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Small seed enterprises: Key to food security in developing countries

Sep 03, 2012

FAO’s policy guide, entitled Promoting the Growth and Development of Smallholder Seed Enterprises for Food Security Crops, singles out small seed enterprises as the best way to ensure quality seeds in the developing world. Based on case studies, the guide established that favorable policy environment was a prerequisite to successful development of smallholder seed enterprises.


Promoting the Growth and Development of Smallholder Seed Enterprises for Food Security Crops


Farmers everywhere depend on access to good quality seed as the foundation to their crop production system. At the same time, easy access to quality seed can be achieved and guaranteed only if there is a viable seed supply system to multiply and distribute seeds that have been produced or preserved.

In recent years, many governments in the developing world curtailed public-sector investment in the seed sector, hoping that the private sector would take over.

However, the private sector has generally not taken up the challenge as expected. As a result, farmers are left without access to seeds of new and improved varieties.

Over 90 percent of the crops in developing countries are still planted with farmers’ varieties and farm-saved seeds. Private seed companies tend to concentrate on production of hybrid seed, especially of high-value crops grown by larger farmers in more favourable areas, i.e. targeting those who are best able to pay for the seed. They tend to avoid self-pollinating crops, including many of those grown by small holder farmers and on which they depend for their food security. Also for these crops, opportunities for commercial seed production are very limited because the biology makes it easy for farmers to save their own seeds for planting

This is a major problem constraining agricultural development, particularly in the face of climate change when access to new and genetically diverse varieties is critical.

In view of the little interest of medium to large seed companies, the most effective alternative is to create effective and efficient smallholder seed enterprises with lower capital investment needs and reduced overheads. These enterprises, often made up of farmer organizations, are often close to smallholder farmers and located in farming communities, and should be able to distribute quality seeds of improved and local varieties of major food security crops effectively and efficiently. They are vital in linking the formal and informal seed sectors.

Countries often request the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations (FAO) for policy or technical advice on how to sustainably increase the supply of quality seeds of crops, which is so important to food security.

The present Guide is in response to the request by governments and decision makers in developing countries for guidelines on options to build efficient seed delivery systems adapted to the level of their agricultural development.

This Guide is based on the accumulated experience of the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations (FAO in the seed sector) and lays out the necessary conditions and key requirements for the development of such small holder seed enterprises in developing countries and how such processes can be supported. It also describes the necessary capacity development aspects involved in the establishment of smallholder seed enterprises

Source : FAO
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