Improved seeds can deliver state of the art technology to smallholder farmers including higher yields, disease and pest resistance, climate change adaptation, improved nutrition, and longer shelf life. Yet, the important role improved seeds can play to increase food security for Africa’s smallholder farmers have been hampered by weak enabling environments, controversies about GMOs and concerns about private sector competitiveness. EMP research on seed systems in Africa has contributed significantly to the rather scant literature on the topic.
Structure and performance of Seed Systems in Africa:
A seed system comprises organizations, individuals, and institutions involved in different seed system functions, (i.e., the development, multiplication, processing, storage, distribution, or marketing of seeds). In the case of Sub- Saharan Africa countries, a seed system often includes both informal and formal sectors often operating in parallel. Reflecting the wide range of staple foods and the diverse agro-ecological conditions, seed systems in Africa are diverse. The seed systems vary by type of targeted farmers (smallholder or commercial), crop reproduction systems (self-pollinating, cross-pollinating, and vegetatively reproducing crops), and geographic location. Seed systems in Sub-Saharan Africa are also highly dynamic, especially over the last two decades. For most countries, the deregulation of agriculture sectors in the early 1990s under Structural Adjustment Programs ended state-owned monopolies in seed production, marketing, and distribution. Consequently, the past two decades have seen a rapid shift from government-driven to privatized formal seed systems. EMP research on the structure and performance of seed systems in Africa tries to distill key economic trends within the sector. An example of key output from this research is a chapter on the “Status of Seed Systems Development in Sub-Saharan Africa” in a special report entitled Africa Agriculture Status Report: Focus on Staple Crops published by Alliance for Green Revolution in Africa (AGRA).
Potential for Genetically modified crops in Africa: The ability of GM crops to increase yields and reduce pesticide use is well established. Based on food security needs, Africa could benefit a lot from green biotechnology given the low agricultural productivity especially among smallholder farmers and the looming food crises in most urban areas. However, the adoption of GM crops in Africa has been slow and limited to a handful of countries owing to a variety of reasons. In January 2012, Ed Mabaya was awarded a three-year research grant by the John Templeton Foundation to explore “Genetically Modified Crops in Africa: Current State and Future Potential.” The primary objective of this research was to develop a systematic understanding of the current state and future potential of GM crops in Africa in a way that informs public policy and private strategy. Through a comprehensive survey of seed companies operating in Africa, the research assessed attitudes and strategies towards biotechnology. The analysis also included comparisons to African countries that have adopted GM crops versus similar countries that have not. From this project, EMP staff produced five scholarly publications, four popular press articles, and four policy briefs.