Background: a search for more effective and resilient seed value chains

What does it take to produce and make available to farmers good quality seed of diverse grain legume and dryland cereal crops, in a timely manner and for a reasonable price? What are the constraints that stakeholders face to develop resilient seed systems? What could be done to solve bottlenecks? (Photo 1) These are the questions that researchers of the CGIAR Research Program on Grain Legumes and Dryland Cereals (CRP-GLDC) (working together in the Cluster of Activities “Science of scaling seed technologies”) have tried to answer. In recent years, they documented, analyzed and explored a number of (new) target grain legumes and dryland cereals (GLDC) seed value chains in countries of Africa and South Asia. The research carried out in several countries was built on a framework developed earlier to guide GLDC seed system innovations (Ojiewo et al. 2020). Concerning seed system development, the guiding questions formulated in the strategy were:

How can the large majority of farmers using their own and non-improved seed be brought to the quality seed market?

  • What seed business models effectively enhance public and private partnerships to leverage and mainstream seed sector development?
  • What are the priority areas of capacity building (e.g., quality seed production and seed business management) for the seed chain actors?
  • How should seed delivery systems be organized for proximity, timely and affordable seed access to farmers in remote areas?
  • How to address seed inspection and associated costs in terms of qualified human resources and modern technology integration?
  • How best can the linkages between the stakeholders in GLDC seed systems be strengthened?

A number of studies supported by CRP-GLDC tried to find answers to these questions, on various GLDC crops, in various countries. In this brief, we present the main insights gained from the series of studies. The studies are summarized in the next session; followed by the main insights.

Photo 1. Rwatoro finger millet on display at a seed fair in Uganda. Credit: The Alliance of Bioversity International and CIAT/R. Vernooy

Photo 1. Rwatoro finger millet on display at a seed fair in Uganda. Credit: The Alliance of Bioversity International and CIAT/R. Vernooy

Highlights of the studies

Essegbemon Akpo, Gebrekidan Feleke, Asnake Fikre, Mekasha Chichaybelu, Chris O. Ojiewo and Rajeev K. Varshney. Pathways of nurturing informal seed production into formal private ventures. Case study in Ethiopia. Article available at:

Recent statistics show that the private seed sector provides about 30% of the formal seed supply in Ethiopia. Using comparative research methods, this study analyzed the experiences of informal seed producers who upgraded to formal private seed enterprises to understand the support systems that enable them to become viable seed enterprises. Initiators, managers of seed ventures were met on site to document the dynamics that brought them to current levels of operations. Data collected included the life history of seed enterprises and initiators, their objectives and vision for the coming 10 years, the crop portfolio and business linkages, partnerships and geographical coverage, the types of support received, the social economic benefits to the communities, and main challenges and perspectives. The findings showed that the seed enterprises started their operations with as little as USD 300, but now have already multiplied over tenfold their initial capital. They received a wide variety of support from various types of organizations, i.e. quality seed production, marketing, partnerships, and value chain development trainings and infrastructure. The seed enterprises are involved in pre-basic, basic, and certified seed production for cereals and self-pollinated legume crops and deliver directly to farmers, institutional markets, and agro-dealers. Seed production has increased during the investigated period of three years, from 30 ha to over 150 ha per year for chickpea. For sustainable and reliable seed production and delivery systems in sub-Saharan Africa, a bold step is needed whereby the informal seed production entities are nurtured and upgraded into formal certified seed production ventures that deliver social and economic benefits to the promotors and the communities.

Thedy Gerald Kimbi, Elizabeth Kalema, Essegbemon Akpo, Gerald Alex Lukurugu, Chris O. Ojiewo. Brewery industry-led seed sector development for sorghum in Tanzania.

