Priorities for the Tanzania Seed Sector Development Strategy for improved food production and trade

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As agriculture in Africa is yet to recover from the repercussions of climate change, the COVID-19 pandemic, and the Ukraine war, the use of improved seed varieties and fertilizers to combat food insecurity is more relevant than ever. Farmers’ adoption of improved seeds has proven useful for climate adaptation, as these seeds can sustain and raise yield requiring less water than traditional varieties in some drought contexts. Still, this benefit comes at the expense of increased use of costly fertilizers, as improved seeds frequently require increased fertilizer use, which does not favor the low-income farmers most vulnerable to climate impact. As a result, improved seeds cannot be easily adopted by the most in need, and this problem has aggravated with fertilizer prices peaking in April 2022 (for the first time since 2008) following the pandemic and the war. During the 2023 droughts in southern Africa, farmers could not use enough fertilizers to reap potential yield benefits from the drought-tolerant seeds. Widespread crop failures led food prices to break a historical record of inflation, becoming prohibitive for low-income households. As a result, about 140 million were estimated to face acute food insecurity (at least one in five Africans), while this number increased with even more people relying on emergency food assistance in 2024.

Tanzania was among the most affected countries: farmers reducing fertilizer use in response to the increasing fertilizer prices accounted for half of the crop loss compared to previous years. In 2021—22, the yield of maize—the most important staple food—decreased about 16 percent to 5.9 million tons, and its area harvested from 4.400 to 4.000 thousand hectares due to rising production costs. As a result, maize prices doubled (December 2021—December 2022), leading an estimated 964,000 people (11 percent of the mainland population) to experience severe food insecurity, with 18,000 in emergency need. Rising food prices have also driven the decrease of GDP by 1.3 percent and employment by 2.5 percent. Into 2024, fertilizer costs were expected to keep maize yield below historically average harvests. To address this, the government introduced a subsidy program that decreased fertilizer costs by up to 50 percent, which led farmers to respond positively by expanding the cultivation area, which may likely increase production. Nonetheless, this solution is not permanent. While pilot farms showed that adopting improved varieties could increase the average production from 1.7 to 3.5—4 tons per hectare, only 40 percent of farmers use improved seeds. Reliable agrodealers for seed and fertilizer supply are scarce in rural areas and have limited stocks selling at high prices. The amounts advised by extension agents are unaffordable for smallholders. Hence, coordinated efforts to improve the availability, uptake, and utilization of improved seeds, in combination with affordable fertilizers, are imperative to address these problems.

In order to help turn Tanzania food secure and a lead exporter as the government of Tanzania envisions, the International Water Management Institute (IWMI) on behalf of the CGIAR initiative Ukama Ustawi partnered with the Agriculture Sector Policy and Institutional Reforms Strengthening (ASPIRES) under USAID Feed the Future-Sera Bora to develop a Tanzania Seed Sector Development Strategy (TSSDS). This strategy is commissioned by the Directorate of Crop Development in the Ministry of Agriculture to identify priorities in the sectoral enabling environment to address emerging issues and guide and attract public and private sector investments. A ministerial technical committee has been formed, and an inception meeting took place in November 2023 in Arusha, followed by fieldwork in three regions (Arusha, Morogoro, and Iringa) in March 2024. TSSDS is scheduled to launch in late 2024 and complements the new Fertilizer Sector Development Strategy that USAID simultaneously drives in collaboration with the government, emphasizing the critical linkages between the seed and fertilizer sectors for a resilient and productive agriculture industry.

Photo: Iringa focus group. Credit: Author

This blog provides some of the preliminary findings from fieldwork that will influence the core of this strategy. The fieldwork used focus group discussions and farm visits, reaching 125 seed sector stakeholders, including farmers, seed producers, agrodealers, extension officers, researchers, and government representatives. Semi-structured questionnaires in the following five categories led the stakeholder discussions: 1) seed production (early generation seeds, certified seeds, and quality declared seeds); 2) availability (spatial and timely provision of demanded seeds); 3) utilization (seed handling, storage, planting, and uptake of good agricultural practices); 4) capacity development in the seed system (different stakeholders in the seed sector need to be empowered and linked to ensure the proper functioning of the seed system); and 5) the enabling environment (policy, legal frameworks, regulations, institutions). Cutting across these categories, stakeholders identified the following issues to be most pressing. 

