Seeds for change

bags of seeds

(credit: GRAIN)

In a media briefing at GCARD this afternoon, three agricultural development experts identified seed production as a vital step in achieving Africa’s Green Revolution.

“The thirst for seed [in Africa] is increasing,” said Namanga Ngongi, president of the Alliance for a Green Revolution in Africa (AGRA).

Africa needs 500,000 tonnes of seeds, among other things, before it can achieve a Green Revolution—it’s approaching 100 tonnes, added World Food Prize winner Monty Jones.

How to fill the gap? Ngongi suggested the key lies in supporting small seed companies within national systems.

In response to a question from the floor, Ngongi admitted that large agrobusinesses such as Monsanto certainly have a role to play. But, he said, such companies are mostly involved in producing hybrid seeds for a limited range of crops. In Africa, this predominantly translates into seeds for maize, supplied out of South Africa.

“The problem,” explained Ngongi, “is that these seeds are not really adapted to local agro-ecologies in most countries”. So, despite large scales of production, big businesses don’t really have an advantage, particularly when it comes to smallholder agriculture, he added.

He suggested that AGRA’s approach—to support seed produced by national systems, tailored to particular contexts, and distributed by small seed companies, community organisations and farmers—was a more effective way of shoring up seed stocks.

This is particularly true for self-pollinating crops such as cassava that hold no interest to big seed companies because they have little to no prospect of profit after the first year, said Ngongi.

Sian Lewis
Commisioning editor, SciDev.Net

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