Backgrounder on seeds and seed breeding

| February 15, 2021

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Our Farmer story from Senegal focuses on seed multiplication, and our Script of the week looks more broadly at seeds and seed breeding.

More than 65% of Africans depend on rainfed agriculture for labour and livelihoods. These farmers produce about 80% of the food consumed by African families. Most African farmers grow on less than two hectares of land attempt to maximize their productivity and manage the risks of production and marketing by growing a variety of crops for different growing seasons, using intercropping systems, and adapting their planting practices to climate change. This is only possible when farmers have ready access to sufficient quantities of high quality seeds that are well-adapted to local cropping patterns and local soils and climate, among other conditions. Small-scale African farmers currently obtain less than 10% of their seeds from the formal seed sector, with the remainder coming from saved seeds, local markets, friends and neighbours, and other traditional seed systems.

The subject of this backgrounder is important to farmers for many reasons, including:

  • Almost all food crops begin as seeds. The quality and characteristics of the seed strongly influence the yield and qualities of the harvested crop.
  • Seeds can also be consumed as food in several forms, including spices, beverages, and cooking oils. Seeds and seed products are also fed to livestock.
  • It’s important to know how policy and legislation in different countries impacts on farmers’ ability to use, breed, and sell seeds. (See section on Seed Laws and Global Seed Marketing.)
  • Everyone has a right to food and this begins from and is founded on seeds and seed diversity.