The Standard Group Plc is a multi-media organization with investments in media platforms spanning newspaper print operations, television, radio broadcasting, digital and online services. The Standard Group is recognized as a leading multi-media house in Kenya with a key influence in matters of national and international interest.
  • Standard Group Plc HQ Office,
  • The Standard Group Center,Mombasa Road.
  • P.O Box 30080-00100,Nairobi, Kenya.
  • Telephone number: 0203222111, 0719012111
  • Email: [email protected]

Why improved seeds is key to our food growth


In many African countries, agriculture plays a crucial role in economic growth and development. It is the backbone of our economy and the Government must put in more money in the sector if it wants to revive and grow the economy, says development economist Charles Ayoro.

Ayoro says one way of achieving this is to strengthen agricultural research institutions and also give small-scale farmers soft loans to help boost their agricultural production.

"A region like Uyoma peninsula in Rarieda, Siaya County, is fertile ground for both cash and food crops production, and what farmers need is access to funds, quality seeds, access to roads, and ready market for the produce," says Ayoro who is also a lawyer. 

''So, both national and county Governments need to engage economists like us, policymakers and agricultural experts to help Kenya come out of economic turmoil,'' advises Ayoro.

He notes that empowering farmers across the country to get improved seed varieties and fertiliser will help the country grow its economy and become food and self-reliant.

Meanwhile, access to good seeds has been confirmed by experts as the missing link to food security and agricultural growth for many farmers in sub-Saharan Africa. 

 Right: Charles Ayoro, an economist and lawyer. 

The central problem facing climate-smart crops such as sorghum, millets, and pigeon pea, is how to accelerate the adoption of improved varieties – getting more farmers to grow the improved varieties.     

Evidence suggests that the area planted to improved varieties of these crops averages 40 per cent in Eastern Africa including in Kenya. Moreover, only 26 per cent of this area is planted with varieties released in the last 10-15 years. Thus, the adoption of improved varieties of these crops has not met expectations. One reason for low adoption is the challenge of scaling up quality seed. 

To overcome this challenge, some international NGOs dealing in crops have designed and started implementing a strategy to address three drivers of adoption.

These drivers are: awareness – to create demand for seed; affordability - making sure that it is affordable to farmers; and access - making sure the seed is available when farmers need it.

Awareness to create demand for improved seed, the NGOs have partnered with ministries of agriculture and health to create awareness about the importance of dryland cereals and legumes. This was meant to convince farmers to grow more for sales and consumption.

As soon as farmers realised the value of these crops, they became eager to grow them. The farmers then selected the best varieties suited to their needs, the most productive, most nutritious and best-tasting varieties.

For farmers to grow these crops in large quantities, the selected variety of seeds has to be affordable and accessible.

One of the strategies used to make sure that the seed was affordable and accessible was the use of informal seed system channels. This is whereby lead farmers are identified and trained to produce high-quality seeds that can be shared with other farmers. 

The farmers are given foundation seeds and trained on proper agronomic practices so that they can produce quality seeds, which can then be made available to other farmers in the communities. 

One such farmer is  Phillis Nduva, a 65-year-old farmer from Mwaani village, in Makueni - who is one of the beneficiaries of the improved seed varieties programme.

The programme involves participatory training sessions at research stations and on selected farmers’ fields, to promote new varieties and encourage farmers to grow drought-tolerant crops.

“Through the support and close monitoring of our progress, I have been very successful at producing seeds. I sell the seeds to other farmers in my community,” says Ms. Nduva.

This project provided farmers with clean foundation seeds and trained them farmers on how to produce subsequent foundation or certified seeds while ensuring purity and quality.

“We provide the farmers with clean foundation seeds and encourage them to plant in isolation away from other varieties of the same crop. We also provide constant training services through site visits on how to maintain the purity of the seed variety, from planting time up to harvesting time. We monitor to make sure that varieties are threshed separately,” explains 

More than 450 farmers in the target counties received the improved seeds of the various drought-tolerant crops and took up seed production as business ventures. As a result, more farmers like Phyllis, have managed to improve their quality of life, become more food secure and make some extra income to provide for other household needs.

For instance, since Phyllis started her seed production venture, she has been able to qualify for loans to help her expand her business. “I am now my boss,” says Nduva adding that she is now able to sustain her family mainly through farm income. She says the seed multiplication business has created employment for three permanent workers and several casual workers on her farm.

She has made significant profits since she started. “I have made profits of at least sh 600,000 from this business since I started it three years ago. This has allowed me to afford college fees for my children up to university levels.”

She grows sorghum and millet not only as a business, but she is also passionate about using and promoting them as nutritious foods.  “I prepare dishes like pilau and chapati using sorghum,” she says.

People who eat traditional food like millet, pigeon pea and green grams stay healthy and do not age quickly, reveals Dr Chris Ojiewo,  an agricultural research scientist. 

''They are governed and managed by the farming community members. Seed banks offer farmers high quality and more choices at affordable prices. They also offer a platform for farmers to sell seeds hence facilitating farmers’ access to markets. “We started by training farmers on seed production and management to ensure seeds stocked in the community seed bank are of superior quality,” says Dr Ojiewo.

These community banks help to ensure the availability of high-quality seeds of improved varieties in communities. The seeds available at the seed banks are sold at affordable prices,”  says one extension field officer from one of the NGOs. She adds that having better access to quality seeds helps farmers produce more for household consumption and surplus for sales.

According to Elizabeth Muthiani from Makueni, community seed banks play a significant role in communities. 

Elizabeth runs Kimundi Stores, a community seed bank in Wote, Makueni. She notes that farmers in her community are now more organised since the community Seed Bank was set up.

“The farmers are now able to multiply, save, and exchange seeds to ensure they always have quality seeds,” says Elizabeth.

“It also gives us a platform to sell our grains collectively thus helping us to get better prices. Selling individually is not easy.” A similar initiative, the Seed Revolving Fund initiative, through one international NGO known as ICRISAT AVISA project, has been rolled out in Tanzania for sorghum and groundnut value chains. The initiative will tackle the challenge of limited access to quality seeds of improved varieties in rural regions.

The ‘Seed Revolving Fund, Youth Engagement and Gender Inclusion, (SRF-YEGI)’ initiative is working with research institutions, seed companies, agro-dealers, grain off-takers, farmer organisations and youths.

Ayoro challenges the Kenya Kwanza administration to stop lamenting about debts/loans as the reason for economic meltdown but instead to invest in agriculture to create employment, achieve food and nutrition security, get surplus to help re-pay the loans. 

Related Topics


Trending Now


Popular this week