At the World Food Bank, we work to address 12 key agricultural sectors, all of which are essential components of a thriving global food system. Throughout 2018, we will be highlighting one of these sectors each month in our newsletter in an effort to help our readers better understand all of the complex issues governing agricultural value chains. This month, we’re discussing seed.

Seed is perhaps one of the most misunderstood components of our global agriculture systems, with the importance of good seed often being dismissed in favor of seed that is readily available and cheap. But it’s crucial to understand that seed quality ultimately determines food quality.

Each seed contains a genetic profile that determines the resiliency, health, and quality of the crop that will grow from it. When seeds are re-used from lackluster crops, the lackluster qualities continue to propagate. This hurts our farmers, who struggle to grow enough food to earn an income when farming bad seed, and our food systems, which are limited, in these cases, by production.

Key findings in a recent study by The Global Alliance of the Future of Food state that: “The value of resilient and diverse seed systems goes far beyond any economic measure … Diverse and robust local seed systems are central to sustainable food systems that are renewable, resilient, equitable, diverse, healthy, and interconnected.”

Currently, there are three different types of seeds. Open Pollinated Seeds (aka OPS) are seeds that are produced from natural plant pollination. Hybrid seeds are produced by cross-pollinating plants. And Genetically Modified Seeds are produced, typically in labs, by directly inserting genetic properties into seed profiles. Each type of seed has its pros and cons, and all seeds need healthy conditions in which to grow.

In East Africa, where our work is presently focused, smallholder farmers are challenged on a basic level to access good seed. According to USAID, the majority of farmers in Uganda reuse seeds from their crops year after year or rely on government or NGO handouts, rather than purchasing new seed. While access itself is an issue, it is also clear that farmers are in need of education on the benefits of investing in good seed – seed that will produce higher yields, require less water, and be more resistant to disease.

At the World Food Bank, we address the issue of access to seed by linking smallholder farmers to quality seed providers. We source these providers through a rigorous screening process, to weed out sellers of counterfeit seed, which unfortunately are very common in Sub Saharan Africa. We additionally support smallholder farmer acquisition of seed through educational initiatives and by providing access to loans to purchase seed.  

To quote a finding from the GAFF Study, we firmly believe that “agricultural biodiversity is key to global food and nutrition security, smallholder farmers, and resilient local economies,” and we work to ensure that we are providing access to seed that will produce healthy, thriving crops and healthy, thriving economies.

Key Statistics: Seed in Sub Saharan Africa

  • 90% of crops in Sub Saharan Africa are produced using home-saved seed, not high-quality commercial seed. (World Bank)
  • Counterfeiting affects 30% to 40% of the seed available for purchase in SSA. (Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation)
  • Ugandan farmers lose between $10 and $20 million profit annually due to counterfeit seed. (Transparency International)