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Seed can be an important entry point for promoting productivity, nutrition and resilience among smallholder farmers. While investments have primarily focused on strengthening the formal sector, this paper documents the degree to which the informal sector remains the core for seed acquisition, especially in Africa. Conclusions drawn from a uniquely comprehensive data set, 9660 observations across six countries and covering 40 crops, show that farmers access 90.2% of their seed from informal systems with 50.9% of that deriving from local markets. Further, 55% of seed is paid for by cash, indicating that smallholders are already making important investments in this arena. Targeted interventions are proposed for rendering formal and informal seed sector more smallholder-responsive and for scaling up positive impacts.
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Seed systems smallholder farmers use
Shawn McGuire
&Louise Sperling
Received: 22 September 2015 /Accepted: 16 November 2015
#The Author(s) 2015. This article is published with open access at
Abstract Seed can be an important entry point for pro-
moting productivity, nutrition and resilience among small-
holder farmers. While investments have primarily focused
on strengthening the formal sector, this article documents
the degree to which the informal sector remains the core
for seed acquisition, especially in Africa. Conclusions
drawn from a uniquely comprehensive data set, 9660 ob-
servations across six countries and covering 40 crops,
show that farmers access 90.2 % of their seed from infor-
mal systems with 50.9 % of that deriving from local mar-
kets. Further, 55 % of seed is paid for by cash, indicating
that smallholders are already making important invest-
ments in this arena. Targeted interventions are proposed
for rendering formal and informal seed sector more
smallholder-responsive and for scaling up positive impacts.
Keywords Informal and formal seed sectors .Agricultural
investment .Markets .Smallholder .Delivery .Access to seed
Seed sector development specifically geared to smallholder
farmers has attracted substantial investment in recent years.
As examples, from 2007 to 2012, the World Bank funded
87 seed sector projects, worth $ US 513 million, with a
strong focus on the vulnerable (Rajalahti 2013)and,inthe
same period, the Alliance for a Green Revolution in
Africas Program for Africas Seed Systems (AGRA/PASS)
dispensed 112 grants totaling $35,244,164 and geared
to improving smallholder livelihoods (SourceWatch
The broad rationale for focusing on seed sector inter-
ventions is that seed is a vehicle for delivering a range of
advances, all of which can benefit smallholders. Seed can
be the conduit for moving new varieties, giving farmers
access to more productive, yield-enhancing traits. New
seed is linked to strategies for raising nutrition, as with
biofortified varieties selected for elevated micro-nutrient
levels (Bouis and Welch 2010). Further, in response to
climate variation, stress-tolerant varieties or clusters of
diverse varieties are promoted as good practiceto en-
hance system resilience: multiple options can allow
farmers to shift crop or variety portfolios in response to
changing conditions (McGuire and Sperling 2013). Hence,
seed is a vehicle linked to promoting productivity, nutri-
tion and resilience: one entry point can potentially move
forward multiple goals.
Varied and often opposing philosophies shape seed
sector development and much depends on what actors
see as the starting point for system entry. Organizations
such as AGRA/PASS invest their resources mainly in
private sector seed business development, that is, in
the promotion of private commercial seed and formal
sector input companies. In contrast, select non-
governmental organizations (NGOs) and donors have
signaled the need to support more locally-driven initia-
tives and particularly those that organize around what
are called informal, farmer-based, local or traditional
The writers share first authorship.
*Shawn McGuire
Louise Sperling
School of International Development, University of East Anglia,
Norwich NR4 7TJ, UK
Catholic Relief Services, 228 West Lexington Street,
Baltimore, MD 21201, USA
Food Sec.
DOI 10.1007/s12571-015-0528-8
seed sector operations (e.g., GTZ 2000).
Activities here tend to
be decentralized and might revolve around local entrepreneur-
ship, seed banking, community-based seed production, or seed
villages. While proponents of formal or informal seed sector
development seem divided and even polarized in their respec-
tive zones of influence, farmers, in practice, often engage in
actions to smooth the divides. For instance, on the demand side,
farmers have long drawn from both formal and informal sys-
tems, accessing seed for different crops from distinct channels,
e.g., maize from agro-dealers and groundnuts from local mar-
kets (Sperling and Cooper 2004). On the supply side, an in-
creasing number of farmers are involved in participatory vari-
ety selection, sit on variety release committees, or access im-
proved varieties through local trader networks (Sperling et al.
2014). More recently, initiatives to recognize and explicitly
plan for an integrated seed sectorhave started to be sketched
(Almekinders and Hardon 2000; Louwaars and de Boef 2012;
Sperling et al. 2014), but pivotal points for catalyzing formal
and informal integration tend to be ad hoc rather than managed,
and are localized, rather than achieved at scale (Sperling et al.
2014). The Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation (BMGF), in
particular, is aiming to become a champion in this area labeled
BIntegrated Seed Sector Development^(Louwaars et al. 2013).
Worldwide, recent figures on the seed market valuation esti-
mate the commercial worth of these seed sectors, with the formal
sector being valued at $US 45 billion annually and the informal
sector at between $US 6 and 15 billion annually (Bonny 2014).
However, the figures are somewhat misleading in isolation.
Reflecting on geography, in the South, the commercial and in-
formal sector sizes might be more equitable, even in money
terms. Also, the focus on commercial worth does not necessarily
correlate with the value of each system to end-users: discussion
narrows towards immediate financial gain and away from real
impacts in farmersfields. Finally, brute figures disguise exactly
who is served by these varied seed system domains.
If seed sector development is to be geared specifically to
smallholder agricultural development (practically, not just
nominally), strategic insights into how farmers actually use
varied seed channels might drive the seed sector development
process more centrally. Empirically, where do farmers get the
planting materials they sow, season after season, for which
crops, where, on what scale? Multiple descriptions of seed
system use do exist in the refereed and particularly grey liter-
ature especially from anthropologists and agricultural
economists (Badstue 2006; McGuire 2008; Nagarajan et al.
2007). Existing studies tend to be of two types
: those that
focus on intensive single crop analyses and often at a
single site (e.g., Christinck 2002)orrelativelysweeping
regional and national analyses, which look at broad house-
hold socio-economic parameters and give insight on what
might be happening in select seed-related domains (e.g.,
Nordhagen and Pascual 2013).
This article focuses on the empirical. It is rooted in what the
authors believe is the largest specialized seed system dataset in
the world, some 9660 observations and growing. Analyses indi-
cate where smallholder farmers obtain seed for their most impor-
tant crops (some 40 across sites), crop by crop, under what
conditions (e.g., bought, loaned, exchanged) and how varied
trade-offs shape the use of some nine different seed channels.
The work does not claim to be representative of global trends, as
five of the six cases are based in Africa, with the sixth in Haiti.
However, the breadth of data is such that the article raises ques-
tions about support strategies for achieving seed system gains at
scale, on a sustained basis, and that serve the smallholder farmer.
It is this type of aggregated seed-specific research and analysis,
focused on smallholders, that might be used to inform where
catalytic seed sector investments should be made.
The SSSA: overview
The data presented in this article were collected in the course of
conducting seed system security assessments (SSSAs). Such
SSSAs are a relatively new method of analysis (Byrne et al.
2013;Sperling2008) and examine the functioning of all the seed
systems farmers use. These include the formal channelsthat
give farmers access to modern varieties and certified seed (from
the government, commercial seed companies, sometimes relief
providers); and informal channels(from farmersown harvests,
social networks, or local markets) that provide farmers with a
range of varieties (modern, new local, local) and seed (or po-
tential seed) of varying quality.
In addition, the data encompass
more occasional, interstitial conduits, for example, seed from
community-based seed production groups (CBSGs).
SSSAs have a strong focus on smallholder farmers. SSSAs
are most often conducted in zones where seed sector interven-
tions are being considered to bolster smallholder agriculture:
through rural development or agro-enterprise initiatives, safety
net programs or short-term assistance. As such, these
Each of these terms has a particular nuance, and each is problematic.
Informalsystems are not purely farmersystems in that markets are
important. Neither are they purely localsince both markets and ex-
change through social networks connect various localities. Finally, they
are not traditionalin the strict sense, because they are constantly
Unfortunately, no figures presently have been put forward for the inte-
grated seed system interface.
We recognize that there are hundreds of seed system cases studies, some
of which cannot be easily characterized within this dichotomy. Here, we
signal what seem to be the main trends.
Not all grain found in informal channels can be used as seed. However,
there is a subset of material that is adapted and carefully managed, which
farmers save or seek specifically for planting. The authors term this ma-
terial as potential seedor implicit seed(Sperling and McGuire 2010).
S. McGuire, L. Sperling
assessments review seed security issues for smallholder farmers
engaged in market-oriented farming, for those more subsis-
tence oriented, for those in chronic stress situations, and, occa-
sionally, for populations marked by an acute stress, such as an
earthquake, or prolonged drought. While SSSAs do not explic-
itly highlight commercial farming areas, these zones are some-
times included within national-scale assessments that aim to
cover a broad range of agro-ecological and geographic regions.
Data from six distinct assessments are presented in this article.
All SSSAs were conducted between 2009 and 2012. Table 1
lists the assessment sites along with salient descriptors of their
contexts. Both South Sudan and Haiti were countrywide as-
sessments and covered a large set of agro-ecological zones and
crops. The others were more region-specific, although even
these focused samples embraced multiple sites and farming
The Zimbabwean assessment included four distinct
agro-ecological zones: the Kenyan one focused on drought-
prone regions in the east and coastal areas; the Democratic
Republic of Congo (DRC) assessment was centered in north-
ern Katanga, and the Malawi SSSA extended across the south-
ern zone. Mapping and extensive characterization of individual
assessment sites appear in each respective SSSA report
and the reference list provides the individual case study links.
Most assessment sites broadly exhibited features linked
with rural smallholder agriculture: e.g., poor infrastructure
development, erratic access to agriculture development ef-
forts, little value addition in terms of agro-processing.
Further, three SSSAs took place immediately during or after
key events potentially affecting farming systems. The
Zimbabwe SSSA was carried out mid 2009, shortly after a
period of hyperinflation which rendered the local currency
virtually worthless (Hanke and Kwok 2009). The South
Sudan assessment unfolded in the months just prior to the
2011 Referendum as the country transitioned toward an inde-
pendent state, and the Haiti assessment was conducted several
months post-earthquake 2010. However, while the effects of
these immediate stresses were noted, in all cases it was chronic
stress factors that largely shaped the seed security scenarios.
For instance, in the case of Haiti, over 90 % of the assessment
sites fell outside of the areas of direct earthquake impact (i.e.,
including eastern and northern areas which had very little
displaced population overflow); in South Sudan, only c.
50 km of macadam were paved countrywide both immediate-
ly before and after the Referendum Period.
It is notable that the profile of sites broadly evokes the type
of areas in which significant seed system investments and seed
aid interventions are routinely proposed, ranging at varied
points from agro-enterprise, development, recovery and select
relief programs (Table 1).
