Daily Archives: February 26, 2010

Challenges for Tanzanian seed sector

As part of our ongoing market development support for ICRISAT’s seed sector mission in Africa, over the last week I met with public and private sector actors in the Tanzanian seed sector.  Building a viable private sector presents a number of challenges and the situation is quite complex. This is intended only as an overview. After 30 years in power, Julius Nyere’s socialist regime collapsed in 1997, and the market-driven economy is still in the process of evolution.  Under the socialists there was no private seed sector.  A parastatal seed company – Tanseed – had a monopoly on seed production and distribution in Tanzania.

The remains of the old structures can be seen in ASA – the Agricultural Seed Agency – a government agency which promotes itself as “The Source of High Quality Agricultural Seeds”.  ASA’s mission is:

To produce, process and market sufficient high quality agricultural seeds for the local and international farming communities by using modern management and appropriate technologies to enhance food security.

ASA is the sole source of public variety foundation seed.   There are failures, and our interviews revealed that:

  • ASA’s foundation seed production is unable to meet demand;
  • ASA’s certified seed production and marketing (which, according to ASA, is intended only to address orphan crops which are of no interest to the private sector) competes with the private sector;
  • As a result of financial constraints, there is only limited public sector breeding in Tanzania, and no maintenance breeding; this has resulted in the loss of a number of valuable public lines.
  • Foundation seed produced by ASA for both the public and private sector is of poor quality, which does not bode well for the future food security and economic development of Tanzania.
ASA farm in Arusha

From left to right: Paul Nandila (Workshop Manager), Bob Shuma (Executive Director, TASTA) and Zawadieli Mrinji (ASA farm manager) examining maize foundation seed at the ASA farm in Arusha

Bob Shuma
Bob Shuma with ASA maize foundation seed; true to type on left, defective on right.

Bob Shuma, Executive Director of TASTA (Tanzanian Seed Trade Assn.) estimates that only 15% of seed planted in Tanzania is certified.

With a land area of 947,000 sq. km. and four quite different farming ecologies few roads are suitable for trucking. Of the 79,000 km of roadways, less than 7,000 km are paved.[1] This exacerbates an already fragile distribution chain for certified seed by increasing retail prices to the point at which many farmers cannot afford to buy.  Conventional financing is not an option; with a banking sector that is risk averse, does not understand farming, and with interest rates in the 20%-25% range, even a medium sized and profitable regional company such as East Africa Seed finances expansion from retained earnings.

Drought is yet another factor and explains why the private sector has been unable to meet demand from farmers for certified seed, and is one factor in ASA’s inability to meet private sector demand for foundation seed.  The government is now investing in the installation of irrigation systems for the ASA seed farms, and this should enable an increase in output. All of the seed companies interviewed seemed highly aware of the need to establish and maintain a strong brand identity to distinguish themselves from competitors who, for the most part, are selling identical product (foundation seed provided by ASA and AVRDC is available to all buyers). The options for developing unique branding strategies are, however, limited and the common focus is on quality and reliability.  The disparity between supply and demand – no seed company has been able to satisfy demand – explains why marketing is not a critical issue for the private seed sector. Bob Shuma observes that:

When Tanzania’s seed laboratory is finally accredited to ISTA and OECD it will stimulate the availability of new varieties, new crops and new lines and export opportunities will open up; unfortunately budgetary restraints have slowed this process.  With all of these constraints, what will attract local investors and entrepreneurs to invest in private sector seed activity?  And how can farmers access improved technologies?  These are challenges to be addressed by Tanzania, its partners and by the development community.

Many thanks to Bob Shuma for his invaluable assistance on this trip, and to TASTA and Wageningen International for their support.

Post written by Peter Bloch, consultant to CAS-IP


[1] CIA Factbook; this data is at least five years old and paved roadway has probably increased by 20%.