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Food Security

, Volume 10, Issue 4, pp 1089–1103 | Cite as

Maize seed systems in different agro-ecosystems; what works and what does not work for smallholder farmers

  • J. Coosje Hoogendoorn
  • Genevieve Audet-Bélanger
  • Christian Böber
  • M. Laura Donnet
  • Kennedy Bisani Lweya
  • R. K. Malik
  • Peter R. Gildemacher
Original Paper

Abstract

Maize is a food field crop with a highly developed formal seed sector. The study reported here, involving 4 case studies in Malawi, Zambia, the state of Chiapas in Mexico and the state of Bihar in India, indicates that smallholder farmers are increasingly purchasing seed from the formal maize seed system in these different parts of the world. Points of sale vary from seed agent and agro-dealer to the local rural market. Many farmers are growing hybrid varieties, although, in particular, under conditions where higher yields justify seed costs, and with the objective of maize grain sales rather than home consumption, for which traditional varieties continue to be grown. While the findings indicate well-functioning seed value chains in the areas of study, producer surveys and seed value chain analysis also pointed to significant weak links in the formal maize seed systems that need to be improved, such as certification and seed quality control at point of sale, and the availability of financial services to support investments by farmers in quality seed and in seed entrepreneurship. The seed subsidy programs in Malawi and Zambia are likely to have stimulated the use of hybrid seed, but it is questionable whether farmers will continue to purchase hybrid seed if subsidies cease to be available. Although the 4 areas of study are relatively well developed, still a genuine demand for improved open pollinated varieties (IOPVs), local varieties and/or on-farm seed saving was identified. Therefore it should be recognized that even for maize, in addition to the private formal seed value sector based on hybrid varieties, there remains a task for public maize breeding efforts and farmer based maize seed systems for the foreseeable future.

Keywords

Seed access Seed quality Hybrids IOPVs Local varieties Chiapas Bihar Malawi Zambia 

1 Introduction

Smallholder farmers obtain seeds through both informal and formal seed systems. In informal seed systems, locally produced seed is exchanged and traded among family members, neighbours, and at the local rural market without formal external quality assurance (Louwaers and de Boef 2012). Personal relations and trust are the main quality control mechanisms, and because of the short chain, these checks and balances function. However, informal seed systems do not provide access to hybrid varieties,1 with much higher yield potentials, resulting from public and private crop improvement efforts. Access to hybrid varieties is through the formal seed system. The formal seed system benefits from external quality assurance, but it is less flexible in tailoring to specific local demand.

From a smallholder farmer point of view both systems have their merits, and through which system they procure seed, depends on crop, market value, varietal characteristics, accessibility, price and seed quality. From an institutional economics perspective, such mixed systems, characterized by crop intraspecific diversity, enable cropping systems that are less sensitive to production-risk (Bellon 1996) and can keep the capacity of crops to adapt to both changing environmental conditions and socio-economic needs high (Bellon et al. 2015).

Maize is one of the dominant cereals grown by smallholder farmers in low and middle income countries. It is both important as a food crop for home consumption and for income generation. In most parts of the world, white maize is used for food production, while yellow maize, usually of the dent type, is used for processing into (poultry) feed and derived products such as starches and edible oil. About 1 billion tons of maize are produced annually in the world (FAO 2016). Of the total production 15% is estimated to be used directly for human consumption, and the other 85% for animal feed and processing (http://www.iita.org/maize; FAO 1992; Brown et al. 1985).

Of all field crops grown for food and feed, maize has the most advanced formal crop improvement and commercial seed production and distribution system. Maize is the key crop for most seed companies and it is the food & feed crop that they sell most widely in developing countries (Access to Seeds Foundation 2016). Although, compared with other crops, maize seed tops the list of formal seed supply to smallholder farming systems, McGuire and Sperling (2016) found, in their comprehensive study, that only 18% of smallholder farmers in the 6 countries that were studied, bought maize seed from officially recognized agro-dealers. Forty-two percent bought seed in rural markets, characterized as an informal channel, and the remaining 40% used maize seeds saved from their own fields. Smale and Olwande (2014) found in Kenya that when smallholder farmers bought hybrid maize seed this was mainly a commercial decision based on seed/grain price ratio. They also found that most farmers opted for an older hybrid, suggesting that the maize breeding programmes serving the seed system were, according to the perspective of the farmers, not able to improve on this older material.

In the study reported here we analyzed maize seed systems both at the farmer level and the institutional level in different agro-economic systems. We explored from both angles what works and what does not work to provide smallholder farmers access to maize varieties, in particular through formal seed systems. We studied bottlenecks, for example regarding
  • Characteristics of varieties (yield, disease resistance, end-use quality)

  • Type of varieties (hybrids, improved open pollinated varieties (IOPVs), local varieties)

  • Seed Markets (price, accessibility of seed, distribution channels)

  • Services (certification, extension, quality control, finance, subsidies).

By analysing across different systems, we aimed to contribute to better functioning of maize seed sectors, serving smallholder farmers not only in our research regions but beyond. Since maize has a leading role in formal seed systems targeting smallholder farmers, we also discuss our results from the perspective of presently less formal seed systems for other crops important for smallholder farmers.

2 Materials and methods

A mixed-method approach, combining qualitative and quantitative research tools, was used to assess the functioning of the formal maize seed sector at seed-user level in four case study areas.

2.1 Case study areas

Four case study areas were chosen. Together these four areas provide a relevant mix of maize seed sectors, which varied significantly in maize use, smallholder farming systems and seed systems:
  • State of Bihar, India: Bihar has become an important hub for commercial maize production in India. In Bihar there are three cropping seasons per year: Rabi (October to March, cool and long), Summer (April to June) and Kharif (July to October, hot and wet). Maize used to be grown in Bihar in the Kharif season, and mainly for feed and food subsistence purposes. Now it is predominantly grown in the long Rabi season (Singh et al. 2012) and during the last 10 years maize grain production for the market has grown exponentially in the state (Damodaran and Singh 2015). The latter has been accompanied by the introduction of high yielding yellow hybrid varieties required by e.g. the poultry industry in addition to the traditional white grain varieties more popular for human consumption. In Bihar the research reported in this paper was done in collaboration with the Cereal Systems Initiative for South Asia (CSISA, http://csisa.org/), which seeks to increase cereal productivity and farm income through the breeding of improved varieties of rice, wheat and maize, accompanied by suitable agronomic and management practices.