The use of improved sorghum seed is still limited among sorghum producers in Tanzania, although the demand for improved and quality seeds is high. Factors that constrain uptake are low availability of improved seed and grain market inaccessibility (Photo 2). This study was undertaken in Tanzania to assess the contribution of the brewing industry to the sorghum value chain. Specifically, the study intended to assess the use of sorghum in clear beer brewing activities, analyze the extent of use of improved sorghum seed with the role of the brewing industry in facilitating improved seed access and use, analyze the amount of sorghum grain sold to brewing companies, and analyze the impact of the brewing industry to sorghum farmers livelihood. The study involved different stakeholders including 591 individual farmers, 160 farmers from focus groups, 15 grain off-takers, 7 seed producers, and 2 brewing companies. Descriptive methods and a cost-benefit analysis were used to obtain results. Key findings included an observed increase in use of sorghum by brewing companies with about 14,000 tons purchased around 2019/2020; a significant amount of sorghum grain traded by off-takers (1375 tons); low adoption of sorghum improved seed by farmers; and a cost-benefit analysis that reflects positive gross benefits of the use of improved seed, with the variety NACO Mtama 1 with the highest returns. The brewing industry has had a positive impact on farmers through assessed livelihood indicators. These findings point to the need to raise more awareness among farmers about the use of improved sorghum seed, and a call to all stakeholders in the sorghum value chain to engage more in promoting sorghum industrial use in clear beer brewing and expand both grain and seed markets.

Photo 2. Board showing the price of the day of different crops, including white and red sorghum (mtama mweupe and mtama mwekundu), Kibaigwa market, Dodoma, Tanzania. Credit: Thedy Gerald Kimbi

Photo 2. Board showing the price of the day of different crops, including white and red sorghum (mtama mweupe and mtama mwekundu), Kibaigwa market, Dodoma, Tanzania. Credit: Thedy Gerald Kimbi

Serapius Mwalongo,  Essegbemon Akpo, Gerald Alex Lukurugu, Geofrey Muricho, Ronnie Vernooy, Athanas Minja, Chris O. Ojiewo, Esther Njuguna, Gloria Otieno and Rajeev Varshney. Factors influencing preferences and adoption of improved groundnut varieties among farmers in Tanzania.

Article available at:

Farmers with better access and use of seed of improved varieties of groundnut can improve their livelihoods and contribute to higher crop production in Tanzania. This study analyzed factors influencing the adoption of improved groundnut varieties among farmers to pave the way for the production and use of quality seed for increased production and commodity business in farming communities. A four-stage stratified sampling was used to collect data from 300 groundnut farmers in seven agro-ecological zones through individual interviews. Secondary data were collected from the literature and the Tanzania Agricultural Research Institute at Naliendele centre (TARI–Naliendele). Descriptive statistics and Probit regression model were used for data analysis.

The empirical results indicated that Johari 1985, Pendo 1998, Naliendele 2009, Mnanje 2009, Mangaka 2009 and Nachi 2015, are the main six improved groundnut varieties used by farmers, with Pendo 1998 having the highest adoption rate (17.1%). In the grain market, four varieties, namely Pendo 1998, Mnanje 2009, Nachi 2015 and Johari 1985, were highly preferred by grain off-takers. Among the adopted improved varieties, Nachi 2015, was the most consistent high yielding variety, ranging from 1100 kg/ha to 1500 kg/ha in all agro-ecological zones. A farmer’s decision to adopt new varieties is affected by age and gender, farmer group membership, availability of improved seed and seed cost. Overall, male farmers are more likely to adopt improved varieties of groundnut than female farmers. The policy implications of these findings are discussed.

Serapius Mwalongo, Judith Ndossi, Essegbemon Akpo, Gerald Alex Lukurugu, Chris O. Ojiewo. Farmers’ perception on deployed labor-saving technologies in groundnut production systems, Tanzania.

