The Syngenta Foundation for Sustainable Agriculture is backing CIATs efforts, through PABRA, to strengthen bean seed systems in sub-Saharan Africa in collaboration with CIAT (through PABRA) and partners. The three year pilot project will focus on three countries – Burundi, Rwanda and Kenya – and aim to engage private sector companies in bean seed systems to stimulate sustainable bean seed markets, increase the availability and uptake of improved varieties and enable farmers to increase their yields and incomes.

Millions of smallholder bean farmers in sub-Saharan Africa are caught in a catch-22 situation.

They want the higher yields and greater incomes that newly released varieties can bring but they find it almost impossible get their hands on quality seed. And if the seed is available, the financial risk buying 2kg of a variety they haven’t grown before is too great.

Instead, they resort to using older degenerated varieties, dampening the potential for beans to improve their productivity and livelihoods.

Unlike the well-established seed systems that exist for major cereals, such as maize, which enables farmers to buy the latest varieties from their local trusted agro dealer, around 95% of bean seed is provided through informal seed systems.

To commercial seed companies, beans are not an attractive commodity. They can be re-sown from the previous season’s harvest and therefore offer an unreliable and less lucrative market. Of more than 70 registered seed companies in Kenya, just four sell dry bean seeds and, even they only sell already popular varieties.

Improving bean seed systems is a challenge that the Pan-Africa Bean Research Alliance (PABRA), coordinated by CIAT, and its 29 member countries are addressing. By engaging with the private sector, they have encouraged some seed companies to use farmer-driven marketing strategies, such as smaller and more affordable pack sizes, which have yielded promising results in Zimbabwe, Malawi, Uganda and Kenya. In Kenya the use of certified bean seed has increased from 2% in 2008 to 5% in 2012.

But much more needs to be done to establish well-structured and sustainable seed production and marketing systems that are supported by the private sector.

The new Syngenta Foundation-funded project – Strengthening bean seed systems with focus on biofortified bean varieties to respond to bean farmers and market demand in Burundi, Kenya and Rwanda – will bring together national and international partners.

Together they aim to stimulate the development of market-led bean seed systems by expanding business opportunities for the private sector and creating markets for new varieties with highly demanded traits, such as quick cooking time, good taste and higher iron and zinc content. Activities will include pairing insurance plans with certified seed to protect farmers from weather related risks, increasing links with agro-dealers, and in Burundi and Rwanda where there are few seed companies, supporting decentralized farm based seed enterprises and enticing seed companies to invest or to sell seed across the countries.

All of which will improve access to bean seed and increase farmer uptake of new varieties, ultimately leading to more food secure farming communities with higher incomes.

The project will kick off after 10 October 2014 when the agreement will be formally signed by Dr Marco Ferroni, Executive Director, Syngenta Foundation for Sustainable Agriculture, and Ruben Echeverria, Director General of CIAT, in Basel, Switzerland.

Project partners: CIAT (through PABRA and Harvest Plus), the Institute des Sciences Agronimiques du Burundi (ISABU), the Kenya Agricultural and Livestock Research Organisation (KALRO), the Rwanda Agricultural Board (RAB) and One Acre Fund.


Image: Zawadiel Mrinji, farm manager, Agricultural Seed Agency, Arusha, Tanzania, inspects bean crops used for certified bean