Authors: Louise Sperling, Niels Louwaars, Orlando de Ponti, Melinda Smale, Julie March, Dieudonne Baributsa and Jacob van Etten; Michigan State University
Topics: smallholder farmers, covid-19, emergency, seed system security assessment
COVID-19 brings new challenges worldwide, including to smallholder farmers and their seed systems. In response, an escalating number of seed projects are being planned to deliver immediate aid or to alter current seed production programs. This Brief aims to steer both the immediate aid and more developmental planning towards wiser, better and more informed practice – and to stop unproductive or even harmful decisions.
Supporting farmers through seeds is a rational choice both in emergency and more normal situations. However, poorly designed seed interventions can do serious harm to farmers’ immediate food security and markets. A diversity of seed systems provides the necessary channels for farmers to sustainably access seeds. Seed assistance, aid and developmental, should proceed only if there is evidence of seed insecurity, whether due to availability, access, or quality.
Constraint identification informs the set of intervention options that could support seed systems in the short run, and not counter longer-term system sustainability; hence, seed system security assessments (SSSAs) are obligatory not optional. Direct Seed Distribution (emergency seed provision) is a last option and needs to respect a clear set of elements, including the range of crop seeds to be supplied, varietal characteristics and seed quality options. Flexibility and choice must be built into seed intervention design so that farmers are able to respond rapidly and effectively to fluctuating circumstances. Seed assistance should integrate feedback and feedforward systems. More generally, ICT systems to shape remote assessments and information sharing need to become more strategic and operate at scale. Seed system strengthening and resilience building is best achieved through sustained support over time. The current document identifies priorities for funding and action, the next two seasons (now) and several years beyond.
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