Promoting entrepreneurship in informal seed systems for legumes in Malawi

As much as 95% of the legume seed sown by farmers in Malawi is saved, exchanged or bought informally. Farmers, their neighbours, friends and relatives, and traders at the local market are a significantly more important source of seed for these important crops for food, nutrition and income than the agro-dealer. This warrants capacity strengthening in informal seed systems.

Why informal seed systems?

Because they are so important. In 2011, the US Office of Foreign Disaster Assistance of the United States Agency for International Development (USAID) commissioned a seed security assessment in Southern Malawi1. The study revealed that in the 2011-12 cropping season, 95% of seed sown for predominantly common bean, groundnut and pigeon pea production was either saved by farmers themselves, exchanged with neighbours, friends and relatives, or purchased at the local market where grain is typically sold. A little over one per cent of the seed used in that season was purchased from a formal retail outlet.

What exactly does the project do?

The goal of the project is to increase the local availability of quality legume seed by strengthening entrepreneurship in informal seed systems as a primary outcome. This will be achieved by implementing activities including: 1. Revealing key institutional, social and behavioural factors influencing local seed quality, availability and use; 2. Identifying seed entrepreneurs and their networks; 3. Training trainers, farmers and local traders in quality seed management, marketing and basic financial literacy; 4. Building local networks connecting seed entrepreneurs to important inputs, services and markets; and 5. Sharing lessons learned with relevant stakeholders in the sector.

Where do activities take place?

Partners CARD and Mzuzu CADECOM have a local presence in the communities where we work. In the extension planning areas (EPAs) of Mponela; Chulu; and Chioshya of Dowa; Kasungu; and Mchinji districts respectively, CARD coordinates local trainings and brokers networks. In Kaluluma and Champhira EPAs of Kasungu and Mzimba districts, Mzuzu CADECOM has the lead. Based in the country’s capital, LUANAR plays an important role in surveying, curriculum development and training of trainers, with support from Wageningen CDI.

What results have been achieved so far?

To date, surveying has taken place in five EPAs where data has been collected from more than 600 farmers and local traders. Three tailored curricula have been developed by subject matter specialists from industry and university and 30 trainers have been trained. Trainers include front-line extension staff, lead farmers, community leaders and other local innovators. Equipped with a concise guide to quality seed production for common bean, groundnut and soybean; a logbook and instructions for financial record keeping; and a participatory tool for marketing and business planning, trainers are currently engaged in local trainings on the related subjects. At least 750 farmers and local traders will in turn be trained, each of whom will receive the same guide, logbook and tool that their trainers are in possession of. Local partners have received seed money for facilitating access to and piloting of innovative inputs and services for seed entrepreneurship.

How is the investment complementary?

The project is complementary to investments made by others including the United States and Malawian Governments. Examples include the Scaling Seeds and Technologies Partnership (SSTP); the Malawi Improved Seed Systems and Technologies (MISST) project, the Malawi Seed Industry Development Project (MSIDP); and the Agricultural Innovation Partnership (AIP), not to mention the work of the Feed the Future-funded Innovation Labs, all of which focus on strengthening formal seed value chains in Malawi. By improving rates of financial literacy among farmers and local traders and by training them on the basic principles of marketing, in addition to sharing state-of-the-art knowledge on pre- and post-harvest seed quality management practices, our project builds capacities in informal seed systems.