Photo: Tomato farmers in Arusha. Credit: Author

Access to land posits a critical enabling environment challenge to seed production. In Tanzania, land is owned by the state, and the vast majority of agricultural landholding is formally held as village land. Under village land, farmers, including seed producers, can obtain Customary Certificates for Rights of Occupancy (CCROs), for which, village governments must first demarcate the village borders and acquire Certificates of Village Land (CVLs) as per the 1999 Land Act. However, obtaining CCROs is challenging in practice. Most of the village land across the country is still not surveyed to proceed with CCROs. And where it is surveyed, the lack of transparency and lengthy bureaucratic steps curb fair and timely distribution. But also, if seed producers are not the residents of the village where they seek land—and they often are not as they expand to new regions to meet the local seed demand—they are not eligible for land access. Producers often lease land from villagers as informal land transactions are common. Still, this does not provide land security. Land lease is temporary, and the formal landholder can reclaim the land anytime during the lease period, which creates transaction costs detrimental to business: the irrigation infrastructure and the essential packaging, storage, and transporting facilities around the seed farms would need to be dissolved and shifted to a new location. Land security critical for increasing seed production is weak.

In some areas, farmers are historically sensitive to land redistribution, which triggers an aversion to seed research institutes and producers receiving land and skepticism around the adoption of seeds promoted by them. This aversion is a residue of the region’s colonial past: land transfers to Europeans led to the Mau Mau rebellion (1952—1960) in Kenya, with Kikuyu, Meru, and Embu tribes fighting to ward off their lands, and it ended with more than 20,000 casualties. The effects of this rebellion transcended borders to the northern regions of Tanzania. Resentment around land and life loss are still felt in Meru today. More so because the Land Act authorizes the government to acquire village land for conservation and investment purposes without ensuring villagers that they will be provided with notice or a right to reject the land transfer. Large swaths of land have been acquired without such consent, and land remains a present matter of conflict. In Meru, the perceived land insecurity is strong and leads farmers to reject political support and sympathy toward the local government, including extension officers representing them and the acceptance of the new agricultural inputs and practices promoted by them. Land transfers to seed producers without equitable and secure landholding by farmers are counterproductive for seed uptake and utilization.

Photo: Paddy farmer in Arusha. Credit: Author

Limited access to financing is a significant challenge restricting seed production, availability, and utilization. This problem is exacerbated by the lack of formal landholding since land is used as collateral. Most producers rely on financing to lease land, set up the necessary infrastructure, and engage in production, which typically runs on a medium scale to be commercially viable and is costly. The producers we met have been unable to access financing and argued that this was mainly because they did not have land to show as collateral. Land can only be used as collateral only if formal land titles are available. Lack of access to financing also widely impacts farmers, hindering seed adoption and utilization by them. Most farmers rely on loans to purchase improved seeds, considered to be more expensive than other seeds, but also to cultivate with them by purchasing adequate fertilizers. Many farmers rely on collective input supply through farmers’ organizations that make bulk orders. But the delivery through this channel is frequently delayed. Delays in the production cycle are disadvantageous since farmers must follow a crop calendar designed according to the beginning and end of the rainfall season. Efforts to promote the uptake and utilization of costly seeds and fertilizers without custom financing schemes enabling smallholders to purchase them are unlikely to succeed.

The seed distribution network is thin, and coupled with limited production, it drives limited seed availability and high prices in rural areas. Although significant strides have been made in improving the roads and other infrastructure, access to rural areas remains difficult. There are not sufficient feeder roads to serve the dispersed rural population. Road quality is often poor and declines rapidly even after investment due to the rural environment and during the rainy season. Road maintenance is a persistent challenge due to the lack of local funds. As a result, input suppliers cannot and are often not willing to travel to every village due to travel duration and distance. A Netherlands-based company that participated in our Iringa focus group discussion argued that it set up seed production facilities for horticultural crops in rural areas for easy access by farmers, but the costs of transporting the infrastructure material and running the production and cold room (storage) facilities were too high. The practice shut down almost everywhere after two years, with farmers returning to traditional seeds. Due to the poor rural road networks, farmers also cannot easily access urban and semi-urban markets to purchase inputs and sell crops. As a result, production costs and postharvest losses are high, posing a constraint to raising agricultural productivity.

In addition to poor distribution networks, reliable seed access is a challenge due to the absence of reliable seed sellers in rural areas, exposing farmers to fake seeds. Fake seeds are sometimes mixed with the original seeds in packaging and are not easily identified by farmers. Farmers widely lack information and awareness about where and how to access original seeds. But also, they often do not know how to cultivate correctly with the improved seeds, according to extension officers. Even when the seeds are original, the required amounts of fertilizers and recommended cultivation instructions to be able to achieve certain yields are not always followed by farmers. As a result, the seeds give less yield than they do on demonstration plots. On these plots, extension officers and agrodealers provide training on seed use and cultivation, but this training is yet insufficient. They argued that misconceptions among farmers are common that improved seeds alone would suffice to improve yield without increased fertilizer use. Ultimately, when the yield remains lower than expected, farmers blame the improved seeds as fake or useless which, in return, keeps the adoption rates low. Awareness needs to be created around both where to access original improved seeds and how to cultivate with them to raise yield.