Partners and sample
Across sites, upwards of 25organizations were involved in the
including government institutions (agricultural min-
istries and seed services), the United Nations (UN), national
agricultural research systems, national universities, non-
governmental organizations (NGOs), faith-based groups, and
farmerscooperatives and farmer unions. Each SSSA engaged
at least five different organizations on the ground, helping to
counteract potential single institutional bias.
Site selection within SSSAs was geared towards general
zones where government, UN or NGO interventions were
being implemented. While some collaborating organizations
chose zones where explicit agricultural programs were
unfolding, in other cases, health or literacy campaigns were
the primary programs being unrolled. The site selection sug-
gested populations with relatively good access to develop-
mental, safety net or short-term aid.
In each site, on average 84 households were interviewed.
Systematic random sampling was employed (Levy and
Lemeshow 2008), interviewing every third or fourth house-
hold depending on population density. In total, data were col-
lected for 2592 households.
Field instruments
Standardized instruments were used across sites (see samples
posted at Beyond the quantitative
household surveys reported herein, instruments were tailored
towards understanding the actions of key actor groups, inter
alia: government personnel, farming communities, private
sector seed companies and agro-dealers, womens groups,
seed/grain market traders, agricultural product processors, and
humanitarian and development groups. Further, the field instru-
ments aimed for a high level of differentiation in seed security
investigation. As one example, instruments distinguished nine
possible seed sources: farmersown stores or fields (own
stock); kin, neighbors, or friends (social networks); local mar-
; agro-dealers or agro-vets; community-based seed groups
The South Sudan Assessment took place just pre-referendum, in
October and November 2010. Officially the region was then known as
southern Sudan as this southern region was not yet a country in its own
This number of organizations is an underestimate. In some cases, pro-
fessionals participated in assessments as individuals, usually to learn the
SSSA methodology, rather than officially representing their organiza-
tions. Such individual participation is not tallied in the total.
Local marketsgenerally refer to the open air venue where farmers get
agricultural and other goods. Small kiosks surrounding these open areas
are also included in the term (see Sperling and McGuire 2010 for greater
Seed systems smallholder farmers use
(CBSG); some form of assistance : government (government)
or non-government or United Nations (NGO/UN); contract
growers (who are side-selling); or other.
All instruments were translated to the main national lan-
guages, with key terms further translated into local languages.
For instance, in the South Sudan SSSA, terms such as modern
variety, local variety, certified seed, local seed, and hybrid
were translated into 10 local languages (plus English) to ac-
commodate ethnic variations across the country.
Data set: scope and analysis
Data collection was followed intensively: the authors and oth-
er seed system specialists directly trained enumerators,
reviewed forms while in the field, and monitored coding and
data-entry at each site. Multiple stages of data-cleaning were
effected including via verification algorithms. A programming
tool allowed real-time synthesis by automating data analysis:
following data-entry in Excel, descriptive statistic tables were
immediately generated even for large data sets of 900+ cases.
Such rapid turnaround allowed field teams to garner (and val-
idate) quantitative findings and shape follow-up probing, e.g.,
why farmers were planting more or less than usual. Combined
datasets were analyzed with SPSS (version 22) and STATA
(version 11) for Probit regressions.
Given this range of processesstandardized tools across
sites; cleaning and cross-checking in the field; automated
analysis (eliminating some bias or user error); and follow-up
of outliers on sitethe authors sense this dataset not only to be
the largest currently available, but among the more rigorous.
Certainly it is among the larger sets using a suite of standard-
ized, seed system-specific instruments.
Results are organized below along four farmer-centered ques-
tions; which seed channels were used overall, and for select
crops; how seed was acquired;who used specific channels;
and focusing on the varietal aspects of seed, how farmers
accessed new varieties. The questions broadly cover parame-
ters central to understanding seed security: seed availability,
accessibility and quality (McGuire and Sperling 2011;
Remington et al. 2002).
Which seed channels did farmers use?
Across crops
Farmers detailed all the sources used to obtain seed, with their
exact amounts, for their three major crops during the most
recent season tied to the assessment.
Table 2presents the
volumes provided by each source, across all crops. Several
findings are of note: overall, slightly over half of all seed
(50.9 % across crops), was obtained from the local market,
indicating that this source, quantitatively, was the most impor-
tant of the 9+ sources monitored.
The local market was also
the dominant seed source in four out of the six SSSAs: Haiti,
Kenya, Malawi and DRC. For the two exceptions, market
access was constrained during the assessment periods:
Zimbabwe was facing a currency breakdown and localized
bartering of goods often substituted for cash payment. In
second, rather than primary seed source, albeit still an impor-
tant one. The extreme use of local markets in Haiti, almost ¾
Tabl e 1 Select site descriptors for seed system security assessments (SSSAs), with sample sizes for number of households interviewed (HH) and
number of individual seed access transactions noted (transaction: HH x crop x source)
SSSA Country (Region) Date Stress context N
Ongoing (chronic) stresses Immediate events
Malawi (Southern) 2011 Low purchasing power Repeated droughts 180 682
Kenya (East and Coast) 2011 Decline of maize, low purchasing power Repeated droughts 198 745
DR Congo (Katanga) 2012 Low innovation, weak infrastructure Ongoing conflict 209 548
Haiti 2010 Weak state, low innovation Earthquake (corner of country) 983 3056
South Sudan 2010 Weak state & infrastructure Pre-Referendum fear857 4017
Zimbabwe 2009 Declining purchasing power Hyper currency inflation 165 612
TOTAL 2592 9660
In each site, standard conversion rates from local units of measure to kg
were agreed with collaborating partners to get at the issue of volumes of
seed from each source. Often, these were well-established conversion
rates for local measures in common usage. Units for vegetatively-
propagated crops such as cassava were converted to propagules (cuttings,
pseudostems, etc.); to make these comparable with seed crops, quantities
of propagules were converted to kg equivalent figures by relating the
recommended sowing rate for a vegetative crop with a standard sowing
rate for maize. For instance, common sowing rates for cassava and maize
are 10000 stems and 25 kg, respectively, so 400 cassava cuttings were
converted to 1 kg for comparative purposes.
For this, and other tables, figures for All Sitesrepresent proportions of
total seed volumes across all six sites.
S. McGuire, L. Sperling
of all seed sown, may be the highest recorded in the seed
system literature anywhere. This means that Haitian farmers
are turning over the majority of seed stocks season after sea-
son, in what can be a variable supply system.
Own stocks were also important, providing 1/3 of seed
sown overall, varying between 28 and 45 % in all sites, with
the exception of Haiti. The secondary rather than primary
importance of use of own stocks challenges several common
stereotypes: first, the notion that smallholder farmers will pri-
oritize seed saving in times of stress (De Waal 1991) and,
second, that own-saved seed provides the bulk of smallholder
sowings (e.g., Bezner Kerr 2013; Cavatassi et al. 2011;Guei
et al. 2011; Marfo et al. 2008). Simply, overall data show that
the locus of seed sources is off-farm, not within farm.
Use of sources beyond markets and own stocks was mod-
est. Seed from social networks supplied under 1/10 of total
seed sown. Agro-dealers, that is, the private input company
networks which put on offer modern varieties and certified
seed, proved to be an insignificant source of seed for small-
holder farmers, across crops and sites, supplying 2.4 % of seed
used. Key to emphasize is that for over 2500 farmers spread
across 31 sites in six countries, seed sources utilized were few
in number and overwhelmingly dominated by two: local mar-
kets and own stocks.
Within crop clusters
Tab le 3draws from the same data set, but from a crop per-
spective. Crops have been grouped into common clusters of
cereals, legumes, and vegetatively-propagated crops (VPCs)
to highlight trends by crop type. Maize was kept as a separate
category given its importance across much of Africa and its
prominence in seed sector development (Shi and Tao 2014).
The category Othergroups 17 mostly horticultural crops,
generally sown in small quantities.
Tab le 3shows that the relative importance of seed sources
varies markedly by crop cluster. Local markets are the driving
seed source for legumes, providing almost 2/3 of the seed
sown. For all major legumes, markets supplied from 49.5 to
81.3 % of all crop-specific seed sown (with the ranges indi-
cating greengram and common bean market use,
Own stocks are especially central for the VPCs (e.g., pro-
viding nearly 80 % of sweet potatoes cuttings) as well as for
dryland cereals (sorghum and millets). For these latter crops,
small seeds and dry storage conditions present fewer chal-
lenges to self-storage than for legumes such as beans
(Sperling and McGuire 2010). Use of social networks was
noted in greatest quantity for the VPCs, partly as the market
option here is so limited.
As agro-dealer use overall was very modest, this channel is
better understood through examining use by specific crop.
The source has some importance for maize (see also Fig. 1
below), and for highly commercialized crops in specialized
production contexts such as rice in the Artibonite region of
the Haiti,
or subsidized contract farming of cotton in
Malawi. If cotton were removed from the othercrop catego-
ry, agro-dealer use falls to 2.1 % for this cluster. Of note, is the
near absence of agro-dealer use as a seed source for the full
clusters of legumes and VPC crops, that is <1 % of the total
seed sourced.This is an important gap area for clusters of crop
types key for basic nutrition and calorie provision.
Tabl e 2 The sources supplying seed in most recent season, as a % of total seed supplied in each SSSA site
Seed source SSSA country (%) All sites
Malawi Kenya DRC/Katanga Haiti S Sudan Zimbabwe
Own Stock 28.3 36.2 35.0 17.4 42.2 45.2 31.1
Friend, neighbor, relative 7.8 5.7 16.9 3.3 12.1 21.9 8.6
Local market 32.0 40.1 44.6 73.0 34.3 9.9 50.9
Agro-dealer 17.5 11.6 0.4 1.5 0.2 5.8 2.4
CBSG 0.1 0.0 0.1 0.8 0.2 0.3 0.5
Government 8.9 5.1 0.0 0.4 0.6 11.5 1.6
NGO / UN 4.2 0.9 3.1 3.3 10.4 4.8 5.7
Contract growers 0.5 0.1 0.0 0.0 0.0 0.5 0.1
Other 0.7 0.3 0.0 0.2 0.0 0.0 0.1
Total % 100.0 100.0 100.0 100.0 100.0 100.0 100.0
Tot al kg
4529.1 5266.8 7688.9 42842.2 33536.1 4789.2 98652.3
CBSG Community-based seed group; NGO Non-governmental organization; UN United Nations (often the Food and Agriculture Organization)
For vegetatively-propagated crops such as cassava, propagule quantities were converted to kg equivalents. See note 8
The Artibonite is Haitis largest department, with the region being the
countrys main rice-growing area. (
Seed systems smallholder farmers use
Maize seed is given separate focus as this crop is an
engine for public and private seed sector investment, at
least in much of Africa (Langyintuo et al. 2010). To home
in on possible commercial trends in farmerssourcing of
maize seed, analysis was explicitly narrowed to countries
within the data set where: a) maize is the most important
crop, as measured in hectares sown (Smale et al. 2011)
and where: b) agro-dealer networks are relatively more
developed (Chisinga 2011; Odame and Muange 2011).
