Healthy agriculture depends on good seed. Farmer access to high-quality seed of well-adapted crop varieties is central to boosting agricultural production and productivity, improving livelihoods, and ensuring food and nutritional security.
Seed system improvements have recently become an urgent priority to counter Ug99, a virulent strain of wheat stem rust now spreading across Africa and West Asia, and threatening to snowball into a global pandemic. Strong seed systems also help agricultural economies devastated by conflict to revive more quickly – this can prevent much of the suffering endured by post-conflict farm communities and the urban populations that depend on them for supplies of affordable food.
The timely production and distribution of good seed depends on strong national seed systems. An important bottleneck for many developing countries and their development partners is the lack of a robust and flexible system for quick and efficient seed delivery.
Critical factors that low-income countries can embrace to improve the performance of their seed systems include: fast-tracking seed variety testing and release; accelerated seed multiplication; extending seed multiplication into the off-season; strengthening national capacity for seed multiplication; and increasing investments in agriculture extension.
For formal systems, the timely dissemination to farmers of improved seed depends upon:
- An appropriate policy and regulatory framework governing the variety release mechanism, plant variety protection, seed certification, and domestic and international trade
- The development, evaluation, and release of well-adapted varieties preferred by farmers and consumers
- Efficient and effective facilities and procedures for producing, processing, and storing seed that engage both the public and the private sector
- Seed marketing and distribution networks that deliver seed to convenient locations for collection by farmers
- Seed quality assurance to protect producers and users
- Capacity strengthening for national seed systems.
Given that many farmers remain beyond the reach of formal seed sectors, especially those who work marginal land in remote communities of the world’s dry areas, decentralized, farmer-based enterprises are essential for seed systems to achieve broad coverage. In such situations, systems are best strengthened through village-based seed enterprises.
Strengthening Ethiopia’s resistance to wheat stripe rust: To combat Ethiopia’s 2010 wheat stripe rust epidemic, a fast-track crop research and rust-resistant seed distribution program not only delivered future protection to farmers, but also brought higher yields and incomes.