  • State of Chiapas, Mexico: Maize originated in Mexico (Goodman 1976) and was and remains the most important staple crop in the country. The many local varieties (‘criollos’) of the crop represent a wealth of biodiversity, and are linked with a long tradition of agronomic and cultural practices in Mexican society, such as ‘milpa’, mixed cropping of maize, typically with beans and squash. At the same time, Mexico in general and including Chiapas, has a fairly well developed maize industry for both flour and tortilla and animal feed which uses highly industrialized maize procurement practices. In the state of Chiapas, in the South-West of the country, maize is grown during the spring-summer season (March to September). In Chiapas the research reported in this paper was carried out in collaboration with MASAGRO (http://www.cimmyt.org/project-profile/masagro-maize/), a joint CIMMYT and Mexican Ministry of Agriculture programme that aims to increase maize and wheat productivity by enhancing farmers’ access to appropriate technologies, including improved seed.

  • Malawi: In Malawi, maize is the most important staple crop for food security for smallholder farmers. Maize is grown mainly in the summer or long rains season (November to April). The main use of maize in Malawi is for human consumption. Research was carried out in collaboration with the Drought Tolerant Maize for Africa (DTMA; http://dtma.cimmyt.org/) project, which aimed to mitigate drought and other constraints in sub-Saharan Africa by developing drought tolerant and disease resistant maize varieties.

  • Zambia: Like Malawi, maize is the most important staple crop for food security in Zambia. It is the main food and, in addition to cotton, the main cash crop for many smallholder farmers in the country. Smallholder farmers produce maize once a year, mainly during the long summer rains (November to April). Research was carried out in collaboration with the Sustainable Intensification of Maize-Legume Systems for the Eastern Province of Zambia project (SIMLEZA), which aims to intensify maize and legume production by increasing yield through the use of better adapted varieties, by improving crop management, and by applying conservation agriculture and biological nitrogen fixation concepts.

2.2 Site surveys to assess seed user practices

Quantitative surveys in each of four areas encompassing 250 to 350 smallholder farmers divided over two survey sites, and supported by focus group discussions (FGDs) and interviews around those same sites, provided insights into characteristics of the functioning of the maize seed sector, including farmers’ perspective on varieties and seed sources (Table 1).
Table 1

Overview of sites surveyed and key statistics on farmers, their main maize crops and type of seed used for these main maize crops in their last and last but one maize growing season

Site & date of survey (2015)

Geography

No of farmers surveyed

Average yield of main maize crop (kg/ha)

5% cia average yield (kg/ha)

% Local variety

% Recycled Hybrid

% IOPV

% Hybrid

Malawi, 21–28 May

Central Region

       

Salima

Salima District

141

1517

107

12

16

4

68

Ukwe

Lilongwe District

176

1584

119

22

9

3

66

Zambia, 18–24 June

Eastern province

       

Saili

35 km S of Chipata

177

2126

143

30

14

0

57

Chikube

45 km N of Chipata

125

2106

166

32

12

0

57

Mexico, 2–9 July

Chiapas

       

Tuxtla Gutiérrez

In the vicinity of the town

178

3610

180

16

0

17

67

Comitán

150 km SE of Tuxtla Gutiérrez

154

1283

100

100

0

0

0

India, 28 August – 3 September

Bihar

       

Samastipur

80 km E of Patna

139

4870

261

4

0

30

66

Muzaffarpur

70 km NE of Patna

136

6160

281

1

0

21

78

aci - confidence interval

To gather quantitative information, a household survey was developed. The survey consisted of questions covering data on family composition and wealth, to allow calculation of the Out of Poverty Index,2 to assess the importance of maize for the farmer, and to identify practices relevant for maize seed choice and seed use. Emphasis was placed on specific data for the last two main maize crops of the household, defined as the main maize field on the farm in the last and the last but one maize growing season. The surveys were rolled out in each of the four areas and two sites determined with the help of local consultants. The two sites were selected as being typical for maize cultivation in the area, but not too close together – in all four areas sites were at least 80 km apart. Further details about the sites are presented in Table 1.

Locally hired enumerators were trained to carry out the surveys, using tablets, by testing the survey tool with maize producers. Based on the training and testing, the tool was adapted, if needed, and tailored to the local context. Quantitative data collection lasted for 7 days in each area. To structure daily data gathering, villages were selected based on a transect pathway approach from the main survey site settlement. Each day a different direction was taken along which 4 to 5 villages, each with at least 20 households and representative of the zone regarding agricultural practices, were selected for the study with the support of local extension officers. This transect pathway approach enabled surveying of villages at various distances from the survey site main settlement. On average in each village, 8 to 10 interviews of an average of 40 min each were conducted. Enumerators dispersed themselves in the village first, then interviewed a first randomly selected household in the area. For the second, or sometimes third household to be interviewed by the same enumerator in the village, they were asked to perform a transect walk to the right of the household just surveyed and select the third house they encountered for the following interview.

In addition one or two focus group discussions (FGDs) were held per survey area, which brought together 10 to 30 farmers. This was done to clarify difficult to understand results (both numbers and qualitative descriptions) from the survey. The village selected to host the FGD was one of the villages in which the survey had taken place, and was deemed representative of the villages surveyed, based on village demographics, land sizes, maize varieties used, extension and other agricultural services. Local contacts helped gather participants through a snowballing process, but no incentive was offered for participation.

2.3 National or state level seed sector and seed value chain analysis

The Seed Sector Analysis (SSA) is a multi-stakeholder process tool for understanding the composition, distinctness and variation within a seed sector and takes a systematic perspective in analyzing the seed systems (Subedi et al. 2013). It helps to identify and describe the different seed systems, the different pathways by which farmers access seed, which together make up the seed sector. The tool assists in identifying the strengths and weaknesses of different seed systems, and can be applied to identify key factors, which have been instrumental in the development process as well as the preconditions for development to take place within a specific environment. SSA was used to explore in a qualitative way the cause-effect relationship between seed sector development and the adoption of new maize varieties.

