Paving the way for development of a reliable seed distribution model, a nationwide program has helped transform livelihoods of over 450 farm households
The central problem facing climate-smart crops such as sorghum, millets and pigeonpea is how to accelerate the adoption of improved varieties – getting more farmers to grow the improved varieties.
Evidence suggests that the area planted with these crops averages at 40% in Eastern Africa. Moreover, only 26% of this area is planted with varieties released in the last 10-15 years. Thus, the adoption of improved varieties of these crops has not met expectations. One reason for low adoption is the challenge of scaling up quality seed. To meet this challenge, in 2015 the ICRISAT-Kenya team, through the Feed the Future Kenya Accelerated Value Chain Development (AVCD) Program, designed and started implementing a strategy to address three drivers of adoption.
To create demand for improved seed, ICRISAT partnered with county departments of agriculture and health to create awareness about the importance of dryland cereals and legumes. This was in a bid to convince farmers to grow more not only for markets but also for their own consumption. As soon as farmers realized the value of these crops, they became eager to grow them. The project team also took them through various seed varieties available. The farmers then selected the best varieties suited to their needs, e.g. most productive, most nutritious and best tasting varieties.
Affordability and Accessibility
For farmers to grow these crops in large quantities, the selected variety of seed has to be affordable and accessible. One of the strategies used to make sure that the seed was affordable and accessible was the use of the informal seed system channels. This is whereby lead farmers are identified and trained to be producers of high-quality seeds that can then be shared with other farmers.
“We have partnered with County Departments of agriculture to mobilize suitable farmers with whom we can work with to multiply quality seed,” explains Dr Moses Siambi, ICRISAT Regional Director – Eastern and Southern Africa. “The farmers are given foundation seeds and trained on proper agronomic practices so that they can produce quality seeds, which can then be made available to other farmers in the communities.”
Ms Phyllis Nduva is a 65-year-old farmer from Mwaani Village, in Makueni County, Kenya. She is one of the beneficiaries of the AVCD program. She first learned about the program through a field day organized by ICRISAT in 2016. The program has been conducting participatory training sessions either at research stations or on selected farmers’ fields, to promote new varieties and encourage farmers to grow drought-tolerant crops. “Through the support and close monitoring of our progress by the ICRISAT staff, I have been very successful at producing seed. I sell the seed to other farmers in my community,” she notes.
The AVCD project provided farmers with clean foundation seed and trained the farmers on how to produce subsequent foundation or certified seed while ensuring purity and quality.
“We provide the farmers with clean foundation seed and encouraged them to plant in isolation away from other varieties of the same crop. We also provide constant training services through site visits on how to maintain purity of the seed variety, from planting time up to the harvesting time. We monitor to make sure that varieties are threshed separately,” Mr Geoffrey Mutai explains. Mr Mutai is a Research Technician at ICRISAT and is responsible for overseeing the AVCD project activities in Eastern Kenya region.
More than 450 farmers in the target counties received improved seed of the various drought-tolerant crops and took up seed production as business ventures. As a result, more farmers like Phyllis have managed to improve their quality of life, become more food secure and made some extra income to provide for other household needs. For instance, since Phyllis started her seed production venture, she has been able to qualify for loans to help her expand her business. “I am now my own boss,” says Ms Nduva adding that she is now able to sustain her family mainly through farm income.
Ms Nduva’s seed multiplication business has created employment for three permanent workers and several casual workers. She has made significant profits since she started. “I have made profits of at least KES 300,000 from this business. This has made me afford college fees for my last-born child who is in the university.” She grows sorghum and millet not only as a business, but she is also passionate about using and promoting them as nutritious foods.
“I prepare dishes like Pilau and Chapati using sorghum,” she says. “When people tell me that I do not age, I tell them it is as a result of eating traditional foods like millet, pigeonpea and green gram.”
Providing seeds through community seed banks
To make seed more available and accessible to the communities, the AVCD project has established 24 seed banks in the target counties. Community seed banks are forms of storage which farmers use to conserve and maintain access to quality seed. They are governed and managed by the farming community members. Seed banks offer farmers high quality and more choices at affordable prices. They also offer a platform for farmers to sell seeds, hence facilitating farmers’ access to markets.
“We started by training farmers on seed production and management to ensure seeds stocked in the community seed bank are of superior quality,” says Mr Mutai. “These community banks help to ensure availability of high-quality seed of improved varieties in communities. The seeds available at the seed banks are sold at affordable prices,” he adds, insisting that having better access to quality seed helps farmers produce more for household consumption and surplus for sale.
According to 45-year-old Ms Elizabeth Muthiani from Makueni, community seed banks play a significant role in communities. Elizabeth runs Kimundi Stores, a community seed bank in Wote, Makueni. She notes that farmers in her community are now more organized since the community seed bank was set up.
“The farmers are now able to multiply, save and exchange seed to ensure they always have quality seeds,” says Ms Muthiani. “It also gives us a platform to sell our grains collectively thus helping us to get better prices. Selling individually is not easy.”
Private sector collaboration
Since 2015, ICRISAT in partnership with Egerton University, has enlisted the support of five seed companies to multiply and distribute high-quality seeds of drought-tolerant crops. One such company is Faida Seed Ltd, based in Nakuru town. “We mainly supply farmers in Nakuru, Bomet, Kericho and Uasin Gishu Counties,” says Mr George Njihia, Operations Manager, Faida Seed.
ICRISAT, through Egerton University, supplies the company with groundnut foundation seed for multiplication. “We prefer seeds from Egerton and ICRISAT as they have higher germination rates. Faida Seed strictly abides by the KEPHIS standards for seed purity which is 97.5%. Our seeds are always above 98%.”
Ensuring availability of quality seed is a strategy of the AVCD program. This strategy has played a critical role in enhancing adoption of new varieties thereby increasing productivity, and enhancing food and nutrition security and incomes.
“We plan strategically to ensure that quality seed gets to every farmer through agrovets as well as aggregation centers before the planting season begins,” adds Mr Njihia.
Since 2016, Faida Seed has distributed over 35 tons of groundnut seed to over 2,000 farmers. In 2017 alone, the company made approximately KES 1,000,000 in profits from production and distribution of drought-tolerant crops. This has helped the company expand its business, offering employment to over ten employees on a permanent contract and 30 more on casual basis. Access to better seeds has helped farmers increase their yield, and as a result, improve their livelihoods.