The promotion of labor-saving technologies among farmers can increase productivity, profitability, and improve seed rate uptake per ha. This study intended to assess farmers’ perception on groundnut labor-saving technologies among small-scale groundnut farmers in Tanzania, to pave a way for increased seed uptake, improved grain productivity, and reduced human drudgery. The study was carried out after completion of the Tropical Legumes III project, which distributed four types of technologies to farmer groups, i.e. planters, groundnut shellers, oil expellers, and ox-ploughs. A purposive sampling and snowballing procedure were used to interview 114 respondents. Descriptive statistics, Gross Margin and a student-t distribution were used for data analysis. The empirical results showed that with the use of labor-saving technologies, farmers are able to practice the recommended seed spacing of 10cm by 50cm (compared to 20-30cm between seeds and 60-90cm between lines used by farmers without the technologies). The use of the labor-saving technologies more than doubled yield and profitability at farm level, and led to time and cost savings. Farmers were satisfied with the deployed labor-saving technologies. However, women could not afford them and found the equipment too heavy to operate. In the same lenses, the deployed Labor Saving technologies were significant in terms time and cost saving. Given the overall positive results, researchers recommend that subsidies should be provided to increase affordability of these technologies, which should be promoted through various mass media and exhibitions. Assemblers should invest in research to further improve the existing labor-saving technologies.

Chris Ojiewo and Essegbemon Akpo. AVISA: enhancing sustainable availability and timely access to quality seed of improved varieties of the target grain legumes and dryland cereal crops at affordable price. For more information:

Many African farmers are still using low quality seed of older varieties of dryland cereals and legumes. These varieties do not have the contemporary suite of resistance and tolerance to key biotic and abiotic stresses, including current and future climate-related stresses, that farmers need to obtain the best possible returns from their operations.  Informal seed sources, often with unreliable quality due to poor storage on farms and in open-air markets, continue to dominate the market share of non-hybrid cereals and legume crops in sub-Saharan Africa (SSA). For example, across six countries of Eastern and Central Africa, 92% of sorghum seed, 84% of millet seed, 93% of groundnut seed, 93% of common bean seed and 88% of cowpea seed were from informal sources. The Accelerated Varietal Improvement and Seed Delivery of Legumes and Cereals in Africa (AVISA) project consolidates the gains made by precursor projects while refocusing on the improvement of breeding and seed delivery systems. AVISA works on some of the most important dryland cereals (sorghum and pearl millet) and legume crops (groundnut, common bean and cowpea) on the African continent, in the key selected geographies (Burkina Faso, Ghana, Mali, Nigeria, Tanzania, Ethiopia and Uganda). AVISA builds on the crop improvement efforts made in the recent years to accelerate on farm genetic gains of grain legume and dryland cereal crops and release new varieties have with a suit of agronomic and market traits. This has led to yield increase between 25% to 320% in farmer fields.

About 14,000 t of improved seed of new sorghum and millet varieties and about 400,000 t of quality seed of improved grain legume varieties were produced in less than a decade and delivered to farmers, replacing the old varieties. Over the past three years, a total of 942 demonstrations, 101 field days, 29 agricultural shows/seed fairs, 64 TV/Radio shows were conducted and 79,785 small seed packs and 710 ISSFM kits of improved varieties were distributed to smallholder farmers across AVISA mandate crops and countries, reaching 9,466,544 farmers. A total of 11,328 stakeholders were trained in crop management and seed production to improve productivity and seed quality. 267 farmers were registered in the production of quality declared seed (QDS)/certified seed. A total of 147 tons of breeder seed, 3233 tons of foundation seed and 24,823 tons of QDS/certified seed were produced and delivered.

There is an emerging interest by the private sector to include dryland cereals and grain legumes in its portfolio, but expansion faces some challenges, including the lack of product information, (technical and market performance of new varieties), dearth of knowledge of the size and scale of business opportunities, non-access to early generation seed (EGS), and obscurity about the licensing and regulatory environment. AVISA is working with partners across 7 countries on 5 crops to address these constraints by enabling the establishment of a robust system that (i) increases the quantity and quality of performance data substantiating varietal superiority; (ii) boosts the availability of EGS seed by strengthening the technical and business acumen of the public EGS systems through technical, management and business capacity building; (iii) establishes a clear path and handover process from the research system to the private sector; and (iv) enables private sector multipliers to seize opportunities to capitalize on the commercialization of these crops.

