Seed InfoTech: Critical data on seed soon to be available in Malawi

As part of our market development support for ICRISAT’s seed sector mission, I have visited eight countries in Africa over the last year and talked to farmers, agrodealers and seed companies.  In every case, complaints have been leveled at the seed certification process – too slow, inefficient, no data.  In most cases, no information was available on how much land was being used to grow seed, or how this broke down between crops.  Last October, after meeting with staff at the Seed Services Unit (SSU) in Lilongwe, it became apparent that “carbon paper” record-keeping was a significant factor and that the right software could probably make a big difference.

The outcome of this investigation was that I recently met Gerard Sylvester, an ICRISAT systems analyst from Hyderabad, in Malawi.  After mapping the various tasks which are managed by SSU, he was in agreement that the right software could indeed increase SSU’s efficiency significantly. Irish Aid agreed to fund the development of a database application.  The first module will be completed by July;  it will address land registration and will enable SSU to start analyzing valuable data on land usage and seed crops.  This data will inform other interventions that ICRISAT and others are engaged in implementing.

As I have talked before about this kind of intervention (grassroots driven, low cost, scaleable), here are the steps:

  1. Grassroots feedback indicates that seed certification is inefficient; there are bottlenecks which in some cases have resulted in a shortage of certified seed (e.g., rice in Northern Senegal, 2009).
  2. An intervention – in this case software – is designed.  Organizations involved with or with an interest in seed certification are consulted, and the feedback is positive.
  3. A modest investment is provided to develop the first database module.
  4. If the first module has a positive impact on the roadblocks, we will again seek feedback on how we propose to develop the capabilities of the database.
  5. After at least six months of real-world testing, the software will then be made available to SSUs in other countries.  Funding will be secured for translations into other languages as the need arises, and for training.  TOSCI (Tanzania Official Seed Multiplication Institute), the certifying agency in Tanzania, has been collecting data and has expressed strong interest in the database.

The next step will most likely be a module to track the rest of the certification process.  One of the features we will discuss in the future is a learning module to enable inspectors to update their skills and their knowledge on a regular basis.  Other developments might include wireless devices for data entry and farmer queries from cell phones.  And, at the appropriate time, we will discuss if and how to measure the economic impact of the project.

In fact, this is a “sub-program” of the Irish Aid-supported Malawi Seed Industry Development Project that is already incubating at least three other interventions (genetic markers, localized seed production, umbrella brand) that satisfy the criteria.  But you cannot predict what you will find out three months after the budget has been finalized by the donor; some budget flexibility is necessary to enable these kinds of “rapid responses”, and Irish Aid has been open to this when something new supports their overall mission.

Post written by Peter Bloch, consultant to CAS-IP

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3 responses to “Seed InfoTech: Critical data on seed soon to be available in Malawi

  1. Richard Jones

    Poor seed quality is a major problem in Africa, and it is important to enhance the technical capacity of seed certification services.

  2. Pingback: Nibbles: Seeds, Organics, Absinthe

  3. Pingback: MASA Brand Launch | the CAS-IP blog

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