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Seed Systems in Fragile States: Challenges, Opportunities and Peacebuilding Implications

Arnab Gupta



Fragile states are countries that face instability, violence, conflict, displacement, and humanitarian crises. They often lack effective governance, institutions, and services, and are vulnerable to shocks and stresses. According to the World Bank, there are 39 fragile states in the world as of 2020¹.


One of the sectors that are severely affected by fragility is agriculture, especially seed systems. Seed systems are the networks of actors and activities that produce, distribute and use seeds of different crops and varieties. They are essential for food security, livelihoods, biodiversity, and resilience of farming communities.


However, seed systems in fragile states face many challenges that undermine their functioning and performance. Some of these challenges are:


Low availability and accessibility of quality seeds: Fragile states often have a weak institutional capacity to produce, distribute and control seed quality, resulting in low seed utilization and compromised seed systems resilience²,³. Farmers may face difficulties in accessing seeds of their preferred crops and varieties due to market disruptions, transport constraints, insecurity, or displacement. They may also resort to using low-quality seeds that have poor germination, yield and disease resistance.


Loss of crop diversity and genetic resources: Fragile states are often rich in crop diversity and genetic resources, but they are also at risk of losing them due to conflict, displacement, climate change or neglect. Crop diversity and genetic resources are important for the adaptation, innovation and resilience of seed systems and farming systems. They also have cultural, nutritional and economic value for farmers and consumers.


Lack of supportive policies and regulations: Fragile states often lack supportive policies and regulations that enable the development and functioning of seed systems. For example, they may have outdated or unclear seed laws that hinder the registration, certification and protection of new varieties. They may also have weak or absent intellectual property rights that discourage innovation and investment in seed research and development. They may also have restrictive trade policies that limit the movement and exchange of seeds across borders.


Limited participation and coordination of stakeholders: Fragile states often have limited participation and coordination of stakeholders involved in seed systems, such as farmers, seed producers, traders, researchers, extension agents, NGOs, donors and government agencies. This may result in duplication, fragmentation or gaps in seed system activities and services. It may also lead to mistrust, conflict or exclusion of some groups or interests.


Despite these challenges, seed systems in fragile states also offer opportunities for improvement and transformation. Some of these opportunities are:


  • Leveraging local knowledge and innovation: Fragile states often have rich local knowledge and innovation in seed systems, especially among farmers who have developed their own practices, preferences and varieties over generations. This local knowledge and innovation can be leveraged to enhance the diversity, quality and resilience of seed systems. For example, farmers can be supported to select, save, exchange and improve their own seeds through participatory plant breeding or community seed banks.


  • Strengthening informal seed systems: Fragile states often rely heavily on informal seed systems, which are the networks of actors and activities that operate outside the formal sector regulated by the state. Informal seed systems provide most of the seeds used by farmers in fragile states⁴, especially for crops and varieties that are not available or affordable in the formal sector. Informal seed systems can be strengthened by improving their quality control, linkages with formal sector actors, access to information and credit, and recognition by policies and regulations.


  • Promoting inclusive and integrated seed systems: Fragile states often have diverse and complex seed systems that involve multiple actors, sources, channels and types of seeds. These seed systems can be promoted as inclusive and integrated systems that recognize and accommodate the different needs, preferences and roles of different stakeholders. For example, inclusive and integrated seed systems can foster collaboration among formal and informal sector actors; balance the use of modern and traditional varieties; support the conservation and utilization of crop diversity; and ensure the participation and empowerment of women, youth and marginalized groups in seed system activities and decision-making⁵.


By addressing the challenges and seizing the opportunities of seed systems in fragile states,

it is possible to support peacebuilding efforts through improving seed system programming. Peacebuilding is the process of preventing, reducing or transforming violent conflict and building the foundations for sustainable peace and development. Seed system programming can contribute to peacebuilding in fragile states by:


Enhancing food security and livelihoods: Seed system programming can enhance food security and livelihoods of farming communities in fragile states by increasing the availability and accessibility of quality seeds of diverse crops and varieties; improving the productivity, profitability and resilience of farming systems; and creating income and employment opportunities along the seed value chain.

Reducing vulnerability and enhancing resilience: Seed system programming can reduce vulnerability and enhance resilience of farming communities in fragile states by supporting the conservation and utilization of crop diversity and genetic resources; promoting the use of climate-smart and stress-tolerant varieties; and strengthening the capacity of seed system actors to cope with and recover from shocks and stresses.

Building trust and social cohesion: Seed system programming can build trust and social cohesion among seed system actors and stakeholders in fragile states by fostering collaboration, coordination and communication across different groups, sectors and levels; facilitating the exchange of seeds, information and knowledge; and addressing the root causes and drivers of conflict, such as inequality, exclusion or competition over resources.

Supporting governance and institutional development: Seed system programming can support governance and institutional development in fragile states by strengthening the policies, regulations and institutions that enable the development and functioning of seed systems; enhancing the accountability, transparency and responsiveness of seed system actors; and empowering the participation and voice of seed system stakeholders, especially women, youth and marginalized groups.


Conclusion


Seed systems in fragile states face many challenges that undermine their functioning and performance, but they also offer opportunities for improvement and transformation. By addressing the challenges and seizing the opportunities of seed systems in fragile states, it is possible to support peacebuilding efforts by improving seed system programming. This requires a context-specific, holistic and adaptive approach that leverages local knowledge and innovation; strengthens informal seed systems; promotes inclusive and integrated seed systems; and contributes to food security, livelihoods, resilience, trust, social cohesion, governance and institutional development.


Sources




³: Templer, N., Birachi, E., and Rubyogo, J.C. 2022. Seed and Market Systems of the Eastern DRC: A Fragile State Case Study. A Feed the Future Global Supporting Seed Systems for Development activity report. https://pdf.usaid.gov/pdf_docs/PA00ZZBD.pdf


⁴: Croft, M. 2021. Seed Systems in Fragile States - Haiti Case Study. A Feed the Future Global Supporting Seed Systems for Development activity report. https://pdf.usaid.gov/pdf_docs/PA00ZG2W.pdf


⁵: ISSD Africa. 2020. Background Document: ISSD Africa Topic 1 and 2 Technical Guidance Group - Seed Systems in Fragile States. https://www.fsnnetwork.org/sites/default/files/ISSD%20Africa%20Technical%20Guidance%20Group%20-%20Background%20Document.pdf


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