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Many varieties of maize and legumes with good traits have been developed and released and there have been a lot of efforts by governments, farmer’s organizations, non-governmental organization and private seed companies, to get them to the farmers.
Africa RISING’s early win project ‘Identifying efficient seed system (s) practices/models to accelerate the access to quality seed of improved varieties legumes, maize and forages to small scale farmers particularly poor and women farmers in Tanzania, Malawi and Zambia‘ took an inventory of all the new varieties of maize and legumes released in the past 15 years in Zambia, Malawi and Tanzania, and assessed their availability, dissemination and accessibility to farmers. This was to help identify the bottlenecks in seed systems and suggest appropriate policies and other strategies to increase access to the seeds by small-scale farmers.

“The purpose of the research was to identify efficient seed systems, practices and models. We need the improved the varieties released by researchers to be in the hands of farmers to improve their production. We therefore took an inventory of all released improved varieties to see if they were available and secondly, if they were available, whether the farmers were aware of them and had access to them,” explained Jean Claude Rubyogo from the International Centre for Tropical Agriculture (CIAT) and one of the researchers.
The research findings showed that the farmers were eager to try new varieties of legumes and maize. It also found that very few varieties of legumes had been released compared to maize. Furthermore, the awareness among farmers on the released varieties, especially of the legumes, was quite low. Those that were aware  did not have access to them and for those that did have access it took a very long for the seeds to become available.  The study also established that the production of breeder and foundations seeds for legumes was very low, therefore affecting the availability of seeds to farmers.
“We found many challenges in the existing systems especially for legumes. It took, on average, six to seven years for a newly released variety to reach the farmers. We also found that there was little public information on the released varieties. A farmer had to visit the research stations to find out,” said Rubyogo. “There were also hardly any agro-dealers stocking legume seeds.”
Rubyogo said one of the problems with the legume-seed systems was the lack of private sector participation including farmers seed producers.
“Legume seeds are not attractive to the private sector due to lack of reliable markets. With maize, and especially hybrids, they are assured of ready markets as farmers have to buy them every season. However with legumes, farmers can recycle the same seeds 2 or 3 times without a significant drop in quality and yield,” he said.
“Furthermore, legumes are difficult to produce  due to their lower multiplication rate. One kg of maize can produce 150- 300kgs of seeds while that of legume yields between 10 – 20 kgs. This is where Quality Declared Seeds (QDS) or farm based seed production  can play a big role,” he said.
The study recommends the three countries to set up an integrated seed system similar to the one in Ethiopia which has diversified outlets and channels for seed distribution that are formal and informal, centralized and decentralized. The study also recommends involving farmers to produce QDS which are less expensive than certified seeds.
“QDS are quality seeds that are not as rigorously tested as certified seeds and mostly produced by farmers. They are usually half the price of certified seeds and therefore more affordable,” Rubyogo said.
In addition, the research team also advises commercial companies to pack and market affordable legume seed packs, ranging from 250 g to 1000 kg. These small packs can be ‘embedded’ in maize seed packs and sold as one package.
The study also recommends that the relevant national organs should speed up the release of new varieties include forages which had no single released variety in the three countries  and improve access to the foundation seeds by private sector and farmers groups.  It also recommends each country to have a catalogue of released varieties to make the information public and to increase farmers’ awareness through multimedia channels such -fields days for farmers, radio and cellphones among others.
(Article by Catherine Njuguna)
More ‘early win’ projects

The Africa RISING program comprises three linked research-for-development projects, funded by the USAID Feed the Future Initiative, and aiming to sustainably intensify mixed farming systems in West Africa (Southern Mali and Northern Ghana), the Ethiopian Highlands and East and Southern Africa (Tanzania, Zambia and Malawi).
To produce some short-term outputs and to support the longer term objectives of the projects, in 2012 Africa RISING funded several small, short-term projects in each of the regions. More information.


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