THE world is no longer wasting its precious time dialoguing on whether to keep on using traditional seeds or improved ones, discussion has now narrowed into two major questions; which kind of technology is more efficient and sustainable to use and how to increase the speed on adaptation of improved seeds? Apparently that’s where we are now.
And this is due to the fact that lab generated seeds, not only carry with them relevant qualities like good yields, they also give room for improving health status of the masses through fortification an attribute that can’t be actualised with application of traditional seeds. These have been major reasons behind increased emphasis on the usage of improved seeds.
In some quarters, public and private entities have been seen issuing free or subsidised seeds of a particular crop to farmers. Some companies even enter written agreements with groups of farmers, with a promise to deliver seeds of standard they require.
While one can argue that it is self-interest that pushes these companies to do so, it remains undisputed that the knowledge and inspiration that farmers remain with outlives the agreement’s duration. Well, it is critical to note that since liberalisation of economy speed of improved varieties release has spectacularly increased in the country.
Private sector has played a significant role in populating and popularising those seeds in the market. Their efforts have gone beyond altering the DNA strands in the labs, serious marketing and promotion of the same have been observed in the past three decades.
It is now a new normal finding plots of ever-green maize plants along the major roadways with companies’ adverts trying to woo farmers and potential producers to trust seeds they sell. It won’t be misleading to say that competition between these businesses entities have contributed a great deal in pepping up the much needed agricultural growth.
Accession from production of 1.8 million tons of maize in 1997 to about 6 million tons in the year 2020 is not a simple feat and no one can discount the value brought in by improved seeds. One thing that has been flying below the radar is the fact that many of the improved common beans seeds were imports.
A recent study conducted by reputable institutions in Tanzania, that involved collecting a number of beans samples sold in different markets in the country, reveals that 50 per cent of them had DNA of seeds developed by our own public institutions dedicated in seed development. What an achievement! What this revelation communicates is beyond explanation.
The greatest threat in the world’s fight against food security as of now is an attempt by some in the value chain to have an unchecked, inhibited and secretive domination of input sector and in to the large extent, seeds. While it is immaterial now to start guessing the motive behind this sordid move, the un-surveyed question is whether “nationalisation” of seeds will help put a dent to this rising monster.
When seeds are developed within the borders, even if the larger share will be in the hands to private players who might be overcome by profit making zeal, it is always easy to control them through legislation, civil impression or political persuasion. In an ideal imagination no one can go out of control if is in the particular country.
Nonetheless, as said before, the speed of uptake is the debate that deserves to be on the table right at this moment. Official statistics from the Ministry of Agriculture shows that out of 1.2 million tons of common beans produced in 2020, a significant 5 per cent of it went back to the farm as seeds – this is what we call seeds recycling – a bad practice at that.
This percentage was noted to be the highest of all other major food crops produced in that year, only followed by wheat from a far, crop like banana, potatoes and cassava had zero recycling.
The biggest inhibitor to the uptake of this technology as cited by many farmers is lack of cash, with a monthly income earned by small holder farmers currently averaging at around 100,000 shillings, the reason raised by farmers appears to be valid than not.
So many measures can be suggested to lessen the severity of the problem, but one that can be easily achieved is to make those improved seeds cheaper.
And instead of providing money to farmers directly some programmes can be crafted in a manner that will subsidise seed developing companies and this must include heavily funding agricultural research institutions which are currently spread almost all over the country.
But that might be a discussion for another day, what we can now sit down and give ourselves a word of congratulations, is the fact that we are moving towards seed independency, cutting down importation while keeping up the pace of technology adoption.