Improving seed production planning for African farmers

Last September, we were at Ethiopia and Uganda for an interesting assignment. We were helping the CGIAR scientists and staff to plan seed productions for new varieties of seeds that were developed specifically for African countries. African farmers grow various types of crops and each have numerous varieties suitable for different types of soil, water and weather conditions. African farmers predominantly engage in subsistence farming, meaning, they consume most of what they grow for their living. This means, a good harvest is necessary to alleviate their hunger. What the CGIAR team was working on was to ensure improved seed varieties were available to farmers that provided good yield in their local conditions. We understood that it was a very important exercise that we were part of. 

As mentioned before, there is a need for different varieties of seeds for different regions based on soil, weather and other biological characteristics. The primary crops that were being promoted in these countries were Chickpea, Common Beans, Cow Pea, Groundnut, Finger Millet, Pearl Millet and Shorghum. The number of varieties for each ranged from 10 to 51. The goal of the team was to roll out new and improved varieties of seeds that gave higher yields, greater pest resistance, and better nutrition to the growers. The right varieties of seeds needed to be available at each location, at the right place and at the right time. This needed a lot of planning.

Those familiar with seed production are familiar with the process of how a laboratory tested Breeder seed is used to create Foundation seeds and these Foundation seeds are used to grow Certified seeds that are used by farmers. This means, Certified seeds are available to farmers after two cycles of Foundation and Certified seeds production. To ensure farmers get the right quantity of seeds at the right time, these seed production cycles also needs to be planned carefully a few years in advance. To make matters more complex, new and improved varieties of seeds often replace existing inferior varieties of seeds and older seeds need not be produced any more as new ones take their place. This “ramp up and ramp down” needs to be planned too a few years in advance and is often a constant process.

Keansa helped ICRISAT build a Seed Roadmap Solution for this purpose. This solution helped the teams to calculate region wise need of each new seed variety, plan target production volumes of breeder, foundation and certified seeds and phase out plan for old varieties. The planning solution made it simpler to review the plan using graphical interfaces, interactive scenario modelling and generating production schedule.

During the workshops at Addis Ababa and Kampala, we trained the seed planners on the solution. The feedback received from users revealed that application was easy to learn and operate and will be useful for them to plan their seed roadmaps for coming years. The users also thought such system will improve predictability in seed production and help them measure actual progress on timely seed supply.  What was deeply satisfying to us was, the solution had a direct impact on achieving food security for thousands of farmer families in Africa.