Toolbox for Working with Root, Tuber and Banana Seed Systems

Join our launch: Tuesday, 2 March 2021, 15.00-16.00 East African Time


“People don’t think about seed as much as they should. Every living thing we produce starts from some sort of seed. It’s a huge responsibility for seed systems research to take on.” Erik Delaquis, RTB and Alliance of Bioversity and CIAT. Lao P.D.R.

If we are to unlock the potential of roots, tubers and banana crops to improve lives, farmers must have access to planting material of landraces or improved varieties that is high yielding, resistant to stresses, highly nutritious, or responsive to consumer demand. And, for One CGIAR to remain relevant, we need to increase genetic gains and varietal turnover in farmers’ fields.

To achieve those goals, we call for closer engagement between seed system actors and breeders.

Our work as the Seed Systems community of practice of the CGIAR Research Program on Roots, Tubers and Bananas (RTB) focuses on understanding critical bottlenecks in the seed systems for RTB crops which support more than a billion smallholders globally. Over the last eight years, we have identified and started to address four key knowledge gaps in seed systems: capturing variety and seed demand characteristics of different types of farmers; appropriate seed delivery pathways; seed health management; and, appropriate seed regulatory frameworks

New toolbox addresses action areas

The Toolbox offers 11 tools to diagnose, evaluate and improve seed systems of RTB crops, but the tools are also highly relevant for seed systems of other crops. The tools have been used in countries across sub-Saharan Africa, Latin America and the Caribbean and Southeast Asia by researchers, policymakers, and practitioners (Andrade-Piedra et al., 2020).

The 11 tools now in the toolbox include (1) multi-stakeholder framework, (2) impact network analysis (INA), (3) seed tracker, (4) integrated seed health approaches and models, (5) seed tracing, (6) small-N/exploratory case study, (7) four-square method, (8) means-end chain analysis, (9) experimental auctions, (10) seed regulatory framework analysis, and (11) sustainable early generation seed business analysis tool (SEGSBAT).

Each tool includes a user guide, at least one published paper, examples of questions that the tool can help answer, and considerations for gender and social groups. An interactive glossary of important terms used in root, tuber and banana seed systems aims to reduce the confusion around terminology.

Three outcomes

Using the tools, we expect three outcomes. The first is at the scientific level: a better understanding of the commonly overlooked seed systems of RTB crops. Various biophysical and socio-economic factors affect seed systems. The tools help to disentangle the complex relationships among them and arm us with the knowledge to face global challenges such as global warming and the feminization of agriculture.

The second outcome is at the project level: interventions can be better designed, implemented, and evaluated and can include a stronger focus on equity and gender. Several of the tools in the toolbox help to systematically collect and analyze important data or use models to help users design robust interventions based on scientific information. Other tools obtain quick estimates of key variables with limited resources. Once an intervention is designed, other tools can be used to further improve its implementation and evaluation.

The third expected outcome is at the policy level: informing the allocation of resources using scientific evidence. Deciding where to allocate limited resources is a key problem for donors and policymakers. The toolbox helps decision-makers to use scientific evidence to guide these decisions. For example, poor farmers are challenged with managing seed degeneration (the gradual breakdown in seed quality over sequential planting seasons). A case evaluated by the seed health model suggests it might be more profitable to invest in breeding resistant varieties rather than in developing overly complex systems for delivering clean seed.

Building capacity and achieving SDGs

We are now engaging with national seed system stakeholders to strengthen the capacity to use the toolbox. A User guide to the toolbox for working with root, tuber and banana seed systems is available to give users a guided tour. A series of online training events will also later be hosted in partnership with tertiary training institutions in target countries in sub-Saharan Africa, Latin America and the Caribbean, and Southeast Asia.

As Israel Navarrete, a research assistant with RTB and CIP, Ecuador, commented: “Varieties!!!… Finding what farmers look at contributes to making a preferred variety. This is what the toolbox allows.”

Working together through seed systems, we can make great strides towards achieving the sustainable development goals related to poverty reduction, improving livelihoods and jobs, nutrition, health, and food security, ensuring gender equality, youth and social inclusion, climate adaptation and mitigation, and environmental health and biodiversity.