2,400 Seeds of Hope
Virginiah Nakavuo spends most of her time in the warehouse of one of the local seed companies in Goma, North Kivu in the East of Democratic Republic of Congo. In a day, she sifts through tens of kilos of maize and beans seeds removing defective seed, seed from weeds and dirt.
She is one of almost three hundred residents employed by ETS Joab – a local seed company supported by the Partners for Seed in Africa (PASA) and Howard G. Buffett Foundation (HGBF) to produce locally adapted hybrid seeds.
“I no longer have to worry about what my children will eat. I earn enough to feed my family and send my children to school” said Virginiah. “Sorting these seeds is not only for my benefit but for everyone who wants to farm. With these hybrid seeds, our farmers will get higher yields for their own food. They will also sell the surplus to get money to send their children to school and build better houses. I am happy to be part of this life-transforming process,” she added.
Explaining the role of improved seeds in meeting local and regional food demand, Paluko Kalondero who is the founder and proprietor of ETS Joab, said that he was motivated to venture into the seed production business by the need to address the high levels of poverty among the residents of North Kivu.
Despite having some of the most fertile soils in the world and a climate that allows for the production of almost any crop, farmers in the DRC harvest less than 1 MT of maize per ha, compared with a potential harvest of 4-7 MT per ha.
“Farmers in the neighboring countries of Uganda and Rwanda which have similar ecological conditions to ours are thriving because they use high-quality seeds, while our people continued to be poor as they plant low yielding local seeds. My aim is to give our farmers access to high-quality seeds at the right time,” Kalondero added.
Holding a one-kilogram packet of maize seeds, Paluko explained that their immediate target is to reach12,000 farmers in North Kivu province, but he noted that the demand is till very high.
“There are 2,4000 seeds in this one-kilogram packet. Planted in the right conditions, the seeds in this packet will give a farmer a harvest of about one ton,” he explained.
Dr. Jane Ininda, a crop breeder, and an Associate Programme Director at PASA emphasized that quality seed is what a farmer needs most. “What you see here is a 17-hectare farm managed by ETS Joab which produces hybrid seeds in large scale,” she said pointing towards the vast maize farm. “Seeds produced here will be sold to farmers resulting in a yield increase to about 5-7 tons per hectare compared to the current 1-2 tons.”
This year, local seed companies supported by PASA have produced 155 MT of maize, bean, soybean and rice seed which are ready for sale to local farmers ahead of the planting season in August. “Increasing the availability and accessibility of high-yielding seed by smallholder farmers is key to unlocking the agricultural potential of North Kivu,” said Dr. Joe DeVries, President of PASA. “We are proud to have partnered with the Howard G. Buffett Foundation to support the first four start-up Congolese seed companies, which has resulted in a production of seeds sufficient to plant about 6,000 hectares of land. However, a lot more needs to be done,” he said.
The project is supported by Partners for Seed in Africa (PASA) and the Howard G. Buffett Foundation (HGBF). The collaboration, which began operations in 2014, provides financial and management support to local, private seed companies, establishes farmer participatory crop breeding programs and trains local scientists and technicians in crop breeding. PASA and HGBF work in partnership with the Government of the DRC and the Virunga Alliance with one of the goals to help farmers improve crop yields to reduce encroachment by farmers on Virunga National Park.