Why interventions in the seed systems of roots, tubers and bananas crops do not reach their full potential
This article (PDF) in the Food Security journal reviews roots, tuber and banana (RTB) seed systems—with particular reference to potato, sweetpotato, cassava, yam and banana —to reflect on current seed system development approaches and the unique nature of these systems. Currently, most approaches to developing RTB seed systems favour decentralised multiplication models to make quality seed available to smallholder farmers. Nevertheless, arguments and experiences show that in many situations, the economic sustainability of these models cannot be guaranteed, among others because the effective demand of farmers for seed from vegetatively propagated crops is unclear. Despite the understudies nature of farmers’ agronomic and social practices in relation to seed production and sourcing in RTB crops, there is sufficient evidence that local RTB seed systems are adaptive and dynamic. Analysis suggests the paramount importance of understanding farmers’ effective demand for seeds and how this affects the sustainable supply of quality seed from specialized producer-entrepreneurs, regardless of the seed system paradigm. Key to progress in the improvement of the quality of planting material used by farmers is to pay attention to what works where, and for whom, and how to scale up good practices. The continued investments in seed system interventions and their relative lack of success can be traced back to the limited understanding of them, suggesting the need for a deeper knowledge of how they work in order to make such interventions more effective and to up-scale the successes. An improved understanding of farmers’ motivations to use (or not use) planting material from formal sector sources is one step towards better designed interventions for the improvement of RTB crops and seed systems.