Seed Index Sprouts New Hope for Farmers

By Michelle Geis Wallace, March 16, 2015

Farmers purchasing seed from an agro-dealer outlet

MM Inc., Flickr


Edward Mabaya held up a single maize (corn) seed and asked a room full of seed industry experts and media in Nairobi, “What is seed? Depends who you ask.” If you ask a plant breeder, he explained, he or she might say that seed has been carefully selected for various traits—resistance to certain diseases, pest resistance, or the ability to grow in higher temperatures. A development expert might note the dollars of research and development that went into that seed. “For me,” Mabaya said, “this seed is the perfect marriage of nature and science. It’s hard for me to think of anything that is so sophisticated and so simple.”

Edward Mabaya explains The African Seed Access Index.

Edward Mabaya explains the African Seed Access Index.

Nash Chege

What does this maize mean for farmers? The seed, bred to give farmers in Kenya higher yields of the country’s staple crop, represents hope, said Mabaya. It represents the chance to feed a family and have a surplus to send children to school, buy uniforms, and buy medicine when they’re sick. And yet, farmers in Kenya, and in many parts of Africa do not have access to the kinds of seeds that could thrive on the land—seeds that are well-suited for today’s challenges of warmer temperatures, new diseases or new pests arising from shifting climates.

Why not? What are we doing wrong?

To answer this question, Edward Mabaya and his team at Cornell University’s International Institute for Food, Agriculture and Development (CIIFAD), developed The African Seed Access Index, known as TASAI. It’s the first-ever initiative dedicated to monitoring the state of Africa’s rapidly evolving seed sector. To learn more, check out some of the media coverage from the launch:

New Initiative Aims to Boot Africa’s Yields Through New Seeds – Voice of America

Une étude pointe l’inefficacité du secteur des semences – Agence France Presse

Africa seed index raises bigger yield hopes for farmers – BBC ‘Online’ (UK)

Seed organisation to launch new drive in Africa – East African (Kenya)



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