In many developing countries, limited availability of, and access to, quality propagation material for well-adapted varieties, species, breeds, and strains hinders efforts to transform agrifood systems toward greater productivity, gender equity and social inclusion, nutritious foods and diets, and environmental sustainability. These limitations, in turn, constrain improvements in the incomes, livelihoods, and food and nutrition security of small-scale, resource-poor agricultural producers and livestock keepers, food- and nutrition-insecure consumers, and many other actors in local agrifood systems, particularly in the face of the global climate crisis.
Seed systems are a critical point where solutions to these constraints must be designed and implemented. Seed systems comprise the development, production, dissemination, and conservation of propagation materials for crops, trees, forages, livestock, and fish. While the challenges facing seed systems are inherently complex and specific to species and context, efforts to advance solutions share several key requirements: better coordination, more effective learning, and greater innovation among the wide range of seed system actors—farmers, consumers, community-based organizations, private enterprises, researchers, governments, and development agencies. Coordination, learning, and innovation at multiple levels—global, national, and local—are prerequisites to making more productive, inclusive, nutritious, and resilient varieties available, to conserving genetic resources for future generations, and ultimately, to delivering on the Sustainable Development Goal (SDG) 2 on Zero Hunger, SDG 5 on Gender Equality, and other SDGs by 2030.
Seed systems are a primary instrument through which CGIAR and its partners will deliver on its five impact areas related to nutrition, poverty, gender, climate, and environment, and on the SDGs.
Seed systems development already has an important place in the CGIAR agenda. There are activities around specific crops, trees, forages, livestock, and fish; regions (e.g., sub-Saharan Africa, Latin America, South Asia); and collaborations (e.g., partnerships with global crop-science and livestock breeding firms, financial service providers, genetic resource experts, and small domestic seed producers). But as a whole, CGIAR efforts remain fragmented, indicating a real need for closer coordination, especially in support of public policy and regulation, commercialization pathways, and biodiversity conservation.
The CGIAR Community of Excellence for Seed Systems Development initiative is a catalytic process to establish a community of experts and a forward-looking strategy that places seed systems development squarely on the One CGIAR research-for-development agenda. The process is a bottom-up engagement that is initially nested within CGIAR but will expand out to a much wider set of agrifood system stakeholders.
Behind this initiative is a vision that all developing-country farmers, and especially small-scale, resource-poor female and male farmers in those countries, shall have the opportunity to participate in and benefit from equitable, sustainable, and innovative seed systems that offer well-adapted and quality propagation material for crops, trees, forages, livestock, and fish.
It is important to note that this initiative does not take a prescriptive approach to seed systems development, nor does it adhere to a single paradigm or model. The initiative recognizes the rich diversity in the reproductive biology of crops, trees, forages, livestock, and fish, and the heterogeneity found within the agro-ecological, socioeconomic, and policy contexts in which seed is developed, produced, exchanged, and used.
The expected long-term outcomes of this initiative are substantive improvements to nutrition, poverty reduction, gender equity and social inclusion, resilience to climate change, and environmental sustainability in focal countries and regions throughout Africa, Asia, and Latin America. This will result from the development of more vibrant, sustainable, and inclusive agrifood systems and of seed systems that ensure small-scale, resource-poor women and men farmers have timely access to quality seed of well-adapted, resilient, and affordable varieties. To achieve this, we need a more coherent and better coordinated evidence-based approach to seed systems development built on high-quality research and innovation closely integrated with communications, partnership, and capacity development.
In the short term, we are working to build a CGIAR Community of Experts and CGIAR strategies for seed systems development that anchor research, communications, partnership, and capacity building within the One CGIAR research-for-development agenda.
The initiative is anchored in three programs that share a common interest in seed systems development: the CGIAR Research Program on Policies, Institutions, and Markets (PIM), the Integrated Seed Sector Development in Africa (ISSD Africa) project, and the Netherlands-CGIAR Seed Systems Development research program (NL-CGIAR SSD). Learn more and meet the members of the Technical Committee>>
We use the term “seed systems” as a generic phrase to describe any system in which propagation materials for crops, trees, forages, livestock, and fish are produced, conserved, exchanged, and used. We use the term “variety” to refer to crop varieties, tree and forage species, livestock breeds, and fish strains, along with the genotypic or phenotypic characteristics that distinguish them. We use the term “farmers” as a generic phrase that includes small-scale farmers, agricultural laborers, livestock keepers, fisher-people, and people who derive livelihoods from forestry and agroforestry.
For more information, please contact David Spielman, International Food Policy Research Institute (IFPRI)
Photos: Georgina Smith/CIAT; ILRI/Mann; Neil Palmer/CIAT; AVCD/Muthoni Njiru; CIAT/Neil Palmer