COVID-19: Advocating immediate practical, remedial and preventative action

In 2020, partners actoss multiple countries mobilised to rapidly assess the impacts of COVID-19 on the functioning of seed sectors. This article charts what happened through the assessments and what was learned about structural seed sector reform

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Highlights

  • Assessments were rapid, inclusive and effective in advocating immediate action.
  • Reduced mobility was the root cause of disruptions in the supply of quality seed.
  • Farmers are unlikely to benefit from crop improvement investments for time to come.
  • The COVID-19 crisis facilitated uptake of digital technologies in service provision.
  • The crisis exacerbated structural weaknesses in the formal seed sector.

Abstract

Rapid assessments of the impacts of the COVID-19 crisis on the seed sector were conducted by a coalition of partners in Ethiopia, Myanmar, Nigeria, and Uganda in May and June 2020. The method was rapid, iterative, inclusive and valuable in revealing threats to the availability and timely access of farmers to quality seed and to food, nutrition and income security, and in advocating for remedial and preventative action.

Via mobile application and web survey, and focus group discussions on virtual conferencing platforms a panel of 36 or more local experts operating particularly in formal seed systems in each country identified potential disruptions to activities in the seed sector and recommended immediate practical action to ensure continuity in performance. Recommendations, and the stakeholders best positioned to propel their action, were proposed to and approved by senior leadership in the sector.

The entire process from survey to publication of a seed alert in each iteration was completed within two weeks. Due to the highly seasonal nature of agriculture, and recognition that activities are time-bound, quick turnaround on assessments was essential. Dashboards indicated where impact was felt the hardest, also showing how dynamic the situation was.

Countries were at different stages in their agricultural seasons, which made the data highly contextual, but also interesting for getting a glimpse into the future. Lessons were offered from one country to another. Reduced mobility was the root cause of many disruptions in supplying seed to farmers. Disruptions caused seed and related industry to operate at reduced capacity.

The cost of transactions and doing business during these times may have increased the scarcity and price of inputs beyond what farmers can recover. Sales of quality seed in formal markets were perceived to decline due to delays in distribution, weakened promotion efforts and fewer farmers present.

Farmers are less likely to benefit from investments in crop improvement for more seasons to come due to delays in the development and release of new varieties. Social distancing prevents stakeholders from meeting to exchange goods, services and information, but the sector is gradually getting up to speed with information technology. For all concerns, practical options were offered and often implemented. The pandemic has exacerbated structural weaknesses in the organization of the seed sector, for which reforms are not only justified, but overdue.