Despite strong growth in the private seed sector in East and Southern Africa over the last decade, most of the regions millions of small holder farmers still lack easy access to affordable , quality seed of maize, the number one food staple. In 2006 – 2007 cropping season, registered companies produced the bulk of just over 100,000 tons of improved maize seed that were marketed in the region, enough to sow 35% of the regions maize lands.
The farmers who don’t purchase fresh seeds are therefore using unimproved home saved seed and losing out on potential yield. Since the start of this century, efforts have been put in place to harmonize seed policies and laws in Eastern, Southern and West Africa. The core objective of this initiative was to improve access to seed by smallholder farmers because the seed industry in Eastern and Central Africa was facing many different standards and regulations in each country which translated into high transaction costs.
The high cost coupled with relatively low effective demand made the sector unattractive to investment to either local or international seed companies. Harmonization of seed policies and regulations among the countries of the region was expected to help establish a common market with an effective demand large enough to induce needed investment and create the competition required to establish sustainable and efficient seed industry in the three sub-regions. The harmonization initiative addressed 5 specific areas where constraints existed: Variety evaluation, release and registration; Seed certification; Phytosanitary regulations; Plant variety protection and Import export regulations.
Progress has been made to harmonize seed standards and regulations at different levels in the three sub-regions but implementations of agreements have been very slow by the policy organs. Seed associations in the region have been generally weak in advocating for and overseeing implementations. Instead adoption rate of improved seed is low with numerous factors limiting seed market development
1) Unavailable /inadequate extension service and production risks. The smallholder farmer category has limited production skills in high input farming. Even when productivity-enhancing inputs are availed to them, they cannot realize their full production potential unless extension service is provided which is unavailable in most of rural Africa or where available they are inadequate since extension agents/workers are too few to match the number of dispersed small farmers. This leads to very low adoption rate of seed based technologies that in turn hampers seed market development...
(clipped a long discussion of lack of microfinance for small farmers to borrow to purchase seed and fertilizer)...
Supporting investment in research in food crops, high value crops and research that increases value addition in primary commodities exported from Africa. Financial and non financial institutions should encourage innovation and support programs that develop the capacity of women to engage in the agricultural entrepreneurial process.