg cells to be fertilised by a male sperm or pollen grain. As result, the progeny (genetic descendants) are clones from the mother plant. A molecular diagnosis for reproduction enables quicker selection of the Brachiaria hybrid plants. By identifying candidate genes and genome regions linked to apomixis, this study opens the door to the use of molecular markers to efficiently select apomictic or sexual plants, a technique called marker-assisted selection (MAS). »
Keeping seeds in peoples’ hands
Published by Global Network For The Right To Food And Nutrition,
This report by the Global Network For The Right To Food And Nutrition concludes that transnational corporations are monopolizing control over seeds with dire consequences for human rights and biodiversity. Increasingly, seed and agrochemical businesses seek to privatize, monopolize and control seeds by patenting and commodifying this very source of life. Meanwhile, peasant and indigenous communities, who have been the developers and guardians of seeds for millennia, are finding their rights to save, use, exchange and sell seeds overshadowed by a corporate agenda that prioritizes profit over human rights and the sustainable maintenance of nature. »
Vegetable seed availability and implications for developing countries: A perspective from Morocco
Published by Outlook on Agriculture journal,
This paper, published in the Outlook on Agriculture journal, provides an overview and analysis of vegetable seed industries in developing countries, with a focus on Morocco, and the resulting influences on smaller subsistence farmers. The ongoing problems and issues related to the absence of vegetable seed industries in developing countries will undoubtedly affect food production, nutritional health and the resulting food security in these countries for future generations. »
Dutch Seeds Debate Report
Published by Agriterra,
In April, Agriterra organized the Dutch Seeds Debate in The Hague, the Netherlands. The debate is an element of ‘Small Farmers, Big Deal’, a campaign designed by Agriterra to connect companies to farmers.‘What can your organization do to support smallholder farmers in developing countries?’ This was the key question during the debate, which was attended by more than 90 representatives of the government, seed companies, research institutions and NGOs. These organizations were triggered to think about what they can do to support smallholder farmers. »
Origins of food crops connect countries worldwide
Published by CIAT,
This research on the Royal Society shows how the origins of food plants has led to the recognition that specific geographical regions around the world have been of particular importance to the development of agricultural crops. Yet the relative contributions of these different regions in the context of current food systems have not been quantified. The authors determine the origins (‘primary regions of diversity’) of the crops comprising the food supplies and agricultural production of countries world. »
Expert meeting on the impact of seed laws on smallholder farming systems in Africa: challenges and opportunities
Published by ISSD Africa,
This Expert Meeting, organized by the Integrated Seed Sector Development (ISSD) Africa Program, in collaboration with partners, took place in Cape Town, 16-17 March 2016. The meeting aimed to present and discuss the findings so far of ISSD Theme 3: Matching global commitments with national realities. The meeting was divided in three sessions, each centered around one of three action learning questions. The outcomes of these discussions and consultations are briefly summarized in the report. »
An integrated approach to maintaining cereal productivity under climate change
Published by Global Food Security,
This article focuses on how knowledge sharing and strategic research collaboration could speed-up genetic, physiological, and molecular understanding of important cereal traits. Cereals, like wheat, rice, maize, pearl millet, and sorghum provide over half of the world's food calories. However, climate change impacts cereal production. To maintain global food security, there is an increasing need to exploit existing genetic variability and develop cultivars with superior genetic yield potential and stress adaptation. »
Access to Seeds Index Report 2016
Published by Access to Seeds Foundation,
The Access to Seeds Index 2016 ranks seed companies by measuring and comparing their efforts to improve access to seeds for smallholder farmers. Access to seeds is of importance for smallholders since better quality seeds have the potential to enhance their production, income and food security. The index consists of three indexes: one for major field crop seed companies, one for vegetable seed companies and one regional index for Eastern Africa. »
India’s seed sector is flourishing. Could African farmers benefit?
