Higher quality seeds can help beat Africa’s ‘hunger pandemic’

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Vaccination efforts across the globe encourage hope of an imminent end to the COVID-19 health crisis. But the food security crisis that the pandemic has deepened cannot be alleviated quickly and will require lasting solutions.

Well-adapted and nutrient-dense crops like millet, sorghum, groundnut, chickpea, pigeonpea, cowpea and common bean, collectively called dryland cereals and legumes, are like a vaccine of sorts for hunger and under-nutrition. This is because, over time, improved varieties of crops will be able to render farming resilient to climate stresses, help improve nutritional outcomes and improve soil health. In the short run, they boost yields, ensure food sufficiency in farm households and increase earnings.

Even before the COVID-19 pandemic, seed systems, which determine seed access in a country or a region, were beset with challenges. In a recently published paper we identify what the bottlenecks are and what can be done about them.

The biggest issues we identified include, firstly, the limited access to varieties of groundnut, chickpea, pigeonpea, sorghum and finger millet that are bred to perform where they are needed. They need to be suited to changes in temperature and rainfall in the area and the stress of pests and diseases. They must also be nutrient-dense and there must be a market for them. The problem of access to these varieties is partly due to limited interest in the private seed sector to include grain legumes and dryland cereal crops in their portfolio.

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