The Sweetpotato Seed Systems Community of Practice (SS CoP) Sixth Consultation was held from 6th to 8th December 2016 at Pride Inn in Nairobi, Kenya. The planning and review meeting was attended by the SASHA project pre-basic seed system sub-grantees. There were 45 participants from 11 countries – Ethiopia, Kenya, Uganda, Tanzania, Ghana, Nigeria, Burkina Faso, Malawi, Mozambique, Nigeria and Zambia.
Progress, innovations and successes
Each country made presentations of their activities for the period of June-November 2016, with a focus on production capacities, targeted production vs actuals and comments on the production targets; quality management; estimated pre-basic seed requirements for the coming season; progress in implementing their business plans and revolving funds and capacity building initiatives undertaken. In discussion groups, they deliberated on their successes, lessons and the improvements they needed to make to improve the sustainability of their pre-basic seed production and marketing.
Findings of the participatory formative assessment of the Seed Systems CoP
A presentation of the findings of a participatory formative assessment of the Seed Systems CoP was made. The study, commissioned by the Root, Tubers and Bananas (RTB) cross cutting seed systems research program, took place between August and November 2016. The aim was to document the steps taken in establishing, running and maintaining the SS-CoP, and identify lessons, which stakeholders working on other RTB seed systems could draw on as they establish and grow their own CoPs. Primary data was collected through email questionnaires and key informant interviews with 25 CoP members. Secondary data was collected from the SS CoP and related documents.
The assessment found that the five mechanisms that the Seed Systems CoP uses (i.e. online D-Group, face-to-face meetings, learning journeys, SASHA SGA and knowledge portal), all provided members with means for the different types of learning. It also concluded that the CoP enabled members to adapt and share knowledge; to network more broadly; learn from each other and obtain solutions to some of the problems they face in their work. Participants worked in groups to reflect on further benefits derived from their participation in the CoP. The outcome of the group discussions will be included in the final assessment report.
Business plans and marketing strategies
The pre-basic seed system sub-grantees are at different stages of implementing business plans that will help their institutes run successful sweetpotato seed enterprises and ensure a consistent supply of quality seed. Srini Rajendran, the SASHA project’s agricultural economist, conducted a session to increase participants’ understanding of business plans and marketing strategies. Additionally, Jude Njoku shared the experiences of the National Root Crops Research Institute (NRCRI), where the business plan is gaining acceptance, and some tools are already in use. He explained that a revolving fund has been set up and NRCRI was in working out modalities for opening a sub-account in the institute’s revenue account. Elizabeth Ngundo from the Kenya Plant Health Inspectorate shared her institute’s experience with calculating break even cost, selling price and stakeholder response. She highlighted their pricing structure with four price points, depending on whether advance payment was made when the seed was ordered; and the type of customer – where private multipliers would be charged a lower price compared to institutional customers such as NGOs.
In a three-minute “elevator pitch” each country elaborated their most successful marketing activity, the cost of implementing it; its impact on sales (based on evidence) and its added value/comparative advantage compared to other marketing activities.
On the last day of the meeting, agricultural economists from the partner organizations worked with Rajendran to update their business plans. Lessons and experiences were shared through presentations and inter-country comparisons. The topics covered during this session included: financial tools used in existing business plans to assess profitability, their pros and cons; differences between margin and mark-up, and how to set prices; differences between cost effectiveness and cost benefit analysis; cost estimation methods using real-time data collection; linkages with revolving funds. Participants also practiced how to use new cost templates based on their business plan data.
Other highlights of the meeting were a practical demonstration of LAMP, a user-friendly, field-based detection tool for detection of sweetpotato viruses by Jan Kreuze (CIP Lima) and Bramwel Wanjala (CIP Nairobi), after which participants got a chance to practice independently. Erna Abidin (CIP-Ghana) presented a proposed model by the Jumpstarting Orange-fleshed Sweetpotato in West Africa through Diversified Markets project, for dissemination of sweetpotato planting material. Jan Low (CIP-SSA) spoke of the highlights of the SPHI for 2016, which included the award of the World Food Prize and the Al-Sumait Prize for the African Food Security.
The CoP meeting continues to promote learning
On the last day, some first-time participants shared their views about the meeting. Apollo Kasharu, a business development officer at Biocrops Uganda, said, “I got to understand that early generation seed is the mandate of the national institutions, while private sector comes in at the basic and lower levels. When doing our costing, we have to consider that the source is most likely from a public institution.”
Kasharu rated the group work highly, as it enabled him to pick many perspectives and experiences that he may otherwise have overlooked. He especially liked the presentation from KEPHIS, who according to him, had done a good job of setting realistic prices that take into consideration the actual costs of production. “Most of the public institutions are putting up a revolving fund. In the private sector, we may not run such a scheme, but we can draw ideas from it,” he said.
He explained that the idea of learning journeys was quite impressive, and he would consider using it as one of the promotion methods for the seed business. “The organization was very good, we enjoyed the diversity of people and we have formed a lot of partnerships, because we time to interact with one another,” he added.
Ambilikile Mwenisongole, is a research officer from the Tanzanian Ministry of Agriculture (Department of Root and Tuber Crops), based at the Sugarcane Research Institute. He said that the main challenge for their business – and many other countries – had been costing of activities and materials. “We have learned a lot on how to capture this information. We have also learned a lot about what people are doing in their countries, and it has given us an opportunity to exchange ideas.”
Dr. Hellen Nkoli, an agricultural economist from NRCRI in Nigeria, also realized that many things had not been done correctly when preparing the business plan. With the knowledge she had gained, she felt confident that the errors would be corrected. She also plans to build in new marketing ideas into their business plan. “I hope I will be called to attend the next meeting. Until then, I think we will continue to communicate with each other and build synergies among countries,” she said.
Here is a slideshow of highlights from the meeting.