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Transforming lives with high-quality seeds

13 December 2023

Transforming lives with high-quality seeds

The productivity of crops grown in eastern Africa remains far below its potential. Climate change and lack of investment have significant impacts, but seed systems are also a major blockage preventing farmers from growing to their full potential.

Improvement in seed quality correlates directly to improved productivity and yields, but many smallholder farmers face challenges in accessing the seeds they need.

High costs and distribution disparities mean that many farmers are unable to buy improved seeds, which are bred to be adaptive to climate extremes and tolerant of pests and diseases, from formal seed systems.

Less than 20 per cent of Africa’s farmed land is cultivated with improved seed varieties.

A farmer and sons planting crops in Tanzania

Instead, many farmers have to rely on traditional, recycled seed collected from their own crops, bought from local markets or exchanged between family and friends.

Without being subject to the regulation, inspection and certification required in formal seed systems, the production, processing and marketing of seed distributed informally can vary hugely. Recycled seeds are often poor quality and have very little chance of growing into a healthy harvest, particularly if the conditions are dry.

This is particularly true for women, who often focus on growing crops for their families to eat. Formal seed systems tend to prioritise higher-value cash crops, which are largely produced by men.

Quality Declared Seed

The Quality Declared Seed (QDS) system is a seed-producer implemented system for production of seed that meets at least a minimum standard of quality but does not entail formal inspection by the official seed certification system. Being locally produced, the seeds are naturally adaptive to climate extremes and tolerant of pests and diseases.

Improving access to Quality Declared Seed, which is sold locally in small quantities where certified seed is not used or sold, is a good way to minimise the seed access gap and to improve the seed trade and food production in Africa.

Sorting seeds in Tanzania

With support from Irish Aid, Farm Africa and the World Food Programme are stepping in to train farmers in the Dodoma region of Tanzania how to produce, process and sell Quality Declared Seeds, leading to healthy harvests and a boost in food security.

To produce Quality Declared Seeds, farmers first need to ensure they are using appropriate varieties of source seeds. It’s important to select a suitable field for growing the crop, and to use good agricultural practices.

Once the seeds are harvested, there are six key steps to producing high-quality seeds.

  1. Threshing: The first step is to separate the grains from the stalks to collect the seeds.
  2. Drying: Seeds must be adequately dried to a safe moisture level to avoid the seeds deteriorating and losing their quality.
  3. Sorting and cleaning: Seeds are carefully sorted and cleaned to remove any impurities or debris, ensuring that only high-quality seeds remain.
  4. Treating and colouring: the seeds are treated to protect them from pests and diseases, and they are often coloured red to distinguish them from grain, ensuring they are not accidentally consumed.
  5. Packing: The treated seeds are then carefully packed in quality-assured packaging, ensuring they are ready for sale.
  6. Marketing: It is then time to market the high-quality seeds through effective promotion and branding. Market channels are established and seeds are priced. Finally, the seeds are sold through local markets or distribution networks, helping farmers access the seeds they need for more productive and sustainable farming.

A packet of improved seeds.

By supporting farmers to become Quality Declared Seed producers and establishing a network that helps farmers easily access high-quality seeds, we are not only helping farmers to boost their incomes but also paving the way for a more prosperous future for families in Dodoma and beyond.

You can give more farmers and their families across eastern Africa the best chance of a healthy harvest, even in the driest conditions, by making a donation today.

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