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local seeds-A forgotten treasures

author michale farrelly,Programme coordinator,Tanzania Organic Agricultural Movement

The Ministry of Agriculture lawyer looked puzzled and with furrowed brows,he pondered on the question hehad just been asked at the round table meeting: “Why is it that Tanzanian seed laws are silent on the issue of farmer-saved seeds?” The assembled farmers waited patiently as the meaning of their questiongradually dawned on him: “Oh! You mean substandard seeds!”

Here in Tanzania, the seed sector is facing many such challenges. The government is kowtowing to seed industry pressure and changing seed laws to strengthen plant breeders’ rights as a prerequisite for corporate investment. Meanwhile, the seed industry is only supplying around a quarter of the national demand for seeds, and increasing their share of supply by only around 1 per cent per year.So, for many years to come, farmers in Tanzania will continue to rely on ‘informal’ seed sources to plant their crops.

We wanted to find out exactly how farmers are getting their seeds, and commissioned Tanzania’s top agriculture university to do a national study.The purpose of the research was to shed light on the operation, benefits, success and challenges of the farmer-managed seed system in Tanzania and the support needed for its improvement.

The report shows clearly that farmer-saved seed is the most popular seed source in Tanzania. Farmers prefer it because it is more affordable, more available, and more reliable than commercial seeds bought from the dealers. Yet, this widely adopted,successful practice receives scant attention or support from government or extension services, while the policy drive is pushing farmers to abandonfarm-saved seeds, and replace themwith ‘improved’ seeds from the commercial seed companies.

The participatory study by Bureau of Agricultural Consultancy and Advisory Service (BACAS),SokoineUniversity of Agriculture,collectedevidence from 240 farmers in all eight agro-ecological zones of the country, along with quality declared seed (QDS) producers, and seed experts from central and local governments.The study was commissioned by Tanzania Organic Agriculture Movement, supported by Rosa Luxemburg Stiftung, with funds from German Federal Ministry for Economic Cooperation and Development (BMZ).


Maize was observed to be the most relied-upon crop in all agro-ecological zones. Beans and paddy were the second and third most important crops, while cassavawas the most important crop incoastal communities.

The Farmer Managed Seed System (FMSS) was the major source of seeds in most of the crops in all agro-ecological zones. For instance, almost 99% of paddyarea, over 93% of groundnut area, and about 93% of bean areawere sown with seeds from FMSS. However, the trend was different for maize and vegetables, where 55% of vegetable and maize areaswere sown with seeds from ‘formal’ (commercial) sources.

The findings in all agro-ecological zones indicated that FMSS receives little or no attention from agricultural extension officers. One-third of the farmers had received no advice at all from their extension workers. Of the rest, 92% were advisedto buy seeds from stockists. Meanwhile,a review of the National Agricultural Policy, and the Seeds Act and Regulations indicated that seeds from FMSS aredisregarded in seed legislation.

In all agro-ecological zones, FMSS is reported to be successful. However, across the districts, there are variations on how successful they are. For instance, over 83% farmers in Igunga, 80% in Kasulu and 70% in both Mkuranga and Siha reported FMSS to be successful. Farmers also reported challenges including difficulties in procuringseed when crops fail (43%) and when pests and diseases destroy seeds, especially during storage (26.9%).

Training was found to be the major kind of support that farmers need in order to improve their FMSS. Over 80% of farmers indicated that training on seed production from their own farm would solve most of the challenges they face. Also, over 90% of respondents indicated that the government shouldsupport farmers to improve FMSS.


Generally, FMSS remains the main reliable, affordable and widely used source of seed to most of the farmers in all agro-ecological zones. This is because formal seeds for most of the crops cultivated in all agro-ecological zones, with the exceptions of maize and vegetables, are not readily available. In crops where ‘formal’ seeds are available, particularly maize, their reliability and quality remain uncertain. Therefore, improving and sustaining the farmer-saved seed system presents a huge potential of having effective seed systems that meet the needs of smallholder farmers.


Based on the findings of the study,the consultantsmade the following recommendations:

Farmers belonging to eight zones came together to hear and discuss the findings of the study. They came up with the following key messages for the government:

And they called upon politicians to make the following commitments:

The full study report is available as a free download at

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