“Breaking through the 40% adoption ceiling: Mind the seed system gaps.” A perspective on seed systems research for development in One CGIAR

Seed systems research is central to achieving the United Nations Sustainable Development Goals. Improved varieties with promise for ending hunger, improving nutrition, and increasing livelihood security may be released, but how do they reach and benefit different types of farmers? Without widespread adoption the genetic gains achieved with improved crop varieties can never be actualized. Progress has been made toward demand responsive breeding, however the draft CGIAR 2030 Research and Innovation Strategy fails to recognize the complexity of seed systems and thus presents a narrow vision for the future of seed systems research. This points to the lack of evidence-based dialogue between seed systems researchers and breeders. This perspective paper presents findings from an interdisciplinary group of more than 50 CGIAR scientists who used a suite of seed systems tools to identify four knowledge gaps and associated insights from work on the seed systems for vegetatively propagated crops (VPCs), focusing on bananas (especially cooking bananas and plantains), cassava, potato, sweetpotato, and yam. We discuss the implications for thinking about and intervening in seed systems using a combined biophysical and socioeconomic perspective and how this can contribute to increased varietal adoption and benefits to farmers. The tools merit wider use, not only for the seed systems of VPCs, but for the seed of crops facing similar adoption challenges. We argue for deeper collaboration between seed systems researchers, breeders and national seed system stakeholders to address these and other knowledge gaps and generate the evidence and innovations needed to break through the 40% adoption ceiling for modern varieties, and ensure good quality seed once the new varieties have been adopted. Without this, the achievements of breeders may remain stuck in the seed delivery pipeline.