The Seed Value Chain Analysis (SVCA) is a related tool that appraises the functioning of services within the seed value chain (Audet-Bélanger et al. 2013). The tool helps to analyze flows of the product by looking at services such as financial resources and knowledge provision, and explores whether linkages between stakeholders are effective and efficient in terms of the performance of the entire value chain.

The SVCA and SSA tools were used at one day national or state level workshops held in all four case study areas with stakeholders in the maize seed system, combined with additional interviews held with key-informants (Table 2). For the invitations to the workshops and for key-informant interviews, criteria for selection included relevance, diversity of stakeholders and role in the formal maize seed value chain. Workshop participants and interviewees included policy makers, national and international seed companies, extension agents, agro-dealers, seed traders associations, NGO staff and researchers.
Table 2

Overview of dates, locations and numbers of attendees at the national and state level workshops as well as the number of additional key-informants interviewed

Area

Workshop location

Workshop date

Number of workshop attendees

Number of additional key informants interviewed

Bihar

Pusa

25 August 2015

15

12

Chiapas

Tuxtla Gutiérrez

30 June 2015

23

21

Malawi

Lilongwe

19 May 2015

11

17

Zambia

Lusaka

16 June 2015

9

19

2.4 Historic perspective

Workshops, key informant interviews and the farmer household surveys also included questions on how seed systems were operating a decade ago, to enable an analysis of recent developments and identification of trends. The questions asked about the maize seed sector in the past were similar to those asked about the present situation, although fewer and more concise, since it was realized that recalling extensive quantitative data over such a time frame would not be easy for household and/or workshop participants.

3 Results and discussion

3.1 Site surveys to assess seed user practices

Table 1 provides an overview of the survey sites, yields and seed types used for main maize crops. Table 3 describes the importance of maize for the livelihood of the farming households. The questionnaires and the collected data are available in a database (Audet-Bélanger et al. 2016a) and a set of four specific area reports that are available from the MAIZE website (Audet-Bélanger et al. 2016b, c, d, e).
Table 3

The importance of agriculture and maize for income generation among surveyed farmers, expressed in % of farmer households (HHs)

 

HHs where agriculture provides >75% of income

HHs where maize provides >50% of agriculture derived income

HHs consuming >50% of maize produceda

% of HHs estimated to be below the poverty lineb

Malawi

89

59

96

59

Zambia

62

45

71

89

Mexico/Chiapas

70

100

TG-5; C-50

0

India/Bihar

61

47

16

54

aTG - Tuxtla Gutiérrez; C – Comitán;

bPoverty line Malawi, Zambia and Mexico at 2 USD/day; India at 2.5 USD/day

Table 3 shows that for farmers surveyed at all sites, agriculture and maize cultivation are important for livelihoods. In Malawi, Zambia and Comitán, Mexico, maize is very relevant for subsistence, while in Bihar and Tuxtla Gutiérrez, Mexico, farmers market most if not all of the maize produced. The Out of Poverty Index results show that farmer households surveyed in Zambia were relatively the poorest, while it is likely that all farmers surveyed in Chiapas live above the poverty line. According to the surveyed farmers, very little had changed regarding their dependency on agriculture and maize for their incomes in the last 10 years.

Although the sites surveyed can be classified as similar maize mega-environments: non-equatorial, sub-tropical lowland or mid-altitude (Hartkamp et al. 2000), the yields reported by the farmers for their main maize crops were very different, varying from an average of 1283 kg/ha for Comitán to 6160 kg/ha for Muzaffarpur (Table 1). Intercropping appeared to be common in all research areas. Growing a mixture of maize varieties on purpose was reported as well by the farmers surveyed, but did not appear to be common in Chiapas.

At all sites, with the exception of Comitán, the majority of seed used by farmers are hybrid varieties (Table 1). This includes single cross, double cross and three way cross materials. The latter two types are most common in Malawi and Zambia and in Chiapas, while in Bihar single crosses are most common. At all sites with the exception of the two Bihar sites, traditional local varieties still play a significant role. Since in Bihar the main maize crops are grown mainly for the feed market, it is not surprising that very few traditional, farmer selected, varieties are being grown there. However, at the Bihar sites, as well as at the Tuxtla Gutiérrez site in Chiapas IOPVs are significantly present. At the Malawi and Zambia sites farmers also report using and buying recycled hybrid seed i.e. second generation seed harvested from a hybrid field crop. Recycling of hybrids was also reported during FGDs at the Bihar sites with the specific purpose of producing green fodder for farm animals during the Kharif season, even though this practice did not emerge from the quantitative data collected. It should be remembered that the data presented in Table 1 are for the main maize plot of households. These plots are the most likely to receive the highest investments and hence be planted with hybrids and grown for the market. Less important additional maize plots, cultivated by the household, could have been planted with more traditional materials, such as local varieties and farm saved seed.

Since there were significant differences in yield levels and/or seed types between survey sites within Chiapas and Bihar, but few differences between sites within Malawi and Zambia, site survey data for Chiapas and Bihar are presented predominantly separately in the remainder of this paper while data from Malawi and Zambia have been pooled across sites.

