COURTENAY, Canada — Investments into farming often have the benefit of being able to tackle both poverty and hunger: not only does it supply food to households and communities, but it also creates employment opportunities, bolstering the local economy. Seed farming is one area that has shown recent success in alleviating food scarcity, as well as promoting local and national businesses in Africa.
In 2017, famine struck four African countries: South Sudan, Nigeria, Yemen and Somalia. In the midst of what a collective of 16 NGOs described as a “slow” response to the crisis, the U.N. Food and Agriculture Organisation (FAO) delivered “livelihood assistance kits” which, for farmers, included cucumber seeds. By July 2017, the organization reached 3.6 million people out of the already targeted 5.4 million with assistance kits, providing a means for regenerative sustenance through seed farming.
On a smaller scale, cucumber seeds also brought success to a farmer and his community in Winterveldt, South Africa. Kobela Mokgohloa began to work on his grandfather’s farm after winning the “SAB KickStart entrepreneurship program” in 2009 and devoted himself to becoming the area’s “cucumber specialist,” expanding the farm and increasing crop yield. His plans for the future now involve creating employment for the wider community, an area of “persisting poverty” and becoming a “center of excellence”, educating young farmers and providing an example of agricultural success.
The adaptability, versatility and resilience of the sesame plant make it an excellent “source of livelihood and […] income in developing countries.” NGO CEFA has therefore long been investing in sesame cultivation in Mozambique and Somalia, with projects providing training and assistance from the farming stages to accessing national and international markets. In Somalia, seed farming has allowed sesame production to expand from a local scale to a dominant agricultural product and contribute $300 million to the nation’s economy, approximately 5.25% of its GDP.
The Seed for Impact Programme
The non-profit organization African Enterprise Challenge Fund (AECF) launched the Seed for Impact Programme in 2018 with the aim to improve seed cultivation in Africa and aid African farmers and their communities. Citing a growth potential in the commercial seed market from its $1.2 billion continent-wide to $2 billion annually in sub-Saharan Africa alone, its six-year initiative includes the provision of new technologies, wider availability of crop varieties and a focus on smallholders. Over 50,000 farmers and almost 300,000 individuals in six nations could benefit from this program.
The seed farming program also aims to offset Africa’s food import bill, which could rise to $110 billion annually by 2025. As African nations become more self-sufficient and create more employment opportunities within their own agricultural sector, this money can go back into their own economy, supporting local businesses and smallholders.
Another program focusing on seeds and agricultural development is the USAID’s West African Seed Programme (WASP): its budget of $9 million primarily went towards improving the quality of seeds in the region (for example, drought- and pest-resistant seeds) and increasing its production from 12% to 25% within five years.
A midterm report showed that, following the introduction of an electronic platform West Africa Seeds Information Exchange (WASIX), the number of registered producers increased to 1,275 from 986 and the “quantity of certified maize seeds on the website increased by 328.2%” in a mere five-month span. Moreover, 851 individuals, of which 206 were women, received training in “seed laboratory practices, seed production and processing, variety maintenance, Breeder Seed production coordination and planning.”
The successes outlined above indicate a brighter future for poverty-stricken agricultural communities: as knowledge and skills are shared, higher quality crops are distributed and businesses expand, the income generated allows this cycle of growth to continue and creates a space for African farmers in the global marketplace.
– Helene Schlichter