Improving Access to Quality Seeds for Small-Scale Farmers

March 19, 2009

Traders in the open-air markets of Kathonzweni, a market center in semi-arid eastern Kenya, sell several varieties of pigeonpea, a nutritious cash-crop that can grow well in dryer climates. Even though they sell the pigeonpea for use as seed, traders sometimes times do not know the origin or name of the variety. This information is critical for farmers planting in diverse, harsh conditions.

Luisa Munyao, an enterprising farmer-trader, obtained improved pigeonpea seed through a farm trial sponsored by the International Crops Research Institute for the Semi-Arid Tropics (ICRISAT). She was impressed by pigeon pea’s performance and has recommended this variety to others ever since. She uses an innovative approach to market her product in small seed packs, which are attractive, clean, affordable, and easy to transport and use. Farmers prefer purchasing quality seeds from Luisa due to her extensive knowledge of these pigeonpea types and because the seeds guarantee good performance in their local environments.

Farmers such as Luisa, in semi-arid areas of developing countries, have not benefited from the Green Revolution; they are too isolated and their farms suffer from prolonged periods of dry weather. However, Luisa and neighboring farmers have adapted to their conditions by selling seed in local grain markets. While this system can work at times, it is unreliable, especially after droughts.

Farmers could benefit from improved varieties developed by the private or public sector. Unfortunately, the private sector has little incentive to provide these seeds to small farmers because of high transaction costs and systems for the certification and distribution of seeds are poorly developed.

The International Food Policy Research Institute (IFPRI) and the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations, together with their partners in India, Kenya, and Mali, undertook research to determine the obstacles that prevent small farmers from obtaining improved seeds in local markets. The study focused on farmers in semi-arid environments, their access to seed and the role of village markets in supplying it. As a result of this research, IFPRI and its collaborators are able to make country-specific recommendations to increase poor farmers’ access to better seeds.

For more information see Local Markets, Local Varieties: Rising Food Prices and Small Farmers’ Access to Seed.