Small grain seed shortage hits southern Africa

Southern African countries, including Zimbabwe, are experiencing shortages of small grain and legume seeds on formal markets due to droughts, a survey on the impact of the 2015/2016 El Nino-induced drought on seed security has said. 

During the 2015/2016 season, southern Africa experienced drought caused by one of the strongest El Nino events of the last 35 years.

In most parts of the region, farmers had faced two consecutive years of below average rainfall which had a cumulative effect on their production in the 2015/2016 agricultural season. Appropriate and good quality seeds are often in short supply following consecutive drought years. The situation is normally compounded by an economic crisis and dysfunctional input markets. 

The Food and Agriculture Organisation (FAO) survey was conducted in Madagascar, Malawi, Mozambique, Swaziland, Zambia and Zimbabwe. FAO said that the shortages would dent efforts to promote crop diversification through agricultural interventions. “While farmers generally noted they would rely on the informal market, the shortage of seed in the informal market was likely to negatively affect the capacity of governments and development partners to quickly and effectively respond to the crisis through provision of certified quality seed and other agricultural inputs,” FAO said.

Results from household surveys showed that informal and formal seed dealers were seed sources used by smallholder farmers in the 2015/2016 season.

In the 2016/2017 season, maize seed was likely to be obtained from agro dealers, own stock and local markets.

Sorghum, pearl millet and legume seed was primarily sourced from the informal seed sector. The results showed a potential quality seed shortages especially for maize, sorghum, groundnuts and cowpeas in 2016/2017.

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The use of inorganic fertiliser was pronounced in Swaziland (74 percent), Malawi (72 percent) and Zambia (65 percent), an indication that the majority of farmers in these countries were engaged in high input production systems and also a reflection of the government input subsidy programmes.

The low proportions of households using inorganic fertiliser in Zimbabwe was associated with high input costs, while in Madagascar poorly developed input markets may have driven low fertiliser use. Mozambique uses the least fertiliser in southern Africa with an average of 25 tonnes per year.

The study showed a significant decline in seed access in the 2016/2017 season.

“This necessitates seed relief programmes, especially for poor farmers, in order to sustain production. Overall, results point to the need to strengthen both informal and formal seed systems for seed security. Agro-dealers should be strengthened to continue stocking and supplying certified seeds to farmers,” FAO said.

The United Nations agency, which acts as a technical advisor to member countries, said that local production of small grains and legumes seed should be promoted using methods and approaches that grow and strengthen local seed entrepreneurship.

“This can be achieved through field demonstrations, field days and information campaigns,” FAO said.

Regional countries were urged to implement the SADC Harmonised Seed Regulatory System which establishes commonly agreed regulatory standards, rules and procedures related to seed variety release, seed certification and quality assurance, and quarantine and phytosanitary measures for seed.

The rationale for this system is premised on the need to facilitate enhanced seed trade in the region and to increase the availability of high quality seed to farmers through rationalising and removing national regulatory barriers for the movement of seed across borders.

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