Malawi seed village model benefits farmers, universities, growers

Vithal Karoshi, left, Cornell Malawi AIP country coordinator, explains the seed processing equipment that has been installed at LUANAR in Malawi to Ronnie Coffman, K. Vijayaraghavan, Terry Tucker and K.V. Raman.

Ida Chapuma, a Malawi farmer, used to sell her cow pea seeds to vendors. She complains they offered her low prices. “But now, we have got an assured market with higher prices than before,” she says. “We are very happy with this initiative.”

A revolutionary seed village project in Malawi led by Cornell University brings together farmers, public universities and private enterprises to boost the seed system and improve the incomes and livelihoods of Malawian farmers like Chapuma.

“In Malawi, as in most parts of Africa, access to quality seeds of improved crop cultivars remains a challenge for many smallholder farmers,” said K.V. Raman, international professor of plant breeding and associate director for special projects in International Programs in the College of Agriculture and Life Sciences (IP-CALS), who leads the project. “The country’s private and public sectors are not able to meet the increasing demand for high-quality seeds.”

In response, Cornell and Sathguru Management Consultants partnered to implement a $3 million, three-year, USAID-funded Agriculture Innovation Partnership (AIP) with Lilongwe University of Agriculture and Natural Resources (LUANAR) in Malawi. The project has just concluded and is being considered for scale-up as a joint venture initiative with LUANAR.

“The innovative seed production and delivery model we implemented was similar to the successful seed village model developed at the University of Agricultural Sciences-Dharwad in India during the last decade by faculty who participated in Cornell’s training programs related to curriculum development in the Obama Singh Initiative from 2012 to 2015, funded by the United States-India Educational Foundation,” said Raman.

The Dharwad seed village model implemented in Malawi included private entities who played an active role alongside LUANAR and local farmers. In this public–private partnership, LUANAR developed and provided access to improved foundation seeds, extension support and mechanical seed processing using the new seed processing and testing unit installed at LUANAR under the AIP project. Farmers produced high-quality certified seeds following stringent norms of seed production, as advised by LUANAR and the private seed enterprises engaged with the farmers to market and distribute seeds.

Demonstration plots that used solar-based irrigation and water storage methods to assist farmers in producing seed during the off-season were integral components of the project.

Engaging with farmers

“This initiative, once it attains its optimal scale, will help Malawi become self-sustaining in seed production,” said Raman.

During the three-year project (2014-17), the partnership produced more than 200 tons of quality-certified beans, soy, groundnuts and cow peas involving 1,500 smallholder farmers (38 percent of whom were women), covering 200 hectares of farmers’ fields and 20 hectares of LUANAR land for foundation seed.

“The seed village model in Malawi is helping farmers increase revenue more than 2.7 times ($680/hectare) in comparison with their income from traditional grain production ($250/hectare),” said Raman.

Further dissemination of improved seed varieties will help enhance agricultural productivity of several thousand farmers by more than 1.8 times. As an example, improved cow pea varieties have the potential to achieve yields of 900 kg/hectare compared to the current national average yield of 508.8 kg/hectare.

In addition to focusing on core seed development and production, the AIP project addressed related areas such as training students in all aspects of seed systems through an updated curriculum with an enlarged focus on practical training, especially experiential learning on the farm and at the seed processing unit; building industry capacity through programs that focused on developing technical capabilities and addressing management, finance, marketing and distribution; enhancing the abilities of the seed certification agencies through policy advocacy initiatives; and creating certificate programs for seed inspectors.

“The Cornell-AIP project has provided the necessary linkages to integrate all seed sector players including researchers, extension agents, farmers, private sector and policy planners,” said Raman. “This holistic approach to seed sector development is the need-of-the-hour in the African context. This model has great potential for expansion not only in Malawi but other countries in the region.”

Said Patrick Chingati-Phiri, managing director of CPM-Agri Enterprises, a seed company in Malawi: “This university-private sector partnership has been the missing link in making available improved and high quality seed to farmers and therefore this project is a welcome step. We are excited to be associated with AIP as it is a win-win for all.”

Linda McCandless is communications director for IP-CALS.

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Joe Schwartz