A sorghum farmer in Tanzania. File photo

Towards sustainable seed systems in Eastern and Southern Africa

A sorghum farmer in Tanzania. File photo

A sorghum farmer in Tanzania. File photo

The AVISA project has rolled out its seed systems strategy in Tanzania, Ethiopia and Uganda with an aim to increase ESA’s varietal turnover rate and boost adoption of improved varieties. Digital seed roadmaps, increasing private seed sector and community seed producer participation, innovating digital tools and building business cases for the crops are part of the strategy.

High quality seed is a prerequisite for sustainable increase of agricultural production. Quality seed determines the potential of crop yield and return of investment on land, labor and capital. Sustainable access to quality seed of improved varieties remains a major challenge and hinders agricultural development efforts. For decades, more than 80% of smallholder farmers in developing countries, mainly sub-Saharan Africa (SSA) and to some extent South Asia (SA), heavily rely on farm saved seed of non-improved varieties.

ICRISAT and partners in the Accelerated Varietal Improvement and Seed Delivery of Legumes and Cereals in Africa (AVISA) project have designed and rolled out a sustainable seed production and delivery strategy involving diverse actors in Tanzania, Ethiopia and Uganda as part of larger efforts to strengthen the national seed systems in East and Southern Africa.


The project worked with Tanzania’s national groundnut and sorghum seed systems teams to:

  • Co-develop digital seed roadmaps for five groundnut varieties (Nachingwea 2009, Massasi 2009, Naliendele 2009, Mnanje 2009 and Nachi 2015) and three sorghum varieties (Macia, NACO Mtama 1, NACO H1) prioritized for promotion.
  • Facilitate involvement of seven seed companies to produce and avail foundation and certified seed of groundnut and sorghum across Tanzania (Lima Africa Ltd, Mbozi Highlands Economic Group Ltd, Alssem Ltd, Agriseeds Ltd, Temnar Seed Ltd, IFFA Seed Co, Dodoma Agricultural Seed Producer Association (DASPA)) in addition to the ongoing seed production and delivery work with the public seed company, Agricultural Seed Agency (ASA).
  • Co-develop and implement a study on business cases for groundnut and sorghum varieties. The study revealed that the return on investment for seeds and grain production ranges from 80-250% and 80-100% over the use of non-improved varieties of sorghum and groundnut, respectively, and that there is potential to increase this using high quality seed and accompanying good agronomic practices.
  • Co-develop and launch the Seed Revolving Fund Initiative, Youth Engagement and Gender Inclusion (SRF-YEGI). The initiative identified four commodity corridors for groundnut and sorghum in Tanzania, i.e., Southern Zone corridor, Southern Highlands corridor, Western Zone corridor and Central Zone corridor.

In the south, the Southern Highlands corridor incudes Mbeya area. It supplies Zambia and parts of DR Congo. The Southern Zone Corridor comprises Mtwara area that, mainly supplies Dar es Salaam.

The Central Zone corridor including Dodoma, Singida and parts of Manyara has its produce going to Dar es Salaam or Arusha and to Kenya. The region has the potential to supply sorghum and groundnut to neighboring Rwanda, Congo, Burundi, Uganda, Kenya and Zambia.

The Western and Lake Zones Corridor, which comprise Tabora, Shinyanga and the surrounding areas. The produce from this corridor is sold to Rwanda, Burundi and parts of DR Congo.

Dr Akpo Essegbemon, Seed Specialist, ICRISAT-ESA, says the project activities including trainings, on-farm activities and seed delivery system innovations have not been disrupted by COVID-19.

The innovations he mentions include seed revolving fund initiatives for sorghum and groundnut value chains in Tanzania, Tanzania that can boost access to quality seeds of improved varieties in rural regions. Also, SEEDx, a data collecting mobile application is being rolled out with an intent to collect, organize and make robust data available to all the users.


Additionally, a digital plan of work has been developed for Uganda. A data collection tool has been developed with National Semi Arid Resources Research Institute (NaSARRI) scientists to study the influence of the brewery industry in enhancing sorghum seed sector development. A seed revolving fund was also initiated with NaSARRI based on the Tanzania experience.

NARO holdings Ltd, NARO-Uganda’s business wing, has already received groundnut breeder seed for bulking and production of foundation seed, besides closely engaging seed companies (Equator seeds & Pearl seeds) and seed certification agency. NARO is Uganda’s national agricultural research organization.

The AVISA Project aims to increase the rate of varietal turnover. The project is funded by Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation and United States Agency for International Development (USAID). It consolidates gains made by earlier initiatives Tropical Legumes III, HOPE-II and HarvestPlus – all funded by the foundation – while refocusing the work to improve the breeding and seed delivery systems of CGIAR and national agricultural research systems in seven countries of Sub-Saharan Africa.

About the author

Grace Waithira is a Communication Assistant in ICRISAT’s East and Southern Africa Program in Kenya.

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