RTB seed systems are notoriously tricky because their vegetatively propagated seed is bulky and perishable. Getting improved varieties quicker to farmers and improving seed quality to raise yields can result in big impacts. Surprisingly, despite many RTB seed interventions, there is no systematic analysis about what works and what does not. So whilst innovative approaches have been tried out, they are generally isolated experiences. Without further analysis and a community of practices for shared learning, they don’t lead to widespread improvements in practices. There is a need for translational research, to convert the use of advances in basic science (i.e. new detection or multiplication methods) into practical applications to improve RTB seed production, availability and access for small scale farmers. So what to do?

Earlier this year, Oscar Ortiz, leader of the seed theme in RTB in collaboration with the focal points at Bioversity, CIAT and IITA, and with the support of the consultant Louise Sperling and RTB Director Graham Thiele, organized a workshop with a group of scientists from CGIAR, Wageningen University, CRS and NRI in Wageningen to figure out how to move ahead. Read the report

Small-scale seed efforts in Uganda. Photo: CIP

Louise presented the elements of a framework for diagnosis and guiding practical interventions in seed systems. This focuses on ensuring that small farmers are seed secure. Seed has to be available, they have to have access to it and it has to meet their needs for quality including both varietal preferences and seed health.  It is very similar to a food security framework which some of you may have come across.

Seed interventions are complex.  They require the coordination of many stakeholders to steer the intervention in the right direction. Their actions need to be coherent with the overall goal of the intervention, which could be oriented to food security or raising incomes.

During the workshop the team identified some key R&D areas and began to flesh out the conceptual framework. It also agreed on the key elements of a research project to bring in more evidence from case studies about what actually works. Watch this space for further updates about RTB progress on this.