Tobias Recha, Gloria Otieno, Sylvester Anami, and Ronnie Vernooy. Improving farmers’ livelihoods through upscaling best performing sorghum varieties for seed production and commercial products in western Kenya. Blog available at:

Farmers in Nyando, Kakamega and Vihiga, Western Kenya, are benefiting from participatory research activities that facilitated adaptation to climate change by introducing new diversity of sorghum, finger millet (Photo 3) and common bean, sourced from the National Genebanks of Kenya, Uganda and Tanzania. The good performing varieties were subsequently scaled to start the commercialization of selected varieties of sorghum and finger millet through the establishment of production units, new product creation and establishment of product value chains. Farmers were trained in sorghum value chain development, business development, and financial management. This study describes the activities, results and challenges.

Photo 3. Finger millet field in Vihiga, western Kenya. Credit: The Alliance of Bioversity International and CIAT/R. Vernooy

Photo 3. Finger millet field in Vihiga, western Kenya. Credit: The Alliance of Bioversity International and CIAT/R. Vernooy

Tobias Recha, Gloria Otieno, Ronnie Vernooy, Ahumuza Jasper, Ronald Kakeeto, Sylvester Dickson Baguma, Joshua Aijuka.. Promoting sustainable food production by upscaling best performing varieties of finger millet and bean through seed and product value chains: experiences from Hoima, Uganda. Blog available at:

Food and nutritional security of resource-poor farmers globally is increasingly under threat due to climate change. In Uganda, agricultural production rates are low, exacerbated by frequent erratic rainfall and droughts. The loss of genetic diversity in farmers’ custody has greatly narrowed the genepool from which they choose varieties that do well in challenging environments. In order to strengthen farmers’ adaptive capacity, a collaborative research effort between Kenya, Tanzania and Uganda increased the availability and diversity of climate-smart varieties of bean, finger millet and sorghum, through testing, breeding and production of high-quality seed and increased access to a wider range of locally adapted varieties. In Uganda, farmers selected seven good performing bean and seven finger millet varieties. This study presents the efforts of 2,000 farmers in Hoima and Masindi districts to scale these good performing varieties in Uganda through a series of training activities, business planning, establishment of producer associations, value chain development for bean and finger millet, and engagement with the private sector.

Noel Templer, Essegbemon Akpo, Ronnie Vernooy, Chris Ojiewo, Esther Njuguna-Mungai, Risper Gekanana, and Rajeev .K Varshney. Assessment of Grain Legumes and Dryland Cereals seed value chains in Uganda.

A well-functioning seed system is key to timely access to low-cost and quality seed by farmers. Improved varieties are critical to increasing grain production in terms of both quality and quantity. Hence, agriculture decision-makers face the challenge of developing an integrated and cost-effective seed system that can generate and deliver improved seed varieties to farmers, thereby ensuring seed security and enhancing livelihoods, particularly dryland farmers. This paper analyses the current situation of Uganda’s seed value chain for grain legumes and dryland cereals (GLDC), the challenges, and the opportunities. It also identifies critical areas that can drive sustainability in seed value chains.

