African Experts Meet On Seed Systems

Key players in the African seed sector are meeting in Bamako, Mali, to accelerate the drive for seed systems serving the African smallholder farmers. The five-day meeting being attended by about 300 agricultural scientists, entrepreneurs, farmers’ organisations and governments from 20 African countries is geared towards accelerating a major new effort to develop and deploy higher yielding, drought and disease resistant crop varieties of Africa’s most important food crops. The Grantees’ meeting, sponsored by Rockefeller and Bill and Melinda Gates Foundations and convened by Alliance for a Green Revolution in Africa (AGRA), have experts who form the heart of the Programme for Africa‘s Seed System (PASS). It is on the theme: “The March towards a Green Revolution in Africa: Improving the Lives of Farmers through Stronger Seed System.” Opening the meeting in Bamako on Monday, Mr Musa Leo Sidibe, Secretary-General of the Malian Ministry of Agriculture, said there was the need to improve agriculture with focus on smallholder farmers. He said the public research system in Mali had released three new hybrid sorghum varieties and planned to release five more hybrid maize varieties before the end of the year. “Next year, we hope to release a new generation of upland rice varieties bred locally.” He said Mali was producing five million tons of cereals and hoped to increase it to 10 million tons by 2012, as envisaged in the vision of the Malian President. Speaking to the media after the opening on how to achieve this vision, Mr Sidibe said an action plan had been drawn up targeting rice, wheat and cotton in addition to maize, which had a high consumption rate. He noted that government had decided to subsidize agricultural inputs like fertilizer for more farmers to afford and have access to their farming activities. The government had also encouraged farmers to adopt new strategies and modern techniques introduced by the technical people. Mr Sidibe said the Executive had also put in other measures to improve the irrigation system that would ensure increment and improvement in yields and harvest. “We are offering additional 100,000 irrigation services for rice production and this has increased the local demand for rice from the average 30 kilos per year to 80 kilos per year.” All these strategies, he said, were aimed at adding value and could only be achieved through partnership with the private sector. Mr Sidibe urged other African countries to emulate the example and improve the lives of farmers, reduce hunger and fight poverty. Dr Namangi Ngongi, President of AGRA, said without a viable, sustainable system that provided farmers with higher yielding, disease and drought resistant varieties of food crops, Africans would continue to suffer from food shortages. He explained that AGRA in 2007 initiated a programme to bring improved varieties of rice, maize, millet, sorghum and other food staples to millions of African smallholder farmers and asked all countries to join forces to fight hunger and poverty on the continent. He reminded the meeting of the challenge facing African agriculture with the drought induced famine potentially affecting 20 million people in Ethiopia, Eritrea, Somalia, Kenya, Sudan and Uganda and called for a new sense of urgency to efforts of PASS. PASS, which began in 2006, has moved to spur the development and distribution of improved seeds to African farmers and now works across the seed value chain. It has resulted in training of more than 100 African crop scientists, funding of some 40 crop breeding programmes, steering 65 new crop varieties into the field and provided start-up capital for 32 African seed enterprises. Dr Joseph De Vries, Director of PASS, noted that a strong African-based commercial seed sector devoted to serving smallholder farmers had long been a missing link in improving the lives of local farmers and increasing food supply across the continent and called for a forging link.