Report highlights potential for growth that builds on successes in neighboring African countries with booming seed industries and prospering farmers
Fifteen African countries encompassing 315 million people and with average child malnutrition rates of 38 percent could significantly improve food security and nutrition by developing their seed industries, according to a new report from the Nairobi-based Seed Systems Group (SSG).
The SSG analysis, presented today at the African Green Revolution Forum, reveals that even if only one-third of the farmers in the 15 countries* are able to obtain improved seed, they could generate an additional 25 million metric tons of food worth US$4 billion. Currently, the standard reuse of seed for the same low-yielding and often disease-ridden crop varieties makes it impossible for poor, smallholder farmers to improve their yield or the nutritional quality of their crops. The result is stalled economic growth and widespread hunger and malnutrition, made more acute by the increasing extremes of climate that grip many farming communities.
“Improved seeds improve lives,” said Dr. Namanga Ngongi, Board Chairperson of the SSG. “Now, countries that were by-passed during Africa’s first 10 years of local seed industry growth can learn from their neighbors. They can leapfrog development of their seed systems to bring their farmers quality seeds that yield more and stand up to climate change.”
The report is based on the experience of 15 African countries that partnered with AGRA (Alliance for a Green Revolution in Africa) in 2009 to drive a first wave of growth for African seed industries. The authors anticipate that a similar approach will transform food production and economic fortunes in some of the continent’s poorest countries.
Locally owned seed companies that emerged from the first wave are now producing 150,000 metric tons of seed annually. That’s enough to plant seven million hectares and provide food and income for 20 million African farm families. They are drawing from nearly 700 newly-bred, government-approved crop varieties representing 14 different food crops that include both staples like maize and rice, and nutritious leafy green vegetables, beans and other legumes.
Most of these varieties were developed by breeders working with Africa’s national agricultural research systems and with international agricultural research centers, often in collaboration with AGRA’s Program for Africa’s Seed Systems, led by Dr. Joseph DeVries, who now heads the independent Seed Systems Group.
“The 700 new, improved varieties are an incredibly valuable asset for combatting hunger and jump-starting rural economies across Africa,” said DeVries. “Our approach harnesses the leadership of the private sector—private seed companies and agro-dealers—that can deliver new seed to farmers just about anywhere. We now have the seed, and we know how to deliver it. The farmers have consistently shown they will buy it. Conditions are ripe. We have to act on this.”
The report highlights the impacts of new seed sectors in several individual countries during Africa’s first wave of seed industry development:
Burkina Faso: In 2007, local companies supplied farmers in Burkina Faso with just about 279 metric tons per year. By 2017, rapid progress with four local startups increased that amount 25-fold, to 7,000 tons. One of these companies, Nafaso Seed Company, has begun exporting seed to other countries.
Ghana: Since 2008, Ghana has grown from just three companies producing about 128 tons of seed to eight companies producing about 6,000 tons. Much of that is seed for “hybrids”— conventionally bred (non-GMO) varieties that offer superior yields and better disease resistance because they naturally carry the best traits from both “parent” plants. Before these companies arrived on the scene, farmers in Ghana had very little access to any kind of hybrid crops.
Uganda: Local seed companies were practically nonexistent in Uganda in 2007. Now there are about two dozen. The amount of high-quality seed produced has more than tripled, from approximately 8,000 metric tons in 2010 to 26,700 metric tons in 2017. At the same time, the amount of maize harvested per hectare of land has increased from 1.5 metric tons to 2.5 metric tons, with many farmers reaching as much as five tons per hectare. Rice, bean and cowpea yields have followed a similar trajectory.
Overcoming the burden of bad seed
“Without high quality seed, farmers can never expect to get ahead,” said SSG President Dr. DeVries. “This is clear in our 15 focus countries. Their farmers produce about a ton less food per hectare than farmers in first-wave countries.”
The next wave of countries likely to benefit from the growth of new seed industries include Chad, Benin, and Togo — all highlighted in the report.
Chad: 15 million people live across a country more than twice the size of France—with large areas suitable for food production. However, Chad ranks 118 out of 119 countries in terms of food security. In rural areas, up to 44 percent of people suffer from undernutrition. Crop yields are about a third that in countries with better developed seed systems. Given this, the government is moving to improve seed production. In 2016, it passed a seed law that welcomes private sector investment, and government leaders have pledged to increase the amount of improved, certified seed planted on local farms from two percent to at least 20 percent.