Photo 3: Seed storage of the seed cooperative of the Agriculture Development and Conservation Farmers Committee, Agyauli, Nepal. Credit: The Alliance of Bioversity International and CIAT/R. Vernooy

Photo 3: Seed storage of the seed cooperative of the Agriculture Development and Conservation Farmers Committee, Agyauli, Nepal. Credit: The Alliance of Bioversity International and CIAT/R. Vernooy

Ronnie Vernooy, Rana Jai, S.P. Ahlawat, S.K. Malik, Hilton Mbozie, Joy Mugisha, Sylvia Nyabasha, Gloria Otieno, Sanjay Patil, Somnath Roy, Pitambar Shrestha, Shailendra Tiwari, Rashmi Yadav. Community seed banks as seed producers: Cases from India, Nepal, Uganda and Zimbabwe. Report available:

Community-seed producers are a relatively under-researched and under-documented category, but have the potential to cater to the seed needs and interests of smallholder farmers. This study presents a number of such community-seed producers, with a focus on community seedbanks. Community seedbanks first emerged with a focus on conservation of crop diversity, but in recent years, some of them have developed additional and complementary activities, such as crop improvement and seed production and distribution. Emerging experiences suggest that community seedbanks can deal with some of the major bottlenecks that seed systems are facing. Case studies from India, Nepal (Photo 4), Uganda and Zimbabwe point to the viability of community seed banks as seed producers and distributors, but becoming successful is not easy and depends on several factors. Initial technical and financial support provided by a committed and experienced organization can facilitate the effective start-up and early development of the enterprise. Not surprisingly, smallholder farmers often lack the technical, financial and organizational capacities to kick-start a company and scale seed production and distribution to a level beyond the household and community levels. To make this big step requires some form of guidance and support. It also requires time, as setting up the infrastructure, organization and market relationships cannot be done overnight.

Insights gained

A new paradigm

Conventional research and development models require rethinking, e.g. for plant breeding, by starting with locally driven demand for quality seed of diverse crops and varieties, citizen-science inspired methodologies, decentralized seed production and delivery, focus on quality in all aspects, novel branding and packaging approaches (truly farmer focused), and use of novel ICTs.

Nurturing seed business development

  • Smallholder farmers can establish viable local seed businesses, but this will require comprehensive capacity development and technical support along the way (i.e. nurtured seed business development), about the various aspects of seed production combined with value chain development, business development, and financial management. For example, in Ethiopia, more or less well-organized seed cooperatives have evolved into viable seed enterprises of various sizes, with technical, organizational and financial support of diverse organizations in the country. In Uganda, local seed businesses (LSBs) are becoming local seed champions, by creating viable seed enterprises that produce and sell Quality Declared Seed (QDS), backed up by government rules and regulations.
  • Womens’ participation in seed production and delivery can be enhanced through strategic targeting of womens’ seed producer groups and women-led seed enterprises, based on early outreach to women with quality seed through small seed packs, and participation in technology demonstrations and field days. Other key tools include business planning and the formation of cooperatives.
  • Community seed banks can become viable seed producers through appropriate business models and when there is a supportive policy/legal environment. Examples of such models are the farmer-producer company (India), Agriculture Development and Conservation Farmers Committee (Nepal), demonstration farm (Uganda), and the seed cooperative (Zimbabwe). A successful trajectory from Uganda has seen community seed banks move from operators of community crop demonstration plots, to viable seed businesses (examples include bean and millet), with the targeted support of research and development organizations. In Kenya, the private sector is sourcing seed from community seed banks to promote and realize demand driven value chain development for GLDC crops, contributing to improved production, income generation and nutrition.

