Seed Availability and Access

January 21, 2020


A man sits behind bags of beans and seeds holding a pumpkin.
Photo Credit: Ana Christina Chaclán García

This month, Marketlinks is exploring the enabling environment and market systems of the seed sector. This blog introduces a report originally published by CIAT, a CGIAR Research Center

Seed systems are the vehicle through which farmers get high-quality seed of the new crop varieties they want and need. Effective seed systems have the potential to increase production quickly and economically. They give farmers access to good-quality seed and knowledge of improved practices, and their harvests can rise dramatically.

Informal seed systems models are not delivering with the efficiency and effectiveness needed. For example, farmers often rely on seed distribution from their fellow farmers, which is just too slow for new varieties to have a major impact. In parallel, formal seed systems tend to focus on a few profitable seed crops such as maize and vegetable seed, leaving less profitable crops by the wayside.

The development of impact-oriented seed systems can contribute importantly to the Sustainable Development Goals.

Scaling up seed systems

The CIAT staff work to foster partnerships for scaling-up seed system successes, evaluate diverse models of seed production and delivery, develop information crucial for making informed choices, and shape policy towards the benefit of smallholder farmers.

During periods of disaster — whether drought, flood, earthquakes, political instability, civil strife or displacement — CIAT collaborates with national and international organizations to improve seed security.

Ultimately, seed system development goes well beyond producing and marketing seed. CIAT’s work aims to catalyze efficient seed systems, which can move improved varieties, provide multiple benefits, and which can be accessed by all smallholder farmers.

Uniting value chain actors

CIAT supports the development of seed systems uniting actors all along the value chain to create sustainable seed systems and spur links with formal seed producers. Through networks such as the Pan-Africa Bean Research Alliance, improved seed varieties can be moved at high volumes, across geographic zones, and with wide social reach.

Crucial to this work, CIAT fosters private-public partnerships to identify possibilities for integrating formal and informal seed systems. For example, in 2011, CIAT entered into an agreement with Dow AgroSciences for large-scale commercialization of tropical grass hybrids developed by Center scientists.


Increased acceptance of the quality declared seed grade in seed regulation.

Increased prioritization of bean seed systems, among other crops, as a result of engaging policymakers.

Through the Pan-Africa Bean Research Alliance (PABRA), over 550 new bean varieties were released across Africa, and millions of farming households accessed quality seed of improved and preferred bean varieties.

CIAT scientists at Kawanda genebank in Uganda, part of the National Agricultural Research Organization, safeguard the largest collection of beans in Africa, including bean seeds from CIAT and those saved by researchers during the Rwandan civil conflict. East African bean breeders are using this diversity to develop new high-iron and drought-tolerant bean varieties. Five such varieties were released in Uganda in 2016.