Kenya and Malawi clearly stand out here in comparison
to eastern DRC, South Sudan, and Haiti. While Zimbabwe
is both maize-centered and with a formidable commercial
input sector (especially when linked to cross-border South
African private company supply), input trade was near
halted at the time of the SSSA, at least for legal formal
Figure 1shows the proportions of maize seed sourced from
local markets and agro-dealers for these two countries. Both
types of markets are important seed sources, each providing
1731 % of maize seed sown by smallholders. However, local
markets supply relatively more maize seed than agro-dealers,
even for this highly commercialized crop. Further, gender dis-
aggregation shows a more pronounced trend towards local
markets for female-headed households. Female-headed
households seem to steer their seed purchases towards the
markets where they can also buy other household supplies,
e.g., salt and soap, and an array food goods, such as chili
peppers, greens and fish.
Tabl e 3 Source of seed for most recent season, by crop cluster, across all sites
Crop Seed source: most recent/current season(%) Total All sources (kg)
Local market Agro-dealer CBSG Government NGO / UN Contract
Maize 30.3 9.5 41.9 6.1 0.2 4.8 6.4 0.1 0.0 22893.8
Other cereals 40.0 12.1 37.9 2.2 0.8 0.9 6.0 0.0 0.0 15995.1
Sorghum 51.2 12.1 28.3 0.2 0.1 1.1 7.1 0.1 0.0 9835.7
Millets 44.6 21.1 18.7 0.7 0.0 2.4 12.4 0.0 0.1 1469.6
Rice 15.1 9.3 64.3 6.9 2.5 0.0 1.9 0.0 0.1 4689.8
24.2 4.0 64.4 0.6 0.5 0.6 5.5 0.0 0.2 50670.1
Groundnut 34.8 6.4 51.7 0.1 0.3 0.2 6.6 0.0 0.1 23994.3
Common bean 10.4 0.9 81.3 0.8 0.9 0.4 5.1 0.0 0.2 20778.8
Cowpea 26.7 4.4 56.6 2.4 0.5 4.4 5.0 0.0 0.0 1937.6
Pigeonpea 30.1 5.5 61.4 0.4 0.2 1.4 0.6 0.0 0.3 2010.2
Green gram 37.1 2.2 49.5 2.9 0.0 4.6 1.6 0.0 0.5 1597.5
VPCs 47.3 29.9 18.3 0.1 0.5 0.4 3.2 0.0 0.4 7441.8
Cassava 52.9 32.4 9.5 0.0 0.3 0.5 4.3 0.0 0.1 4951.3
Banana 16.0 26.0 54.7 0.4 0.8 0.0 0.6 0.0 1.6 1407.9
Sweet potato 79.2 14.6 3.5 0.0 0.0 0.0 2.7 0.0 0.0 609.7
Irish potato 38.8 36.7 22.0 0.0 2.0 0.0 0.1 0.0 0.4 432.8
22.9 9.1 33.5 22.3 0.0 1.4 8.7 1.5 0.7 1641.5
More minor legumes and VPCs are not displayed, but are included in totals. For the legumes: chickpea, Bambara nut, velvet bean, lima bean
For the VPCs: yams and taro
Othersinclude 17 crops, mostly horticultural crops sowed in small quantities, with a few in more appreciable amounts:sesame, cotton, okra, pumpkin
Fig. 1 Market seed sources for maize as % of all seed supplied for maize
in Malawi and Kenya, disaggregated by gender;=male-headed
households (n=186 for Malawi, 117 for Kenya), =female-headed
households (n= 107 for Malawi, 54 for Kenya), total n=464
S. McGuire, L. Sperling
Crop diversity
In terms of channels, the final issue addressed is the diversity
of crops accessed by farmers from the varied conduits. Some
40 crops were monitored in the data set, with most crops found
across multiple SSSA sites.
Agro-dealer networks supplied appreciable quantities only
for maize and rice (the latter mostly in Haiti), and marked
proportions (i.e., at least 5 %) of only three other crops, all
in Malawi: pumpkin (27 % from agro-dealers); mustard leaves
(15.6 %) and cotton (76.4 %). Cotton is the only crop within
the entire SSSA sample where dealer supply exceeded local
market supply: it is a unique case where specific commercial
enterprises provided seed to outgrowers. Legume seed, in
contrast, was only very occasionally sourced from agro-
dealers: cowpea and greengram reached levels of 2.4 and
Common bean, groundnut and pigeonpea fell below 1 % of
supply from agro-dealer networks.
Local markets supplied at least 5 % of seed for 26 out of the
40 crops monitored, and over 10 % of seed for 24 of these
crops. While the total percentages vary considerably by crop,
an important point is that local markets are routinely used for
seed for a wide range of crops.
In sum, from an array of at least nine possible provision
channels, only two presently supply important quantities of
seed to smallholder farmers: local markets and farmersown
stocks. Markets additionally stand out in terms of their impor-
tance for accessing legume seed. Leveraging such markets
could be key for helping farmers enhance family nutrition
and improve soil fertility, two functions often associated with
enhanced use of legumes (Giller 2001).
Markets might also warrant greater attention due to the
diversity of seed and planting material they put on offer.
Having access to a range of planting options is a central fea-
ture for encouraging current farming system resilience and for
responding to the future climate-change spurred variations
(McGuire and Sperling 2013).
How seed was acquired
The analysis now moves to looking at the ways farmers might
access seed. Farmers might pay: through cash, exchange with
other seed, or render casual labor for seed (which was a com-
mon arrangement in Malawi and Zimbabwe); receive gifts;
take seed loans or money loans; and obtain seed through de-
velopmental or emergency seed programs. In select instances,
food aid also may be planted, especially when maize and
beans are given in grain form rather than ground or powdered.
Note that seed even from the same channel can be accessed in
different ways; for instance neighbors may give seed for free,
or seek cash, among other mechanisms.
Understanding mechanisms is key for several reasons.
Looking through a lens of vulnerability, one might want to
know the degree to which farmers give seed freely to one
another, especially to help poorer members of the community.
Focusing on commercialization, one might ask whether
farmers are willing to pay for seed and planting material, even
when obtained from a neighbor.
Relative importance of accessing mechanisms
Tab le 4summarizes how farmers in the SSSA samples actu-
ally accessed their seed. Almost 55 % of all seed was paid for
in cash, being bought from local markets, agro-dealers and
even from social networks (for instance, cassava stems being
purchased from neighbors while the crop was still in the field).
While some of these purchases were from the formal sector
outlets, a large portion also emerged from informal sector
transactions (also see Table 5).
Tab le 4also tracks other mechanisms for accessing seed. In
term of quantities, only very small portions were obtained
through exchange or seed or money credit, and gifts occupy
less than 7 % of the total seed accessed. All of these seeming
neighborlyfunctions are key to monitor, as it is through such
farmer-to-farmer inter-relationships that new varieties have
often been posited to move (Aw-Hassan et al. 2008; Jones
et al. 2001).
To double-check on such trends, another way of analyzing
access mechanisms was used, the frequency of transactions
(versus amounts, reported above). Transaction frequencies
may give different insights, particularly when only small
amounts are moved, such as a handfulof seed given neigh-
bor to neighbor. The transaction frequency set of measures
gives results comparable to the seed quantity measures: pur-
chase is still overwhelmingly dominant amounting to 45 % of
all transactions, and exchange mechanisms remain very sel-
dom used, only in 1.3 % of cases. The main difference appears
when analyzing gifts. Using frequency as the access tracking
measure, gift transactions rose to 12.4 % of all transactions
involving seed access (Sperling et al. 2014).
All in all, the access mechanism data reveal a series of
insights. First, farmers buy the majority of their seed. They
already are willing to pay(an issue pursued in the next sec-
tion). Second, a focus only on dedicated markets, that is, on
agro-dealers or open local markets, ignores an important seg-
ment of purchases in the countryside, directly from farmers
homes and fields. Several observations bear emphasis here.
The seed systems farmers use are already highly market-driv-
en. Also, tied to these cash layouts, there may be a large
informal market that has yet to be exploited in terms of serving
a potential customer base (Sperling et al. 2014).
The social network results also were somewhat surprising.
Seed exchange among smallholder farmers seems not to be a
major process in terms of seed quantities obtained or even
Seed systems smallholder farmers use
frequency of use. These SSSA-derived data on the quantities
and frequency of seed sharing show that actual farmer-to-
farmer seed exchanges may be less widespread than the liter-
ature suggests (viz. Jensen et al. 2013; Labeyrie et al. 2014;
Pautasso et al. 2013).
Absolute cash expenditures
Cash transactions, specifically absolute cash expenditures,
were further explored here for several reasons. The amount
of cash lay out might flag concerns among the more vulnera-
ble can they afford to buy the seed they need? Also, from a
commercial perspective, cash spent is an important signal for
those aiming to catalyze seed business development. The
phrase willingness to payis commonly used as a shorthand
for examining whether or how much farmers are willing to
pay for certified seed (David 2004; Fuglie et al. 2006). As seen
above, the concept is too shallow, as farmers do pay for seed,
and on a routine basis, and in cash. Hence, the concept might
be refined to explore the margins farmers will pay for different
qualities of seed. Also, some of this willingnesshas to be
linked to the quantities of seed needed. Willingnessfor a
small amount may have very different financial consequences
from willingness for a larger amount.
Tab le 5explores specific cash outlays by tallying the full
amount of cash payments farmers made in a given season,
across the crops, and in the quantities that farmers actually
purchased. This type of analysis unfolded in each SSSA,
and generally was tracked across two seasons as crop portfo-
lios may shift from one season to another.