Creating an enabling environment

  • QDS is gaining ground in countries such as Uganda and Tanzania, but there are still some challenges to deal with, such as relatively low volumes produced and sold, and the limited (demand) forecasting capacity among LSBs. The low prices of grain legumes and dry land cereals (as “grain”) in the market is a hindrance to stimulate the production of QDS of these crops. QDS is only allowed for registered varieties, which creates a roadblock for farmer (improved) varieties of high quality, which have not been registered.
  • Allowing farmers to keep the seed from crop trials (established with the support of national agricultural research organizations) is observed to be one of the best ways to accelerate the adoption of improved varieties. Seed production of improved varieties can be facilitated and strengthened through collaborative efforts, such as by seed production groups. These groups ensure cohesiveness, a good mandate, resources availability, integrity, access to relevant information, and managerial capacity to members.
  • Researchers, extension agents, seed companies, agro-dealers, as well as NGOs, all have a major role to play through awareness creation to enhance farmer knowledge of new varieties and increase seed demand. Variety demonstrations and field days are good mechanisms to scale new and improved varieties.
  • National seed associations can play a key role by assisting individual local seed businesses through technical advice and financial support, e.g. to reduce risks for the inclusion of GLDC crops in their seed portfolio.
  • Farmers with many years of experience in grain/legume seed production and farmers working in groups are often technically more efficient than the less experienced and individual farmers. Horizontal knowledge transfer could be facilitated through setting up nucleus farms or farmer field schools that bring the less experienced farmers to tap the accumulated knowledge of the more experienced ones.
  • Based on experiences from Tanzania, farm labor saving technologies can have a beneficial impact on the demand for (seed of) improved qualities. This factor has not received much attention.
  • The enactment of good policy within the groundnut seed sector, such as a comprehensive seed subsidy, will attract more seed companies to invest in groundnut seed production to ensure a wide and timely distribution of seeds (example of Tanzania).

Ronnie Vernooy¹, Caroline Alongo², Sylvester Anami³, Essegbemon Akpo⁴, Ronald Kakeeto⁵, Thedy Gerald Kimbi⁶, Serapius Mwalongo⁶, Patrick Okori⁷, Chris Ojiewo⁸, Gloria Otieno¹, Noel Templer¹

  • ¹ The Alliance of Bioversity International and CIAT
  • ² DashCrop Limited, Kenya
  • ³ Jomo Kenyatta University of Agriculture and Technology, Nairobi, Kenya
  • ⁴ International Crops Research Institute for the Semi-Arid Tropics (ICRISAT)/École de Gestion et de Production Végétale et Semencière, Université Nationale d’Agriculture, Benin
  • ⁵ National Semi-Arid Resources Research Institute (NaSARRI)/National Agricultural Research Organisation (NARO), Soroti, Uganda
  • ⁶ International Crops Research Institute for the Semi-Arid Tropics (ICRISAT)/Tanzania Agricultural Research Institute
  • ⁷ International Crops Research Institute for the Semi-Arid Tropics (ICRISAT)
  • ⁸ International Maize and Wheat Improvement Center (CIMMYT), Nairobi, Kenya


We thank all the researchers who contributed to the studies carried out in Ethiopia, Kenya, India, Nepal, Tanzania, Uganda and Zimbabwe. The authors of this brief came together (some face to face, some virtually) for a one-day workshop organized on 15 December 2021 in Nairobi, Kenya, which was made possible thanks to the funding of the CGIAR Research Program on Grain Legumes and Dryland Cereals (CRP-GLDC). This brief and the workshop are a contribution to the CRP-GLDC and, more specifically, to the work on improving the functionality of seed systems co-led by ICRISAT and the Alliance of Bioversity International and CIAT. We thank Victor Nyamunga and Robert Ogolla for their technical support during the workshop. We thank Cinzia Russo (Alliance of Bioversity International and CIAT) for editing the document.


Ojiewo C, Akpo E, Hagmann J and Varshney RK. 2020. Strategic Framework to foster Grain Legume and Dryland Cereal seed systems innovations: Guidelines to drive seed delivery systems through commodity value chains. International Crops Research Institute for the Semi-Arid Tropics, Patancheru 502 324, India. CGIAR Research Program Grain Legumes and Dryland Cereals (CRP-GLDC). Available at:

Ronnie Vernooy, Caroline Alongo, Sylvester Anami, Essegbemon Akpo, Ronald Kakeeto, Thedy Gerald Kimbi, Serapius Mwalongo, Patrick Okori, Chris Ojiewo, Gloria Otieno, Noel Templer. (2022) Towards more effective and resilient seed value chains for grain legumes and dryland cereals. CGIAR Program on Grain Legumes and Dryland Cereals (CRP-GLDC), Hyderabad, India.

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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