Food, Agriculture and Natural Resources Policy Analysis Network (FANRPAN) Food, Agriculture and Natural Resources Policy Analysis Network (FANRPAN)

Relief Seed Trade: The Importance of Relief Seed, and Opportunities for Improving the Contribution of Relief Seed Programmes to Seed Market Development
August 2006
Geoffrey AD Kananji, M Alexander R Phiri


This report examines the role that relief seed trade has played in Malawi during the period 2000 to 2006. Particularly, the main focus of the study was to assess the importance of relief seed and opportunities for improving the contribution of relief seed programmes to seed market development in the country.

Seed is defined as generative or vegetative part of a plant that is used as propagation material (Almekinders and Louwaars, 1999). Of all the inputs used in agriculture, none has the ability to affect productivity as much as seed (Morris, 1998). Through its genetic properties, seed places the upper limit on yield potential and influences the productivity of other inputs by determining the ability of plants to convert radiation, water, carbon dioxide and other nutrients into biomass. Musa and Van der Mheen-Sluijer (1998), report that unless farmers are provided with access to good quality seed of improved varieties, it would be uneconomic for Sub-Saharan African countries to spend precious foreign exchange on fertilizers which have a high imported content. Easy and sustainable access of farmers to quality seed is essential for farmers to reap the benefits of fertilizers.

It is often assumed that seed insecurity is directly linked to food insecurity (Phiri et al, 2004). Tripp (2000) said that under normal circumstances, most farmers are able to save or use seed from previous harvest. He identified four situations where there is an incentive or need to access seed from other sources. These are emergencies, poverty, need for quality seed, and need for new varieties. Each of these situations leads to different types of seed demands, which can be satisfied by different responses.

The concept of seed security depends on three principle elements: availability, access, and quality (Sperling, 2003). Availability is related to seed supply: a sufficient quantity of seed of desirable crops must be found within reasonable proximity to people and in time for critical sowing periods. To benefit from available seed, people must have access to it, which means that they must have adequate resources to secure seed through purchase or barter, or indeed, domestic storage. Last, seed must be of appropriate quality. That is, it must be of desirable varieties and of acceptable standards (health, physiological characteristics, and varietal integrity).

During much of the last decade, Malawi has experienced a series of seed stresses that have affected agricultural productivity trends. Droughts and floods have alternated in various regions of the country temporarily causing low supplies of seed and poverty coupled with high seed prices resulting from removal of subsidies on agricultural inputs, has negatively affected access to seed on a continual basis. Various interventions have been initiated by policy makers, donors, seed companies, NGOs and related stakeholders to ensure that farmers have access to adequate seed of appropriate varieties and quality. The key focus of this study therefore was to assess the role that relief seed has played over the last five years, and examines opportunities for improving the contributions of relief seed programs to seed market development. In other words, how should relief seed programs be designed and implemented while ensuring a sustained seed market development?

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