A private company has been established to produce foundation seed and avail it to seed companies across Africa with the view to enabling smallholder farmers to increase yields, improve food security on the continent.
The African Agricultural Technology Foundation (AATF) which championed the move says the new company will try to address critical infrastructural, financial and other challenges faced by majority of small and medium seed companies in producing foundation seed.
Baptised QualiBasic Seed and set to be based in Nairobi, Kenya, the new seed company has received an initial five year investment of US$ 8.4 Million (Approximately UGX30bn) from the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation.
Dr. Dennis Kyetere, the Executive Director of AATF and former Director General of the National Agricultural Research Organisation (NARO) in Uganda, hailed the creation of Qualibasic as a milestone in the effort to bring the benefits of agricultural technologies to smallholder farmers on the continent.
According to AATF, it costs an individual seed company about half a million dollars (Approximately UGX 1.8bn) to run a foundation seed operation every year.
Dr. Kyetere told a news conference in Nairobi this week while announcing the initiative that: “Over the years that AATF has been in operation, practical experience has made it apparent that quality seed is not always available to smallholder farmers. This has a negative impact on delivery of improved technologies to these farmers, delaying realization of benefits by these farmers. Worse still, investment made by development partners and the good work of our scientists takes unnecessarily long time to make a difference on farm productivity and farmers’ livelihoods.”
Dr. Kyetere pointed out that as many as 80 percent of small and medium certified seed companies in Sub-Saharan Africa have difficulties with production and maintenance of high quality foundation seed due to various challenges including technical, infrastructural and financial.
“When the quality of foundation seed is compromised, then the process of certified seed production is also affected and at the end of the day farmers suffer,” noted Kyetere.
QualiBasic Seed Company is envisioned by operate as a profit making business with the possibility of selling shares to client seed companies as an incentive for the seed companies to use the services of QualiBasic.
A statement from AATF indicates that QualiBasic operations will start with foundation seed for maize in East and Southern Africa then grow to serve other cereals and legumes across Sub Saharan Africa when fully functional.
“Three foundation seed production hubs with seed processing and storage facilities will be established in Kenya, Zambia and South Africa by the second and third year of operations, in order to meet demand for products in a timely manner, and avoid lengthy delays in seed movements,” the AATF statement added.