Availability and access to quality seeds is vital to the drive towards increased agricultural production to achieve national food security and sustainable farmer incomes.
Despite the significant gains made through government’s signature ‘Planting for Food and Jobs (PFJ)’ programme, farmer access to improved – high yielding and disease resistant seeds, still remains a challenge.
Majority of small-holder and even large scale farmers continue to source seeds through informal channels – seeds saved by farmers, seeds exchange among farmers or the local grain market.
The use of farmer-produced seeds has not been helpful to increased crop yield due to poor, inherent genetic and physical qualities of seed - susceptibility to pest and disease infestation.
With the implementation of the PFJ, it is essential to ensure that quality local seeds and in the right quantities can be easily obtained by the farmer to raise the per-hectare yield.
Improved local seeds remain key to sustaining this important agriculture intervention – boost food security through enhanced productivity, and to reduce the risk of pest and disease attacks.
There cannot be any doubt about the fact that improved planting material is a fundamental input in crop farming. It is something that plays important role in agricultural development.
Changes in Ghana’s Seed Law
There are a number of recent developments that could have considerable influence on Ghana’s ability to provide commercial seed for its major field crops.
These include the enactment of a new seed law, development of regulations for implementing the law, new national agricultural policy, activities of domestic and foreign seed companies and donor interests.
The plant and fertilizer Act of 2010, has come into force. A new law to replace the Plant Quarantine Act of 1965 and the National Redemption Council Decree 100 of 1972 has been in the works for more than a decade.
It was just recently that the final version was approved.
The law captures the responsibilities for seed import and export, establishes a register of varieties that can be marketed, outlines procedures for seed quality control and testing, and establishes a National Seed Council and Associated Committees.
Almost all details on implementation and standards are left to the regulation and those who will interpret and enforce them.
Perhaps the most significant aspect of the new law is that it allows the production of any class of seeds by the approved entity and permits both domestic private sector activity as well as access to foreign (public and private) varieties.
There have been efforts by development partners over the years to support seed production activities in Ghana.
In the early 1990’s, Sasakawa Global 2000 (SG 2000) was instrumental in establishing a system of small-scale seed producers.
From the mid-1990s, GTZ West African Seed Network (WASNET) also supported the development of the commercial seed sector for more than a decade.
More recently, USAID-funded West Africa Seed Alliance (WASA), sponsored activities such as training of input dealers and seed producers. The US-funded Millennium Development Authority (MiDA) also promoted the use of commercial seed.
USAID-ADVANCE project has supported seed system development with other development partners, including the African Development Bank (AfDB) and Japan International Cooperation Agency (JICA), having funded various initiatives to improve small-holder-farmer access to quality seed.
Despite all these interventions, the small-holder farmer continues to struggle with access to local but quality seeds.
The Ghana Seed Inspection Division (GSID) of the Ministry of Food and Agriculture is mandated by law to certify seeds and monitor outlets of seed dealers as well.
In the Bono, Bono East and Ahafo Regions, the monitoring activity of the GSID has not been effective, resulting in the infiltration of poor quality seeds in the market by some unregistered seed dealers.
This is contributing significantly to low and poor yield, affecting farmers’ income and livelihood - a disincentive to farmers.
According to Rural Care Frontiers (RCF), a farmer group based in Techiman in the Bono East Region, the unregistered dealers have flooded the market with fake seed varieties, and majority of the famers are unable to differentiate between the genuine and fake seeds.
“We are unable to pay back loans and this situation is discouraging many of us and the youth from engaging in farming”, Mr. Charles Boateng, the Chairman of the RCF, a group comprising 1,810 farmers engaged in various crop production - maize, cashew, rice, cocoa and vegetables, said.
He added that the seed dealers have been deceiving “ignorant farmers” to buy seeds, which have problems during ovulation, leading to poor and bad yield.
To help salvage the situation, the Business Sector Advocacy Challenge (BUSAC) fund, has provided funding to the RCF for implementation of an advocacy action project in the region.
The “Seed Dealers, Identified, Registered and Recommended for the General Public”, is a 12-month project, being funded by BUSAC at the cost of GH¢96,904.50.
It is aimed at removing bottlenecks and challenges confronting small holder farmers in relation to accessing quality seeds, farm inputs and agro-chemicals.
Mr. Boateng called for the Ministry of Food and Agriculture (MoFA) to intensify monitoring in the seed market to flush out any unregistered dealers.
The MoFA should also identify certified dealers for farmers to buy their seeds from, in the local communities.
Mr. Isaac Adaebsah, the Consultant for the RCF, noted that the formal seed system in the country is facing challenges, ranging from high prices, unavailability of seeds at the right crop season to the lack of seeds storage facilities.
The seed supply chain and management at MoFA is bureaucratic - involves registration of seed dealers, cleaning and grading of seeds, seed inspection, certification and packaging for sales.
All these activities take place at the regional capitals resulting in service delays to the seed dealers and consequent loss of productivity.
Mr. Adaebsah says the lack of storage facilities (cold rooms) is a serious problem because seeds not sold at the right period, lose their viability over time thereby, compelling seed growers to either sell their seeds cheaply as grains or transport their seeds at an additional cost to centres that have cold storage facilities.
Another challenge, is the lack of training for certified seed dealers and he underlined the need for the sector ministry to organise regular training for seed dealers and farmers.
Mr. Adaebsah also asked that MoFA is adequately resourced to train and build the capacity of the local seed producers to enable them produce to meet the local demand rather than over-relying on imports.
Clearly, the distribution system, from the certified seed production stage to the farmer, has been poor.
Seeds produced annually are said to be a third of what is purchased by farmers.
There appear to be low publicity of the availability of improved seeds in the rural areas since most agro-input shops have no outlets in these communities and most on-farm varietal evaluations are normally limited in scope across different agro ecologies.
This reporter believes that access to good seeds is intrinsically linked to the fortunes of farmers’ - output and returns.
There is therefore an urgent need for all stakeholders to actively get involved in promoting the use of certified/hybrid seeds to small-holder farmers, largely in the rural areas, to address youth unemployment.
The nation has the potential to substantially raise food production if the GSID of the MoFA is adequately resourced and empowered to carry out its core mandate.
It is also necessary for the government to create suitable conditions to build the capacity of local seed producers to produce to meet the local demand, rather than relying on imports.
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