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Policies, laws, and regulations in support of farmer seed systems

Study seeks to identify inspiring recent examples from Africa


Estimates suggest that 60%-80% of the seeds on which smallholder farmers in developing countries depend is saved on farm or obtained through informal distribution channels, such as exchanges between farmers, community sharing systems, and local markets. 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 masks the fact that, almost everywhere, local seed systems are under stress. 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 practices are becoming more market oriented, and this increased involvement in markets has both benefits and costs depending on 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 the workload and responsibilities of women in many regions.

These trends are affecting local seed production, selection, storage, distribution, and exchange practices, for example, through substitution of local varieties with hybrids that can be easily purchased at local markets. Climate change has begun to put 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 better adapted to new weather dynamics.

Towards resilient farmer seed systems

When supportive policy, legal and socioeconomic conditions exist –at local, district and national levels−, a diversity of seed production and distribution practices, including farmer managed practices (e.g. custodian farmers, seed saver groups, community seed banks, local seed businesses, farmer field schools, community-supported agriculture), makes up a resilient seed system. Such a system will contribute to greater food availability throughout the year and will support the production of more nutritious and healthy crops, income generation and a sustainable resource base. A resilient seed system:

Resilient seed systems reduce vulnerability by:

Purpose of the study

This study, carried out under the umbrella of the Integrated Seed Sector Development Africa project (2019-2022), will compile and analyze recent (in the last three years) changes in policies, laws and regulations –at local, district or national levels− (approved or in the process of being approved by national, district or local authorities), in selected African countries, directly related to seed systems that contribute to the (further) development of resilient seed systems; and, in particular, impact positively on farmer seed systems, on the dimensions above mentioned: access, availability, quality, price, diversity,  safety, adaptability, longevity, nutrition and health, and social and spiritual values.

Format of country cases

Countries included in the assignment

Benin, Burundi, Burkina Faso, Ghana, Kenya, Malawi, Mali, Namibia, Nigeria, South Africa, Uganda, Tanzania, Zambia, Zimbabwe

Time frame

The country cases report will be due by 31 March 2022. A review workshop will be organized in April or May 2022, followed by the publication of a compendium of the case studies.


Ronnie Vernooy: r.vernooy [at]

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