Limited access to seeds through formal systems
Access to good seeds is fundamental for smallholder farmers’ crop production and resilience in the face of environmental change and disasters. National seed policies and programs in developing countries have predominantly focused on the formal seed supply system, but despite decades of efforts to spur a Green Revolution in Sub Saharan Africa, farmers’ use of seeds from the formal seed system remains limited.
Ethiopia first to adopt a pluralistic seed system strategy
In 2017, Ethiopia was the first country to officially adopt a Pluralistic Seed System Development Strategy (PSSDS) as an alternative to the dominant linear approach, i.e., formal seed system development. The strategy is pluralistic in that it proposes support for three major seed systems operating in the country (informal, formal, and intermediate) and promotes complementarity components of each seed system.
In this study, researchers from NMBU and the Development Fund of Norway analyzed the seed security of farmers in Ethiopia, and the relevance and implementation of the new policy in terms of addressing farmers’ challenges with access to enough quality seeds of preferred crops and varieties. The researchers compared seed systems in two districts of Central Ethiopia characterized by subsistence-oriented teff cultivation (in Gindabarat) and commercially oriented wheat production (in Heexosa) and related this to the country’s pluralistic seed system development strategy (PSSDS).
Seeds mostly obtained from informal sources
Farmers in both districts used a range of seed sources but primarily obtained their seeds from informal sources. Evidence of seed insecurity was found in both districts, as apparent from discrepancies between what the seed farmers say they prefer and those they actually use, limited availability of improved varieties, challenges with seed quality from some sources, and varying access to preferred seed and information according to sex, age and wealth.
The researchers found that interventions that are prioritized in the PSSDS of the government address most of the seed security challenges and dysfunctions that were identified - but that implementation of the strategy lags, particularly for the informal seed system, which is largely neglected by government programs. They find that Ethiopia’s community-based seed production and distribution (i.e. intermediate system) shows promise. Whilst improvements have been made in the formal system during the past decade, vested political, organizational and economic interests within key institutions represent major obstacles that must be overcome to achieve truly integrative and inclusive seed sector development.
Female-headed households that were targeted by the extension services had increased access to certified seeds. Wealthy farmers who are aligned with the government and favoured for positions as model farmers also enjoyed increased seed access.
“I feel that we have contributed to seed security and seed system literature in a unique way. We were able to combine the analysis of household-level seed use and management to understand farmers’ seed security on the ground, with the analysis of actors’ roles and performances in different seed systems (formal, informal, intermediate), and related this to the government PSSDS” says Teshome Hunduma, PhD Fellow at Noragric and lead author of the article.
“It sounds quite broad, but we were able to reveal some of the social, political and institutional constraints and opportunities that underlie chronic seed insecurity among smallholder farmers in the two districts in Ethiopia. This would not have been possible were it not for the huge amount of data that I have collected at all levels – male and female headed households, key seed sector actors, offices of the Ministry of Agriculture and policy makers”, he explains.
Overall, the study suggests that pluralistic seed system development can provide a path to seed security in developing countries, but political, organizational, and economic interests within key institutions represent major obstacles that should be addressed.
Pluralistic seed system development: A path to seed security?
By Teshome Hunduma Mulesa, Sarah Paule Dalle, Clifton Makate, Ruth Haug and Ola Tveitereid Westengen