Tabl e 4 Means of access for all
seed farmerssowed in most recent
season (% of quantity sowed)
How obtained seed SSSA Site (%) All sites
Malawi Kenya DRC Haiti S Sudan Zimbabwe % Kg
Own stock 28.3 36.1 34.7 17.3 42.2 45.2 30.0 29591.8
Exchange 0.4 0.2 1.2 0.8 0.3 4.1 0.8 752.2
Gift 1.8 3.3 10.9 2.1 11.4 16.0 6.7 6580.6
49.4 53.9 50.1 76.4 34.2 16.6 54.6 53893.4
Vouchers 9.9 0.4 1.7 0.0 0.0 0.6 0.6 638.1
0.7 4.0 1.3 3.0 10.7 14.6 6.0 5910.7
Seed loan 3.8 2.0 0.1 0.0 0.5 0.0 0.4 443.5
Food aid 0.0 0.1 0.0 0.0 0.1 1.1 0.1 121.2
Money credit 0.2 0.0 0.0 0.2 0.4 0.0 0.2 206.5
Other 0.7 0.0 0.0 0.2 0.1 0.0 0.2 172.9
Casual labor 4.9 0.0 0.0 0.0 0.0 1.8 0.3 307.7
TOTAL 100.0 100.0 100.0 100.0 100.0 100.0 100.0 98618.6
Lower purchase figures in Zimbabwe and South Sudan, reflect the same patterns described relating to
constrained market functioning: currency breakdown and poorly developed roads allowing access to vending
DSD Direct seed distribution
Tabl e 5 Average money farmers spent on seed for their three most important crops, in Makueni and Tharaka, Kenya, Long rains, 2011
Site Crop Spending (Kenyan Shillings: KES)
N growing this crop Local market Neighbors Ag-input shops all purchases % of total
Makueni maize 44 337.3 0.0 772.7 1110.0 57.8 %
cowpea 43 180.6 8.3 8.1 197.1 10.3 %
green gram 42 476.2 14.3 123.8 614.3 32.0 %
total (of 3) 994.1 22.6 904.7 1921.4 100.0 %
Tharaka millets 44 158.0 9.5 0.0 167.5 17.1 %
cowpea 42 221.3 23.8 0.0 245.1 25.0 %
green gram 54 566.7 0.0 0.0 566.7 57.9 %
total (of 3) 946.0 33.3 0.0 979.3 100.0 %
The approximate exchange rate was 95 KES to 1US$ during time of survey (15 Sept. 2011), (
KES&view=2Y) though the latter half of 2011 was also a spike period for the KES/$ rate. Longer-run trend is between 83 and 88 KES / $
S. McGuire, L. Sperling
The example below draws from the SSSA in Kenya and
compared cash purchases from two quite distinct sites, both in
what was formerly Eastern Province, Kenya. The Makueni
site (Kathonwenzi District) exhibits bimodal rainfall at 800
1200 mm annually, with maize predominating, along with
crops such as cassava, cowpea, and greengrams. The area
has a good sized town, Wote (about 56,000), easy access to
agro-dealers (generally <30 min) and is only 150 km from
Nairobi and on good macadam roads (i.e., 2 ½h travel time).
Tharaka Nithi, in contrast, is more of a classic drought-prone
zone, bimodal rainfall topping 500800 mm, with millet and
sorghum predominating along with crops such as cowpea and
greengram. The area is 2 to 3 h from Meru town, over poor,
largely non-paved roads. Agro-dealer access locally is near-
nonexistent although satellite seed sellers sometimes pass on
bicycle or motorcycle.
Although the sites are quite different in terms of agro-
ecology and infrastructural development, Table 5shows that
farmers at both sites spent similar amounts on seed accessed
through local markets and social networks: 1016.6 and 979.3
KES in Makueni and Tharaka, respectively, about 1011 $US.
These local market investments were mainly in cowpea and
greengram at both sites, as well as maize in Makueni. Such an
investmentequivalent to ½ small goat (SSSA Kenya) is
striking particularly in droughtprone zones where farmers
incomes are depressed by low harvests and few agro-
enterprise opportunities.
Additionally, Makeuni farmers made important invest-
ments in certified seed for maize and greengram from agro-
input shops. Farmersgreengram purchases at the time of the
SSSA were for varieties newly put on offer. In contrast, the
maize purchases were linked to well-known hybrid varieties
even though farmers in the 2011 community assessment had
indicated that maize had done poorly for many seasons in a
row (since the 2006 harvest) (SSSA Kenya).
Certainly, these are just examples, which need to be multi-
plied across hundreds of sites and contexts so as to understand
farmerscurrent investments and potential investments in seed
types per crop. However, these initial findings suggest that
farmers are investing in seed and already at significant levels.
Whether local market seed or agro-dealer seed, the scale of
expense is formidable from the smallholder perspective.
Who uses specific channels, with focus on local markets
Local markets emerge as the important seed source overall.
This raises questions of whether trends noted above, such as
increased market use for legumes or for female-headed house-
holds, hold when all factors are considered. In particular, do
observed inter-country variations (Table 2) reflect national
characteristics, or other factors such as crop composition or
farm size distribution within each SSSA? Probit regressions
explored how country, crop, household characteristics and
farm area affect the likelihood of local market use.
The de-
pendent variable was use of local markets to supply seed for a
given crop and household (n= 7 436 in this dataset), with
independent variables being countries (6), within-country sites
(31), crop clusters (5, as in Table 3), age and gender of house-
hold head, family size, and farm area (4 categories: <0.5, 0.5
1, >12, and >2 ha; formula 1). As farmers provided quantities
obtained from every source used, it was possible to calculate
the proportion of seed for a given crop supplied by local mar-
kets; in this estimation, local markets were coded as used
when they supplied 25 % of a farmersseed.
To our knowl-
edge, this is the first large-scale estimation of factors affecting
farmersuse of local markets. Table 6shows the marginal
effects of key variables on farmersuse of local markets.
local market ¼αþβ þδcrop cluster
þγHH characteristicsþθarea farmed þεð1Þ
Kenya was used as the referent for country dummies, as its
overall local market use was intermediate (Table 2) and agro-
dealers are relatively well developed. Haitian farmers are sig-
nificantly more likely to obtain seed from local markets, ac-
counting for other factors, confirming this not a compositional
effect (e.g., because the Haiti sample had more legumes than
elsewhere), but rather reflects characteristics of Haiti itself.
Infrastructure and currency issues noted above help explain
why farmers in South Sudan and Zimbabwe are significantly
less likely to use local markets. Maize is the referent group for
crop clusters; while there is little difference between maize
and other cereals, legumes are significantly more likely to be
obtained from local markets, vegetative crops less. This sup-
ports arguments made elsewhere (Sperling and McGuire
2010) that local market provision is especially important for
Insights into who uses local markets emerged from house-
hold characteristics. Younger farmers used markets more,
though the effect is not strong.
The effect of gender of
household head was not strong, and varied by country (data
not shown). Female-headed households were slightly more
likely to use local markets, though only significantly so in
DRC (p< 0.10), while in South Sudan they were significantly
(p< 0.05) less likely to use markets. Markets were sparse in
This analysis highlights correlations with the factors measured.
Gathering detailed household-level data on consumption or income was
not the purpose of SSSAs; such data would benefit future models in
producing estimations of marginal effects levels.
Other specifications - local market use (any proportion); local market
supplies 50% of a households seed for that crop; and 75% - produced
similar results (coefficient signs, significance levels).
Models also controlled for within-country sites, but these coefficients
are not shown.
A 10 year age difference shifts likelihood of local market use by 2.9 %.
Seed systems smallholder farmers use
2010 in South Sudan, with minimal transport infrastructure, so
it is perhaps unsurprising that women there were less likely to
make long journeys to obtain seed. Finally, cultivated land
was used to differentiate wealth categories among small-
In all individual country regressions, the tendency
is for greater market use for smaller farms, though this is only
significant (at p < 0.10) in DRC. These data suggest that local
markets may be particularly important for relatively vulnera-
ble farmers (poorer, or female-headed households).
Table 7shows % of seed from the DRC assessment in
relation to farm area as a clear illustration of this wider trend.
Those with smaller farms access over ½ their seed from local
markets (across crops) versus less than 1/5 for those in the
largest land category. Some parallel trends were noted in the
SSSA for Kenya and from a number of other studies that
contained more extensive socio-economic background infor-
mation. In one Rwandan study from the early 1990s, the
poorer segments bought 90 % of their bean seed from local
markets for the main growing season, compared to 6 % for the
relatively rich (CIAT 1991; in Sperling and McGuire 2010).
Other quantitative studies report comparable conclusions: in
Malawi, Uganda, Ethiopia, Burundi, Ethiopiathe very poor
are tied relatively more to local markets for seed of select
crops than their wealthier neighbors (David and Sperling
1999; McGuire 2008; Sperling 1994). Future research will
explore further the relationships between wealth (and farm
area) and seed source use.
How farmers accessed new varieties
As a final theme, the issue of new varieties is addressed.
Within the context of strengthening seed systems and foster-
ing seed security, variety introductions can be a relatively
economical way to increase production quickly.
Overall, across sites, over a third of farmers, 36 % had
accessed some new variety within the previous 5 years (al-
though whether these are modern varietiesor new local va-
rieties could not be determined based on variety name alone;
Table 8). While the figure appears promising, the findings
need to be interpreted in the context of site choice as general
SSSA zones were ones of government or NGO intervention.
This potential assistance bias might be seen particularly in
South Sudan, where about half of sample had received a
new variety but where, at the time of the SSSA, the formal-
sector research system was only just starting to be re-vitalized
after a prolonged civil war, and variety releases were very few.
The relatively low figure of 14.2 % in Haiti is particularly
striking, as that SSSA had the largest (983) and most
geographically-spread sample, spanning the country and
agro-ecological zones, and was hosted by seven organizations,
all with developmental programs. Besides the SSSA country,
the only other factor affecting a households likelihood of
accessing a new variety is gender. Male-headed households
eties (Table 9).
New varieties can potentially be accessed through multiple
channels. However, outlets providing the new materials with-
in the SSSA sample were weighted towards government and
NGO/UN channels, which delivered 2/3 of the varieties,
Note that most of the farmers in the SSSA samples would be consid-
ered smallholders, though communities regard the different farm size
categories used as indicative of important differences in household
wellbeing and vulnerability.
Tabl e 7 Use of own stock vs. local market according to farm size in
eastern DRC, as % of total seed used by that group of farms
Seed source Area cultivated (%) All farms
<0.5 ha 0.51ha >12ha >2ha
Own stock 17.8 24.1 33.3 77.3 35.0
Local market 54.1 51.9 49.1 17.6 44.6
N cases 174 250 93 27 544
Crops were not included as a factor in this analysis, as these were only
specified for households accessing a new variety.
Tab l e 6 The marginal effects of factors affecting a households
likelihood to obtain 25 % of their seed of a given crop from local
markets (standard errors in parentheses); Kenya is referent group for
country dummies, and maize for crop dummies
Factor Marginal effect
Malawi 0.00525 (0.0343)
DRC 0.0382 (0.0364)
Haiti 0.294 (0.0312)***
SSudan 0.185 (0.0275)***
Zimbabwe 0.363 (0.0662)***
Other cereals 0.0235 (0.0169)
Vegetative crops 0.399 (0.0188)***
Legumes 0.135 (0.0130)***
Other crops 0.0920 (0.0270)**
Age 0.00286 (0.000403)***
Male-headed 0.0116 (0.0121)
HH size § 0.00185 (0.00215)
Farm area § 0.00633 (0.00921)
Observations 6873
Pseudo R-squared 0.1927
Significance: * p< 0.10; ** p<0.05, *** p<0.01
§: Household and farm size data not available for Haiti or Zimbabwe, so
coefficients here derived from regression models excluding those coun-
tries (3583 observations, pseudo R-squared of 0.12)
S. McGuire, L. Sperling
largely via free distribution. Local markets served as the major
sustainable source, but their performance has been highly var-
iable across countries (with limited presence as a source of
innovation in Haiti or Malawi). In terms of crop profiles,
maize comprised 31 % of all the 1676 new variety cases. A
further 18 % were for sorghum, and 7 % each for groundnut
and common bean.
