African agriculture must be transformed into a productive, efficient, competitive, and sustainable system to ensure food security and lift millions out of poverty. South Sudan has prioritized seed value chain improvements to boost the agricultural productivity and income of smallholder farmers, particularly women and youth. A sustainable agriculture sector is critical for South Sudan’s conflict-sensitive development. Humanitarian relief programs that distribute food and farm inputs in the country distort local markets and represent a missed opportunity to stimulate local agricultural development. Sustainable agricultural development is dependent, in part, on an effective seed system that ensures the availability of and access to diverse quality seed of market-desired varieties, adapted to the country’s various climatic conditions.

Enhancing local seed production is a key priority, as it is essential for improving South Sudan’s food security. The seed sector is currently highly dependent on humanitarian support and farmer-saved seeds. Due to climate change, agricultural seasons have become unpredictable, and pests and diseases run rampant. Farmers continue to face challenges in deciding when to plant. They use recycled seeds, sometimes saved for years, that have become susceptible to droughts, pests, and diseases, resulting in poor yields.

The Accelerating Agriculture and Agribusiness in South Sudan for Enhanced Economic Development (A3-SEED) project, implemented by the International Fertilizer Development Center (IFDC), aims to provide market-oriented interventions in the country to move from humanitarian support to a commercial, sustainable, and adaptive agriculture sector. The project is ensuring the availability of improved seed down to the last mile through agri-entrepreneurship and support to existing private sector seed companies to improve seed and input marketing, distribution, and production practices. A3-SEED also supports the emergence of individual commercial seed producers who supply the local market and/or serve as outgrowers for seed companies.

A3-SEED is collaborating closely with the Food and Nutrition Security Resilience Programme (FNS-REPRO), implemented by the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations (FAO) and Wageningen University and Research. Each project benefits from the other’s expertise, sharing knowledge of the seed value chain.

A Learning Event

As part of a learning event for the FNS-REPRO project, participants from Sudan, Somalia, Ethiopia, and South Sudan converged in the Netherlands to discuss important lessons learned from three years of implementation. The A3-SEED team discussed the important contribution of the private sector to seed system development. Quality seed is critical to success in agricultural development. An efficient seed delivery system should ensure that farmers have access to high-quality seed at the right time and place and at an affordable price. A blend of public and private sector approaches has the potential to efficiently deliver quality seeds to smallholder farmers.

Justin Miteng, IFDC South Sudan country director and A3-SEED lead, attended the event and discussed IFDC’s work with seed companies in South Sudan to enhance quality seed production, promote private extension and inspection services, and support the private sector in developing a network of sustainable marketing channels for seeds to reach smallholder farmers. The private sector in South Sudan is still nascent and could benefit from capacity building, international partnerships, and linkages to appropriate financing mechanisms. The national demand for seed is over 40,000 metric tons, with less than 40% of the requirement currently being met. The majority of seeds are those saved by farmers, which are recycled over time from previously harvested grain crops. Thus, food shortages result in seed shortages, which may justify relief seed interventions.

Research also plays a key role in developing seed systems. As a result of the conflict in the country, the public agricultural research system collapsed and has not yet become fully functional. However, with the efforts of individual breeders, supported by the Department of Research at the Ministry of Agriculture and Food Security, new varieties are being imported and local varieties are being improved, tested, and released to the public.

Miteng also addressed the shortage of essential seeds and planting materials necessary for farmers to produce both sufficient food for their households and a surplus to sell in the market. This has been a constraint for many generations, where poorly developed distribution networks are usually distorted.

Miteng explained: “To transition from this, A3-SEED is utilizing a blend of private sector-led approaches and community engagement aimed at creating a resilient seed sector in South Sudan. The project works with seed companies and local governments to identify locally suitable varieties for multiplication. The seed companies, together with agro-dealers, have a commercial incentive to develop the seed value chain and transform it into a sustainable and adaptive sector. We invest in improving seed production and marketing and building the distribution networks down to the last mile for smallholder farmers.”

A3-SEED is also collaborating with other projects, in addition to FNS-REPRO, to leverage their expertise and share experiences, including the Agricultural Markets, Value Addition, and Trade Development Project (AMVAT), funded by the African Development Bank (AfDB) and implemented by FAO; the South Sudan Livelihood and Resilience Project (SSLRP), funded by the International Fund for Agricultural Development (IFAD) and implemented by VSF Germany and Action Against Hunger (AAH); and the Toward Sustainable Clusters in Agribusiness through Learning in Entrepreneurship (2SCALE) project, a multi-year project implemented by IFDC in nine countries, including South Sudan. A3-SEED will particularly collaborate with 2SCALE at the market end of the value chain.

At the county level, seed inspectors have already started their work in inspecting fields. Through the Seed Trade Association of South Sudan (STASS), a refresher training is being organized for more seed field inspectors. STASS is establishing a local presence at the field (state) level, starting with Yambio.

The seed sector in South Sudan presents an opportunity for investment in its various segments, such as research, early generation seed production, seed multiplication, and marketing. This opportunity is available to the public and private sector, both locally and internationally. As demonstrated by the large volumes of seeds supplied and distributed by relief organizations, a ready market for seeds is available in South Sudan. There is an opportunity for investment to build a sustainable network for seed markets that generate employment and income for smallholder farmers, especially women and youth. Existing and emerging seed companies provide an opportunity for financial institutions to develop products for capitalizing seed companies, such as flexible loans and co-investment, so they can invest in processing and packaging lines.

A3-SEED (2021-2025), funded by the Embassy of the Kingdom of the Netherlands in South Sudan, is led by IFDC and implemented together with KIT Royal Tropical Institute.