Benin: Benin’s 1.3 million farmers grow maize, cassava, sorghum, yam, rice, cowpea and other staples. Yields average about 1.4 to 1.5 metric tons per hectare–about a ton or more below what would be possible with better seed. Malnutrition rates also are high at 45 percent. Quality seed could help boost production of nutritious, leafy vegetables. But to date, there have been no local, privately owned seed companies operating in Benin.
Togo: Agriculture accounts for about 41 percent of GDP in Togo and employs roughly two-thirds of the population. Maize yields are about 1.2 tons per hectare and do not allow farmers to be profitable. Yields for other crops such as sorghum are even lower and falling. High-yield maize varieties are a logical target for initial seed production efforts. Given the large portion of farmlands devoted to maize production, increasing yields per field could make room for a wider range of nutritious food crops. Today, there are just two small, private seed companies and seed producers in Togo producing about 1500 tons of seed annually.
“These two small companies and seed producers are a foundation to build on,” Togo’s Hon. Minister for Agriculture Koutéra K. Bataka recently told a cabinet meeting. “SSG’s public-private model for the delivery of improved seed varieties is exactly what we need. Giving free seeds to farmers is not viable long term. But together we can transform the future for our farmers by including them more at the agricultural values chains.”
To develop local seed companies, SSG uses a model designed to catalyze not only the use of quality seeds, but a whole range of modern, dynamic farming practices that are sustainable, help farmers adapt to climate change, and connect them to markets.
“We believe this is the way forward for countries determined to improve the lives of their rural populations, to feed all their people, and to sustain their natural environments,” said SSG’s DeVries.
And, as the report points out, the SSG approach is sustainable. More than 80 percent of African seed startups launched since 2007 are still supplying smallholder farmers with the latest improved crop varieties. Many have grown to employ sizeable staffs and add research and field-testing components.
With the launch of SSG, the goal of delivering good seed to all of Africa’s farmers now moves to some of the continent’s poorest countries. “All farmers deserve good seed,” said SSG Board Chairperson Ngongi.
*The 15 SSG focus countries are: Angola, Benin, Burundi, Cameroon, Chad, Congo, Cote d’Ivoire, Democratic Republic of Congo, Eritrea, Guinea, Madagascar, Niger, Senegal, Sierra Leone, Togo
Spokespeople – Seed Systems Group
Joe DeVries, President, Seed Systems Group
Joe DeVries has been at the forefront of African agricultural development for over 30 years. In the 1980s he built irrigation schemes in the drought-ravaged Sahel. In the 1990s he designed and led agricultural relief and recovery initiatives in Mozambique and numerous other countries experiencing conflict, war, and complex humanitarian emergencies. He earned a PhD in plant breeding and genetics at Cornell University in 1994. In 1997, he joined The Rockefeller Foundation, and turned his focus to breeding and seed systems development as a long-term, sustainable solution to hunger and low crop productivity among smallholder farmers. In 2006, he co-founded the Alliance for a Green Revolution in Africa, designing and then leading AGRA’s flagship initiative, the Program for Africa’s Seed Systems (PASS). By 2017, 114 private, independent seed companies supported by AGRA were annually producing 143,000 MT of certified seed annually, serving the needs of approximately 15 million smallholder farmers. As Vice-President for Program Development at AGRA, DeVries led in the establishment of many ground-breaking initiatives, including the impact investment funds, Pearl Capital Ltd. and Injaro Agricultural Capital Holdings, Ltd., the African Seed Investment Fund, the Seeds for Impact Fund, the Fund for the Improvement and Adoption of African Crops, the African Center for Crop Improvement at the University of Kwa-Zulu Natal, the West African Center for Crop Improvement at the University of Ghana, and the Seed Enterprise Management Institute at the University of Nairobi. In 2019, he established Seed Systems Group, which is dedicated to developing sustainable seed supply systems in countries which have so been left behind in Africa’s emerging Green Revolution.
Paul Tikani, Chief Operating Officer, Seed Systems Group
Paul Tikani served as Chief Operating Officer of the Alliance for a Green Revolution in Africa from March 2016 to February, 2019, where he was in charge of the grant-making, finance, ICT, procurement, and human resources departments. While at AGRA, he provided strategic leadership to support the execution of a new, country-based strategy, and led the development and execution of changes to management initiatives while working with McKinsey Consultants to embed the new operating model in 11 African countries. Prior to his time with AGRA, Mr. Tikani was Chief Operating Officer with ABC Bank from May 2015 to February 2016. He also served as Chief Operating Officer with Kenya Commercial Bank from 2011-2014, where he was responsible for management of credit, operations, ICT, and logistics in business processes in Kenya and all its regional subsidiaries, and frequently served as acting Group CEO. In this senior role he supported the growth in bank assets from $2.96 billion in 2010 to over $4.5 billion in 2014 and increased shareholder value by over 50%. During nearly 30 years with Kenya Commercial Bank, he also served as Head of Business Systems Re-engineering, Head of Group Services, and Divisional Director. He led Kenya Commercial Bank operations in the establishment of new banking operations in Tanzania, Uganda, Rwanda, and South Sudan.