Across sites, agro-dealers provided 6.8 % of the new varie-
ties (compared with 7.5 % of new acquisitions from social
networks). Agro-dealers as a source of novel material had an
important presence only in Malawi and Kenya, where maize
accounted for 79 and 74 % of the new varieties accessed from
these outlets.
Note that the site choice among SSSAs spanned
very different commercial sector contexts: dealer networks
were comparatively well developed in Kenya and Malawi; in
contrast, South Sudan and eastern DRC had virtually none.
As a seed source, community-based groups have a very mi-
nor importance in providing new varieties (1.7 % of cases). For
supplying volumes of seed, they figure barely at all (0.5 % of
what farmers sow; Table 2). Their relative invisibility comes in
spite of the sites generally being ones of NGO intervention and
of CBSGs being promoted with regularity, especially by NGOs
and the UN system. The relativelyhigherfigureof6.4%ofnew
accessions in Haiti from CBSGs might be misleading, as it is a
proportion of cases where households did access new varieties,
and represents only 16 instances, countrywide (Haiti SSSA).
In sum, delivery channels for new varieties were poorly
developed across assessment sites. Farmers could only access
new varieties of most crops through one-off aid provision,
usually from NGOs or governments (the latter especially dis-
tributing maize). Local markets provided some innovation but
were linked to new varieties in an ad hoc manner, rather than
via a well-established set of processes. Projecting forward, new
varieties will not move quickly or at scale until more impact-
oriented seed systems receive concerted research and develop-
ment attention. In the public sector at least, there seems to be an
investment lacuna between the science of plant breeding,
which receives substantial funds, and the science of delivery.
Tabl e 8 Farmers who obtained a new variety in the previous 5 years and the sources of provision
Source of new variety SSSA Country (%) All sites
Malawi Kenya DRC Haiti S Sudan % N
Friends, neighbors, relatives 2.2 9.3 9.5 3.2 9.7 7.7 129
Local market 7.6 15.6 9.5 2.4 19.7 14.3 239
Agro-dealer 27.1 17.8 0.0 2.8 0.8 6.9 115
CBSG 0.4 0.4 3.4 6.5 0.8 1.7 29
Government 50.7 39.6 0.0 10.1 5.4 16.4 275
NGO / FAO 11.1 14.2 77.6 73.3 62.9 52.0 871
Contract seed growers 0.0 1.3 0.0 0.0 0.0 0.2 3
Other 0.9 1.8 0.0 1.6 0.6 0.9 15
ALL Sources 100.0 100.0 100.0 100.0 100.0 100.0 1676
TOTAL new varieties 225 225 116 247 863 1676
Households receiving new variety N 127 138 44 140 438 887
No. Households in sample 180 198 209 983 857 2427
Households receiving new variety % of sample 70.6 % 70.8 % 22.9 % 14.2 % 51.1 % 36.5 %
§ Dataset on new varieties does not include Zimbabwe sample
Tab l e 9 The marginal effects of factors affecting a households
likelihood of obtaining a new variety in the past 5 years (Standard
errors in parentheses; ** p<0.05, *** p<0.01)
Marginal effect
Malawi 0.222 (0.0780)***
DRC 0.479 (0.0586)***
Haiti § 0.570 (0.0576)***
SSudan 0.425 (0.0614)***
Age 0.0000472 (0.00102)
Male-headed 0.0688 (0.0278) **
HH size 0.00249 (0.00348)
Farm area 0.0147 (0.0151)
Observations 1255
Pseudo R-squared 0.1594
§: Household size and farm area data not available for Haiti; this coeffi-
cient derived from specification without those factors. New variety access
data unavailable for Zimbabwe
For all sources in Malawi, 77 % of new varieties were maize, in Kenya
it was 29 %.
Seed systems smallholder farmers use
Discussion: investment policy and practice
The work presented herein results from a large seed system
data set, spanning many crops. Overall, smallholder farmers
accessed 90.2 % of seed they sowed from informal systems,
with 50.9 % from local markets. In contrast, formal sector
sources were modest, even though several decades of invest-
ment have largely focused on either the formal public or for-
mal private sector (e.g., Hoegenmeyer n.d.).
To review select findings tied to current models: a) the
channels routinely supported supply an insignificant propor-
tion of seed sown by smallholder farmers; b) new varieties are
not being accessed sustainably through supported channels;
and c) the array of crops needed for production, nutrition
and resilience goals will not likely be promoted via a commer-
cialized formal sector approach alone. Simply, profit margins
for self-pollinated crops remain modest as once farmers obtain
the novel germplasm, they can re-sow their own seed
(Rubyogo et al. 2010). Also, for the vegetatively-propagated
crops, few viable commercial options have been identified
beyond some initial successes with Irish potato (Sperling
et al. 2014).
At a minimum, our results suggest a need to address the
imbalance in seed channel focus so as to give attention to the
main seed systems smallholders use, including several infor-
mal channels. There is also a case for broadening strategy
within the formal seed sector to enhance its scope for impact.
To spur more gains, it may be opportune to move program-
matically toward more integrated seed system approaches that
leverage the relative strengths of informal and formal sectors.
A range of indicative actions is sketched below for promoting
greater formal and informal seed system integration and effec-
tiveness. Most have had a trial phase in the past 5 years and a
few have had important expansion.
Promoting more smallholder-responsive /integrated seed
systems: entry points from the formal sector
There are multiple entry points being tested to help make
formal seed systems more responsive to smallholder farmer
needs. These efforts go beyond scaling upmore of the same
and rather move toward re-designing some of the core param-
eters which affect the access of a range of clients to the formal
sector. Several examples are cited below.
Proximity of agro-dealer providers
Even for their designated crops (maize and horticultural
crops), formal sector outlets rarely can cover the full zones
of farmer need: for example, only 23 % of farmers in Nzaui
Kenya were within 1 hour walk of a formal agro-dealer outlet
(Farrow et al. 2010). Seed enterprises may be reluctant to
serve remote areas. Noted by one set of observers "For com-
mercial seed enterprises a key constraint is their so called zone
of mobility and most indicate that their produce can be sold
within a 200 km. radius^(USAID 2013).
Licensing of non-seed outlets
Experience shows that outlets can be scaled out through build-
ing on existing non-seed networks. Key to scaling is quickly
to leverage conduits that a) require no new infrastructural de-
velopment; and b) have proven durable themselves, prior to
adding the dimension of seed sales and information. Good
experiences have been achieved through several value addi-
tionstrategies. Seed sale has been added to rural Mom and
Popstores which sell basic staples in both Zimbabwe
(through the CARE Agent Program; Zimbabwe SSSA and
NRI 2003) and Timor-Leste (through a Mercy Corps initia-
tive; TL SSSA). Seed sale also routinely takes place in super-
markets of Malawi. Colored green or pink maize seed, along
with clear variety labels, signals that seed is being sold.
Horticultural seed is also on sale, and, inadvertently, bean
seed, as the one-kilo packs bagged for consumption are some-
times bought for planting (Malawi SSSA). Within the super-
market model, there should be room to expand at least the
range of legume seed on offer.
Packet size
Formal sector companies generally prefer to sell larger pack
sizes: typically 2-5 kg bags for legumes or 10, 20, 50 kg bag
sizes for the predominant crop, maize. Companies assume
farmers prefer to buy seed to cover their full holdings. In
contrast, research suggests that smallholder farmers often
buy high quality seed mainly to obtain new variety material
(Rohrbach and Malusalila 1999). Recent experimental pro-
grams have facilitated delivery and sale of smaller seed pack
sizes which farmers find more affordable. In 2012 alone, a
single project, Tropical Legumes II, sold 943,170 small seed
packs (100 g, 250 g and upwards) of six legume crops in 13
African countries (Sperling and Boettiger 2013). Some private
sector companies are moving to this model, at scale, e.g.,
Drylands in eastern Kenya packed 50MT of beans in small
packs in 2013 (Sperling et al. 2014) and AGRA now also
trains its private sector grantees to pack seed in smaller units
(Sperling and Boettiger 2013). Smallholders already spend
money for seed (Tables 4and 5); smaller packs can encourage
smallholders to try new varieties, and expand companies
To get 90.2 % for informal, we subtracted from the total any source that
could have been formal: agro-dealers, government and NGO/UN and
contract growers. Table 2totaled these sources at 9.8 %.
National seed laws will affect the scope for expansion.
S. McGuire, L. Sperling
Promoting more smallholder-responsive /integrated seed
systems: entry points from the informal sector
The informal sector handles the wider profile of crops sowed
by smallholder farmers (with some notable exceptions of hy-
brid and modern open pollinated variety (OPV) maize and
hybrid vegetable seed). There are multiple entry points for
strengthening this sector: a) helping farmers to improve the
quality of their own saved seed; b) improving the quality of
seed on offer in local seed/grain markets; and c) strengthening
marketing and information systems.
Seed storage methods
Investing in good seed storage, that is helping farmers save
their seed at the front end(preventatively), should be seen as
a strategic investment (Walsh et al. 2014). Particularly with
vulnerable farmers and in high stress regions, better seed stor-
age options may mean less need for emergency assistance
when times get tough, for example, when drought or flood
or other stresses require multiple sowings. Advantages for
farmers in storing their own seed include: cash outlays are
reduced, seed is available on time and just nearby, and varie-
ties and management requirements (including modern varie-
ties they have stored) are familiar to them (Walsh et al. 2014).
Unfortunately, farmers often struggle to prevent storage
losses, especially with maize and legumes, with losses rou-
tinely reaching 30 % upwards (e.g., Meikle et al. 2002). Some
new storage technologies proving effective include hermetic
storage bags (Mutungi et al. 2014) and small metal silos (TL
SSSA). Research homing in on the cost-benefits of different
storage materials and sizes might sharpen technologies further
(Jones and Walsh 2014).
