Do smallholder farmer-led seed systems have the capacity to supply good-quality, fungal-free sorghum seed?
Abstract, Agriculture & Food Security, 2017
Local seed systems that are developed, managed and maintained by farmers are a fundamental practice in smallholder crop production, supporting more than 80% of farmers in sub-Saharan Africa and feeding more than 70% of its population. The resilience of such systems is under threat from poverty, climate change, drought, increased pests and diseases, over-promotion of modern crop varieties, change of lifestyles and restrictive seed policies. The system continues to be maligned as having inferior quality, yet few studies support this assertion. This study aims to fill this research gap by evaluating 60 sorghum seed samples collected from smallholder farmers in Uzumba-Maramba-Pfungwe and Chimanimani districts of Zimbabwe. We investigated the effect of farmer-led seed management practices (e.g. seed acquisition and seed storage practices) on farm-derived sorghum seed quality (moisture, germination and fungal incidences). We found farmers using diverse seed sources and seed storage practices. Seeds were typically of good quality in that their storage moisture content was low, their germination was high, and fungal incidences were low. Seed sourced from local markets, non-governmental organizations and other farmers had germination and moisture standards that met the sorghum certification standards in Zimbabwe. However, few samples obtained from the relatives and government failed to meet the germination and/or moisture certification standards. We detected low incidences of fungi (Aspergillus flavus, Aspergillus niger, Curvularia lunata, Fusarium sp. and Penicillium sp.) in sorghum seed samples tested and in particular Fusarium sp., which is the most economic important fungus in sorghum production. We conclude that farmer-led seed systems have the capacity to supply seeds of good quality and recommend that such systems should be recognized and promoted to meet the ever-evolving needs of smallholder farmers in sub-Saharan Africa.