3.1.1 Variety choice

Table 4 shows the most important reasons for maize producers at the surveyed sites to opt for a variety. At all survey sites yield potential was the main reason for variety choice, except for the farmers in Chiapas growing ‘criollos’, for whom the suitability of the variety to be recycled was found to be the major factor in their variety choice. In Zambia and Malawi availability and subsidies were also major reasons to opt for a variety, as well as end use, including processing quality. The importance given to early maturity and drought tolerance in Malawi confirms that drought is a major constraint in the country. In Bihar availability and trust in the origin of the seed were found to be important, indicating potential reliability issues with seed suppliers. Interestingly, in none of the areas marketability was mentioned as a major reason for farmers to choose a variety.
Table 4

Most important reasons to choose a variety for the main maize crop (% of producers surveyed; rows may not necessarily add up to 100% due to additional reasons of less importance)

 

High yield

Drought tolerant

Flood tolerant

Early maturity

Available at the time

Can be recycled

Subsidy or seed was free

Trust origin of the seed

Attractive for the market

End use (Food, feed & processing quality)

Malawi

21

14

1

14

11

10

9

2

1

14

Zambia

18

5

0

9

13

5

18

4

1

22

Mexico/Chiapas

Tuxtla Gutiérrez

55

3

0

0

6

10

2

18

0

3

Comitán

0

0

0

0

7

89

0

2

0

1

India/Bihar

Samastipur

29

2

0

3

21

8

1

15

4

11

Muzaffarpur

33

3

0

3

22

6

0

19

5

9

In Malawi and Zambia farmers have facilitated access to seed of hybrid maize varieties in those years in which they are eligible for a national agricultural input subsidy system, called the Farm Input Subsidy Programme (FISP) (Chirwa and Dorward 2014; Mofya-Mukuka et al. 2013). In years without subsidy most farmers in these countries reverted to local varieties or recycled hybrids. In Mexico, the centre of origin of the crop, maize is the major staple, and in the state of Chiapas both highly traditional maize seed systems fully based on local varieties (‘criollos’) and areas growing modern hybrids were surveyed, which explains the relative importance of suitability for recycling in Chiapas compared with the other case study areas, as well as the difference between the two sites in Chiapas. In Bihar, maize is not the most important food crop, but is increasingly grown by smallholder farmers for sale as feed to the poultry industry. In both districts, the majority of producers surveyed sow hybrids, but interestingly ‘Lakshmi’, a 30 year old IOPV, was still commonly found and was the most widely grown variety at both sites (30% of plots in Samastipur and 21% in Muzaffarpur). Smale and Olwande (2014) describe the continued popularity of a similarly old and tested variety in Kenya, although this was a hybrid.

Among the hybrid varieties those of Dekalb, a Monsanto brand, and Pioneer Hi-Bred were reported by farmers in all areas, illustrating the global presence of these two companies, with additional hybrids marketed by more regional or national level seed companies and other multi-national seed companies.

3.1.2 Seed sourcing

Table 5 describes how and where farmers acquire seeds. At all sites most farmers rely on their own judgement and that of their families, friends and neighbours for variety choice, more so than on the advice of formal actors such as agro-dealers, seed companies and extension services. The sources of maize seeds, however, show interesting differences. In Comitán all seeds were farm saved but in India hardly any farm or community saved seed was used. In Zambia the rural market played no role in the supply of maize seed, seed was either farm-saved or acquired from cooperatives. This can be explained by the fact that cooperatives are the primary official channel to obtain subsidized maize seed in Zambia. At all sites, with the aforementioned exception of Comitán, formal seed sources such as agro dealers and cooperatives play major roles. Seed companies are minor players in seed retailing, except in Tuxla Gutiérrez where this source was relatively important.
Table 5

Source of seed advice and source of seed (% of main maize crops)

Site

Advicea

Source

Informal

Informal

Formal

Formal

Informal

Rural market

Formal

Formal

Own opinion

Community

Agro-dealer/seed company

Extension public/NGO

Own fields & community

Agro-dealer, cooperatives

Seed company and seed producers

Malawi

b

48

25

21c

24

22

51

4

Zambia

34

21

9

21c

42

2

56

0

Mexico/Chiapas

Tuxtla Gutiérrez

21

37

20

16

16

11

55

18

Comitán

64

36

0

0

100

0

0

0

India/Bihar

Samastipur

5

39

54

2

6

50

38

6

Muzaffarpur

6

33

56

4

1

45

46

7

a Does not always add up to 100%, advice from producer groups has been left out, since these can be both formal and informal

bIncluded in ‘Community’

cIncludes decision to buy a certain variety because of the availability of subsidies

We analysed the role of rural markets in more detail, since they are often considered a source of mainly informal seed (Louwaers and de Boef 2012; McGuire and Sperling 2016). Table 6 shows that the main type of maize seed that is being bought at rural markets in Malawi, Bihar and Tuxla Gutiérrez is hybrid seed, which because of its nature, is likely to have been obtained from a formal source. Local varieties are not or are only to a very limited extent sold at rural markets. In addition to hybrids, the rural markets in Tuxla Gutiérrez and Bihar were a source of IOPVs. Also these are likely to be from a formal seed source, given the fact that the other major source of IOPVs were actually agro-dealers. Therefore our data strongly suggest that the rural markets at the sites investigated in Malawi, Bihar, and Tuxla Gutiérrez can be considered important outlets for formal maize seed.
Table 6

Maize seed sales (% of total number of seed acquisitions) at rural markets. Zambia and Chiapas-Comitán not included due to insignificance of maize seed sales through rural markets

 

Local variety

IOPV

Recycled Hybrid

Hybrid

Malawi

3

2

20

75

Mexico/Chiapas

Tuxtla Gutiérrez

0

26

74

India/Bihar

Samastipur

29

71

Muzaffarpur

20

80

However, in Malawi rural markets were also a major source of recycled hybrids, which are highly unlikely to be from a formal source. This is thought to be the result of poor availability of (subsidized) seed of hybrids in the country, which has resulted in significant recycling and trade of recycled hybrid seed. In fact both in Zambia and Malawi even agro-dealers were mentioned by farmers as sources for seed of recycled hybrids.

