Description: Formal seed systems in South Africa have not been able to meet the needs of smallholder farmers for various reasons. Firstly, past approaches to research for the selection of crop varieties focused on the needs of commercial farmers. Secondly, farmers were exposed to demonstration trails that were aimed at promoting seed companies and suppliers of inputs rather than addressing specific environmental and socio-economic constraints that characterise farmers in communal areas. This led to farmers recycling "indigenous" maize seeds whose nutritional value was unknown due to its repeated cross-pollination. Milling companies rejected these varieties due to poor milling quality and flour.
The LDoA initiated the Community Based Seed Production project in 2000 to address the needs of these smallholder-farming communities in the rural Capricorn and Vhembe districts in Limpopo. Partnerships were formed with government departments, research institutions, donor organisations and communities such as, ARC-GCI, GTZ-BASED, SADC, SANSOR, SSSP, CIMMYT and the LDoA. Participatory research with the smallholder farmers revealed that they needed maize seed that was disease resistant, grains that were uniformly white, matured early, could be stored and that tasted similar to the local variety. CIMMYT supplied the breeder seed, SADC, GTZ and SSSP assisted with the training of extension officers, SANSOR certified the seeds and trained seed inspectors. Through this process, farmers were exposed to different seed varieties and were able to identify preferred seeds according to their own criteria and were taught to grow preferred varieties to guarantee local seed security. Farmers were also trained and equipped to derive an income from seed production.
Innovation: There is no similar project of its kind whereby smallholder farmers are able to produce certified seed. The national Department of Agriculture intends rolling out the project across the country. Commercial farms, which do similar work, do not own the product and cannot process it further. The seed company owns the product and determines the price, whereas these seed growers are recognised "seed companies".
Effectiveness: Originally, the project involved only 32 farmers in two districts. It has now expanded to 676 active farmers and 15 seed growers associations. Seed security has been achieved in those places where the beneficiaries live. One of the beneficiaries has won the SANSOR award for being the best emerging seed grower in the country. Four LDoA officials have completed the SANSOR seed inspector course and are due to become seed inspectors, becoming the first black seed inspectors in the country. The capacity of extension officers and farmers has increased through participation in the project.
Poverty Impact: Seed security feeds into food security. The farming community has direct access to good quality seed for farming purposes and addresses the concerns of the smallholder farmers, with regard to the nutritional value of the seeds that are plant. The beneficiaries have been capacitated to solve their own problems; they have formed seed growers' associations and seed co-operatives that help them to access markets, seed processing and seed certification. The project is viewed as a flagship project for the LDoA. Families who are dependent on farming to meet their nutritional needs without depleting their financial resources are able to do so.
Sustainability: The project is ongoing, as the farmers always need seed. Salaries for staff involved in the project amount to R700 000 per annum and this excludes the contribution of the participating organisations. Funding for the project comes from the LDoA and private donors. Factors to ensure the continuity of the project, include market access, availability of breeder and basic seeds, and continuous variety experimentation and evaluation. A major challenge to sustainability is the price of chemicals that are used for seed dressing. A balance also needs to be kept between seed growers and grain producers. If all farmers are going to produce seeds, who will buy the seed and who will produce grain. Due to the low price of maize, alternative uses need to be found, for example, ethanol for petroleum. If there are more benefits of grain, this will increase the production of maize and in the same time will increase the seed demand.
Replication: The model can be replicated in similar settings; a major challenge to replication is the commitment from government and the farming community, the weather, poor coordination between various role players, poorly equipped seed establishment for seed dressing and packaging, the demand and supply chain needs to be evaluated at all times.