Joe Devries, the director of the Program for African Seed Systems at the Alliance for a Green Revolution in Africa (AGRA), says its crucial that smallholder farmers in Africa have access to a wide range of crop varieties.
This, he said, was because small farms were the mainstay of food production in the region,
He was speaking at the launch of the African Seed Access Index (TASAI)?the first ever initiative dedicated solely to monitoring the state of Africa?s rapidly evolving seed sector?issued detailed scorecards on seed development and distribution in Kenya, Uganda, South Africa and Zimbabwe, with a focus on increasing choices for smallholder farmers.
A statement from TASAI said ?by tracking indicators along the seed delivery chain?like the number of crop breeders, varieties released, industry competitiveness, availability of seed in small packages, and quality of the seed policy framework?investors and policymakers can target choke points that are impeding the flow of seeds to smallholder farmers.?
He said ?Seeds may not be a cure-all, but without a healthy seed sector, it?s hard to see how African farmers can satisfy the food demands of a population growing faster than any on earth and adapt to the effects of climate change that are rapidly altering farming conditions.?
According to him when it came to the sheer number of crop varieties released, the data offer a clear indication that South Africa?s seed sector was, in most respects, far more advanced than others in the region.
For example, over the last three years, South Africa released 221 varieties of maize, while Kenya released 35, Uganda 12, and Zimbabwe 28.
South Africa and Uganda got high marks for the quality of the national seed trade association?a critical link between the governments and private sector companies?while in Zimbabwe and Kenya, companies rate their association as only fair, indicating a potential need to intensify advocacy and support efforts.
TASAI?s analysis currently is focused on the four most important crops in each country in terms of area planted.
Maize is the most widely cultivated crop in all four countries, but the overall mix varied. Kenya?s other top crops are sorghum, beans and cowpeas; in South Africa, it?s soybean, sunflower and wheat; in Uganda, beans, millet and sorghum; and in Zimbabwe, rounding out their top four are cotton, soybean and sorghum.
TASAI scorecards are based on extensive research in each country by local experts and will be updated annually, said Ed Mabaya, assistant director of Cornell University?s International Institute for Food, Agriculture and Development (CIIFAD) and head of the TASAI project.
TASAI is preparing to release assessments of seed sector performance in four additional countries that should be available by mid-2015 and hopes that within two years, the database will include reports on more than 20 countries.
?Our goal is a simple, transparent, accurate and up-to-date index that keeps a running scorecard on seed sector development in Africa, particularly as governments and development agencies are placing bigger bets on agriculture to be the engine that pulls Africans out of poverty,? Mabaya said.