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PMSD Toolkit

Project Name: Farmer Saved Seed Markets

Country: ​Malawi

​Timeframe 2019 – present

Sector: ​Legume seeds

Unique Features: Explicit targeting of a more regenerative form of agriculture on the basis of its resilience to climate change

Tools: Participatory Market Mapping

Use cases covered by this case study:​​

Case Study

Seed policy in Malawi has focused on hybrid seeds for staple crops (particularly maize) based on hopes of significant yield increases. However, this overlooks the high requirements for non-organic inputs, the loss of biodiversity, and the increased vulnerability to climate change. In contrast, many small-scale farmers in Malawi re-use seeds which are locally adapted. This preserves biodiversity and boosts farmer resilience, but the market system for these local seeds requires organised seed multiplication and marketing to avoid the loss of genetic material.

Practical Action Malawi has taken a participatory approach to understanding the systemic issues within the legume seed systems in particular. The team organised Participatory Market Mapping workshops with smallholder farmers, government offices for seed supply and agriculture/extension, and private sector input supply firms that provide inputs and extension to seed growers, and buy the seed crops to then package, market and sell to other smallholder farmers.

The market mapping workshops revealed a number of challenges at different levels of the market system:

  • Enabling environment: national seed policy does not recognise seed produced by smallholders, and focuses on large company production of hybrid seeds
  • Core chain: farmers that produce/multiply seeds are poorly organised with inadequate extension and access to inputs and weak linkages to private sector market actors. Existing market outlets (e.g. seed fairs) tend to be dominated by larger companies with hybrid seeds.
  • Inputs and Services: input suppliers have weak linkages to farmer groups, and have a history of delayed payments and low prices

The project team identified that there was a history of contract farming arrangements between farmers and input suppliers, whereby input suppliers would provide farmers with high quality seed material and other inputs, in return for a commitment for farmers to sell their seed crop back to be packaged, marketed and sold more widely. However, the model had suffered in the past from weak relationships, a lack of trust, and poor performance.

The market mapping workshops themselves acted as an ‘intervention’ to build trust and help the farmers and input suppliers to realise how they depended on one another for a functioning seed market system. Farmers recognised the need for better self-organisation to be able to coordinate and aggregate both inputs and ultimately outputs. They also saw the added value that input suppliers provided when they packaged and marketed local seed varieties – which farmers found difficult to sell directly in local markets.

The project has supported change by coordinating activities of the different market actors. This has included strong support to identifying lead and follower farmers, organising seed producer groups and encouraging the development of demonstration sites and on farm trials. The project has facilitated links between the Malawi Genetic Resources Centre as an expert training provider, and the lead farmers. Training has focused on seed selection, multiplication and production from a technical and agronomic perspective: site selection, field hygiene, pest and disease control, and harvesting and storage. These are important as they differ from regular farming of those crops.

Input suppliers have been encouraged to invest in selecting and supporting lead farmers and visiting the plots to check the actual farming behaviours. They are also being encouraged to negotiate on prices and payment schedules – crucial to a functioning market system.

In terms of being market-driven, the project needs to pay close attention to the behaviours of the input suppliers in particular. These businesses should be driving the process of farmer organisation and showing commitment through their time and resources. A key short-term indication will be the degree to which farmers sell their seeds to input suppliers, and how they in turn are able to add value and sell those seeds back to local farmers. The biggest risk is that input suppliers disengage, and farmers lose the incentive to follow good agricultural practices and ultimately have no clear market channel to sell their seeds into.

At the policy level, Practical Action has supported the Malawi Agrobiodiversity Network (MAgNET) to produce a policy briefing paper arguing for the importance of saving seeds. This brief targets government actions to support and promote farmer saved seed systems through information campaigns and new labelling standards. Government uptake of these recommendations would provide a welcome reinforcing mechanism for the bottom-up support to local market actors.

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