Table 7 gives an overview of average reported prices for grain as well as hybrid seed and average yields. There are clear parallels between grain and seed prices, with higher reported grain prices going together with higher prices for seed of hybrid varieties in the more mature markets such as Chiapas/Mexico. The subsidized price in Malawi and Zambia is 60–80% lower than the commercial prize quoted by seed companies. Furthermore, companies and farmers report very different commercial hybrid seed prices in Malawi and Zambia, while in Chiapas and Bihar (where there is no subsidy on seeds) the prices quoted by seed companies and farmers are more or less equal. The price quoted by farmers in Zambia and in Malawi for un-subsidized seed of hybrid varieties is in between that of the official company price and the subsidized price. In Malawi this may be explained by the fact that farmers regularly sell some of their subsidized seed at lower price than that recommended by seed companies in order to obtain cash for other essential household needs, as is the experience of DMTA staff in the country.
Table 7

Seed prices in relation to grain prices: average grain prices at time of harvest, hybrid seed prices and grain yields averaged per areaa. Yields followed by the same letter are not significantly different at P = 5% within an area

 

Malawi

Zambia

India/Bihar

Mexico/Chiapasb Tuxtla Gutiérrez

Maize grain sale price (USD/t)

110

120

160

190

Maize hybrid seed price without subsidy (USD/kg) As reported by seed companies

2.20

1.80

3.80

4.75

Maize hybrid seed price without subsidy (USD/kg) As reported by farmers

0.77

0.80

3.60

4.84

Maize hybrid seed price subsidized (USD/kg) As reported by farmers receiving seed + fertilizer subsidy

0.38

0.62

Average yield (kg/ha)

1560

2058

5486

3610

Average yield local varieties (kg/ha)

1350 (a)

1710 (a)

ncc

1898 (a)

Average yield IOPVs (kg/ha)

nc

nc

4554 (a)

3887 (b)

Average yield recycled hybrid seed (kg/ha)

1518 (ab)

1589 (a)

nc

nc

Average yield hybrids (kg/ha)

1617 (b)

2421 (b)

5901 (b)

3951 (b)

aExchange rates from national currencies to USD dd 16.06.16

bComitán excluded due to the absence of hybrid seed use

cnc - mean yields not calculated because fewer than 35 data points were available

There were no hybrids grown in Comitán in Chiapas. At all other sites the average yield of hybrids was higher than those of local varieties (P < 5%) and also higher than that of IOPVs in Bihar (where hardly any local varieties were grown). In the case of Malawi, all other things being equal, the advantage of using hybrid seed over seed of local varieties by the surveyed farmers would only have been 0.27 t/ha or 30 USD. This would have covered the cost of subsidized hybrid seed, 12.5 USD, just about the cost of unsubsidized seed at prices quoted by farmers (19.3 USD) but not at all the cost if seed were bought without subsidy and directly from a company (55 USD; all calculated with a common seeding rate of 25 kg/ha). Similarly for the producers in Zambia the average yield gain of 0.73 t/ha or 88 USD between using local varieties and hybrid seed, compared to seed costs (seeding rate of 25 kg/ha) of 15.5 USD with subsidy, 20 USD when bought without subsidy at the price quoted by farmers, and 45 USD without subsidy. These estimates may explain some of the reluctance of the surveyed farmers in Zambia and Malawi to also invest in hybrid seed without having access to subsidies. Scenario studies by Pixley and Bänzinger (2004) on added yield value of hybrids at low input levels add support to this hypothesis.

3.1.3 Significant and non-significant changes in 10 years

The farmers surveyed appeared to have been similarly dependent on agriculture and on maize 10 years earlier, both for subsistence use and as a source of income. To a certain extent this may have been caused by the fact that they were still smallholder farmers in 2015, and households that may have been farmers 10 years earlier but have moved out of smallholder agriculture will not have been part of the survey. Farmers indicated that they found it difficult to provide data for a decade back; for example because they were not yet farming at that time, or lived and farmed under different types of family and community settings. Therefore the historic data have limitations and should be interpreted with caution.

In Bihar a large majority of farmers (90%) indicated that 10 years earlier yields had been lower. For the remainder, reports were mixed between increases and decreases of maize yields. The yield increase in Bihar is likely to reflect the surge of maize production promoted by the animal feed industries. All surveys indicated increased use of agrochemicals, in particular fertilizers.

Table 8 provides an overview of the main findings on changes in seed use, variety choice and seed sourcing. The table shows that everywhere, with the exception of Comitán in Chiapas, there has been a clear change from a more informal and local varieties based situation to a greater role of hybrids and formal seed supplies. Noteworthy is the continuing strong reliance on advice from family and community on variety choice at all locations, although also formal entities, such as cooperatives, agro-dealers, seed companies and extension services, are playing increasing roles compared with a decade earlier. In Malawi and Zambia seed subsidy systems were introduced a little more than a decade earlier, and this appears to have strengthened the role of the formal seed system. In Bihar maize was grown by only 30–40% of the farmers surveyed, while in 2015 maize was grown regularly by virtually all farmers. In 2015, surveyed producers purchased greater amounts of formal maize seed in Bihar than 10 years previously.
Table 8

Changes in seed choice (%) compared with 10 year earlier (10ye)

Site

  

Seed used

Advice on seeda

Seed source

 

Local variety

IOPV

Recycled Hybrid

Hybrid

Informal

Formal

Informal

Rural market

Formal

Malawi

2015

18

4

12

67

48

46

24

22

55

10ye

39

6

7

48

68

30

46

12

41

Zambia

2015

30

0

12

56

56

30

42

2

56

10ye

68

0

7

23

82

12

74

1

25

Mexico/Chiapas

Tuxtla Gutiérrez

2015

16

17

67

58

36

16

11

73

10ye

52

14

34

89

10

54

8

37

Comitán

2015

100

0

0

100

0

100

0

0

10ye

100

0

0

100

0

100

0

0

India/Bihar

Samastipur

2015

4

30

66

43

57

6

50

44

10ye

36

0

64

78

22

20

58

22

Muzaffarpur

2015

1

21

78

39

61

1

45

53

10ye

19

5

79

52

48

20

58

22

adoes not always add up to 100%, advice from producer groups has been left out, since these can be both formal and informal

3.1.4 Gender

Small scale agricultural producers are usually family farms, and both men and women play important roles. However, although targeted efforts were made through local partners to engage with women farmers, both in India/Bihar and in Mexico/Chiapas women maize producers did not participate in the producer surveys. In Bihar as well as in Chiapas, surveyed villagers stated repeatedly that women were not in charge of maize production. In Chiapas, there were indications that with the introduction of more mechanized cultivation practices their role seemed to be diminishing even further. In Bihar, women are, to a certain extent, involved in production but within the household context may have limited decision power.

