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%.

12 responses to “Challenges for Tanzanian seed sector

  1. ASA has an important role to play in the development of the Tanzanian seed sector, but it needs to focus on marketing high quality improved foundation seed and avoid competing with commercial seed companies.

  2. Thank you, Peter for a very interesting and informative post! As we are talking about challenges for the Tanzanian breeders, I wanted to point at one more problem they are dealing with. As explained extensively in an article on the East African (, picked up by the Afro-IP (, Tanzania may soon be going to court to pevent the US and the Brazilian governements from filing patents on the SbMATE gene, a sorghum gene isolated from Tanzanian farms, that would make sorghum and other crops, resistant to the allumninium (which is toxic to the roots of many crops because it prevents them from uptaking minerals from the soil). The stakes are high, because the patenting of the Sb MATE is epxected to generate about 680 milion $ annually. On the other side, the patent is envisaged by the Tanzanians as an act of biopiracy. As a matter of fact, sorghum falls under the Annex 1 of the International Treaty of the Plant and Genetic resources and it’s being held in trust by ICRISAT.

  3. Irina is right – sorghum is in the FAO Seed Treaty. If the patented gene came from an Tanzanian sorghum placed in the Treaty by ICRISAT then Tanzania has no claim whatever to biopiracy. The Treaty does not recognize country of origin and internationalizes all designated samples in CGIAR genebanks, whatever the country of origin, even if the Country of origin has not signed up to the Treaty (as for Tanzania).
    When the patent is package in seed to be sold, the Treaty (but not Tanzania) will benefit by 1.1% of seed sales ($7 million a year?), paid to FAO.
    Also any seed sample whatever in the Svalbard store is in the Treaty – for example, over 60,000 samples from Mexico, another country that has not ratified the Treaty.

  4. I checked further on this sorghum. Edward Hammond of the African Biosafety Centre, claims is was provided to Brazil by Hugh Doggett. Hugh was a sorghum breeder who died a year before the Seed Treaty became operational – so the sample was definitely not covered by the Treaty, which is not retroactive. Also, this has nothing to do with ICRISAT. All CGIAR policy on genetic resources was bought from the individual centres by the World Bank in 1994 for around $25million and transferred to IPGRI in Rome, who were fully responsible for the entry of the CGIAR collections into the Treaty.
    Hammond used to work for RAFI. The RAFI biopiracy campaign was responsible for a dramatic drop in the international exchange of germplasm over the past 20 years as countries saw their genetic resources exploited by developed countries. The FAO Treaty was designed to reverse this slow down but seems to have failed for exchange between developing countries: by far the greatest international transfer is now from CGIAR genebanks.
    So it looks like RAFI’s longterm `biopiracy’ campaign has been a disaster for developing countries: no legal protection of national resources and no free exchange of genetic material needed for national plant breeding: a disaster that RAFI should have seen coming.

  5. Pingback: Genetic markers for seed purity « the CAS-IP blog

  6. agriculture sector is the back born of any nation either developed or there is a big effort needed so as our tnznia dvlpng.once we refers history we found there great economy dipresion in america.this depresion was solved thru the agriculture emplovent by giving priority the greatest farmers.
    missiom of asa are good bt how can them reach sucess? whly there are many challenges face.plan are easly bt how cn make perfomance.
    1.providing mass education to all peasant.
    2.providing loan and grants to the peasants.this cn help to encourege and to stimlate agriculture practises.where by people they will involve into agriculture serous becous of availability of capital.

  7. Arnold Mselle

    The other challenges that are facing seed industries today are
    1.Production of seeds
    2.Treatment of seeds
    3.Distribution of seeds
    4.Development of seeds,
    All this presses above requires a lot of financial support,Therefore the government should establish a tool to support local in breeders to venture in SEED MARKET to ensure sustainable development for the whole society.

  8. Another approach is to think about how private sector investment might build a sustainable seed sector. If agridealers and traders can identify a specific demand they may then be able to work with seed companies and build a value chain. Government and donors might contribute to launching such a program. Its probably better to leverage a private sector program that to rely on government, but in order to make this happen you need some entrepreneurs to develop a business plan.

  9. Famers can also be involved in the production of Quality Declared Seeds (QDS), This will make more farmer to use good quality seeds because they will see themselves how these seed grow and how are the yielding characteristics, as they will be grown in their locality by thier fellow selected farmers. Also the accesbility of seeds to the farmers will be easy as they will be produced in their own area. I believe to see is to believe, And when our see they may need to adopt.

  10. We’re delighted that this post sparked so much discussion. Thanks, Mbwambo, for your input. Yes, QDS, can – and is – making a real contribution to progress. My only reservation is that if QDS enters the larger seed distribution chain (and I have heard that this is happening) it will undermine efforts to build a viable private seed sector. So its all about boundaries (for QDS distribution) and being able to look at both local needs and at the larger, national/regional picture.

  11. For sustainable quality seed production, ASA has to be equipped with irrigation facilities in their production fields. I know it costs a lots of money to instal the facilities but the return to be obtained out of this will be very high. To reduce contamination, they have to adhere to proper guidelines for seed production; e.g. proper isolation in the field, isolation during drying, processing, e.t.c.
    More efforts is needed to the researchers/ breeders to release varieties which are drought tolerance as drought is a big threat to seed production and crop production as a whole. They should also do screening for the existing varieties to ensure the cultivar purity is maintained.


    Shija Mathias Byakugira October 5, 2012 at 11.15 pm
    For sustainable quality seeds availability, there is a need now to think of having ASA agencies or specific seed production catchment areas in the Country based on Ecological zones.The lake Victoria zone is quite different from the rest zones of Tanzania since planting and harvesting seasons are very antigonism to other zones the fact that reflects the imperfect climatical conditions as well as infrastructure.ASA has concentrated in Arusha, Iringa and Mbeya regions where the ecological factors are almost the same.Let us think of supporting the lake zone farmers’ to sustain quality seeds production, availability,distribution and marketing to secure farmers’ food security and reduction of porverty contraints.ASA is supposed to learn from TOSCI as why is planning to branch at Ukiriguru ARI regarding to seed certification strategies.

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