AGRA's Programme for Africa's Seeds Systems

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AGRA's Programme for Africa's Seeds Systems (PASS) is a program of the Alliance for a Green Revolution in Africa. The director is Joseph DeVries. PASS was the first program launched, in 2007, after its founding in late 2006. They describe the program as follows:

"AGRA’s Program in Africa’s Seed Systems (PASS) works to dramatically increase Africa’s capacity to breed, produce and disseminate quality seed of staple food crops such as maize, rice, cassava, beans, sorghum, millet and other staples. This US$150 million initiative aims to develop seed systems that deliver new crop varieties to smallholder farmers efficiently, equitably and sustainably.

To do so, PASS operates through four sub-programs which form a seed value chain that begins with educating a new generation of plant breeders and seed specialists and ends with improved seed on the shelves of village-level agro-dealers. The four sub-programs are: Education for African Crop Improvement (EACI); Fund for the Improvement and Adoption of African Crops (FIAAC); Seed Production for Africa (SEPA), and the Agro-dealer Development Program (ADP)."[1]

The four programs work as follows:

  • Education for African Crop Improvement (EACI) funds the training of African crop breeders (Masters and PhD levels)
  • Fund for the Improvement and Adoption of African Crops (FIAAC) funds the development and release of crop varieties
  • Seed Production for Africa (SEPA) helps African seed companies produce seeds
  • Agro-dealer Development Program (ADP) trains new agro-dealers

Education for African Crop Improvement (EACI)

The Education for African Crop Improvement (EACI) includes two sub-programs: the African Centre for Crop Improvement (ACCI) at the University of KwaZulu-Natal in South Africa and the West Africa Centre for Crop Improvement (WACCI) at the University of Ghana, Legon. ACCI was actually begun in 2000, prior to the founding of AGRA, and by the time it partnered with AGRA it was training eight new PhD students each year with a total of 46 students in the system and was working on 13 crops. It graduated its first class of students in 2007. The ACCI program, at that time, was already drawing students from 13 countries in Southern and East Africa.[2]

ACCI's partnership with AGRA, along with the founding of WACCI, was announced in September 2007. WACCI would recruit students from West and Central Africa. Together the two programs set a goal of training 120 PhD plant breeders over the next ten years. To do so, the University of Ghana, Legon, received a grant for US$4.9 million and the University of KwaZulu-Natal received US$8.1 million. In a press release, AGRA said:[2]

"The WACCI and ACCI programmes set a new direction for agricultural higher education in Africa. Until now, most PhD training of African plant breeders has taken place in Europe or the United States. That training has primarily involved crops that are largely irrelevant to African farming."

WACCI's program offered a PhD fellowship involving two years of coursework plus three of field research. "First year course work will include plant genetics, crop improvement, biometry, quantitative genetics, molecular genetics and biotechnology in plant breeding, plant microbial interactions and disease control and plant stress physiology."[2]

AGRA also provided a grant of $1.7 million to Cornell University to help by "assisting with curriculum design, assessing research capacity, and reviewing dissertation proposals," as well as providing distance learning opportunities, helping with the design of the program's IT infrastructure, and providing access to its library.[2]

WACCI welcomed its first eight AGRA-sponsored PhD students in March 2008.[3] One month later, eight PhD students graduated from ACCI.[4] By June 2009, a total of 67 MSc and 46 PhD AGRA-sponsored Fellows were studying at nine African universities and 15 PhD plant breeders had already graduated. Once the graduates returned to their home countries, AGRA continued to sponsor their work.[5]

Goals and Achievements

AGRA lists its goals for the PASS program in next five years as follows:[6]

  • "Provide PhD fellowships in plant breeding to 80 African scientists (EACI)
  • "Provide MSc fellowships to up to 170 aspiring African agronomists and strengthen the crop science programs in at least 10 African universities (EACI)
  • "Develop and release 400 new crop varieties over 10 years (FIAAC)
  • "Assist over 50 African seed enterprises to serve the needs of smallholder farmers within five years (SEPA)
  • "Train at least 10,000 well-functioning agro-dealers (ADP)"