At the survey sites in Malawi and Zambia, 55% of the producers interviewed were women farmers. At all survey sites in these countries no significant differences (P > 0.05) were found between men and women farmers interviewed for the variables surveyed. These included both seed sourcing practices and variety preferences, although a slight tendency was observed for women farmers to grow local maize varieties more often rather than hybrids and to rely more on family and community than on agro-dealers and extension for advice on and/or sourcing of seed.

3.1.5 Seed sourcing in the context of agronomic development.

None of the survey sites can be considered really remote, and hence it is not surprising that travel distance to obtain the maize seed used was not to regarded as an important issue by farmers. However, farmers using their own farm saved seed (obviously reporting no travel distance to obtain these seeds) were likely to have included seed recycled out of choice in order to avoid the effort of traveling to buy the seed they may have wanted. Common fertilizers, such as urea and/or NPK were used by high proportions of all farmers. Additionally, in Chiapas virtually all farmers, both in Tuxtla Gutiérrez and Comitán, used herbicides. In Malawi and Zambia the subsidized seed of hybrid maize varieties is usually provided in combination with fertilizer. In Zambia, farmers in receipt of subsidized hybrid seed and fertilizer reported higher yields, while in Malawi, no relation between receipt of subsidized seed and fertilizer and reported yield was found.

3.2 National or state level seed sector and formal seed value chain analysis

A significant portion, averaging 29% of seed used by the producers at the survey sites of this study in Malawi, Zambia and Tuxtla Gutiérrez in Chiapas, was informal although shrinking compared with an estimated 58% of a decade ago (Table 8). In Comitán in Chiapas all seed was from the informal seed system. This was because of the use of ‘criollos’, heirloom varieties. In Bihar virtually all maize seed was acquired by the surveyed producers through formal sources compared with 20% farm and community saved seed 10 years earlier. While survey data are indicative and cannot be directly extrapolated to country or state level, they underline both the increasing presence of the formal seed sector as well as the continued importance of informal seed value chains in three of the four areas where studies have been carried out.

While the informal seed value chain is short, local and personal, the formal seed value chain has many more actors and hence requires reliable formal checks and balances, operating in an institutional environment and determined at national level. The results of workshops and key-informant interviews provides an overview of the present status of various elements, both chain actors in and services to the formal maize seed value chain, whether they were regarded as being strong or weak and whether they were executed by public and/or private seed sector stakeholders (Table 9). Private seed sector stakeholders in general are companies, but also can include cooperatives and civil society.
Table 9

Overview of stakeholder assessment of formal seed sector functioning, type of actors (T), quality assessment (Q) and description (D)

Location

 

GR Conservation

Variety development

Certification

Seed distribution

Quality control at point of sale

Seed extension

Financial servicesa

Malawi

T

public

private

public

private

public

mainly private

public

Q

sufficient

strong

weak

strong

weak

sufficient

sufficient

D

Malawi Plant Genetic Resources Centre

National and international seed companies

Public seed services unit (SSU) struggling

Agro-dealers

Public services (SSU) with limited capacity

Mixture of private and public actors

Fertilizer and/or maize seed subsidies, (FISP). Limited credit facilities.

Zambia

T

public

private

mainly public

private

public

mainly private

public

Q

strong

strong

weak

sufficient

weak

sufficient

sufficient

D

Both SADC and Zambia’s national genebank

National and international seed companies

Seed Control & Certification Institute (SCCI), some company accreditation

Farmer associations

Public services (SCCI) with limited capacity

Companies focus on seed, public sector & civil society on agronomy

Fertilizer and maize seed subsidies (FISP). Limited credit facilities

Chiapas

T

mainly public

mainly private

public

private

private

mainly public

mainly public

Q

strong

strong

sufficient

strong

strong

weak

weak

D

Many players, from CIMMYT, INIFAP to companies

Hybrids by national and international companies, INIFAP both hybrids and IOPVs

SNICS, the certification organization, copes well. Fair amount of Quality Declared Seed

Agro-dealers and company agents

Brands, not certifications, are identified with seed quality by farmers

Public sector as part of other projects, company activities are increasing

Limited credit for maize inputs (FIRA) in collaboration with seed companies

Bihar

T

public

mainly private

public

private

public

mainly public

mainly public

Q

strong

strong

sufficient

sufficient

weak

strong

weak

D

Many public sector players at national and state level

Hybrids by national and international companies, specialty hybrids & IOPVs by public sector

Most seed brought in as Truthfully Labelled Seed

Agro-dealers and company agents

Control system on seed sales not functioning well

Public, private and civil society agents all include seed aspects in extension activities

(Micro-)credit services available are not well targeted

aFinancial services described here include both subsidies and credit facilities for farmers and seed companies

All four formal maize seed sector value chains appeared to be functioning relatively well with improved varieties of maize produced by research and the private sector reaching farmers. The value chains in Malawi and Zambia show strong similarities. Variety development, seed production and seed distribution were considered by stakeholders to be sufficient and/or strong, and are carried out to a very large extent by the private sector. The way the public sector is looking after conservation of genetic resources (GR) – an important part of seed systems, but not a specific subject of the research reported here - was well appreciated in all four cases. Both the Malawi and Zambian government provided an important incentive for the use of hybrid maize varieties through widely available subsidies for fertilizer and seeds. These Farm Input Subsidy Programmes (FISP), have similar names and are quite similar in structure, although there are some differences (Chirwa and Dorward 2014; Mofya-Mukuka et al. 2013), as far as maize is concerned, with the Zambian program only providing subsidy for seeds of hybrid maize and the Malawi program, in principle, also providing subsidies for seeds of several other crops and not only for hybrid varieties but also IOPVs. Furthermore, in Zambia, there is also an indirect incentive for growing hybrids: this is for grain sales through the government’s price guaranteed maize grain buying scheme (Food Reserve Agency (FRA)). However, the capacities of government agencies for important services such as seed certification and quality control at points of sale in both countries were judged to be weak. In Zambia, companies are increasingly accredited to carry out their own seed certification under the supervision of the national level agency. In contrast in Malawi, where the government is considering adopting the Zambian model of accrediting so-called para-inspectors, stakeholders expressed doubts about the reliability of companies to carry out their own quality control. Quality of seed stocks at points of sale appears to be a weak link in the maize seed sector value chain in both countries and companies are struggling to avoid their seed being adulterated, and/or to prevent counterfeit seed of their varieties reaching the market. Stakeholders believe functioning of the maize seed value chain has improved in Malawi and Zambia over the last decade, in particular due to the strengthening of the role of the private sector, which was clearly facilitated by the market for improved seed created by the FISP subsidy schemes.

