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Published on 10/08/2018

Fabrice Lheriteau talks about quality declared seeds

In partnership with CTAS, Fabrice Lheriteau, agroecology expert with GRET, is leading a project to improve food security and increase agricultural income in the Androy region  (in French) in the south of Madagascar, which was launched in 2015. We spoke to him on the release of two videos presenting the project through feedback from the various stakeholders involved.

Can you tell us about the food security situation in the south of Madagascar?

The Grand Sud region in Madagascar is regularly affected by episodes of substantial food insecurity, mainly due to recurring drought, poor spread of rainfall and dry winds that cause evaporation of water from the soil. Faced with this situation, farmers have developed a strategy based on tuber crops – manioc and sweet potatoes, which are widely consumed here – and on breeding poultry and small and large ruminants, which eat wild fodder. They sometimes also grow some local leguminous crops that are highly exposed to insect attacks, and short-cycle dwarf maize varieties, which may not last until harvesting but can be used as fodder.  Over the last year, the arrival of the fall armyworm has been generating significant damage to maize crops. In this context, the diversification and selection of resilient crops is essential. In light of this, varieties of pigeon peas, Lima beans and millet were introduced and multiplied. These crops, which can resist long periods of drought, have changed things considerably for several thousand farmers.

How can declared quality seeds respond to farmers’ problems?

Declared quality seeds are seeds that can be produced by local farmers while meeting the minima of seed quality requirements. In legal terms, seeds entail “controls, certification and variety releases”. For seeds to be produced locally by farmers, it is necessary to adapt control procedures (which cannot be as frequent as in private seed companies), keep control criteria to the strict essential, and proceed to release the varieties they wish to produce. In the conventional system, this release is administratively complex. It takes several years and sometimes is unproductive, due to a lack of homogeneity or stability of the genetic characters of local varieties. With the quality declared seed system adopted in the south of Madagascar, these constraints are eliminated; varieties of seed currently being characterised can be produced and made available to farmers, under certain conditions. They can also be registered despite substantial variability within species. These legal adaptations have totally changed the context in which seeds are produced. Several hundreds of local seed varieties are now produced and marketed legally, both in local shops and via distribution for emergency operations.

What challenges are the various stakeholders in the sector now facing?

Firstly the challenge of agreement between development stakeholders and the numerous emergency bodies on a common strategy on seeds, including emergency actions in the seed production system. Seeds distributed by the government or by emergency stakeholders in cases of crisis must be locally produced declared quality seeds purchased from local shops, with purchasing coupons for example. This system was tested and proved successful over several seasons by some operators and the initiative should be renewed. It will also be necessary to train groups of farmers in participative selection, and to include these groups in a scheme bringing together the Ministry of Agriculture’s decentralised services and research stakeholders. These farmers should also be mobilised to test new varieties from other regions of the world, proposed by research bodies such as the International Crops Research Institute for the Semi-Arid Tropics (ICRISAT) or the French agricultural research and international cooperation organization (Cirad). In the future, it will be necessary not only to produce varieties of seeds suitable for growing in drought, but also that have higher nutritional content and are capable of resisting insect attacks – alone or combined with other associated crops.

(Videos in French only)

More information on the project to improve food security and increase agricultural income – Asara-Hoba (in French)
Visit the CTAS (GRET’s partner) website(in French)
More information on GRET’s activities in the area of agriculture
More information on  GRET’s activities in Madagascar