Africa’s agriculture sector is driven by smallholder farmers who also account for 70 percent of people directly reliant on agriculture for their livelihoods. Despite its large-scale impact across the continent, smallholder farming largely remains a low technology, subsistence activity.
Constructively engaging smallholders as investors as well as producers can help attract better investment into the sector, engaging farmers to produce bigger crops for sale rather than only for consumption at the household level. To achieve this goal, bigger financial investments are required to raise the standard of engagement and consequently that of Africa’s agricultural sector, according to Paswel Marenya, a social scientist who works with the International Maize and Wheat Improvement Center (CIMMYT),
Three recent studies conducted by CIMMYT scientists and their collaborators in eastern and southern Africa assessed potential interventions to address current inefficiencies in seed supply chains. They also explored how low purchasing power has hobbled smallholders trying to gain access to maize and legume seed markets. Even though these markets have recently expanded as more private companies invest in maize and legume businesses, smallholders have not benefited despite their significant role in the sector.
A key component of improving agricultural practices is to bolster seed systems to give smallholders better access to high-yielding, stress tolerant seeds. For example, in Tanzania, a weak seed supply chain led to smallholders recycling hybrid maize seeds up to three years in a row in some cases. The main source of legume seeds was often from seed saved from previous harvest.