Until 2017, Rwanda depended on imports to meet its need of hybrid seed for maize, soybean and wheat, some of the country’s staples. The country was importing around 3,000 tons of hybrid maize seed, 800 tons of wheat and 700 tons of soybean every year to meet its local demand. 

However, through support from the Alliance for a Green Revolution in Africa (AGRA), the Rwandese government and private seed companies in the country were able to advance their seed production and multiplication capacity to such an extent that the country is now self-sufficient in hybrid maize. 

To date, AGRA has invested in 15 private seed companies across Rwanda including Ignite Seed Company, one of two women-owned seed companies in the country. Ignite produces soybean, bean and maize seed. Founded in 2014 by veterinarian Norah Kamashazi, the company has grown to produce 4.2 metric tons per hectare of hybrid maize and has operations in three districts — Gatsibo, Bugesera and Nyagatare. To promote further growth, AGRA is helping Ignite procure large-capacity seed conditioning machines. 

Likewise, the Rwanda Improved Seed Company (RISCO) has increased its production of maize and bean seed to 100 tons per season from just 12 tons previously. Through the partnership, RISCO has increased its cultivation of early generation seed from 30 to 84 hectares, creating new employment opportunities as well.

“Currently, we employ over 100 casual workers and four retained staff compared to 30 casual workers and one retainer previously,” said John Muvara, RISCO’s managing director, in recognition of the benefits accrued from the partnership. 

To ensure sustained improved seed production, AGRA funded the training of Rwandan researchers (29 with Master of Science degrees and eight with Doctor of Philosophy degrees), who have now developed 47 improved crop varieties of quality seeds, including maize, beans, soybeans, Irish potatoes, sweet potatoes and bananas. 

Overall, the partnership has invested USD $10.8 million in creating a functional and strong seed system in the East African country with over 4,500 metric tons of certified hybrid maize, bean, potato and soybean seed being produced and sold locally. 

On the understanding that a strong regulatory environment is needed for the seed value chain to meet international standards, USD $1.7 million was invested in establishing a policy and legal framework for the industry. This was to ensure that smallholder farmers in the country have access to high-quality seed of improved varieties and that local seed companies would be positioned to export their seed to the rest of the world.

The partnership supported a study tour by Rwanda’s seed system players to Kenya to study the country’s Seed Enterprise Management Institute (SEMIs) for best practices, and to Zambia to observe the Seed Control and Certification Institute’s regulatory approach to inspections and services. 

“Through the study tour, I realized that institutional partnerships play a major role in seed regulation and stabilization of seed systems,” said Saidi Rumanzi Mbaraka (Ph.D.), College of Agriculture, Animal Science and Veterinary Medicine (CAVM), University of Rwanda.

“The trip was a proper opportunity to practically experience how various stakeholders jointly contribute to high-quality seed availability,” added Kadafi Misago (Ph.D.), College of Business and Economics, University of Rwanda.

Through such investments, 463,500 farmers now have access to improved seed, out of whom 239,055 have adopted these yield-raising inputs. Rwandan farmers now source 80% of improved seed locally. 

“Farmers are able to get quality seeds at affordable prices and plant on time. This is important to improve crop production and farmers’ household incomes,” said Fidel Nizeyimana, a researcher at the Rwanda Agriculture Board.

Farmers in the country are now reporting impressive harvests from the improved seed, with hybrid maize yielding 7 tons per hectare, in comparison to traditional varieties that average 2 tons per hectare.

Additionally, because of the low cost of domestically produced seeds relative to imported seeds, farmers are able to save on input investments, further increasing their profits. Hybrid maize seed produced by RISCO cost RWF 1,450 (USD $1.44) per kilogram, while imported improved seeds retail at RWF 2,050 (USD $2.04) per kilogram. 

Going forward, the production and distribution of improved seeds will remain part of AGRA’s strategy for supporting a food systems transformation in Rwanda and Africa. This focus is in keeping with research findings showing that farmers’ incomes and overall food security can be significantly improved through the cultivation of improved crop varieties and high-quality seeds, accompanied by other technologies, such as fertilizers.

Originally published