For reduced market barriers, diversified enterprise, livelihood opportunities, and increased availability of nutrient-rich foods

What are Community Seed Banks (CSBs)?

Smallholder agriculture is often characterized by low productivity and production, driven mostly by limited access to agri-innovations such as improved seed varieties. Seed is critical, being a simple mechanism to package the scientific innovations for wider use in unlocking productivity. Thus, development and strengthening of farmer managed institutions/platforms can be effective and efficient technology dissemination mechanisms.

The International Crops Research Institute for the Semi-Arid Tropics (ICRISAT) has leveraged on the power of social networks among farming communities to implement innovative Community Seed Banks. Community Seed Banks (CSBs) are village-based institutions managed by smallholder farmers for guaranteed quality seed production and sharing within the community. It is an informal and open system with smaller populations inhabiting agro-ecological niches connected by migration and colonization of seed by households.

These CSBs are in fact farmer’ social networks designed to produce store and deliver seed, especially to marginalized farming communities. This is based on the principles of retail banking where a borrower, in this case a farmer takes a loan and repays it with interest (twice the volume of seed taken) out on loan.  This has been implemented in Malawi and scaled-out to Mozambique, Tanzania, and Zambia.

What challenges does this innovative approach address?

Crops whose seed systems do not have effective propriety management systems such as hybrids are often underinvested by the private sector, a key actor in seed systems globally. Underinvestment locks out many smallholder farmers who must be part of the solution for delivering food and nutrition security in Africa and other developing economies. Such crops include legumes and cereals like groundnut, pigeonpea, chickpea, common bean, sorghum, millets, and rice among others. In Malawi, this innovation has increased groundnut productivity from 500 kg/ha to 1200 kg/ha, that has led to rapid dissemination and adoption of improved varieties within the community. For example, informal seed systems have accounted for up to 60% of seed accessed for under-invested crops in Malawi. Overall, CSBs ensure seed availability at the right time, in a cost leveraged manner, easily accessed, and supporting rapid dissemination of improved crop varieties within the community.

Results achieved through this innovation

Community seed banks have been implemented since 2011 and piloted in 12 districts of Malawi. Collectively, 48,000 households have already been reached and continues to grow. This expansion has significantly contributed to increasing the crop area under CGIAR bred improved varieties to over 70% for groundnut in Malawi. In Zambia, CSBs have been implemented since 2012 to promote the improved varieties of pigeonpea and groundnut in its Eastern Province, the country’s food basket. In Mozambique, a similar approach has been implemented since 2012 in food basket provinces of Tete, Zambézia, Manica and Nampula, thereby making Mozambique a leader in groundnut and pigeonpea production and international trade. In Tanzania, similar efforts have been made, especially in southern and Central zones that has provided a leadership to Tanzania in pigeonpea and groundnut production in East and Southern Africa.

Partners and funders of this Innovation

These Community Seed Banks have been successfully conceived and launched through partnerships involving ICRISAT, National Smallholder Farmers’ Association of Malawi (NASFAM), Ekwendeni Mission Hospital- Malawi, Tanzania Agricultural Research Organisation (TARI), Zambia Agricultural Research Institute (ZARI), Instituto de Investigação Agraria de Moçambique (IIAM), CRP Grain Legumes and Dryland Cereals (CRP-GLDC), USAID, McKnight Foundation and Irish Aid (Malawi Seed Industry Development Project, Africa RISING).

Next steps to scale-out this Innovation

This innovative approach contributes to achievement of SDG 1 “To end poverty in all its forms, everywhere” SDG 2 “End hunger, achieve food security and improved nutrition and promote sustainable agriculture”, SDG 3 “to ensure good health and well-being”. This seed management approach has been adopted by many farming communities, and is at Maturity Level 3, i.e. policy and/or practice changes influenced by these new methods have led to adoption or impacts at scale or beyond the direct CGIAR sphere of influence. This is evidenced by smallholder farmers being able to generate extra income from sale of seed and surplus produce, besides empowering them as seed growers who can be contracted by private seed companies or individual growers.

Author(s): Patrick Okori, Wills Munthali, Oswin Madzonga, Ramya Kulkarni (CRP-GLDC MEL Team).

Acknowledgement: This work was undertaken as part of, and funded by the CGIAR Research Program on Grain Legumes and Dryland Cereals (CRP-GLDC) and supported by CGIAR Fund Donors.

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