Local seed market enhancement (potential seed)
To date, little developmental attention has been focused local
seed markets. This gap is partly due to a reluctance by formal
sector actors to consider goods from such channels as
representing potential seed at all, and their assessing use of
market seed as risky(Lipper et al. 2010;Sperlingand
McGuire 2010). In contrast, farmers in select parts of the
world explicitly use the market to defer risk: they sell legumes
at harvest and buy back seed at sowing time, so as to transfer
the risk of storage losses over to traders (example, Haiti
Variety quality and markets Seed/grain traders are generally
left out of formal seed sector planning but they could be im-
portant partners in moving new varieties. Distribution of vari-
ety samples (to stimulate demand); sale of small packets of
certified seed in open market venues; and sale of modern
varieties in bulk are options that have had some initial
successes in parts of east and central Africa (McGuire and
Sperling 2008). The volumes moved by traders and their geo-
graphic scope of action make them interesting candidates for
broadening access to new varieties among smallholders, even
in more isolated regions. Conditioning and storage issues
would need to be addressed if stock turnover is slow and
any certified seed sale via trader networks would need to be
aligned with country-specific seed law regulations (Sperling
et al. 2014).
Seed quality and markets Seed/grain traders could also be
partners in improving the seed quality per se. Large traders
(e.g., moving 50200 MT/season in the SSSAs monitored)
have been known to respond to quality innovations if new
business opportunities arise. For example, in order to partici-
pate in CAREs seed relief program in eastern Ethiopia in
2002, traders adopted several seed quality enhancing prac-
tices: improving warehouse conditions, maintaining specific
seed stores, separating out specific varieties (McGuire and
Sperling 2008). The same phenomenon of heightening quality
has been observed with food procurement. Traders working
with the World Food Programs Purchase 4 Progress Program
(P4P) made investments in quality assurance equipment
which purportedly led to better quality of food products found
in local markets
Marketing information systems for informal/integrated sector
Seed-related information systems need to be vastly improved
to capture the potential of an evolving, more integrated seed
sector (see also Audi et al. 2010). Traders might be one im-
portant channel to engage more fully. Examples of types of
information traders might provide farmers could include, inter
alia: a) existence of new varieties and their traits; b) location
of potential supplies; c) information from others who have
tested the materials. Equipping traders with up-to-date seed-
related information would raise awareness quickly among
smallholder clients, but also among other trader suppliers
serving remote communities. As with the case of small packs,
engaging large traders as information conduits could facilitate
important scaling benefits.
Farmers themselves could increasingly access this focused
information directly, were it readily available. Even in Africa,
some 86 % of the population currently has access to mobile
phones (
in-africa/), including many who live in rural areas. Current
information approaches such as field demonstrations,
agricultural shows, posters and technical leaflets tend to
describe variety attributes and provide one-way communica-
tion with farmers. Minimally, those testing any new varieties,
especially in on-farm trials, should be linked systematically to
Seed systems smallholder farmers use
two-way, mobile feedback systems (van Etten 2011). Also,
experimental initiatives might aim to link mobile phone use
with information on seed availability and supplier locations
(e.g., Farrow et al. 2011).
The central message of these select examples is that local
markets are the main source for smallholder farmer seed yet
currently remain outside the scope of explicit and supportive
seed sector interventions. Given that seed/grain markets pro-
vide not just the bulk ofseed in absolute quantities, but are key
for accessing a portfolio of crops, including most legumes,
such an omission seems shortsighted. Certainly, those with a
development vision toward nutrition-sensitive agriculture and
more resilient farming systems might analyze the case of local
seed/grain strengthening as one of unrealized potential.
All seed sectors have to be strengthened to deliver the types of
products needed to catalyze smallholder advances: to encour-
age increased production; nutritional gains; and to foster farm-
ing system resilience. More of the sameseems unwise as the
bulk of varieties and absolute quantities of seed are not now
being presently accessed through the channels routinely sup-
ported by development efforts. As a concomitant message,
continued public-sector breeding efforts may not realize their
investments if varieties cannot be delivered in more sustain-
able ways, but also quickly and at scale. Variety use by
farmers should be a dynamic process, with additions or sub-
stitutions as better options become available.
Overall, the data show that seed sector strategy has to be-
come more smallholder-focused and that sharpened goals
have to drive the types of approaches used (Sperling and
McGuire 2012). For instance, brute production gains require
a distinct strategy from those aiming for system resilience
through offering a portfolio of crops and varieties. The data
also show that impressive results, at scale, are not necessarily
achieved by focusing on the more common metrics used to
measure seed sector success. Examples include Btons of seed
produced^which is often only a function of how much finan-
cial assistance has been allotted or value of seed sector,
which looks only at the supply side monies earned. To move
towards more impact-oriented seed sector development, our
metrics might also be broadened especiallyto put emphasis on
the catalytic options which show that seed channels formal,
informal and integrated combinations are actually working
to reach smallholders with the seed products and information
that such farmers want and need.
Acknowledgments We acknowledge the support of the United States
Agency for International Development/US Office of Foreign Disaster
Assistance, for funding the development of the SSSA and the implemen-
tation of the case studies, and, in particular, thank Drs. Julie March and
Eric Witte. The work of dedicated field teams in Haiti, Zimbabwe, South
Sudan and Kenya, Malawiand the Democratic Republic of Congo isalso
gratefully noted, as is the assistance of Borja Perez-Viana with statistical
analysis. Finally, thanks to the four reviewers who shared detailed and
useful comments.
Open Access This article is distributed under the terms of the Creative
Commons Attribution 4.0 International License (http://, which permits unrestricted use,
distribution, and reproduction in any medium, provided you give appro-
priate credit to the original author(s) and the source, provide a link to the
Creative Commons license, and indicate if changes were made.
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Shawn McGuire is a Senior Lec-
turer in Natural Resources, in the
School of International Develop-
ment, University of East Anglia
(Norwich, UK). His research on
smallholder farmersuse of seed
systems seeks to promote better
policy and practice around technol-
ogy transfer and food security,
across a number of developing
countries. Much of this work, in
collaboration with Sperling, is gath-
ered in the website www. Other research
interests include understanding the
challenges facing innovation systems in developing countries as they build
capacity in agricultural biotechnology (molecular breeding), and the political
debates surrounding genetic resource management. He has authored over 25
articles or book chapters: besides those cited above, recent ones include:
BFarmer seed networks make a limited contribution to agriculture? Four
common misconceptions.^(Coomes et al., Food Policy), and BMeasuring
effectiveness, efficiency and equity in an experimental Payments for
Ecosystem Services trial.^(Martin et al., Global Environmental Change).
S. McGuire, L. Sperling
Louise Sperling is a Senior Tech-
nical Advisor on Seed Systems
for Catholic Relief Services
(CRS), and previously a Principal
Researcher-Consultant at the In-
ternational Center for Tropical
Agriculture (CIAT). She co-
founded as
a resource for practice, research
and policy, and has managed and
technically backstopped projects
and programs in over 25
countries of Africa, Asia and
Latin America. Her focus is on
impact-oriented plant breeding,
seed systems, and delivery approacheswith all programs centering
around gender equity and farmer empowerment. Sperlingswork
embraces, normalsmall farmer and pastoral systems as well as high
stress ones: for instance she led research missions linked to: the 1983
85 seminal drought across East Africa, the 1994 civil war and genocide in
Rwanda, the 2010 earthquake in Haiti, and the 2011 Referendum in South
Sudan. Widely consulting for a range of agencies (the UN system, the
World Bank, Rockefeller, northern and southern NGOs), Sperling is the
author of over seventy articles and book chapters, including, recent
pieces: Making seed systems more resilient to stress (Global Environmen-
tal Change, 2013, McGuire and Sperling); Persistent myths about emer-
gency seed aid (Food Policy 2010, Sperling and McGuire); and Bean
seed delivery in sub-Saharan Africa: the power of partnerships Society
and Natural Resources, 2010, Rubyogo, Sperling, Muthoni and
Seed systems smallholder farmers use
... Seed systems, also referred to as farmer-managed or traditional seed system (Almekinders and Louwaars, 2002), are not officially regulated, operates at individual and community level, and provides the bulk (60-100%) of seed for smallholder farmers (Louwaars and de Boef, 2012). The intermediate seed system refers to individual farmers and groups that produce and sell seed following a quality assurance scheme that is not managed by the formal systems (Kansiime and Mastenbroek, 2016;McGuire and Sperling, 2016;Mulesa et al., 2021). ...
... " It therefore refers to the farmer's supply of seed from all sources. These sources can include own-saved seed, social networks, local markets, the formal seed sector and aid sources (FAO, 2015a;McGuire and Sperling, 2016). ...
... Local sources were thus essential in supplying both the bulk and diversity of seed crops needed by these farming households. This finding corroborates other studies which show that local seed channels are the main sources of seed for small grains and legumes, providing over 80% of the seed grown in Zimbabwe (McGuire and Sperling, 2016;Mazvimavi et al., 2017). Maize, being at staple crop, was mostly sourced from government aid (subsidies), agro-input dealers and own seed. ...
Full-text available
Introduction: Interventions aimed at improving the seed security of smallholder farmers do not always yield positive results. Governments, donors, and other actors have neglected local seed systems as they are assumed to be incapable of addressing farmers' seed challenges. Instead, external actors use seed aid and formal seed provisioning outlets, such as agro-input dealers, to channel seed to farmers. This paper compares the "formal" seed systems, mainly comprising certified seed obtained from government and non-governmental organisations and agro-input dealers, with local seed systems that include farm-saved seed, local informal markets, and social networks. Methods: A seed security assessment was used to determine the contributions of seed systems to household-level seed security. A stratified sample was conducted of 227 randomly selected smallholder farming households from the Chimanimani district, eastern Zimbabwe, complemented by group discussions and individual life histories. Results: We show the superiority of local seed systems in ensuring greater access to affordable and timely seed at household level, in comparison to formal sources. Cluster analysis enabled determination of the seed security status of farming households, providing a more granular analysis beyond the standard seed security assessments that are applied to wider geographical locations. Farmers assessed the quality of locally sourced seed favourably when compared to seed obtained from formal sources. Discussion: We show that local seed systems play a critical role in contributing to household seed security for resource-constrained households, and in supporting the use of diverse crop species. However, such systems have not been fully drawn upon by government and development agencies in seed security endeavours. More efforts are needed to understand how different seed systems interact in contributing to the seed security of smallholder farming households.
... Informal seed systems are very important access for farmers in African countries to get the variety seeds they need [7]. One step towards realizing the provision of in-situ seed should begin with developing integrated formal and informal seed system and increasing the capability to produce good quality seeds of adaptive varieties which matched with customer preferences. ...
... The more high-yielding and widely adapted MVs introduced to farmers can increase the adoption of varieties, especially for small-scale farmers to support government programs [16]. The success in disseminating the MVs produced by NRI depend on the participation of non-formal seed producers, both individuals and groups, such as seed producers fostered in the VSPGs program [7], because they provide seed varieties that are not yet popular. ...
... The ability to provide seeds for specific needs, such as meeting nutritional needs at an affordable price, was an advantage of informal seed provision [18]. Community-based maize seed in Indonesia was more advanced involving NRI as a variety provider directly with local seed producers who were most easily accessed by smallholder farmer with limited arable land [7], but not involved IAIAT yet. The seed production network could accelerate the availability of in-situ seeds to at least one year after being released. ...
