Africa’s seed industry is complex and can be inefficient, with most farmers using the same seeds they have been planting for generations, unlike farmers in the West who use seeds that have been improved to resist drought or disease.
Zimbabwean Edward Mabaya wants to help improve Africa’s seed industry.
One of 10 children, Mabaya is the son of a mother who farmed. Their small farm was successful because she used different kinds of seeds, he said in a VoiceofAmerica report.
It was a time when many new seeds were coming into Zimbabwe. Some farmers began to use them and their crop production improved, Mabaya said. His parents used the money earned from those crops to send all their children to school.
Mabaya is now a researcher at Cornell University in New York, working on a project that he hopes will give other small farmers the same chance his parents had.
He leads The African Seed Access Index (TASAI), which researches Africa’s seed industry. Launched in March, TASAI is a joint effort of Cornell University, the nonprofit Market Matters, Inc. and the U.S. Department of Agriculture, according to VOA.
Large governmental organizations controlled the production of seeds in Africa for many years. Owners of small farms had to buy their seeds from these agencies. But now there is an effort to make seeds from other suppliers available to African farmers, according to VOA.
George Bigirwa says improved seeds can help small farmers increase their production sixfold. Bigirwa works at the Alliance for a Green Revolution, or AGRA, in Africa. AGRA is funded by the Bill Gates of Microsoft, the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation and the Rockefeller Foundation.
It provides funds to help improve agricultural products and support local farm owners and laborers. Kofi Annan is on its board of directors.
Bigirwa told VOA there are not enough improved seeds in Africa for the millions of farmers who need them.
“I remember before AGRA came in, in some countries like Burkina Faso, Mali, even Ghana, there were no seed companies. At least today you have an average of about six to eight seed companies in place. However, looking at the amount of seed each company produces, that is still very little.”
There is, however, a sense that with seed technology and others, the tide is turning, according to a WorldPolicy blog.
“The current agriculture landscape has institutions like AGRA, AFAP, GrowAfrica, and others, whose sole mission is to build on the technology base of others in CGIAR, IFDC, and private sector to ensure sufficient capacity for an African agricultural transformation,” Agnes Kalibata wrote in WorldPolicy. “Recently, Bill and Melinda Gates said they were confident that by 2030, Africa will be food secure. There is ample evidence today that if African Union officials move aggressively with the investments they have promised, our resourceful farmers and agribusiness can make that prediction come true.”