ISSD Africa

African innovation for seed sector transformation

Business models for early generation seed


While the science of discovery has made significant breakthroughs in developing new varieties and agronomic practices, few of these technologies have made their way to smallholder farmers in Sub-Saharan Africa. The science of delivery has still a long way to go.

A large proportion of farmers is using poor quality seed of old sub-optimally adapted varieties. The relatively low adoption rates of improved varieties of crops other than hybrid maize and hybrid vegetables, have been attributed to various factors including limited awareness of new varieties, mismatch between demand and supply, weak institutional and policy environments but also highly variable agro-ecologies.

Relatively low adoption rates of improved varieties of these crops compared to hybrid maize can be partially attributed to limited supply of early generation (breeder and foundation) seed.  A major difference with hybrid maize is that the economic drivers for high quality Grain Legumes and Dryland Cereals (GLDC) seed production and distribution are much weaker, which also makes that EGS production is poorly viable economically.

In this project, EGS integration in seed value-chains of selected crops will be studied to identify critical bottlenecks in production and supply, and interventions to realise models for sustainability of EGS production of GLDC crops will be suggested and tested. 

Action learning questions

Developing sustainable early generation seed supply requires practical evidence on what works, derived from past and current experiences. Through these experiences the project seeks to answer to the following questions:

  • Enabling environment: Which minimum fringe conditions or enabling environment are required for the early generation seed supply to be functional? are the external factors (seed policy, grain market, seed market, seed sector governance)
  • Seed value chain: What is the market organisation which supports sustainable EGS supply? (EGS demand articulation, public-private collaboration, competition, relationships/institutional arrangements, entry conditions, vertical/horizontal integration, diversification, supply capacities, marketing and distribution –economics/efficiencies)?
  • EGS business model: What are sustainable business models for EGS production? (Crop and product diversification, public-private collaboration, vertical integration, institutional partnerships, access to finance, market assurance, marketing strategies).
  • EGS production technology: How can EGS production be made cost effective? (Desired seed classes, effective quality assurance, production technology, infrastructure facility)

These questions should lead us to the ability to analyse the following:

  • How can incentives for performance be reinforced where economic incentives are inadequate to trigger full private commercial EGS supply?
  • What is the realistic role and responsibility of the public and the private sector in assuring sustainable AGS supply?
  • How can successful models be replicated and scaled out?


Outcome 1: Scalable models of EGS seed production identified and published

Outcome 2: Seed sector development initiative design informed by the insights developed through the project