Making seed available for improved adoption of climate smart crops

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.

Recent evidence suggests that the area planted to improved varieties of these crops averages at 40 percent in Eastern Africa. Moreover, only 26 percent of this area is planted to 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, ICRISAT Kenya team, in 2015, through the Feed the Future Kenya Accelerated Value Chain Development (AVCD) Program designed and started implementing a strategy to address three drivers of adoption.

These drivers are: Awareness – to create demand for seed; Affordability – making sure that it is affordable for farmers; and Access -making sure the seed is available when farmers need it.


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.

A Nutrition Officer facilitating a nutrition education class in Makueni. Photo: ICRISAT

A Nutrition Officer facilitating a nutrition education class in Makueni. Photo: ICRISAT

Ms. Phyllis Nduva in her green grams farm. Photo: ICRISAT

Ms. Phyllis Nduva in her green grams farm. Photo: ICRISAT


“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.

“They selected me as a seed producer and supplied me with improved seed of pearl millet, sorghum and green grams. We were trained on how to multiply the seeds while following the recommended agricultural practices,” says Ms. Nduva.

“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.

A farmer buying seed from the community seed bank. Photo: ICRISAT

A farmer buying seed from the community seed bank. Photo: ICRISAT

“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 Phyllis adding that she is now able to sustain her family mainly through farm income.

Phyllis’ 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 to 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 tells us. “When people tell me that I do not age, I tell them it is as result of eating the traditional foods like millet, pigeonpea and green grams.”

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 farmer’s 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. Geoffrey Mutai, ICRISAT technician, Eastern Kenya region. “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 Elizabeth. “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 which is based in Nakuru town. “We mainly supply farmers in Nakuru, Bomet, Kericho and Uasin Gishu Counties,” says 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 percent. Our seeds are always above 98 percent.”

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; 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 Njihia.

Since 2016, Faida seed company has distributed over 35 tonnes 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.

Faida seed company’s warehouse. Photo: ICRISAT

Faida seed company’s warehouse. Photo: ICRISAT

Key highlights of achievement:


The project has:

Trained over 450 farmers on community seed production.
Reached over 144,000 farmers with approximately 1,000 tonnes of certified and community produced seed of drought tolerant crops. These crops were planted on a land area of approximately 60,000 ha .
Trained over 144,000 farmers on good agricultural practices in order to improve productivity.
Set up 24 community seed banks to improve farmer access to improved seed at an affordable cost. Community seed banks have lowered the cost of seed by up to 50 percent compared to commercial outlets.
Trained over 50,000 farmers on improved postharvest handling and storage technologies including use of hermetic storage bags and use of mechanized threshing.

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