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Essential Reliance on Informal (Market) seed for sustainable soybean introduction in Africa.


Thank you for your reply to my per-webinar email. I am going to remain a little skeptical that you can prime the informal seed market pump through the formal seed services without making a special effort to do so. Just to much vest interested in the formal sector by the seed officers with too much unsubstantiated condemnation of the informal sector with no incentive, motivation, or operational financing to really look at how effective it can me. Certainly SIL does not have the resources to get all the information I suggested but I hope it can insist your local partners do, and get an idea of what the short fall is in formal seed industry capacity that will have to be filled by the informal market. This will include some appreciation that the quality of market seed may not be up to certified seed quality, but with care can be close enough. It would also note the degree USA farmers rely on certified seed each year vs. retained seed. Most seed officers I have encountered think all USA farmers plant fresh certified seed each year, and are surprised that for wheat in Colorado it is only 1/3rd the acreage and only done when they want to change varieties. I cannot speak for soybeans in Illinois, but would expect something similar.

If you cannot get your soybean seed well established in the informal seed distribution system, I fear your whole program will go for naught once your funding eventually ends. This is because if there is only the formal market seed available for soybeans you won’t be able to produce sufficient soybean to meet the process requirements and they will have to rely heavily on imports making collecting local production more hassle then worthwhile, ultimately killing the local production. Also, if seed become limited it will go disproportionally to the large farmers and not be available to smallholders as your primary interest. This would be analogous to the situation when I was in Malawi and it was cheaper and easier to import soybean oil from Brazil than collect and extrude groundnut oil from local groundnut production.

Remember that 90% of smallholder farmers including those you want to grow soybeans are fortunate to have no contact with the government agricultural officers. Too much attempt at supervision, no appreciation to the operational limits with resulting compromises mostly in timing, and too many Gratuities. Thus the need for rely on informal seed sector. There was a program in Nigeria that had an excellent opportunity to address this but opted to concentrate on post-harvest losses instead of seed distribution. It was the USAID funded WASA (West Africa Seed Association). I look at that as a major lost opportunity. For Africa there is a major need for a similar project but specifically aimed at distributing quality seed into remote area relying more on NGO than government to accomplish this.

What is the concern about royalties? I was of the opinion that that CGIAR generated varieties were public domain, and thus no royalties? Patenting only done to protect the public domain. This would also be virtually impossible and expensive to enforce except through the Gratuity system to the enforcing officer, something that will antagonize the farmer to his government as well as the project.

I also think you need to be a little careful in building the technical capacity of seed officers beyond what the host government can financially support. When the technical capacity exceed the supporting finances it become an open invitation to honor/gratuity system. The case in hand is from Keno, Nigeria where there was only one certified seed team for the entire state and just no why they could be effective other than the honor/gratuity system. There is a webpage on case. The direct link is: I fear putting together programs that can only be done via honor/gratuity system is really a disservice to the smallholder farmers as the intended beneficiaries. I would not trust any certified seed program that is not adequately funded.

I think that is enough of my “unrepentant heresy” for one message. Looking forward to the webinar on Thursday.

Would you object if I made this correspondence a post on my website and provided a link during the webinar?

Best regards,


Developing Smallholder Agriculture: A Global Perspective – R.L. Tinsley, AgBe Publishing, US$49 +S&H, Amazon Kindle Edition $30. Website: , Phone: +1-970-491-6970, Skype: anhsomot

From: Goldsmith, Peter D <>
Sent: Sunday, June 2, 2019 5:53 PM
To: Tinsley,Richard <>
Cc: Tamimie, Courtney A <>
Subject: RE: Making Acceptable Quality Soybean Seed Readily Available to Smallholder Farmers

Dear Dick,
SIL takes a complementary approach to the great questions/tactics you outline below. In short, we do not estimate market demand, etc, as our consulting partners do a great job through their seed system and value chain studies. Our departure through the Pan African Trial is a market-based theory of change, which leaves the seed industry to make the marketing decisions as they now for the first time have full and reliable information about varietal performance. We just don’t have the resources to conduct seed studies in the 15 countries of the PAT, so defer to the industry and supporting contractors who are working with farmers. Our partners have been great in this respect. So we just “prime the pump”. Our simple approach is to put adapted high yielding seed in the hands of the industry and let the breeder and the seed company jointly decide what to license, register, and commercialize.