Published by Future Agricultures,
This expert opinion of Dominic Clover assesses to what extend India’s thriving seed sector can play a role in delivering affordable, high-quality seeds to African farmers. Clover argues that India shares some of the diverse agro-ecologies and crops found in Africa, so technologies and methods used by Indian farmers might also be relevant to African situations. India’s development story, as an emerging economy with millions of its own small-scale cultivators, might indeed provide relevant knowledge, expertise and investments to help develop the seed sector in Africa. »
Seed systems smallholder farmers use
Published by Food Security Journal,
This article elaborates on the importance of informal seed markets for African family farmers. Using a comprehensive data set with 9660 observations across six countries and covering 40 crops, the authors show that farmers access 90.2 % of their seed from informal systems with 50.9 % of that deriving from local markets. However, current investments are mostly geared towards formal markets instead of informal ones, while the informal sector remains the core for seed acquisition in Africa. »
The Seeds of Freedom trilogy
Published by Seeds of Freedom,
The Seeds of Freedom Trilogy tells the story of seed from its roots at the heart of traditional, diversity-rich farming systems across the world, to being transformed into a powerful commodity, used to monopolise the global food system. The films are created by Gaia foundation in partnership with the African Biodiversity Network, MELCA Ethiopia, Navdanya International and Grain. »
Seeds of justice: In the hands of farmers
Published by Gaia Foundation,
This movie narrates the story of Ethiopian plant geneticist Dr Melaku Worede and his lifelong commitment for the acknowledgement of traditional farmers' knowledge and his commitment to secure Ethiopia's crop diversity. The movie tries to underscore the importance of the knowledge of farmers. »
How better seeds make Timor-Leste climate resilient
Published by SciDevNet,
This movie on SciDevNet shows how improved seed varieties in Timor-Leste have contributed to improved food security. The movie documents the advances of the project Seeds of Life, which is designed to improve food security through helping farmers produce and distribute improved seed varieties. The farmers can use the seeds themselves but also sell the seeds for profit. Improved seed varieties can improve climate resilience. »
The expansion of the commercial seed sector in sub-Saharan Africa: Major players, key issues and trends
Published by ACB,
The report by The African Centre for Biosafety (ACB), describes how the seed industry in sub-Saharan Africa, far from being a homogenous bloc, is comprised of several layers. These include the largest multinational companies; a number of large companies from Europe and Asia, many of whom specialise in vegetable crops; and a group of former national seed companies from eastern and southern Africa. Joining these established players is a plethora of emerging African seed companies. »
A Seed Resource Box to help farmers adapt to climate change
Published by Biodiversity International,
The Resilient Seed Systems Resource Box is a tool to enhance the access and use of crop diversity to adapt to climate change. It is an open-access toolkit with eight steps that provides a methodology to build resilient seed systems and helps farmers adapt to climate change effects. The box can be used to find selected resource to support research processes, or as a learning tool for building capacity in facilitating, conducting or participating in research processes. »
Seeds without borders: sharing crop diversity to adapt to climate change
Published by CCAFS,
In this article on the CGIAR website, Michael Halewood of Bioversity International reports on the workshop ‘Mutual Implementation of the Plant Treaty and the Nagoya Protocol in the context of wider policy goals’, held Nov. 16-20 in Addis Ababa. The meeting focused on how countries can identify and access diversity they need and share associated benefits. »
Farmer seed networks make a limited contribution to agriculture? Four common misconceptions
Published by Food Policy Journal,
This paper in the Food Policy Journal identifies four common misconceptions regarding the nature and importance of farmer seed networks today. (1) Farmer seed networks are inefficient for seed dissemination. (2) Farmer seed networks are closed, conservative systems. (3) Farmer seed networks provide ready, egalitarian access to seed. (4) Farmer seed networks are destined to weaken and disappear. »
Social seed networks: Identifying central farmers for equitable seed access
Published by Agricultural Systems Journal,
This article (PDF) in the Agricultural Systems Journal, demonstrates how informal seed systems' social relationships are structured in two communities and suggests that community-based agrobiodiversity initiatives could use networks to promote more equitable improved seed distribution. Community-based agrobiodiversity management projects have been at the forefront of integrating informal seed systems into food security initiatives. »
The Seeds for Needs Initiative in Ethiopia: integrating farmer and scientist knowledge
Published by Bioversity International,
This set of factsheets by Bioversity International shows how the 'Seeds for Needs' initiative works with farmers to research how agricultural biodiversity can help minimize the risks associated with climate change. The concept is simple – if farmers have better information and access to a wide range of varieties, they are more able to choose what best suits their conditions and cope with unpredictable weather. Seeds for Needs is trying to encourage this by exposing farmers to more crop varieties and increase their first-hand knowledge about different traits and options available and strengthening their seed systems and seed-saving capacity so that they always have access to planting material that fits their changing needs. »
Review of community seed production practices in Africa
Published by CGIAR Research Program on Grain Legumes,