Full-text available
Strategic food crops production such as rice, maize and soybean are determined by harvested areas multiplied by productivity, while productivity is affected by availability of highquality seed of modern varieties which is adaptive to both biotic and abiotic stress. This study aims to construct a nationwide network and capacity building in supporting village seed production groups (VSPGs) for disseminating modern varieties to increase productivity. VSPGs constructed based on community seed system in corresponding to the national seed system and supported by breeder seed management unit network between national research institutes and assessment institute of agricultural technology. The seed production was implemented by a VSPGs on farmer field school with field laboratory 3-4 ha to introduce new modern varieties and quality seed production at once. The seeds of the available varieties in-situ 44 adopted 19 of the 133 varieties for rice, while the maize seeds available 8 were adopted 5 out of 86 varieties, and for soybean seeds there were 14 and adopted 7 of the 17 varieties released in the last 12 years. Acceleration in-situ seed provision can be pursued through integrated seed supply network, capacity building and market access to speed up and adoption of modern varieties.
... The nature of VPCs makes the seed systems of such crops quite distinct from the seed systems of other crops [29]. McGuire [30] defined seed systems as the various ways in which farmers obtain seed. These systems are categorized into two extremities with formal systems at one end and informal seed systems at the other end [31,32]. ...
... With informal seed systems, farmers either use seeds from their own farms or acquire informally from relatives, friends, neighbors, or local markets [31,32,[35][36][37]. The overall objective of functional seed systems is to ensure that seeds are timely available and accessible to smallholder farmers in preferable quantities, qualities, and varieties [30,32,34,38]. Given the two systems, farmers tend to use different sources of seeds to meet their seed requirement even though farmers in many countries get most of their seeds from informal sources [31,34,38]. ...
... where Y i represents the dependent variable for a given equation/stage j, β 0j denoted intercept term estimated for a given equation/stage j, β 1 SSY j represents the coefficient of the variable of interest, existing seed systems (sources of vines as defined by Ref. [30]) for a given equation/stage j, ψ j represents a vector of other explanatory variables together with their parameters estimated, and finally, µ ij represents the error terms with their respective assumptions for a given stage j. ...
Full-text available
Vitamin A dense Orange fleshed sweet potato (OFSP) has the potential to build resilient livelihoods against Vitamin A Deficiency (VAD), food insecurity, and climate change. However, the adoption of OFSP among smallholder farmers in Malawi remains low. Although many scholars across the globe have reviewed the seed systems of OFSP, no empirical study, in Malawi or elsewhere, has modelled how the use of the various sources of vines affect farmers’ seed security and eventual decisions to adopt biofortified OFSP varieties. The study employed a mixed methods approach and used a Triple Hurdle model to analyze the effect of the existing sources of vines on the adoption of OFSP among 721 randomly sampled households in central and northern Malawi. The study also developed a seed security experience score (SSES) in order to assess the capacity of the existing sources of vines to ensure farmers’ seed security. By defining adoption as a three-stage process, and by shifting the seed systems focus to capacity of the existing sources of vines, the study departs from the conventional approaches that most scholars have used to model adoption of OFSP. The study found that the existing sources of vines influenced all the three stages of adoption. The SSES results indicated that the capacity of the existing sources subjected the majority of the farmers to a highly seed insecurity status. Interventions therefore must be designed to address the seed security challenges associated with the existing sources in order to enhance the capacity of the sources for widespread and sustained adoption of OFSP.
... Crop diversity is clearly linked to the ability of smallholder farmers to access a range of different seed varieties. Smallholder farmers access seeds for different crops through numerous channels (McGuire and Sperling, 2016). Although smallholder farmers often rely on barter or exchange with peers or monetized transactions at local markets and shops to get seeds, they tend to mobilize a wide range of other seed sources such as NGOs, private seed companies, and government programs (Almekinders and Louwaars, 2002). ...
... Farmers rarely obtained seeds through the official channels, and mainly relied on legacy, exchange through peer-to-peer relationships, and commercial relationships with different types of seed sellers at local markets or shops. These results align with previous studies in Africa showing that the so-called "formal" or official seed dissemination channels are rarely mobilized by farmers (McGuire and Sperling, 2016). Reasons cited in the literature are mainly the high cost of buying certified seeds through the official channels, and that the benefit expected in terms of increased yield is frequently not attained by farmers due to sub-optimal growing conditions (e.g. ...
... The complex and intertwined nature of the seed exchange system in this study is in line with previous observations concerning the high porosity between official seed dissemination channels and local networks (Almekinders and Louwaars, 2002). Our results provide evidence that counters the currently divided approaches to policy and development in the formal and informal seed systems (McGuire and Sperling, 2016;Hlatshwayo et al., 2021). Rather, the results support proposals to consider the variety of seed sourcing channels as parts of a single integrated system, which should be treated as such for policy and investment decisions (Louwaars and De Boef, 2012). ...
CONTEXT Small farms rely on a range of nature's contributions to people (NCPs) provided by crop diversity, covering both material and immaterial dimensions that are crucial for livelihoods and well-being. The maintenance of these NCPs over time, despite perturbations, is a key component of small farms' resilience. However, the processes involved in farmers accessing the different NCPs provided by crops are largely unknown. Such knowledge would be instrumental for evaluating the vulnerability or resilience of farmers to potential disruptions that affect these distribution channels. OBJECTIVE In this study, we analyzed how the seed provisioning networks used by farmers to access crops relate to the different NCPs they receive from these crops, through a case study in Sahelian Senegal. METHODS Field surveys were conducted with 85 farmers, half men and half women, from two villages. The surveys documented which varieties of three important staple crop species (pearl millet, cowpea, peanut) farmers grew. Farmers were asked to cite their motivations for cultivating each variety as a proxy for NCPs, and to explain from where they obtained the seeds of each variety of these three species. We mobilized recent developments in Social-Ecological Network research, representing the relationships between social entities (i.e., farmers and seed sources), ecological entities (i.e., crops), and NCPs (i.e., motivations) as networks. We applied a block model clustering approach to analyze these relationships by testing if particular seed sources were associated with particular motivations, and if differences existed between men and women. We also analyzed households' profiles according to the motivations they cited and the seed sources they were connected to. RESULTS AND CONCLUSIONS We found that some crops contributions were related to different seed sources, for instance crops associated to food provision were sourced through markets, peers, and legacy, while other contributions were related to one seed source type, for instance crops associated to attachment were sourced exclusively through legacy. Women relied on a more limited pool of seed sources than men, and they preferentially source seeds from peers. Last, two groups of households were differentiated based on the number of crops contributions and of seed sources they mentioned. SIGNIFICANCE Our study brings insights on how the observed social-ecological network patterns affect the access of men and women farmers to NCPs, and the consequences for the maintenance of NCP provision in the face of perturbations. It contributes to unraveling the processes involved in the resilience of small farms that rely on crop diversity for their livelihoods.
... To address this knowledge gap, our study focuses on understanding which farmers' behaviours are entrepreneurial, and how, by empirically developing typologies based on the notions of effectuation and causation from the context of smallholder farming in rural Zimbabwe. As an empirical window to study farmers' entrepreneurial behaviours, we zoom into the case of Zimbabwean farmers participating in farmer-led seed multiplication business initiatives, which are increasingly relevant in sub-Saharan Africa (McGuire and Sperling, 2016). Hence, our study's overarching objectives are threefold: ...
... Smallholder farmers in Zimbabwe have been known for being largely subsistence oriented, allocating small portions of their land for growing commercial crops such as tobacco, maize, wheat, cotton, sugar, horticultural crops, groundnuts and soybeans (ZIMSTAT, 2019). In recent years, supported by the changes in policy environment, smallholder farmers are now increasingly engaged in other high-valued agricultural enterprises, in particular, involved in certified seed multiplication business initiatives (McGuire and Sperling, 2016;Munyaka et al., 2017;Genesis Analytics, 2018;Vernooy et al., 2022). Although farmers participate in these business initiatives to meet their basic needs, they are called to plan and adapt their use of resources because, both on a seasonal and on everyday basis, they face uncertainty due to climate change, fluctuating commodity prices and inflation (Šūmane et al., 2018;Mashizha, 2019). ...
This paper aims to investigate the entrepreneurial behaviours exhibited by commercial smallholder farmers in Zimbabwe, focusing on their socioeconomic characteristics, and considers their implication for outcomes of livelihood resilience in a resource-constrained and turbulent rural context. The study used survey data collected from 430 smallholder farmers in Masvingo province, Zimbabwe. Using a two-step cluster analysis, the study constructed a typology of farmers based on their entrepreneurial behaviour and socioeconomic characteristics. The results revealed that commercial smallholder farmers are heterogeneous in terms of their entrepreneurial behaviours. Four clusters were identified: non-entrepreneurial, goal-driven, means-driven and ambidextrous. Beyond their entrepreneurial behaviours, these clusters significantly differ in the socioeconomic characterises (gender, age, education levels, farm size, proximity to the market and social connection) and farm performance (seasonal sales per hectare and farm income per hectare). The typology framework relating farmers' entrepreneurial behaviours to their socioeconomic characteristics and business performance is important to tailor and therefore improve the effectiveness of farmer entrepreneurship programmes and policies. In particular, tailoring farmer entrepreneurship education is crucial to distribute land, finance and market resources in purposive ways to promote a combination of smallholder farmers’ effectual and causal behaviours at an early stage of their farm ventures.
... Attention to the contribution of small farmers to global food supply and to agricultural sustainability is increasing [1][2][3][4]. Small farms have been associated with beneficial agricultural practices such as seed saving [5], with an agricultural production that relies on little to no external inputs, and with generating livelihoods and reducing poverty [2,6]. These characteristics of small farms imply that they contribute to the environmental sustainability of the global food system [1,4] and to food sovereignty [7]. ...
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The contribution of small farms to the global food supply is in debate due to lack of empirical evidence. In Mexico, small farms have been relatively important for national food supply due to an agrarian reform in the first half of the 20 th century, but their role has been decreasing in the last decades. The aim of this study is to quantify how much small farms produce of the Mexican agricultural supply, and with which farming practices, using the 2019 National Agricultural Survey. The results show that small farms produce 19% of the national agricultural production with similar farming practices to those of medium and large farms. When considering imports and exports, small farms produce 15% of the national agricultural supply. The production of small farms consists mainly of cash crops (e.g. sugar cane, fruits & vegetables, animal products, fodder crops) and, to a lesser extent, staple crops such as maize and beans. The fact that small farms produce one fifth of the national production after decades of governmental support towards large farms suggests that they have resilient production systems. The results of this study support that stronger efforts should be made to enhance the role of small farms in achieving Mexican food sovereignty. This will not only have benefits in terms of food supply but may also have a wide range of social and environmental benefits.
