During the past decade, researchers and farmers co-developed several improved varieties and hybrids of sorghum, pearl millet, groundnut and cowpea, using participatory approach. The developed material, in addition to being high yielding and resilient maintain traits preferred by farmers. Smallholder farmers’ access to the seed of these improved varieties and hybrids remained challenging, especially in remote areas. Access to quality seeds by farmers is however one of the important steps in boosting productivity and in ensuring food security. Thus, seed cooperatives/unions have been trained and monitored, along the value chain of cereals and legumes in Burkina Faso, Mali and Niger (Christinck et al, 2014). Through these organizations, there has been an increase in the diversity of varieties/hybrids and in seed production which has led to the development of local market and benefitted smallholder farmers. Seed cooperatives are now independent in sorghum OPVs seed productions, they have good knowledge on trials implementation, data collection and participatory evaluation of varieties to identify promising ones for seed production. Farmer organizations (FOs) skills have been also enhanced in seed marketing by developing local adapted plans of communication. The collaboration between research and FOs enabled the development of local seed value chain networks in the target countries. Seed Systems III in Mali, was then identified by The McKnight Foundation as the Farmer Research Network (FRN) “Deep Dive” project.
Although the progress mentioned above, some challenges remain and these will be addressed by the project “Networking4Seed”, through FRN approach. Sorghum and millet hybrids and their female parents’ seeds production techniques are new for FOs and public quality seed control agencies. The project will strengthen the capacities of the two actors and will reinforce the integration of legumes in the system as they play an important role in this system. Participatory selection of cereals, cowpea and groundnut varieties will be included to diversify the material used by farmers. The increased number of outlets for seed dissemination in the village will be an important output of this project for boosting seed dissemination. Inputs credits to seed cooperatives members and community fields options will be tested and the effect on seed access by cooperatives members evaluated. To ensure the sustainability of seed cooperatives, each of them will be assisted to develop its business model and the fixation of seed’s price at harvesting will be central point for discussions.
Networks were established at circle/province scales, and they will be now connected in each country and region. The FRN will be platforms where FOs share experiences not only on seed but in other topics such as processing, nutrition, agronomic practices, etc. The progress and structure of these FRN including gender contribution will be documented to benefit seed systems in West Africa and in other regions.
The intervention zones and target farmers will be characterized and the information used for selecting relevant options for a given context as according to Christinck et al (2017), varietal traits may vary for different groups of farmers depending on their access to resources and production goals.
The overall goal of the “Networking4Seed” project is to enhance smallholder farmers’ food and nutritional securities through sustainable cereal and legume seed systems in the socio-economic contexts of West Africa
Outputs and Outcomes:
Improved varieties will be regularly incorporated in the seed production system. At least 14 new varieties/hybrids for both sorghum and pearl millet, 08 varieties of groundnut and 08 varieties of cowpea will be tested biannually in the three countries. From each set of tested material, we expect that at least two varieties/hybrids per crop will be selected by farmers and included into the seed production system, thereby contributing to systems diversification and legume integration into these systems.
Seeds market will be annually analysed and based on the results a seed road map will be jointly established by the main stakeholders (researchers, seed producers, seed buyers, grain producers and processors). At least two training sessions will be organized in each zone per year. Seed dissemination channels will be documented for cereal and legume crops and the most efficient ones identified to reach a significant number and diversity of farmers in their respective zones. The distance between farmers and seed producers is an important factor limiting seed dissemination in West Africa. So, local seed sale outlets will be annually increased by 20%, especially in remote areas and the information for each variety/hybrid including pictures available. The seed produced and marketed in the villages will reduce this distance and will ensure timely access to seeds by farmers.
During the sowing period (June and July), most farmers cannot afford inputs (seed and fertilizers) which is limiting their access to seeds even when available. A suitable model is required for each FO to ensure accessibility and usage of seeds by its members and other farmers. The options, advantages and impacts of providing seeds on credit by the cooperatives to their members will be assessed and documented. The community fields systems will be also explored. Conclusions will be discussed with each FO and shared among them.
To enhance the internal organization and governance of seed cooperatives/unions (objective 2), which is key for sustainability, the strengths and weakness of each FO will be identified. Different trainings will be organized with all stakeholders to strengthen the organizations. National and regional exchange platforms will be created annually where FOs can share their experiences, learn from each other and the benefits/progresses documented. Diverse topics (Seed system, governance, agronomic practices, nutrition, etc.) will be presented by FOs based on their experiences and the others will learn through discussions.
The sustainability of FOs depends on the links between their members which is mostly gender dependent. Therefore, networks within and between men and women groups and their roles and contributions to the FO network will be established. The role of women in decisions making will be assessed and documented for each FO. Finally, promising activities for sustaining the system will be recorded from different socio-economic groups and proposed for implementation.
The FOs will be empowered for data management and sharing with partners. Target Population of Environments (TPEs), including diversity of farmers, will be defined for all the zones and crop modelling used to support variety development, selection and deployment for a given zone.