Vernooy, R., Adokorach, J., Kimani, D., Marwa, A., Mayoyo, A., & Nyadanu, D. (2023). Policies, laws and regulations in support of farmer-managed seed systems: still a long way to go. A review of 14 countries in Africa (PDF, 2MB)

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Estimates suggest that 60-80 percent of the seeds on which smallholder farmers in developing countries depend is saved on farm or obtained through informal distribution channels (rather than through formal channels that are regulated, monitored and sanctioned by government and produced and sold by the private seed sector). This seed is obtained through seed exchanges between farmers in the same or neighboring communities or other community sharing systems (e.g., labor for seed), through community seed bank seed donation and return practices, and at the local fresh food markets (where often both grains and seeds are sold). Farmers manage and control the flows of this seed, through on-farm activities such as sowing, planting, selecting (in the field, pre- or post-harvest), storing, and regenerating. Women farmers play key roles in farmer seed systems, although they are often overlooked by researchers and development personnel, policies, and programs.

This high level of seed autonomy among farmers does not mean there are no challenges. Almost everywhere, local seed systems are under stress (Subedi and Vernooy, 2019). Many farming households have become more individualized in terms of decision-making and deployment of knowledge, labor, capital, and seeds. Traditional seed exchange relationships have become weaker in many areas. Farming production practices are becoming more market oriented, which has both benefits and costs depending on the local context. Large-scale rural-to-urban migration is contributing to a decline in farming in many countries or transforming small-scale family farming into contract farming. It is also leading to the feminization of agriculture, increasing women’s workload and responsibilities in many regions (Chhetri et al., 2020).

These trends are affecting local seed production, selection, storage, distribution, and exchange practices, for example, through substituting local varieties with hybrids that can be easily purchased at local markets or from agrodealers. In this way, formal and informal become intertwined (Kuhlmann and Dey, 2021). Climate change is placing additional pressure on farmers’ seed and food production systems and on the multiple functions that they fulfill. Future impacts of climate change are expected to become more pronounced in many parts of the world, forcing farmers to change their practices and causing them to search for information about crops and varieties that are better adapted to new weather dynamics.