For Mexico and Bihar, the analysis also shows the change from a strongly public sector dominated formal seed system to a system with private seed companies and a more supervisory role for the public sector, mainly consisting of quality control and seed extension. The two research areas to some extent could not be more different. Mexico is the centre of origin of maize and maize cultivation and the crop holds centre stage in Mexican farmer culture and food systems. It is therefore not surprising that the informal seed sector in Mexico, in particular the use of ‘criollos’, local varieties, remains highly developed and continues to function well, with experienced farmers in local communities taking care of their own seed selection and production, as demonstrated by the communities around Comitán described above. In Bihar maize is mainly used for feed and as a cash crop; there is no significant informal maize seed value chain. Nevertheless, the formal maize seed sectors of Bihar and Chiapas are showing interesting similarities. Exports of maize to neighbouring countries, the USA and Guatemala in the case of Chiapas, and to China from Bihar for feed, stimulate maize production. In both cases variety development is mainly done by private seed companies. Public sector agencies (institutes, universities), however, are contributing significantly by developing both IOPVs and hybrids. In Bihar the emphasis of public sector agencies is on specialty hybrids for niches not targeted by companies, such as high food and feed quality and stress tolerance. Furthermore, in Bihar most of the maize seed is brought in as Truthfully Labeled Seed. In Mexico, the large companies have their seed certified by the national Mexican certification agency SNICS, but the smaller companies usually circumvent SNICS certification, and sell their seed as Quality Declared Seed. However, the quality of seed on the formal markets seems to be guaranteed effectively by seed companies, who appear keen and able to protect the reputation of their brands. Therefore, for farmers whether the seed is certified or not doesn’t make much difference, they buy their maize seeds because they like and trust the brand. Regarding seed quality in Bihar at point of sale, quality control of seed stocks at agro-dealers is a problem, because there are no functioning quality control systems in place. Seed extension in Chiapas is considered not well developed, while in Bihar many activities by the state, companies and civil society are being carried out. Participants at the state level workshop evaluated seed extension services in Bihar as strong, but this is in contrast with the finding that few farmers in Bihar relied on extension services for advice on choice of variety (Table 5).

In summary, in all four studies GR conservation (public sector) and variety development (mainly private sector) are now considered quite strong by seed value chain stakeholders, while in all cases the very few financial credit services that could be called upon to support seed companies or investments in formal seeds by farmers are perceived as weak. A point of concern in Bihar, Malawi and Zambia is seed quality at point of sale, and in Malawi and Zambia certification. Competition among brands appears to be able to stimulate quality at point of sales in Chiapas. Subsidies seem to be vital for the formal maize seed systems in Malawi and Zambia.

4 Conclusions

In this paper we report on our exploration into maize varieties for smallholder farmers’ use, the occurrence of significant bottlenecks in characteristics of and access to such varieties, and possible solutions. Concentrating on maize and the main maize crop - economically the most important part of the maize business of the household - our study also focused on the most likely part of field crop activities for which smallholder farmers would consider formal seed.

We found at all four sites that smallholder farmers were to a large extent interested in and willing to buy seeds from the formal maize seed sector, and are doing so increasingly. Certain areas with traditional maize agro-ecosystems, such as the Comitán site surveyed in Chiapas, continue to rely on their own ‘criollos’ and a farmer saved seed system.

The maize seed sectors in Tuxla Gutiérrez/Chiapas and Bihar appear to be more market driven, while in Malawi and Zambia the maize seed sectors appear to be mainly subsidy driven. Adoption and purchase of hybrid varieties is related to market integration with the food and feed industries at functioning markets in Tuxla Gutiérrez and in Bihar. In Malawi and Zambia, with higher poverty and less developed agrifood industries, farmers continue to rely on maize for consumption. In these cases, important maize traits include on-farm storage and easy to pound as part of food preparation and local varieties continue to be grown as the main maize crop, probably mainly when farmers have no access to subsidized hybrid seed.

We also learned both from stakeholder workshops and the producer surveys that within the formal maize seed sector, seed companies are having a much greater role than the public sector in variety development. For intellectual property and profit reasons seed companies offer mainly hybrids to smallholder farmers, although in those locations where IOPVs were found, in Mexico and India, these seem to keep up quite well with hybrid varieties regarding performance and popularity.

None of the four studies has provided indications of effective financial services to underpin the development of the maize seed value chain. Financial support for agricultural investments, both for farmers in inputs such as seeds and for seed companies, were thought to be badly developed. However, this appears to be part of a general complaint about financial services for agriculture, and therefore needs to be addressed as part of this larger problem. Seed subsidies in Malawi and Zambia contributed significantly to formal seed sales and hence to seed company development, but it is doubtful whether this situation will be sustained if the subsidies were discontinued. In both countries, maize plots benefiting from subsidies and growing hybrids were realizing higher yields than plots that were not, but even with hybrids, yields in Malawi and Zambia remain low. It is likely that the main aim of the governments of Malawi and Zambia is to achieve food security (risk avoidance), which explains why there appear to be very few further government led initiatives to increase smallholder farmers’ maize yield in these countries, and why there is also a local market for recycled hybrid seed.