Photo: ETG’s input supply and farmer training center. Credit: Author

Agrodealers in Tanzania have evolved to become a primary source of cultivation knowledge in addition to being reliable input suppliers. They are claimed by farmers to be more active than extension officers in disseminating cultivation knowledge daily. This includes both small agrodealer shops and local retail centers of bigger input producer and trader companies, such as the ETG and YARA. These companies build training centers in strategic locations for input (seed, fertilizer, chemical) sales and teach good agricultural practices so the seeds, in combination with other inputs, provide the best yield, leading to satisfaction and re-purchase. YARA representatives travel across rural areas and train agrodealers but also go where agrodealers are absent and organize pop-up training for farmers at village gathering spots. They do not only have the means to travel remotely but also the resources to design input instructions tested and tailored according to crops and the local soil conditions. They have innovative ways of marketing guaranteed original inputs, such as setting up platforms on village roads for games with fertilizers as prizes for winners, which attracts villagers and encourages them to adopt the new seeds by addressing the fake seed problem. Besides, private agrodealers and company representatives, as well as the knowledge they pass on, are perceived by some farmers in villages supporting the opposition party to be politically impartial and trusted. Hence, agrodealers not only foster the uptake of new inputs authorized and supported by the government but also contribute to the nationwide building of new cultivation knowledge and address the knowledge dissemination gap that extension officers alone have been unable to address.

Photo: Agrodealer spot. Credit: Author

Lastly, the regulatory framework supporting seed production and availability is perceived to be inefficient. Seed producers and distributors claimed that regulations and procedures in seed certification are too many, leading to lengthy processes. From their perspective, institutional overlaps are behind delays, and sector authorities, including the Tanzania Official Seed Certification Institute, Agricultural Seed Agency, and the Seed Coordination Unit, are not well-coordinated. They do similar and often repetitive tasks, for instance, in seed inspection, that could be completed by one instead. It seems worth considering whether necessary steps in the process could be streamlined by removing layers of management to complete them in a more time-efficient manner. Otherwise, it will be important to raise stakeholder awareness regarding the division of responsibilities and why these steps are not overlapping as claimed, are necessary, and need to be undertaken by different authorities.

Based on these initial findings, a few recommendations can be made. It is imperative to strengthen the land tenure system for both farmers and seed producers, which, through land used as collateral, will also enable access to financing. Financing schemes targeted at smallholders will foster their access to improved seeds and, generally, improve production by also enabling access to land, labor, and machinery. Furthermore, to address the issues related to the knowledge gaps around cultivation with improved seeds, government support to stretch out the extension services capacity will be useful. It is necessary to prioritize rural road investments based on the potential agricultural value of land (investment into areas with significant production potential). Still, for a widespread outreach to smallholder farmers in remote areas, who are most in need of agricultural inputs and services, increasing the number of agrodealers in rural areas will be a good strategy for both input and extension knowledge dissemination, as well to help farmers cope with the fake seed problem. The combination of these efforts would not only foster seed production and potentially decrease seed costs through economies of scale but also uptake and utilization by smallholder farmers. Lastly, it is essential to improve the enabling environment to address the regulatory bottlenecks, such as institutional overlaps and delays in seed certification, and attract private investment into seed production and trade.

Following the launch of the Tanzania Seed Sector Development Strategy, USAID and CGIAR are committed to supporting the government of Tanzania in operationalizing it and catalyzing investment into seed and fertilizer industries through a joint Fertilizer and Seed Security Initiative (FSSI). Once the enabling environment challenges are addressed, FSSI will look to attract investment into domestic fertilizer blending and manufacturing and setting up one seed production farm in each of the 150 local government authorities (150 farms in total), combined with the provision of extension services and cultivation supervision. Efforts around the formulation of these strategies and their operationalization build on government buy-in and are thus far well-coordinated through an extended partnership network. TSSDS leads the sectoral efforts for the implementation of the Agriculture Masterplan designed and implemented by the African Agriculture Transformation Initiative and constitutes the core of AGRA’s Country Seed Sector Strategy and Investment Plan that it designs for its member countries. Ultimately, partners are seeking to foster the productivity of food crops and turn Tanzania into a regional hub for input and food trade, fostering both national and regional food security.

Featured photo: Seed Sector Development Strategy Inception Meeting. Credit: Author


Idil Ires, Water and Climate Policy Fellow, International Water Management Institute (IWMI) – Southern Africa

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