African Seed Industry Gets $56M Boost to Increase Food Crops

The Alliance for a Green Revolution in Africa (AGRA) received $56 million in funding from the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation to help more smallholder farmers in sub-Saharan Africa increase productivity and address poverty and hunger. AGRA’s Program for Africa’s Seed Systems (PASS) began five years ago to produce disease resistant and higher yielding seeds for important food crops available. The program has already achieved significant success with the majority of farmers who accessed the new seed reporting dramatic increases in their harvests.

“In Africa, farmers have largely not benefited from improved seeds due to a lack of localized crop breeding and efficient, dependable seed delivery system. And so crop yields in most of Africa have remained one-third of those produced by farmers in other developing regions of the worlds,” said Dr. Joe DeVries, PASS Program Director. “Good seed is not just the driving force behind good harvests and eliminating poverty and hunger, it’s the foundation for rapid economic growth.”

By 2017, PASS will add 40 new private, independent seed companies to the 60 already established under the first phase of the program. The program’s aim is to achieve yearly production of 200,000 metric tons of improved seed for food crops such as maize, cassava, and legumes to support 10 million smallholder farmers. The program will continue to support the education of local crop scientists ensuring that every major crop in 13 countries has at least one fully-qualified crop breeder. PASS will also fund the training of an additional 5,000 agro-dealers to set up individually-owned and operated seed and fertilizer shops in remote areas. These efforts will build structures to get improved seed in the hands of smallholder farmers to increase production and decrease dependence on aid.

This was one of seven grants Gates announced in Rome at the Thirty-fifth Session of the Governing Council of the International Fund for Agricultural Development. The announcement, nearly $200 million in grants, brings the foundation’s total commitment to agriculture to more than $2 billion since the program began in 2006.

“If you care about the poorest, you care about agriculture,” said Bill Gates, co-chair of the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation. “Investments in agriculture are the best weapons against hunger and poverty, and they have made life better for billions of people. The international agriculture community needs to be more innovative, coordinated and focused to really be effective in helping poor farmers grow more. If we can do that, we can dramatically reduce suffering, and build self-sufficiency.”

The Faso Kaba Seed Company highlights the impact PASS has had on countries like Mali.  Run by Maimouna Coulibaly, a PASS grant allowed her to grow the company from producing minimal volumes of seed to a firm with two retail outlets, 150 retailers, 20 certified seed growers, six full-time and 30 part-time employees, selling 300 tons of seeds and supplying 35-40% of the private certified seed market in Mali. In neighboring countries such as Burkina Faso and Niger, PASS support to the seed industry has resulted in the creation of those countries’ first-ever private suppliers of certified seed.

“I believe that farming starts with a seed, and we cannot eradicate poverty in Africa unless we deal with the challenges that millions of farmers face in trying to get seed to plant on their farms,” says Maimauna Coulibaly, owner of Faso Kabo.  “I built up a seed company on that very demand from farmers in Mali. We have brought seed to rural farmers who can now grow enough food to eat, and sometimes even extra to sell, when before this wasn’t an option. We promote new varieties with better qualities through field demonstrations – then farmers can learn and see for themselves how to become more profitable farmers.”

Twenty-five percent of seed enterprises supported by PASS are currently headed by women.

PASS further seeks to achieve gender balance, with a goal of targeting 40 percent of women students in its fellowship programs. To-date it has increased the female ratio from 10 to 30 percent.

Source: CSR Africa.Net – 23 Feb 2012