Employing high-yielding improved seed varieties could spark a green revolution – report

The Nairobi-based Seed System Group (SSG) released a report yesterday at the ongoing African Green Revolution Forum (AGRF) in Accra, based on the experience of 15 African countries encompassing 315 million people with an average child malnutrition rate of 38 percent, saying they could significantly improve food security and nutrition by developing their seed industries.

The report revealed that if only a third of the farmers in the 15 countries are able to obtain improved seed, they could generate an additional 25 million metric tonnes of food worth US$4billion. Currently, the standard reuse of seed for the same low-yielding and often disease-ridden crop varieties makes it impossible for poor, smallholder farmers to improve their yield or nutritional quality of their crops.

The result is stalled economic growth and widespread hunger and malnutrition, made more acute by the increasing extremes of climate change that has gripped farming communities.

The report is based on 15 African countries that partnered with AGRA (Alliance for a Green Revolution in Africa) in 2009 to drive a first wave of growth for African seed industries, and the authors anticipate that a similar approach will transform food production and economic fortunes in some of Africa’s poorest countries.

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Locally-owned seed companies that emerged from the first wave are now producing 15,000 tonnes of seed annually. That is roughly enough to plant seven million hectares and provide income for 20 million African farm families.

They are drawing from nearly 700 newly-bred, government-approved crop varieties representing 14 different food crops which include both staples like maize and rice, and nutritious green leafy vegetables, beans and other legumes.

Most of these varieties were developed by breeders working with Africa’s national agricultural research stations and with international agricultural research centres, often in collaboration with AGRA’s Programme for Africa’s Seed systems, led by Dr. Joseph DeVries who now heads the independent Seed Systems Group.

“The 700 new, improved varieties are an incredibly valuable asset for combatting hunger and jump-starting rural economies across Africa,” said DeVries. “Our approach harnesses the private sector’s leadership – private seed companies and agro-dealers that can deliver new seed to just about anywhere. We now have the seed, and we know how to deliver it. The farmers have consistently shown they will buy it. Conditions are ripe. We have to act on this.”

For instance, in Ghana since 2008 seed companies have grown from just three companies producing 128 tonnes of seed to eight companies producing 6,000 tonnes. Most of these seed are ‘hybrids’ -conventionally bred (non-GMO) varieties that offer superior yields and better disease resistance because they naturally carry the best straits from both parent plants. Before these companies arrived on the scene, farmers had very little access to any kind of hybrid crops.

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