This review consists of two parts. Part one takes a closer look at implementation strategies and models of community seed production practices, while part two focuses on lessons learned and future perspectives. The study covers five case studies in Africa and is based on an analysis of different published and unpublished sources on seed production and seed delivery with a focus on farmer seed management and commercial seed. The review was also informed by interviews with seed system practitioners. »
Seed System Security Assessment in West Nile Sub region
Published by ,
This report is an outcome of a Seed Security Assessment (SSA) conducted in West Nile sub-region in March 2015. The assessment, which was commissioned by the Integrated Seed Sector Development (ISSD) Uganda, was necessitated by the need to fully understand the local community’s perspectives on seed security and how the influx of refugees in the sub-region affects seed demand and supply. »
Seed Systems Support in Kenya: Consideration for an Integrated Seed Sector Development Approach
Published by Journal of Sustainable Development,
This article reveals that the evolution of seed policies and regulatory frameworks in Kenya since independence exposes a continuous support for the formal seed sector while support given to the informal sector has merely been intended to transform it into formal. The threats of climate change and rising food prices have stirred renewed attention for seed and food security in Africa, inviting new thinking on the role of seed sector development in coping with these concerns. »
World crop diversity survives in small farms from peri-urban to remote rural locations
Published by ScienceDaily,
This article in ScienceDaily shows that that small farmers, in many cases women, are the ones preserving landraces of food crops. The researchers looked at new census data from 11 countries in Africa, Asia and Latin America and combined that data with field observations. »
Seed laws that criminalise farmers: resistance and fightback
Published by GRAIN/ La Via Campesina,
This paper by La Via Campesina and GRAIN is further exploring seed laws and legislative processes. They explore how seed laws make farmers’ seeds illegal and which types of seed laws are promoted by the industry. Furthermore, special attention is paid to the struggles of farmers with examples from Africa, America, Asia and Europe. »
Towards an integrated market for seeds and fertilizers in west Africa
Published by The World Bank,
This World Bank Group (WBG) working paper (PDF), explores the development of integrated regional markets and agricultural input supply chains for farmers in West Africa. The paper is a result of consultations with seed, fertilizer, and regional trade experts in the region. The working paper offers recommendations to build on the progress of West African governments that have worked on the development of trade rules and quality control methods. »
Exploratory study on Rwanda’s seed sector: options for Dutch support
Published by Wageningen UR Centre for Development Innovation,
This exploratory study by CDI on Rwanda’s seed sector has been commissioned by the Embassy of the Kingdom of the Netherlands in Kigali. The objectives of the study have been to: analyse the institutional landscape of Rwanda’s seed sector in terms of its capacities, governance and coordination; and advice on policy issues, and potential activities... »
Developing beans that can beat the heat
Published by CIAT,
This document (PDF) by CIAT/CGAIR, reports findings from research conducted over the last year on heat tolerance in selected bean lines and show their potential for adapting bean production in Africa and Latin America to future climate change impacts. The paper highlights that high temperatures will become limiting for common bean, especially Latin America is... »
Preliminary Report Regional Access to Seeds Index for Eastern Africa
Published by Access to Seeds Foundation,
The Access to Seeds Foundation has commissioned a study focused on improving access to seeds by smallholder farmers. The report (PDF) provides baseline information on the East African regional seed sector detailing both regional and country specific scenarios. The research is based on existing literature and interviews with regional and national seed sector actors. Twelve countries are included: Burundi, Ethiopia, Kenya, Madagascar, Malawi, Mozambique, Rwanda, South Sudan, Tanzania, Uganda, Zambia and Zimbabwe. »
Seed governance: from seed aid to seed system security in fragile areas
Published by Cordaid,
This report “Seed governance: From Seed aid to Seed system security in Fragile areas” (PDF), by Cordaid, is aimed at developing a coherent and conflict-sensitive approach to seed system rehabilitation, for example through seed provision and/or the revival of seed markets at the local, regional and national level. For this report, Wageningen University conducted a... »
Seed systems, science and policy in East and Central Africa
Published by CTA/ASARECA,
This CTA publication (PDF) provides insights into the various seed systems and their policy environments and value chain actors including universities, enterprises, farmers and women’s and regulatory and other support agencies. The paper also discusses the challenges faced in improving seed quality and availability in East and Central Africa. »
Strengthening African Seed Systems: Technical, Economic and Policy Challenges
Published by IDS,
In July 2014, a regional dialogue on “Strengthening African Seed Systems: Technical, Economic and Policy Challenges” took place in Nairobi, hosted by Future Agricultures and the Tegemeo Institute of Agricultural Policy and Development. The workshop aimed to examine the institutional, social and political dimensions of getting seed technologies into use and to highlight the challenges of increasing access to improved seeds for poor farmers through both formal and informal channels. This blog highlights lessons learned from the event, such as the need for re-framing of public policy so that it opens up opportunities for donors, civil society, researchers and farmers to investment in plural seed sector development. »
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