By Sharon Atieno

Though improved seeds have great capabilities including higher yields, disease and pest resistance, climate change adaptation, improved nutrition and longer shelf life among others; the uptake of these seeds among African farmers remain low.

The private sector is crucial in achieving a competitive seed system which serves small holder farmers, said Mainza Mugoya, Programme coordinator, The African Seed Access Index (TASAI).

Addressing the fourth conference for African Science Journalists, he notes that countries where the private sector is very vibrant, farmers have access to new crop varieties.

The private sector in these countries, sometimes work in collaboration with government and other actors to invest in researching and developing varieties that are improved and then released to farmers, he notes.

Conversely, there is low investment by private sector in countries with few crop varieties. Thus, farmers use older varieties that do not meet the current agricultural challenges.

He added that despite private sector engagement in seed inspection playing a critical role in ensuring that farmers access quality seeds, some countries across the region rely only on government seed inspectors, who are usually underfunded. This constrains their ability to provide the service, thus a high prevalence of counterfeit seeds in those countries.

Mugoya revealed that among other things, the low adoption of improved seeds across sub-Saharan Africa has resulted in poor farm performance for key staples like maize and rice compared to other regions of the world.

There is a tremendous potential for Africa’s agricultural sector with a 2019 report by Kenya-based Seeds System Group (SSG) revealing that the sector could generate an additional 25 million metric tons of food worth USD 4 billion, if only one-third of farmers in just 15 countries adopted improved seeds.