Policy options to accelerate variety change among smallholder farmers in South Asia and Africa South of the Sahara
This discussion paper (PDF) by the International Food Policy Research Institute (IFPRI) 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. But in developing countries where seed markets are commercially active or advancing in that direction, undue emphasis in both policy and research is often placed on the adoption of improved cultivars rather than varietal turnover, or the replacement of an already improved variety with a more recently released improved variety. Strong and consistent rates of varietal turnover contribute to sustaining yield gains over time, increasing the sustainability of intensive cropping systems, and improving the quality of the commodity itself for storage, processing, and consumption. The authors suggest that opportunities exist to accelerate the rate of varietal turnover through a range of carefully designed and well-sequenced policy and regulatory reforms. The best option, according to the authors, for promoting varietal change is strategic investment in an effective research system and policies that encourage the development of commercial seed markets. This should be done while drawing attention to the economic trade-offs, unintended consequences, and operational challenges of such reforms and investments.