Business News of 2014-05-12

African seed industry now dominated by local start-ups - Report

Locally-owned African seed companies participating in a programme to offer high-yield crop varieties to smallholder farmers across the continent have collectively become the largest seed producers in sub-Saharan Africa.

According to a news report released at the Grow Africa Investment Forum alongside the World Economic Forum on Africa an analysis by the Alliance for a Green Revolution in Africa (AGRA) reveals 80 small- to medium-size African seed companies in 16 countries are on track to produce over 80,000 metric tons of professionally certified seeds in 2014.

“The rapid growth of local seed companies over a very short time period is a testament to the entrepreneurial spirit percolating in communities across Africa and to the pent-up demand among Africa’s smallholder farmers for improved, high-yield crop varieties,” said Dr. Joe DeVries, director of AGRA’s Programme for Africa’s Seed Systems (PASS).

AGRA launched PASS in 2007 to inject new energy into Africa’s commercial seed sector, which was failing to provide African farmers with a steady supply of locally-adapted, improved crop varieties—something that farmers elsewhere in the world take for granted.

The report said the stagnant state of commercial seed production often is cited as a key reason why yields per hectare in Africa for staple crops like maize are up to 80 percent below what farmers outside of Africa achieve.

According to the report, “Planting the Seeds of a Green Revolution in Africa,” PASS started out working with a handful of companies that together produced about 2,000 metric tons of seed.

Seven years later, it is partnering with some 80 companies across the continent that produce professionally certified seed for an array of African staple crops including maize, cassava, millet, rice, sorghum, beans, sweet potato, cowpea, groundnut, soybean and pigeon pea.

These companies are focusing on varieties “carefully selected by local crop breeders for their compatibility with specific African agricultural environments.”

In Nigeria, Maslaha Seeds which was launched in 2006 produced only about 600 tons of seed in its first year, mostly for high-yield rice—such as the popular “New Rice for Africa” (NERICA) developed by the Africa Rice Center—and for a type of high-yield maize known as a “hybrid.”

But it worked with PASS and other partners to rapidly expand and now produces thousands of tons of seed each year for a wide menu of crop varieties, including two high-yield sorghum, millet, and cowpea developed specifically for Nigeria’s growing conditions.

“Nigeria has the potential to become one of the world’s great breadbaskets, and giving our farmers access to certified seed for high-yield crop varieties is crucial to fulfilling that promise,” said Ibrahim Abdullahi, managing director of Maslaha Seeds.

A 2013 survey of farmers in nine countries found that the majority of farmers who have invested in improved crop varieties have seen yields rise by 50 to 100 percent.

The survey indicated that 69 percent of farmers surveyed in Kenya, 74 percent in Nigeria, and 79 percent in Mozambique said improved maize varieties had allowed them to double the amount of maize harvested per hectare.

Meanwhile, 79 percent of farmers surveyed in Ghana reported doubling rice yields, and 85 percent of farmers surveyed in Uganda reported doubling yields from cowpea.

The analysis of AGRA’s seed program notes that the following successes can be attributed to a strategy focused on addressing weak links across what agriculture experts call the seed “value chain”—particularly education, breeding, production, and distribution.

Publicly-funded crop breeding programs supported by AGRA since 2007 have released 464 new varieties of 15 important crop species developed for specific African climates and soils.

Many breeders employed at the national level work collaboratively with international breeders from the CGIAR Consortium who provide breeding stock and, sometimes, finished varieties. Through public-private partnerships with seed companies, more than 300 of these new varieties already are available to farmers via local seed companies.

Source: GNA
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