An October 2009 press release summed up PASS' work as follows:

"PASS’ work across the seed value chain has already resulted in training over 100 African crop scientists, funding some 40 crop breeding programs, steering 65 new crop varieties into the field, providing start-up capital for 32 African seed enterprises which have collectively produced approximately 6,000 MT of certified seed, and enlisting 5,000 agro-dealers who have provided smallholder farmers with $45 million worth of seed and farm inputs.
"An assessment by AGRA earlier this year found that nearly all seed producers in 13 countries have sold 100 percent of their seed. Most indicated they could have sold more. In only two years, investments in 32 small and medium-sized seed companies and cooperatives have helped them double production, from 2,656 metric tons to 5,284 metric tons. PASS hopes to see these totals rise to 10,000 tons by the end of this year.[7]

Additionally, they reported that "In just four countries - Malawi, Tanzania, Kenya and Zambia - AGRA has funded the training of 4,426 agro-dealers, leading to the certification of 3,612 agro-dealers. They have collectively sold nearly US$2,000,000 of inputs to farmers."[7]

In 2012, AGRA released an estimate that "at least 500,000 metric tons of seed for staple food crops" were needed in Africa.[8] The estimate was released from a meeting that "brought together chief executives from more than 40 African seed companies, financiers, and experts." AGRA estimated that "the seed companies attending the meeting... produced approximately 40,000 metric tons in 2011."

Days before, in another release, AGRA said:

"By 2017, PASS will add 40 new private, independent seed companies to the 60 already established under the first phase of the program. The program’s aim is to achieve yearly production of 200,000 metric tons of improved seed for food crops such as maize, cassava, and legumes to support 10 million smallholder farmers. The program will continue to support the education of local crop scientists ensuring that every major crop in 13 countries has at least one fully-qualified crop breeder. PASS will also fund the training of an additional 5,000 agro-dealers to set up individually-owned and operated seed and fertilizer shops in remote areas. These efforts will build structures to get improved seed in the hands of smallholder farmers to increase production and decrease dependence on aid."[9]


There were 112 grants funded by PASS between 2007 and 2012, totaling $35,244,164.[10] The average grant size was $314,680 and the largest grant was for $12,000,000. Grantee organizations were based in the following countries: Tanzania (13 grants), Ghana (10), Kenya (10), Uganda (9), United States (8), Ethiopia (7), Mozambique (7), Zimbabwe (7), Malawi (6), Nigeria (6), Zambia (5), Mali (4), Rwanda (4), Niger (3), Bangladesh (2), Burkina Faso (2), Sierra Leone (2), South Africa (2), and one grant each to organizations in India, Liberia, Mauritius, and the United Kingdom.

The main crop in half (56) of the grants was maize. Other grants listed the main crop as: Cassava (8 grants), Groundnut (6), Beans (4), Rice (3), Millet (2), Soybean (2), Banana (1), Cowpea (1), Pigeon Pea (1), Sesame (1), Sorghum (1), and Sweet potato (1).

Three grants were given to Aline O'Connor Funk to "Assist in developing and fostering the ability of the private seed sector in Africa to provide improved seeds to small scale farmers in Sub-Saharan Africa on a sustainable basis." The grants were as follows:

  • March 2008: $139,598
  • March 2009: $211,550
  • July 2010: $232,638
  • Total: $583,786

Four grants were given to Dave Westphal "To assist small and medium-sized seed companies in Africa to develop hybrid maize seed production and processing."

  • February 2009:$88,663
  • September 2009: $162,407
  • September 2010: $200,663
  • October 2011: $197,013

Uganda's National Agricultural Research Organisation was another frequent grant recipient:

  • July 2007: $263,000 to work on "Multiplication and promotion of Black Sigatoka-Resistant Banana Genotypes in Uganda"
  • June 2008: $156,341 to work on "Sustainable community-based, farmer-led bean seed enterprises to reach communities not served by the formal seed sector for improved income and livelihoods"
  • June 2009: $173,000 to work on "Establishment of a farmer-based seed multiplication and delivery system for improved varieties of cassava, beans, groundnuts and rice in West Nile zone, Uganda."

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