Our key activity metrics for the PAT are countries, locations, organizations, and varieties. Our key outcome metric for the PAT is new varieties registered. We started with one country and 4 locations in 2016, and we will be in 15 countries and 70 locations by year’s end (2019). We are now (2018-2019) seeing commercialization beginning in Kenya, Mali, Malawi, and Zambia. Baby steps.

So listen in at the webinar and see this market-based seed system development strategy in play. Of course in the background are numerous institution and human capacity building activities focused on seed licensing, royalties, varietal selection etc for the tens of partners trialing and evaluating the flood of new commercial materials they have never seen before.

So glad you are along for the ride watching SIL in action.

I trust all is well with you.

Kindest regards,

From: Tinsley,Richard <>
Sent: Monday, May 20, 2019 7:32 AM
To: Tamimie, Courtney A <>
Subject: Making Acceptable Quality Soybean Seed Readily Available to Smallholder Farmers


While I am fully confident the soybean innovation lab, CIAT, etc. can do an excellent job of developing appropriate varieties of soybeans, I am very concerned about getting the seed available to smallholder farmers in each of your host countries particularly those in more remote areas. I recognize that logistic support is one of the largest problems in promoting smallholder agriculture and the sustainable success of innovations like soybeans will largely depend on minimizing the logistic needs. As this applies to soybeans I recognize and accept that throughout Africa over 95% of all seed planted is from informal “market” sources, and the seed industry both public and private will only be able to provide a small percent of the seed needed for a sustainable soybean crop meeting the national need for soybeans. Thus soybean farmers particularly the smallholder and remote farmers will have to continue to rely on “market” seed if they are to produce soybean as a secondary cash crop after meeting their need for their staple crops. Since soybeans is self-pollenated market seed should be of acceptable quality. Thus my series of questions for consideration are:

1. How many hectares will be required to meet your different host country’s soybean needs?
2. How much seed will this require?
3. What is the capacity of your host country’s to produce this much soybean seed from the formal seed sources both private and public?
4. How much seed will have to come from informal “market” sources?
5. If you had 5 or 6 varieties available in an area would it be possible to look at a bin of market seed and tell the degree it was mixed or pure? This is normally possible for rice. The problem is the civil officers have a primary vested interest in promoting the formal seed sector and will often condemn without proof the informal seed sector as bad seed with varieties mixed. However, if it is important I think the dealers can and will be careful to maintain seed purity.
6. Is it basically naïve to expect the formal seed industry to expand sufficiently to meet this need? Remember host countries have very limited financial resources resulting civil officers making many boastful promises that the don’t have the financial ability to fulfil!
7. What would be the climatic conditions such as altitude that will allow soybean seeds to be stored at ambient temperature over the off season and still be sufficiently viable to be planted? My thoughts are above 1200 m. This would be consistent for the above the escarpment in Malawi, and the Jos area of Nigeria where soybeans appear to be well established. Ghana could be a problem as there is very little land above 1200 m.
8. From a historic perspective how many seed development projects developed with donor assistance were able to provide full seed coverage of the targeted crop?
9. Back in the USA what percent of the soybean land is planted to certified seed vs. retained seed? For wheat in Colorado it is only 25-30% certified seed and 70-75% retained seed.
10. Have you looked at the soybean seed program in Thailand? There soybeans are well established at lower altitudes where the seed viability declines in only 6 weeks, but the seed division only produces enough seed for 1/6th the crop and cannot market all of it. Somehow they have sorted out the seed viability problems. Do they have some off-season farmers with enough irrigation access to produce a seed crop, or are they able to move seed from higher altitudes to the low lands in time for planting? That shouldn’t take more than a week or two to sort out.

You cannot think of soybean seeds without considering the need to inoculate the seed with the appropriate rhizobium, thus the related questions:

1. What are the plans for inoculating seeds with viable rhizobium?
2. The next time I visit a smallholder soybean field in Africa will I be pleasantly shocked to sacrifice a plant and find the roots full of healthy pink nodules actively fixing N? So far that has remains only a dream.
3. If you are promoting soybeans for their N-fixation potential to improve soil fertility, but fail to provide a viable and reliable means for inoculating them with rhizobium and thus the promotion is impossible to fulfil, what would be your liabilities to the farmers if they sought compensation for promises unable to be kept?

I think that is enough advanced questions for one webinar. I hope they can simulate some good responses inserted into the presentations. I do have one webpage of an article distributed by ECHO that might be of interest. The link is:

Thank you,



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