Improved Seed System Management
Seed systems are required for all crops. If effective, they provide farmers with sufficient quantities of vigorous disease-free planting material of the required varieties at an affordable price and in time for the planting season. Seed systems can range from those managed by farmers for their own use, those where some of the seed is bartered or traded with nearby farmers, to those where the seed is produced by national organizations or private companies following strict regulations and at large scale.
There needs to be capacity within the seed system to securely maintain pure disease free seed, to generate new varieties with attractive characteristics, and to multiply and disseminate seed. In societies where sweetpotato is considered a ‘woman’s crop’, seed management practices and knowledge are normally in the ‘woman’s realm’. The gender context and dynamics of existing seed practices need to be understood.
In areas with prolonged dry seasons, farmers are unable to access sweetpotato planting material from their previous field crop, and so methods of preserving planting materials during the prolonged dry season and accessing them in time for the new season have developed. Many farmers just wait for the new rains to cause the few sweetpotato storage roots which were left behind in the field at the last harvest to sprout and to then produce foliage. Other methods include the preservation of planting materials in swamps, shady areas of the household yard, and around drainage areas.
In some areas, farmers purchase planting material form those with good access to water and who specialize in the supply of planting material. However, these sources may not always be accessible to the majority of smallholder farmers, in particular women farmers. It is therefore, important to have a reliable decentralized system where multipliers can maintain clean planting material for easy access by farmers.
Most projects and organizations tend to organize their own seed systems to supply clean planting materials to their target communities. However, under the umbrella of the SPHI, there are initiatives to test different technologies, farmer practices and internal and external quality assurance mechanisms for maintaining healthy seed production; and to help build appropriate and cost-effective external regulatory processes.
Whilst interventions to improve seed systems have frequently been achieved at pilot level, the challenge is much greater when it comes to working at the scale of impact required to bring the benefits of clean planting material and / or improved varieties to a wider geographical and higher population coverage.