Dr. Namanga Ngongi, Board Chair, Seed Systems Group
Namanga Ngongi was President of the Alliance for a Green Revolution in Africa (AGRA) from 2007-2012. He has diverse professional experience at national and international levels in areas related to agriculture, food security and management of international organizations. He began his career in Cameroon working as an Extension Officer and Deputy Head of Projects in the Ministry of Agriculture. In 1980, he was appointed Representative to the United Nations (UN) food agencies in Rome.
He joined the World Food Program (WFP) in 1984 and became Deputy Executive Director in 1994. In 2001 he was appointed Special Representative of the UN Secretary General to the Democratic Republic of Congo, and led the peace keeping mission (MONUC) for two years. He helped put together the transitional government. Namanga retired from the UN in 2003. He has since undertaken several high –level missions for the UN, including a study on food reserve systems in Africa and coordination of an international conference on disarmament, demobilization and reintegration in Sierra Leone. Namanga holds a PhD ( Agronomy/Crop Science) 1976 from Cornell University.
Dr. Wilson Songa, Board Member, Seed Systems Group
Dr. Wilson A. Songa holds a BSc. in Agriculture from the University of Nairobi; MSc. in Crop Science from Wageningen Agricultural University in the Netherlands and a PhD in Plant Pathology from the University of Reading, UK.
Dr. Songa has an illustrious career and experience spanning over 17 years in the national agricultural research systems and 14 years in senior management and administration in various institutions in the agricultural sector at the national level while also representing Kenya in various capacities in Regional, African and international agriculture sector committees and fora.
He has worked with the Kenya Agricultural Research Institute (KARI), Kenya Plant Health Inspectorate Services (KEPHIS), Pest Control Products Board (PCPB), Horticultural Crops Development Authority (HCDA) and has served as Agriculture Secretary, Ministry of Agriculture, since 2005. He has 36 publications in refereed journals, technical reports and refereed
Dr. Songa served as the Chairman of the Executive Board of the Technical Centre for
Agricultural and Rural cooperation ACP-EU in the Netherlands from 2008-2011. He is the
Kenyan Government representative to the Board of Trustees of the African Agricultural
Technology Foundation (AATF) and is a member of the project Nurture Steering
Committee, an initiative of the Coca-Cola Company, TechnoServe and the Bill & Melinda
Gates Foundation aimed at promoting development of fruits industry in Kenya and
Uganda. Dr. Songa has also been serving on the Supervisory Board of the Climate
Change Impacts on Ecosystem Services and Food Security in Eastern Africa (CHIESA)
programme and led many agricultural sector Government delegations to EAC, COMESA,
AU-NEPAD, EU and bilateral forums.
In recognition of his contribution, Dr. Songa was decorated by the Head of State,
his Excellency the President of Kenya with the medals of the Order of the Grand Warrior
(OGW) and the Moran of the Burning Spear (MBS) in 2004 and 2008 respectively. In
addition, he is the interim chair of the Agricultural Chapter of the University of Nairobi
Alumni Association (UONAA)
Bridget Kiptanui, Finance and Administration Manager, Seed Systems Group
Mobile: +254 721 995 982 (WhatsApp)
Bridget holds a BA Economics and Sociology and is a Certified Public Accountant (CPA K). She is undergoing an MBA (Finance) program at the Catholic University of Eastern Africa.
She has over fifteen years’ experience in accountancy, finance and grants’ management having served as the Grants and Finance Manager at Living Goods Kenya, Senior Finance Officer at Alliance for Green Revolution in Africa (AGRA) and as Country Accountant at KickStart International. Prior to this, she worked as a Project Accountant for VSF-Suisse.
Bridget is an expert in project/donor funded Financial Management having worked with USAID, European Union (ECHO), Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation and the Rockefeller Foundation funded projects among other international donors.
Arriving in Accra on: September 3, 2019
Best reachable on: What’s App/Mobile
Availability on the week of September 2-6: September 3-6 (except during SSG side-event)
Source: Michelle Geis Wallace, burness.com