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"Stronger partnerships can catalyze African vegetable markets"

Smallholder farmers are the backbone of food security on the African continent - providing up to 80 percent of the food supply in sub-Saharan Africa, according to the FAO.

East-West Seed Knowledge Transfer’s Marilyn Sabijon-Dacara (R) demonstrates how to test for bacterial wilt using water and a plastic bottle to farmers in Lira, Uganda

Despite their crucial role in feeding a vast and diverse continent, however, smallholder farmers still face several challenges to unlocking their true potential. The FAO even goes so far as to predict: “their [smallholder farmers’] fate is either to disappear and become purely self-subsistence producers, or to grow into larger units that can compete with large industrialized farms.”

David Wainaina, East-West Seed’s (EWS) Business Development Manager for Africa, says the continent can not afford for smallholder farmers to disappear. In order for them to become more competitive, he believes it is time to create deeper connections that leverage the expertise of various roleplayers.

“The best approach to me would be for private companies, governments, seed associations and other stakeholders to look at the challenges farmers are facing in terms of access and quality of seeds,” he says.

“The private companies have the resources to develop better seeds and, in turn, governments are able to ensure distribution channels are well-facilitated and seamless. The movement of quality seeds from breeder to farmer should not treated with fear, instead it could be facilitated with an urgency similar to the transportation of essential medication.”

Wainaina says the seed associations’ role could be most effective in active support of government participation to listen to the needs of farmers and the industry of farmers’ needs. This approach could provide these officials with reliable data to deliver back to their relevant departments and simultaneously help them learn from best practices across other countries and associations.

East-West Seed’s African footprint
EWS is dedicated to providing quality vegetable seeds on the continent of Africa. They have distributors in over 15 African countries that ensure quality seeds reach farmers across the continent. The company was also ranked #1 in 2016 by Access to Seeds in the global index for vegetable seeds and the regional index for East Africa.

In order to develop crops that are well-suited to local conditions, EWS has two research stations (one in East Africa and another in West Africa) to focus on key crops such as amaranth, African eggplant and local leafy vegetables.

“Our ambitions are to significantly increase our reputation and reach as a market leader in the vegetable industry in Africa, especially in tropical zones where our seeds are better suited to conditions,” says Wainaina.

To achieve this, he says EWS is recruiting more commercial and Product Development Support teams and creating new connections with like-minded distributors and partners.

Better skills for better yield
Wainaina states that the supply and use of quality seeds needs to be accompanied by training in order to increase the competitiveness of smallholder farmers in Africa.

“There needs to be an investment in life-long education so that the farmers are also empowered with knowledge to even help them adopt good farming practices such as use of good seeds and optimal land use,” he says.

East-West Seed Knowledge Transfer (EWS-KT) is doing just that. EWS-KT equips farmers with the knowledge and skills necessary to improve their productivity through tried-and-tested farming practises.

In Tanzania, for example, EWS-KT is part of the SEVIA project. SEVIA is a private sector driven project, funded by two world leaders in vegetable seeds: East-West Seed and Rijk Zwaan (partners in the breeding programme Afrisem), and by the Dutch Ministry of Foreign Affairs. Wageningen University - Applied Plant Research is the Dutch knowledge partner.

In addition to its presence in Tanzania, EWS-KT established a project in Lira, Uganda in 2017 and plans to expand into Nigeria and Ivory Coast in the near future.

Expanding such projects is crucial in Africa, according to Wainaina - who adds that he has noted a decline in the number of extension workers on the continent in recent years. He believes that strengthening connections between the private and public sectors is again the best approach to improved farming knowledge on the continent.

“The seed industry and associations can support governments and educational institutions to develop more extension workers. These can lead farmers in local areas who can then in turn support the other farmers, further expanding the pool of knowledge,” Wainaina concludes.
For more information:
East-West Seed
No. 50/1 Moo 2, Sainoi-Bang Bua
Thong Rd, Amphur Sainoi, Nonthaburi
T: +66 (02) 831 7700
F: +66 (02) 923 7794

Publication date: 3/13/2018



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