Tuesday, October 13, 2009

Famine pushes African seed experts to search for new varieties

Sammy Cheboi in AllAfrica.com via the East African: As famine and food shortages threaten millions of people in the region, key players in African seed sector have met to accelerate efforts for high yield and drought resistant seed varieties for poor farmers. A regional meeting that opened on Monday in Bamako, Mali, brought together 300 agriculture scientists, entrepreneurs, farmers' organisations and governments from across the continent.

The experts from 20 countries who collectively form the heart of the Programme for Africa's Seed Systems (PASS), a $150 million initiative launched two years ago by the Alliance for a Green Revolution in Africa (Agra) to develop improved varieties of rice, maize, millet, sorghum and other food staples to millions of Africa's smallholder farmers.

Reports over the past month of a drought-induced famine potentially affecting 20 million people in Ethiopia, Eritrea, Kenya, Somalia, Sudan and Uganda provide yet another reminder of the challenges facing African agriculture and add a new sense of urgency to the PASS effort.

…In its short existence, PASS has moved rapidly to spur the development and distribution of improved seeds for African farmers, who have been relying on poor quality seed saved from previous harvests or distributed by aid groups.

…A new study released at the conference documents the state of the seed sector in four West African countries: Nigeria, Ghana, Mali and Benin. A total of only 11 seed companies were identified, eight of them in Nigeria. "Except for Nigeria, there are not enough seed companies in West Africa to drive a viable seed sector," said study co-author and Agra policy officer Augustine Langyintuo.

"We must increase the number of seed companies if smallholder farmers are to be able to access improved seed and grow more food." The situation in East and Southern Africa is similar….

A baobab fruit split open to show the seeds, shot by JackyR, Wikimedia Commons, under the terms of the GNU Free Documentation License, Version 1.2

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