‘Crowd sourcing’
seed shortage

About 85% of the population of Ethiopia’s Oromia Regional State struggle to make a living from smallholder farming. Considering the unreliable income and high risks these farmers face, development of agriculture is seen as a key option for enhancing the food security of the millions of farmers in the region.

A focus on seeds

Quality seed is vital for farmers. The seed system in Oromia is made up of different informal, intermediary and formal seed systems, but not everything functions well. To meet challenges facing crop production, difficulties in the seed sector should be solved at the farmer level. And to improve yields, it is essential to capture the synergies among all the actors involved. With this in mind, the Integrated Seed Sector Development (ISSD) program was established in 2009. This program recognizes the complementarities of the formal and informal seed systems, as well as the responsibilities of public and private seed producers. Bringing private and public actors together, ISSD acts as a springboard for improving the seed system in Oromia.

The regional state government mainly supports the formal seed sector. But due to the virtual absence of formal seed marketing directed at the farmers who need them, this sector is unable to guarantee farmers’ timely access to adequate quantities of quality seed of improved varieties. The informal system is the dominant source of seed for farmers, yet it receives little attention in development interventions. It is characterized by traditional practices of seed selection and storage, traded through bartering and sale in local markets.

A new approach

Most rural households in Sire and Boset woredas (districts) rely on rainfed agriculture, meaning irregularities in weather conditions have adverse effects on their food security. Since 2008, these two woredas received support through the Productive Safety Net Program, a social protection initiative launched by the national government to prevent asset depletion at household level, and build assets at community level. But after a decade, this program is still struggling to hit its targets. So in 2017, the ISSD program unit in Oromia selected Sire and Boset woredas to try out a ‘crowd sourcing’ approach to curb the problem of low seed availability.

Crowd sourcing of seeds means that farmers get their seeds from different sources. Some receive seed from researchers, and in turn serve as a source of seed for other farmers. The crowd sourcing approach considers the contribution of both men and women to seed development, and their different needs, preferences and indigenous knowledge. Around 1200 farmers are involved in variety selection to identify their preferences, and farmers manage all activities themselves. ISSD gives farmers cereal seed of different varieties and assists them in selecting the best for production and dissemination. This approach costs little, but quickly spreads knowledge and improved farmer-selected seed varieties. Plant breeders often do not consider the specific preferences of the farmers, which is one reason why farmers still grow varieties that breeders consider less than ideal.

Yielding excellent results

‘Crowd seed sourcing' has increased the participation of farmers in variety selection, and helped male and female farmers identify improved varieties in yield, quality and related traits suited to their own conditions. It has also improved farmers’ skills in seed saving and conservation of agro-biodiversity. Especially for poor farmers in marginal areas like Sire and Boset woredas, this approach has shown to be a very effective and well-adapted technique for the rapid diffusion and adoption of new technologies.

Written by Aleka Aregachew (November 2017)
A result of Experience Capitalization training organized by the Embassy of the Kingdom of the Netherlands in Ethiopia, in collaboration with CTA and Guava Stories.
Pictures: ISSD-OSE