Seeds Systems


Seed systems are the vehicle through which farmers get good quality seed of the new crop varieties they want and need. Effective seed systems have the potential to increase production quickly and economically. Give farmers access to good seed and knowledge of improved practices, and their harvests can rise dramatically.

The development of impact-oriented seed systems is a strategic issue. Informal seed systems models are not delivering with the efficiency and effectiveness needed. For example, farmers often rely on seed distribution from their fellow farmers, which is just too slow for new varieties to have a major impact. In parallel, formal seed systems, tend to focus on a few profitable seed crops such as maize and vegetable seed, leaving legumes, including beans, largely by the wayside.

PABRA has identified leverage points by which bean varieties can be moved at high volumes, across geographic zones, and with wide social reach. We must be doing something right: 19.5 million farming households accessed quality seed of improved and preferred varieties between 2003 and 2013. The approach has greatly contributed to reducing the time it takes for newly released varieties to reach farmer fields: from about five years in the past to immediate.

Developing seed systems

PABRA works on four distinct areas to catalyse impact-oriented seed systems. It fosters the partnerships, evaluates diverse models of seed production and delivery, develops information crucial for making informed choices, and works to shape policy towards the benefit of smallholder farmers.

  • Partnerships for scaling up: PABRA supports the development of bean platforms uniting actors all along the bean value chain to create sustainable bean seed systems and spur links with formal seed producers. Within these platforms, PABRA works to foster Private-Public partnerships and identify possibilities for integrating formal and informal seed systems. Platform members simultaneously work ‘at scale’ and aim to scale up multiple decentralised seed initiatives and stimulate members of the formal sector to increase their participation in bean seed systems.
  • Research for ‘best bets’ in seed production and delivery: One size does not fit all, especially in the seed sector. PABRA members test diverse seed production and delivery options to meet the diverse contexts in which smallholder bean farming unfolds.  Research and Development on capacities of various seed production options and their implication of seed quality, such as farm-based seed production or centralised producers; sale in non-conventional outlets such as open markets; and packaging in farmer-friendly sizes are among the options tested to get desired seed products to all users.
  • Development of resource materials: Seed system developers and practitioners need decision-making tools and practical guidance at the varied stages of design and delivery. PABRA’s resource materials aim to address the multiplicity of information needs:
    • Articles for program managers to determine system goals, such as how to promote and supply varieties responding to nutrition and resilience needs;
    • ‘How-to’ manuals for seed producers and business entrepreneurs [link to publications] spearheading the  advances on the ground, now in 14 languages;
    • Posters and radio programs geared to helping farmers make informed variety and seed choices.
  • Shaping seed policy for wider impact and lower farmer risk: Policies have to be enabling and geared toward meeting the needs of smallholder farmers. PABRA supports those influencing seed system development in both normal and stress periods.
    PABRA is playing active role in shaping national, regional and international seed policy:
    • Supporting processes for regional seed harmonisation policies within the East African Community, COMESA andSADC region to facilitate access to improved varieties through eased germplasm exchange, increased regional seed trade, private sector investment and economies of scale. The production of basic seed, which used to be the onus of NARS, is now undertaken by both NARS and private entrepreneurs, contributing to increased genetic diversity and efficiency in beans seed systems.
    • Facilitating guidelines for seed security responses.
    • Providing evidence-based experience to shape decision frameworks. For instance, the increased acceptance of the quality declared seed grade in seed regulation and the increased prioritisation of beans among other crops as a result of engaging policy makers.

Ultimately, seed system development goes well beyond activities revolving around producing and marketing seed. PABRA’s work aims to catalyse efficient seed systems, which can move multiple varieties, provide production and nutrition gains, and which can be accessed by all smallholder farmers.

Seed systems under stress

During periods of disaster–whether drought, flood, earthquakes, political instability, civil strife or displacement—seed system responses need to take place quickly. PABRA collaborates with national and international organisations aiming to improve seed security in high stress and vulnerable areas across the world. For more information visit seed systems under stress.