The presence of recycled hybrids provided an interesting dimension to this study. In Bihar, India anecdotal evidence was obtained in FGDs about farmers harvesting seed from hybrids, which they would grow as a low value (fallow) feed crop for use on their own farms only. In Malawi and Zambia the practice of recycling hybrids was quite widespread for main maize crops, and these were traded alongside formal hybrid seed. This appeared to be linked to shortage of subsidized hybrid maize seed. The resulting crop was usually less good than a hybrid crop (Table 7), but comparable with the performance of local varieties. Since most of the hybrid varieties on the market in Malawi and Zambia were not single crosses, but double cross or three way hybrids, the loss in homogeneity from the commercial seed to the recycled generation can be presumed to be less pronounced and also, since the parental plants were grown from high quality seed produced by seed companies, the phytosanitary health of the recycled seed can be presumed to be better than that of local varieties. Comparable data presented by Pixley and Bänzinger (2004) on the effects of recycling single cross, topcross (inbred line crossed with IOPV), and IOPV seed also showed that recycling was likely to result in greater yield losses for single cross hybrids than for topcross hybrids, but that such recycled seed still gave yields comparable to those of recycled IOPVs, certainly in the case of recycled topcrosses. Whether recycled hybrids on their own have value for farmers or are only used as stop-gaps for non-subsidy years and/or in situations of seed shortages (Malawi and Zambia) or as a fallow crop providing feed for homestead livestock (Bihar) needs further investigation.

Both the producer surveys and the value chain analysis indicated that important weak links in the maize seed value chains were certification in Malawi and Zambia and quality control at point of sale in Bihar, Malawi and Zambia. Certification and quality control are public responsibilities for which governments need to define the parameters, but within which the private sector can develop its own strategies to deliver quality seed at affordable prices. Chiapas and Bihar show that allowing maize seed, of which the quality is assured by the seed companies on the market, can help to lighten the burden of public certification systems. Also in Chiapas it appears that branding and competition between seed companies at points of sale can contribute to improved and reliable quality at points of sale. Hence collaboration between the public and the private sector in certification and quality control, as is already common in many OECD countries, is likely to be the most effective way to address these two issues (OECD 2012).

Apart from the national and state level public maize seed sector actors in these regions, there are also other public sector agents that are playing roles in the maize seed value chain. The MAIZE CRP has major maize sector development programmes in all regions, feeding in germplasm, agronomic practices and capacity building. AGRA and its Program for Africa’s Seed Systems (PASS) specifically aims to strengthen seed company development in countries such as Malawi and Zambia. These can be seen as international public sector activities and serve both the public and the private sector in these areas. It could be argued that in Malawi, Zambia, Bihar and Chiapas, programmes and organizations such as MAIZE and AGRA and others might be best advised to strengthen important but presently weak services such as seed certification and quality control at point of sale in order to optimize the maize seed value chain further.

At all locations except Comitán in Chiapas producers have moved towards buying maize seed. Our data suggest strongly that also at rural markets in the areas we studied most of the maize seed sold came from formal sources (Table 8), underlining the importance of these markets for seed. It remains to be investigated whether at local markets this formal seed is being sold ‘informally’ by villagers, or e.g. by small kiosks at and around the market (McGuire and Sperling 2016), that may have links to official seed agro-dealers. Nevertheless, while the private sector has been able to provide many varieties that have become popular with smallholder producers for grain sale purposes, it is clear that even in the highly developed seed value chain for maize there remains a demand for specialized genotypes, such as those with specific end use characteristics regarding home storage and cooking. These continued to be significantly present in producers’ fields, and remain sourced from farm saved seed and the community. The question remains whether seed companies can identify commercial opportunities to develop varieties that fit very local niche requirements. While the Access to Seeds Index (2016) indicates that a number of seed companies are actively exploring this, it should be recognized that, even for maize, there will still remain for the foreseeable future tasks for public breeding efforts, participatory farmer breeding, and public or farmer based formal and informal seed systems.

Footnotes

  1. 1.

    Seed of hybrid varieties of maize, is produced by crossing two or more inbred lines. Hybrid varieties have the advantage of higher crop uniformity and often higher yield potential than improved open pollinated varieties (IOPVs). Due to the skills required for seed production of hybrid varieties, they are usually more expensive than seeds of OPVs, while crops grown from seed harvested from hybrids are usually less uniform and high yielding compared to the original hybrid.

  2. 2.

    The Out of Poverty Index is a tool to estimate poverty among surveyed households. By including 10 country specific questions about a household’s characteristics and asset ownership in a survey, the tool results in the likelihood that the household lives below or on the poverty line: http://www.progressoutofpoverty.org/

Notes

Acknowledgments

We are very grateful for the contribution of our local consultants Davies Melele and Parki Mbozi in Zambia, Alexander Phiri in Malawi, Juan Diego Lopez Durante and Fidel Ochoa Rosales in Chiapas, and Sanjay Tiwari and his team in India. We also like to acknowledge the invaluable advice and support of our CIMMYT colleagues Jens Anderson, Peter Setimela, Arturo Silva Hinojosa, Madhulika Singh and Pankaj Kumar and KIT colleague Marcelo Tyszler. This study was made possible through the financial and logistical support provided by the CGIAR Research Program MAIZE. Last but not least we are extremely indebted to all of the 1226 smallholder maize farmers who participated in our surveys as well as the 137 participants of our stakeholder workshops and interviews.

Compliance with ethical standards

Conflict of interest

The authors declare that they have no conflict of interest.

Ethical approval and informed consent

All procedures performed in studies involving human participants, such as the household surveys, were in accordance with the ethical standards of the institutional and/or national research committee and with the 1964 Helsinki declaration and its later amendments or comparable ethical standards. Informed consent was obtained from all individual participants included in the study.

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Copyright information

© Springer Nature B.V. and International Society for Plant Pathology 2018

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.KIT-Royal Tropical InstituteAmsterdamThe Netherlands
  2. 2.CIMMYT-International Wheat and Maize Improvement CenterTexcocoMexico
  3. 3.International Centre for Sustainable Development (IZNE)Bonn-Rhein-Sieg University of Applied SciencesSankt AugustinGermany
  4. 4.International Institute for Research and Development (IIRD) Africa LtdLilongweMalawi

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