RIU - Research Into Use
NERICA rice and other farmer produced quality seed
Long title Transfer and dissemination of emerging agricultural technologies of New Rice for Africa, (NERICA): Improving access to quality seed through public-private partnership in Uganda
Lead organisation National Crop Resources Research Institute (NaCRRI)
Delivery area Kampala, Uganda
Rice has become a priority crop in Ugandan Government strategies because of its potential to curb food insecurity and poverty. The Ugandan Government strategies emphasize rice as an emerging priority crop because of its potential to help reduce hunger and poverty. Of all the stable food crops, rice represents the country's best opportunity to significantly reduce imports. It also has the potential to create employment through production and processing.

Estimated total rice consumption Rice production Shortfall
210,000 tonnes 144,000 tonnes 66,000 tonnes

However there is also export potential to neighbouring countries such as Sudan.

Constraints to rice production include
  • lack of good quality seed
  • distortion in the market as seed of variable quality is provided cheaply or free of charge by relief agencies.

Breeder seed is created when a plant breeder cross fertilises two seeds to produce a new seed. If the characteristics of this seed are considered desirable then it is planted and harvested and is termed foundation seed.

Basic seed is the term used when there is a significant amount of foundation seed so other activities can be carried out i.e. training people in producing good quality seed.

Commercial seed is any seed over which a company has the rights to produce and sell.

Certified seed refers to seed that has been registered by the authorities (a process which is designed to ensure that the seed has something to offer the farmers of a country) and that the seed being sold is of a sufficient quality; i.e. that the seed is not mouldy, it will germinate, it hasn't been poisoned etc. Inspections of certified seed will be ongoing to ensure standards don't drop.

Outgrowers - famers who bulk up foundation seed into basic/commercial seed

This Best Bet will aim to support scaling up, production and delivery of high quality NERICA (New Rice for Africa) rice seed. It will achieve this by working with local seed companies and implementing a marketing strategy to stabilise demand. It will also support the costs of training out-growers and establishing new farmer groups to work with seed companies. This will result in increased production of basic seed through the use of newly identified farmers out-growers trained to produce commercial seed to the quality required. In the past seed production was not seen as important - because it was assumed that farmers would keep their own seed. However the poor quality of the seed and the high numbers of foreign varieties in the farmer-produced seed meant reduction in grain yields and grain which slipped below the quality thresholds.

At the same time the project will train seed company staff as trainers so they can continue activities in the future. Training materials will be produced and made available for use by other companies and entrepreneurs wanting to engage more effectively with out-growers.

NERICA are fast maturing, high yielding varieties of rice with good resistance to drought and disease, and it also cooks well. NERICA was developed by the West Africa Rice Development Association (WARDA) to improve the yield of African rice varieties. NERICA rice is considered to be suitable for cultivation is most parts of Uganda, including the upland and lowland areas. Formerly rice was mainly grown in the lowland areas. Most traditional varieties of rice rely on irrigation and so can only be grown in the uplands in marshy areas.

NERICA refers to a group of varieties of rice - not just one variety of rice. There has to be an emphasis in East Africa on NERICA varieties that are resistant to rice blast disease. Three varieties of NERICA rice have been register by the Ugandan National Seed Certification Service. These are NERICA 1, 4 and 10. Two local seed companies, NASECO and FICA Seeds, have exclusivity contracts for 1 and 10 respectively.

The NERICA Advantage
  • Higher yields (by 50% without fertilizer and by more than 200% with fertilizer)
  • Earlier maturity (by 30–50 days)
  • Resistance to local stresses
  • Higher protein content (by 2%)

Source: AfricaRice : swww.warda.org
Private sector companies are already trading in NERICA rice and are working with out-growers to produce seed. However, they do not have the capacity to provide adequate training for farmers to ensure they deliver a high-quality product or expand the number of out-growers. As a result companies are forced to accept seed purities lower than the standard required. They are also having difficulties increasing the volumes of seed produced. Basic seed is provided by the NaCRRI seed unit - which has mechanisms in place to allowing it to operate commercially.

High demand for rice seed means that often poor quality grain is sold as seed. Also, seed production was not originally prioritized because it was assumed that farmers could produce their own seed. However, the poor quality and high proportion of 'foreign' (non-NERICA) varieties in farmer-produced seed has resulted in reduced grain yields as well as a failure to meet the minimum quality criteria for export - or even to supply local demand. Initiatives to date on seed quality have not been at a scale to have a significant impact on the supply chain. FAO has funded farmer training, but it focused on community-based seed production rather than linkages with the private sector.

This RIU Best Bet seeks to establish and stabilize production and delivery of the high quality seed needed to maintain the value chain, complementing community-based approaches with private sector seed supply. This is achieved by supporting the increased production of basic seed and a shift to full costing of the product; training existing and newly identified farmer out-growers to produce commercial seed to the quality required by companies so that they are able increase the volume of seed to the required quality. This should stabilize demand for seed beyond public supported initiatives.

In Uganda basic and commercial seed must be certified. Seed companies and merchants must both be licensed to trade. Seed companies primarily target district level agro-dealers, who in turn move the product to sub-county level rural outlets. Although contracts are largely with the larger dealers, companies also seek to engage with sub-county level clients to ensure good product knowledge at the point of sale. Company licenses are purchased each year and annual production and planting returns are produced for verification - this ensures quality and purity. The returns provide details, including names of seed producers, acreage, location, type of seed (foundation or certification) and planting date. Regulatory authorities are required to carry out three inspections of seed production fields per cropping cycle, although funding constraints make this difficult to achieve. Factory controls are carried out before the seeds are bagged to verify germination and purity of the product. Seed companies have to pay for these regulatory activities. Whilst regulation guarantees the seed quality, it inevitably increases the final cost.

The project has been scaled to volumes that each private sector company believes they can handle. Both seed companies will aim to deliver the product through agreements with existing networks of agro-dealers. At present distribution is primarily through district level dealers, but the aim is to link sub-county enterprises with district distributors to improve market penetration. NASECO and CAII already have countrywide coverage. However, in the project the two companies will target separate areas: NAESCO the Mid Western Zone; CAII the Lake Victoria crescent.

This project impacts on the key issue of inadequate seed supply and the best guess is that the demand will match this supply. However, the market is complicated as a result of large qualities of seed being channeled to farmers through NGOs and donor initiatives. This creates an expectation that seed will be cheap or free. This project will seek to stabilize the market by:
  • Promotion and awareness raising of the importance of and increased economic return from good quality seed
  • Supporting distribution through existing private sector agro-dealer networks.

RIU-backed rice projects share learning. March 2011 (15:42)   RIUtv
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