VAUD, Switzerland, May 16 (IPS) – At last, momentum is building for an overdue rethink climate finance and assistance to support countries on the front lines of the climate crisis.
But while investment, aid and compensation are much needed, another form of currency is just as valuable to climate-prone countries that also rely heavily on small-scale agriculture: quality seeds.
The latest generation of seeds offers varieties adapted to specific climatic conditions to provide more reliable food production, as well as improved incomes and livelihoods for farmers, having increased productivity by 20 percent for nine key crops in the European Union over 15 years.
Yet improved varieties of many of the world’s staple grains, vegetables and legumes are too often unavailable to farmers in Africa, despite having some of the greatest exposure to extreme climate conditions.
For example, in East Africa, certified quality seed potatoes – which provide higher yields and greater resistance to climate change, pests and diseases – only stand for one percent of all planted by farmers.
By leveraging the advances and resources of the commercial seed sector – with the support and scale of public and non-governmental partners – the global community can ensure that African farmers receive the tangible, long-term support they need to cope with the impacts of climate change.
For starters, supplying the best varieties combined with good agricultural practice training for farmers can increase their yields and thus incomes, allowing them to thrive despite the increasing impacts of climate change.
For example non-profit Fair Planet coached more than 2,300 lead farmers in 65 Ethiopian villages and trained their regional extension agents in improved agricultural practices. With this training, farmers were able to quickly adopt and maximize their yields using locally tested and improved vegetable varieties.
In total, around 75,000 smallholder farmers in the project’s regions then tripled their vegetable production at a time when the Horn of Africa was facing pressing food security challenges. As a result of a historic, ongoing drought, it is estimated 22 million people currently facing acute food insecurity in Ethiopia, Kenya and Somalia.
According to an external evaluation, more than 95 percent of the households involved in Fair Planet’s work in Ethiopia – or approximately 485,000 people – benefited from improved nutrition after the increased yields raised household incomes in just one production season by more than 25 percent. This extra income gave farmers a greater buffer against climate shocks and more money to spend on health care and education for their families.
Opening up access to improved varieties of staple crops plays an important role in ensuring food and nutrition security in the face of climate change, which can reduce levels of protein, iron and zinc in cereals by up to 10 percent.
That is why the International Seed Federation (ISF), together with Fair Planet, is embarking on a five-year project to increase farmers’ choice of and access to quality seeds in Rwanda.
The goal is to benefit 84,000 Rwandan farmers by offering increased access to improved, high quality vegetable, pulse, cereal and potato varieties along with training in downstream value chain projects to support higher yields and incomes and climate adaptation.
The final piece of the puzzle is establishing the policies and regulations needed to develop resilient and sustainable seed systems that benefit farmers. This requires policymakers to build an effective and efficient regulatory framework that gives farmers the assurance of receiving the highest quality seed year after year, while providing the long-term certainty that is likely to stimulate further private sector investment.
Quality seeds are clearly the foundation on which productive and resilient agricultural systems are built, but these technologies have so far remained out of reach for many of Africa’s farmers – one of the many significant challenges they face today.
By investing and collaborating to build resilient seed systems, the private sector can share the fruits of advances in global plant science through partnerships that ensure farmers receive seeds that are not only fit for purpose, but fit for the future.
Improved seeds can then pay dividends by unlocking better productivity, incomes and climate resilience for those on the front lines who have been too long underserved.
IPS UN agency
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