One of the key areas that experts have long agreed upon is the catalysing power of using high-yielding seeds. In most African countries, until recently, rural farmers simply re-planted seeds saved from previous harvests. This type of seed has many positive attributes but generally produces very low yields; placing severe limits on the number of people African agriculture can feed, no matter how hard farmers work. The countries where food production is going up quickly – and sustainably – are those countries where farmers have been allowed to buy and plant commercially-produced, locally-adapted seeds. But supply continues to lag behind demand, and in some countries farmers have no access to improved seeds at all.
To address this problem, AGRA, in collaboration with governments in 17 countries, has been focused on the following set of interventions:
Training African crop scientists to develop improved seed varieties. Crop breeding is a highly specialized field, for which one must usually have a Masters or PhD-level of education. AGRA has developed post-graduate programs at 13 universities around Africa. These programs have enrolled over 350 students, and graduated over 200. In fact, we have now trained approximately half of all the scientists actively working in this field in Africa, in just 7 years;
Helping governments come up with policies that allow local private companies to get access to and produce and market high-yielding seeds which are specifically developed for local farmers;
Funding and training African seed entrepreneurs in the technical and business aspects of producing, packaging, and marketing seeds in order to set up and grow their own seed companies. We have provided them with low-interest loans, on-site visits from international seed experts, and links to crop breeders who have new seed varieties. In less than 7 years, we have funded 85 seed companies in 16 African countries. These seed companies are now producing over 60,000 tonnes of seed every year. This seed accounts for approximately 40% of all the seed produced commercially in Africa. It is also enough seed to plant 3 million hectares, sufficient to produce an additional 6 million tonnes of food, and to feed 35 million people, every year.
A recent independent survey of African farmers using new seeds revealed that over 80% of them are getting a 50 to 100% yield increase.
However, when you study what AGRA says on its website, or listen to what the leadership of AGRA have said over the years, you will realize that seeds are not enough. We also have to address things like the health of the soil and ways to increase fertilizer use. We have to address the markets, and the prices farmers get for their harvests. We have to address the impact of climate change, and help farmers build resilience. We have to address access to land, particularly for women, who are the majority of small holder farmers. We have to address access to finance for farmers. We have to address mechanization and storage of surpluses. We have to address water supply for African agriculture. We have to address the need for more and better roads and bridges and dams.
For the last seven years, we have been doing many of these things, with some very encouraging results. So we are not just talking…
A Revolution, as you know, cannot be achieved in a day.
Caption: Children in a productive “Nerica” (improved, upland rice) field in Uganda
Strive Masiyiwa is the founder and Executive Chairman of the Econet Group. He serves on several international boards including Unilever, and the Global Advisory boards of the Council on Foreign Relations and Stanford University. A board member of the Rockefeller Foundation for 15 years, he also serves as Chairman of the Alliance for a Green Revolution in Africa (AGRA). He is a co-founder of the Carbon War Room, Pathways for Prosperity, and the Global Business Coalition on Education. He and his wife, Tsitsi, co-founded the Higherlife Foundation and are signators of the Giving Pledge.View all posts by Strive Masiyiwa