... The informal system refers to a system in which seed is produced, maintained, and distributed through unmonitored channels. These activities "tend to be decentralized and might revolve around local entrepreneurship, seed banking, community-based seed production, or seed villages" (McGuire and Sperling 2016). In many cases, farmers keep seed from the harvest and exchange it with neighbors, relatives, and through rural markets. ...
... Strong quantitative evidence has also highlighted the importance of local market seed to smallholder farmers' seed security. In one of the largest data sets published to date on smallholder seed sourcing, 51% of the seed farmers were sowing was accessed from local markets [7]. Analysis of local seed markets has partly been obscured due to misplaced stereotypes. ...
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Smallholder farmers require seed systems that can meet diverse functions: move a range of planting material; spread specialty varieties (climate-resilient or nutrient-dense varieties); reach last-mile areas; and perform in high-stress contexts. Acknowledging that smallholders use both formal and informal systems, this article focuses on the latter and on a component largely unexamined to date: informal commercial seed systems (ICSSs). Four evidence-based cases show how ICCSs contribute to varied seed system functions. In Tanzania, traders have moved multiple modern bean varieties countrywide and within just a few years. In the remote Ugandan north, traders have commercialized the sale of sweetpotato vines (produced off-season) to those lacking their own critical marshlands. In Bolivia, traders routinely sell native and modern varieties of seed tubers to farmers, along with their commerce in ware potatoes. In central Mali, a cluster of villages produces and sells pearl millet seed that is specially adapted to extreme drought conditions. All four cases share key characteristics: they distinguish seed vs. grain, serve local, regional, and international customers, and, perhaps most importantly, are sustained without subsidy or project support. As ICSSs meet farmers’ demands for seed that is not supplied by other actors, a question remains as to whether ICSSs should be left alone, leveraged, or improved further. Recognizing possible legal and operational challenges, this article suggests that ICSSs first be studied in-depth—characterizing their variations, locales, and system functions—so that future debates on possible support can be grounded in concrete evidence of ICSSs’ strengths, weaknesses, and unique benefits.
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Societal Impact Statement Genetically modified (GM) crops have the potential to address multiple challenges for African smallholder farmers but are limited by several institutional constraints. Public–private partnerships (PPPs) are seen as an organizational fix to one such constraint, bringing privately held intellectual property rights on key crop technologies to African public institutions to develop GM crops for smallholder farmers. Here, a new comprehensive dataset of GM crops in Africa is used to understand the extent and efficacy of PPP‐led GM crop development for smallholder farmers and discuss what might limit their potential in the future. Summary Genetically modified (GM) crops are promoted as a key tool to address multiple challenges in Africa, including the impacts of climate change and food insecurity. Observers have noted, however, significant institutional challenges to achieving such goals, most notably, intellectual property rights (IPR) to key GM traits being held by private companies who have limited incentives to develop those technologies for smallholder farmers. To bridge the gap between privately held IPR and pro‐poor crop breeding, advocates have called for increased funding for institutional innovations such as public–private partnerships (PPPs) to facilitate the transfer of crop technologies from private companies to public research institutes. For the past two decades, donors and firms have invested considerable resources toward PPPs. However, to date, few research efforts have empirically examined the extent and effectiveness of PPPs at the continental scale. This study draws from a new comprehensive dataset on GM crop research and development in Africa to examine whether the anticipated advantages of PPPs have resulted in an improved ability to deliver GM crops to smallholder farmers. We find that although PPP research has focused on crops and traits more relevant for smallholder farmers, many of these efforts have been suspended, with only one crop thus far reaching the hands of farmers. PPPs can address some issues related to GM crop development but still appear constrained by other institutional challenges, which may limit their development, reach, and the achievement of targeted benefits for smallholder farmers.
Gender gaps in adoption of high-quality seeds of improved varieties persist in Sub-Saharan Africa, despite the implementation of various seed promotion interventions aimed at increasing adoption among all farmers. This paper reviews existing literature on common seed promotion interventions in Sub-Saharan Africa (including subsidies, financial services, quality certification schemes, and agricultural extension) and asks to what extent these interventions serve women farmers as much as men farmers. In addition, we consider the evidence on the effectiveness of gender-intentional design features that may enable seed promotion interventions to better serve women. We find mixed evidence that common seed promotion interventions reach, benefit, and empower women, with contextual factors and program design features driving differences in effectiveness. In some cases interventions are more effective for women when combined with gender-intentional program features, such as: explicit targeting of and resource provision to women (or joint targeting to couples); a focus on domains where it is more culturally acceptable for women to make decisions; and provision of information by women experts or through other modalities. We conclude that more work is needed to develop and test interventions that can close gender gaps in seed adoption.
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Since the “Earth Summit” in Rio de Janeiro in 1992, when the Convention on Safeguarding Biological Diversity (CBD) was developed and signed by deputies from many nations, the imminent loss of the world’s plant and animal diversity has become an increasing issue of concern for a large section of the world’s public. For the case of crop species, the heritage of traditional varieties is literally in the hands of the farmers: They decide whether or not they will maintain the seed of a particular variety and invest time in it’s careful selection and storage. In this book, the concerns and observations of farmers and their knowledge of pearl millet seed are documented. To them, the term “biodiversity” probably has no significant meaning, and yet their statements vividly reveal how the availability and quality of seed directly affects all aspects of their lives − including their physical and mental well-being, their social relations and their economic situation. The main methodological approach used in this book includes semi-structured interviews with individuals and groups, alongside observation and simulation exercises and direct observation of farmers' seed management activities. The results and discussion section of the book is organized around four main topics: (1) Farmers' concept of "varieties"; (2) their understanding of food and fodder quality; (3) their seed management practices and how they influence diversity and productivity of pearl millet populations; and (4) the importance of traditional seed markets in Rajasthan. Finally, conclusions are drawn with regard to in situ or on-farm conservation, plant breeding, seed markets and information networks. This book is part of the Communication and Extension Series, edited by Hermann Boland, Volker Hoffmann and Uwe Jens Nagel and published by Margraf Publishers, Weikersheim (Germany). Authorization for sharing the book at researchgate was kindly provided by the publisher. Hard copies of all books of this series are available at:, or at various international internet book stores.
Technical Report
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Farmer-managed seed is central to food security. The briefs in this series aim to provide practical guidance to program managers about seed storage. Overview: - Defining Seed Quality and Principles: Seed Storage in a Smallholder Context - Hermetic Seed Storage Technology: Principles, Use, and Economics—A Practitioner’s Guide - Economics and Promotion: Insights for Program Design - The series includes case studies that offer examples from the field.
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This article addresses concerns of technology dissemination for small farmers, specifically focusing on the diffusion of new varieties of a self-pollinating crop. Based on bean seed systems research in Uganda, Rwanda, Burundi, and the Democratic Republic of Congo, it shows four commonly-held basic assumptions to be false, namely that: first, small-scale farmers do not buy bean seed; they mainly rely on their own stocks or obtain seed from other farmers; second, that small-scale farmers cannot afford to buy seed of newly introduced bean varieties or will not risk it; third, that farmer seed networks function efficiently in varietal diffusion; and lastly, that a good variety will sell itself. Grounded in the reality under which small farmers actually operate, the article offers recommendations for improving the delivery of newly introduced bean cultivars by NARS and seed suppliers. Most of the recommendations are relevant to other self-pollinating crops.
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Because of the necessity of feeding growing populations, there is a critical need to assess the variation and vulnerability of crop yields to potential climate change. Databases of maize yields and climate variables in the maize growing seasons were used to assess the vulnerability of African maize yields to climate change and variability with different levels of management at country scale between 1961 and 2010. The ratios of time-series trends or standard deviations of detrended yield deviation and climate variables including temperature (T-mean), precipitation (P) and standardized precipitation evapotranspiration index (SPEI) were used to analyze the vulnerability of maize yields to climate change and variability for each country in Africa. Most countries, where soil fertility had been declining owing to low levels of fertilizer use over many years and limited water resources, had decreasing maize yields. The negative impacts of increasing temperature and decreasing precipitation and SPEI on maize yields progressively increased at the whole continent scale over the time period studied. During the maize growing seasons 1961-2010, each 1 degrees C of T-mean increase resulted in yield losses of over 10% in eight countries and 5-10% in 10 countries, but yields increased by more than 5% in four relatively cool countries. Decreases of 10% average P resulted in more than 5% decreases in yields in 20 countries and each decrease of 0.5 SPEI resulted in over 30% losses of maize yields in 32 countries. Greater T-mean or P or SPEI variability in Africa may also bring about greater fluctuations in yield. In addition, countries with better management, which would be expected to have better yields, may be more vulnerable to yield losses due to adverse physical conditions. Better irrigation and fertilizer application will be important to sustain higher yields in the future, as will the development of maize varieties with greater heat and drought tolerance.
Tables. Boxes. Figures. Getting Files from the Wiley ftp and Internet Sites. List of Data Sites Provides on Web Site. Preface to the Fourth Edition. Part 1: Basic Concepts. 1. Use of Sample Surveys. 2. The Population and the Sample. Part 2: Major Sampling Designs and Estimation Procedures. 3. Simple Random Sampling. 4. Systematic Sampling. 5. Stratification and Stratified Random Sampling. 6. Stratified Random Sampling: Further Issues. 7. Ratio Estimation. 8. Cluster Sampling: Introduction and Overview. 9. Simple One-Stage Cluster Sampling. 10. Two-Stage Cluster Sampling: Clusters Sampled with Equal Probability. 11. Cluster Sampling in Which Clusters Are Sampled with Unequal Probability: Probability Proportional to Size Sampling. 12. Variance Estimation in Complex Sample Surveys. Part 3: Selected Topics in Sample Survey Methodology. 13. Nonresponse and Missing Data in Sample Surveys. 14. Selected Topics in Sample Design and Estimation Methodology. 15. Telephone Survey Sampling (Michael W. Link and Mansour Fahimi). 16. Constructing the Survey Weights (Paul P. Biemer and Sharon L. Christ). 17. Strategies for Design-Based Analysis of Sample Survey Data. Appendix. Answers to Selected Exercises. Index.
The seed sector has become a subject of attention, debate, and even controversy with the development of genetically modified (GM) crops. However, this sector is generally rather poorly known. This paper aims to take stock of the economy of transgenic seeds in order to better understand the structure of this seed sector, its size, stakeholders, pricing, and major trends. The global market of the various types of seeds (saved, conventional, and transgenic) is first presented, as well as some aspects of their development, such as the significant consolidation in the past few decades. Next, the economic characteristics of the transgenic seed sector are analysed: actors, research and development expenditures, and the value of technology fees. In the final section, the cost of transgenic seeds is studied at the farm level, notably through the case of soybeans in the United States. The rise in transgenic seed prices over time is analysed as well as some repercussions of the growing trend toward the use of stacked traits. The conclusion highlights some issues related to the use of transgenic seeds from the point of view of seed and food security.