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Harmonizing definitions for sweetpotato seed classes: What role for Monitoring, Learning and Evaluation practitioners?

The Sweetpotato Seed Systems and crop management Community of Practice (SSS-CoP) is in the process of coming up with common definitions for sweetpotato seed classes within sub-Saharan Africa. Countries in the region are at advanced stages towards developing standards for production of quality seed for the various seed classes. However, countries differ in terminologies used for the various classes. For instance, Nigeria refers to the second class as ‘foundation seed’ whereas in Tanzania it is called ‘basic seed’. In addition, Uganda has five classes whereas Nigeria has three. It is therefore important to have common definitions to facilitate trade between countries. To address this need, the SSS-CoP established a working group led by Dr. Bernard Yada, Uganda, to look at the definitions of terminologies used for sweetpotato seed classes in different countries and reach a consensus on the definitions for ease of communication. The group met three times and came up with the following definitions:


Proposed definitions


Handled by breeder after variety release; maintained in small plots with maximum possible quality; should be true to type; may or may not necessarily be clean (no need for virus indexing) 


Generation directly derived from breeder seed multiplied under the control of research centres or private sector that is accredited by the breeder; should be clean (virus indexing required); multiplied in protected screen-houses/net tunnels in research centres; level of protection is very high


Generation derived from pre-basic and multiplied in net tunnels at the farmer’s level; in isolated open fields in areas with low pest and disease pressure 

Certified 1

Generation derived from basic seed and multiplied in open field with legally registered and approved seed companies

Certified 2

The generation derived from cerified-1 and multiplied in open field with legally registered and approved seed companies 


Generation derived from certified (Ghana) 

Quality Declared Seed/Planting Material (QDS/QDPM)

Derived from basic/certified and produced in open field by trained and registered farmer-multipliers 


Any seed that is distributed to farmers to mitigate disaster

After this process the group sought to popularize the definitions among SSS-CoP colleagues and other Communities of Practice within the Sweetpotato for Profit and Health Initiative (SPHI). In February 2017, a member of the working group made a presentation during the Monitoring, Learning and Evaluation Community of Practice (MLE-CoP) Annual meeting held in Maputo, Mozambique on January 29 – February 3, 2017. The presentation provided an opportunity for the MLE-CoP members to share their views. Understanding the definitions will make it easier for MLE colleagues to collect data on the quantity of different seed classes produced/disseminated in various countries and to map multipliers as per the seed class produced. Some of the issues participants of the meeting wanted to know included; how seed producers reward researchers for sustainability of the system; and whether inclusion of emergency seed considers quality. The seed classes recognized in the national seed laws in various countries are breeder to QDS. Emergency seed is not a seed class, but seed that is distributed when there is a disaster. Seed from any of the classes can be collected and distributed as emergency seed in the event of a disaster.

Sweetpotato seed production is yet to become fully commercial in most African countries as the crop is still regarded as substance. Therefore, issues of royalty do not arise at the moment- it’s a public good mostly disseminated through public research institutes. There is limited participation of private companies in sweetpotato seed production but a few enterprising multipliers are starting to emerge. For example, there are several medium-scale farmer-multipliers at the Lake Zone, Tanzania, who have taken up vine multiplication as a business. The International Potato Center (CIP) is working with them on a cost-share basis to enhance their capacities in basic seed production and marketing. They will act as a link between research institutes, who produce pre-basic seed, and farmers.

Members of the MLE-CoP offloading planting material from a truck. Maputo, Mozambique.Photo credit: K. Ogero.

Members of the MLE-CoP are often involved in real time distribution of planting material as shown in the photo above. It is therefore important for them to understand the definitions used for sweetpotato seed classes in different countries. This will make it easier to compare data collected from different countries especially on the type of seed distributed.

