Making better soybean seeds more accessible to farmers in Malawi: The MISST experience

Limited access to good quality seed of improved varieties by smallholder farmers is one of the constraints to the productivity of soybean in Malawi. The IITA-led Malawi Improved Seed Systems and Technologies (MISST) project, funded through USAID’s Feed-the-Future initiative, attempts to address this by promoting public–private sector partnership to develop pathways for soybean farmers to have better access to seed of improved varieties.

Limited access to good quality seed of improved varieties by smallholder farmers is one of the constraints to the productivity of soybean in Malawi. The IITA-led Malawi Improved Seed Systems and Technologies (MISST) project, funded through USAID’s Feed-the-Future initiative, attempts to address this by promoting public–private sector partnership to develop pathways for soybean farmers to have better access to seed of improved varieties.

One of the approaches MISST uses is supporting the establishment and scaling out of market-oriented, community-based seed production and delivery systems in seven districts within the identified USAID Zones of Influence in Malawi.

During the year, MISST facilitated the production of 587.36 tons of seed of various classes from 541 ha of land, consequently improving the access of over 40 small- and medium-scale seed enterprises to quality basic seed and thousands of smallholder farmers to certified seed. With a seeding rate of 70 kg/ha, this quantity of seed will be planted on 8390 ha of farmland to produce 12,586 tons of grains, thus providing benefits to both seed and grain producers. MISST also trained over 30 community-based seed producer groups, comprising 320 farmers (235 men and 85 women) on seed production, internal quality control, and postharvest handling. The project also provided basic seed to these trained seed producer groups, who, in turn, produced 506 tons of certified seed during the 2015/2016 season. The groups sold over 271 tons of certified seed, valued at some MWK184 million (about $245,768), through market linkages created by the project.

The project also provided 1419 smallholder farmers (530 men and 889 women) with 3 kg of seed each of the early maturing drought-tolerant Tikolore variety, particularly those in the drought-prone districts of Balaka, Mangochi, and Machinga. Additionally, MISST worked closely with partners to multiply certified seed of the variety on 245 ha of land in the 2016 season.

Through the 642 variety demonstration plots established by the project, a total of 10,734 soybean farmers (5219 men and 5515 women) acquired knowledge and skills on good agronomic practices. With the successful introduction of double row technology, farmers can now save money on weed control. Preliminary information shows that the combination of these interventions resulted in an average increase in farmers’ productivity of 1.3 t/ha compared to the baseline figure of 0.8 t/ha.

As the project’s interventions are gaining momentum through enhanced seed production, many cooperative groups and individual farmers are now emerging as seed entrepreneurs in the covered districts of Malawi. Such are the cases of Gafali Saweta and Chionetsero Thomas, two successful beneficiaries of the MISST project.

Gafali Saweta, seed multiplier extraordinaire

Gafali Saweta, a member of the Fumaki Farmers’ Cooperative within the Lobi Extension Planning Area (EPA) of Dedza, is one of MISST’s successful community-based seed multipliers. Saweta’s path to success began when he was selected in the 2016 season as one of the beneficiaries of the MISST soybean seed production training. The 52-year-old received training on soybean seed production and quality control, and 240 kg of basic seed of the early maturing Tikolore variety. He planted the seed on 4 ha to produce certified seed following the cultural practices recommended by MISST. At harvest, he obtained a remarkable yield of 141 50-kg bags of Tikolore certified seed. “It was unbelievable! I was skeptical at first to try soybean seed production, but now I have seen that this venture is a real money-maker,” says Saweta.

“Despite the unusually dry spell that Malawi experienced during the 2015/2016 season, the 4 ha of Tikolore that I planted from the seed given by the MISST project still produced 141 50-kg bags of soybean seed, which has been certified by the government’s Seed Services Unit.”

“I sold some of the certified seed at MWK 600 (about $0.827) per kg to other farmers in my community, as well as to some agrodealers around Lobi EPA. In total, I earned some MWK 4.2 million (about $6000) from the sale of the seed,” Saweta happily related. “Since I ventured into farming, I never imagined that soybean seed production can be as profitable as this.” 94

“Hopefully, I will realize my dream of buying a car one day,” added Saweta, who attests that the income he gained from the sale of soybean seed last year was the biggest he had ever had since he started farming.

His successful seed production inspired and encouraged him to increase the size of land allocated to soybean seed production from 4 to 7 ha this year.

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