Harmonization of the definitions for the different sweetpotato seed classes in SSA comes at a time when the MLE-CoP is also working towards standardizing tools and techniques for systematic capture, analysis and presentation of results. For instance, the Maputo meeting focused on training participants on the indicators’ Manual titled “Tools and Techniques for Monitoring Key Indicators of Sweetpotato Interventions in Sub-Sahara Africa: A Practitioner’s Manual”. The Manual comprises 10 Modules that target collection of data ranging from beneficiaries of orange-fleshed sweetpotato (OFSP) vines, diet quality changes, productivity/yield changes, as well as sales and income changes.  Each module presents a justification, tools for data capture (which can be electronic or paper form), detailed explanation of data transfer to Stata statistical software, and a Stata program for generating results tables. Development of the Manual was supported by the Sweetpotato Action for Security and Health in Africa (SASHA) project. A pamphlet with common definitions for various seed classes can form an important add-on to the Manual especially in Module nine which captures vine distribution. The seed system CoP will continue popularizing the definitions among key sweetpotato stakeholders in the region to expand use and have a common understanding across countries.

Notable quotes from the session:

Dr. Jan Low, Co-Leader, SPHI:We have been working hard to improve the seed system and ensure that farmers get quality seed. It is therefore important to label planting material. Labels are critical for maintaining quality and reputation; it is the same with all crops. Lack of labels leads to some companies taking advantage of farmers during the emergency period. Labeling will help build a pool of repeat buyers because it will help farmers to associate quality with the decentralized vine multipliers (DVMs).”

Dr. Kirimi Sindi, Country Manager, CIP – Rwanda and member of MLE-CoP:The work we have done as CIP and partners has been important in positioning sweetpotato as brand.  Some countries have branded OFSP as something special; remember you may work hard on a brand but it takes a small mistake to spoil that brand. We must ensure that OFSP remains a premium brand because we have spent a lot of money to position it there. In Rwanda, we have created the impression that CIP is the go-to place for first rate seed, and then we refer them to those DVMs who are certified. This is very important in guaranteeing the quality of material and the brand of OFSP.”

About Kwame Ogero


  1. It’s good to brand our OFSP Varietes. DVMs should also be serious in maintaining these varieties because they are important. We are now seeing an increase in the number of farmers demanding OFSP planting material in Tanzania following efforts by researchers to promote the varieties. Therefore, we are encouraging strengthening the capacities of DVMs as one way of reaching out to more farmers.

  2. I must commend the efforts put in place by the committee set up to harmonize the seed classes. but i think some issues need to be addressed 1. The seed classes recognized by African countries are backed up by seed law and can only be reviewed by the law makers and some of this classes harmonizes with the regional seed law eg.The Nigerian seed law harmonizes with that of ECOWAS. Secondly in most countries QDPM is not recognized as one of the seed classes and even the role of community inspectors is not clearly defined.

    My questions are: 1.Can we approach African Union for ratification of this recommendations?.
    2. what necessary steps can we take to ensure that a seed certified in Ghana can move to Nigeria and be accepted

  3. Thank you for your comments. Please note that the focus of the working group is not to harmonize the seed classes but their definitions. As you mentioned the seed classes are entrenched within the seed laws of respective countries and terminologies used differ sometimes. It is on this basis that the working group was established to come up with common definitions for ease of communication. For instance, if you are talking about Foundation seed in Nigeria a colleague in Kenya should be able to understand what you mean. It is true that QDS/QDPM is not part of the seed classes contained in the seed laws of most countries but it is recognized and most often included as an appendix.

    Currently, most countries are working towards developing sweetpotato seed standards for the various classes. The processes have been highly consultative bringing together key stakeholders including farmers, scientists and regulators among others. Published documents such as the FAO QDPM Manual are critical in ensuring that the standards are practical without compromising local and internationals levels. At the same time different regional blocks such as ECOWAS and COMESA have been working towards harmonizing the country seed laws and regulations but largely for cereals. For instance, COMESA recently launched harmonized seed laws for maize, rice, groundnuts, cotton, beans, cassava, wheat, potato, sunflower, sorghum, soybean and millet. The aim is to is to bring about consistent domestication, application, monitoring and improvement in seed certification, quarantine and phytosanitary measures and in the evaluation and release of seed varieties among COMESA member countries. However, as you may note only two vegetatively propagated crops, cassava and potato, have been included. With such efforts, movement of seed across countries will become easier. However, we need to ensure that sweetpotato is not left out. It is also important to involve the African Union at some point since its mandate is larger than the regional blocks.

  4. Thanks Kwame for this detailed analysis.. Lets keep moving sweetpotato to the next level

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