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The Ten Principles of Good Seed Aid: A Guide for Practitioners


Seed aid is a crucial part of disaster response, helping farmers quickly restart production after a catastrophe. However, not all seed aid is created equal. Good seed aid can be a lifeline for farmers, while bad seed aid can waste resources and even exacerbate vulnerability. In this post, we'll explore the ten guiding principles for good seed aid practice, as assembled by Mercy Corps and Seed System through ISSD Africa.

1. Conduct an Assessment

The first step in providing effective seed aid is to conduct a seed system security assessment. This assessment should identify the specific seed security problem, be it availability, access, seed health, or variety suitability. The assessment should guide your decision to intervene and should focus on both what the farmer wants (demand) and possible sources for the farmer to use (supply).

2. Tailor the Response to the Problem

The response should be targeted to the specific problem. For instance, if the problem is seed access, cash or vouchers may help. If it's availability, then direct seed distribution is an option. However, beware of using the same response in the same area over multiple seasons, as this may harm the farming system and may signal that the problem is not well understood.

3. Be Clear About the Intervention's Goal

Good seed aid can support many goals, from boosting food security and nutrition to farming system resilience to income and livelihood support. Understand the farmers' priorities and then tailor your aid to them. For example, if the goal is climate resilience, the use of drought-resistant seed might be an option.

4. Confirm Feasibility

Seed aid during a drought is very different from seed aid during a war. Assess the feasibility of actions from both the farming community and practitioner perspectives before intervening. Good seed aid should never spur unnecessary risks for the promise of seed.

5. Timeliness is Key

Late seed aid is dead aid. All planning should be based on the farmer's planting schedules, and logistics should be charted accordingly. If you cannot get seed to farmers on time, consider non-seed assistance.

6. Prioritize Market-Based Assistance

Market-based seed aid helps farmers in the short term and boosts the wider economy. Good seed aid supports all seed markets, both informal and formal. Focus on increasing farmers' purchasing power and supporting sellers to increase or widen supply.

7. Ensure Crop and Variety Suitability

Ensure that crops and varieties are adapted to local conditions, usable under farmers' own management, tolerant to stresses, and acceptable to both male and female farmers. If there is no seed that fits all four criteria, consider non-seed assistance.

8. Verify Seed Quality

Seed must meet the quality standards of farmers, practitioners, and donors. Labels alone do not guarantee seed quality. Seed from the formal sector might be low quality, while seed from the informal sector might be high quality.

9. Offer Farmers' Choice

Particularly in times of stress or urgency, farmers tailor crop and variety choices to meet their urgent needs. Support access to a diverse range of crops and varieties for farmers, whether they are male or female, commercial or subsistence-oriented, displaced or settled.

10. Get Feedback Repeatedly

Feedback from farmers and other stakeholders is essential. You must learn both the immediate and the enduring effects of your aid. Ask right after aid is given, at the end of the first season, and again after several seasons. This allows for seed aid improvements over time.

By following these ten principles, practitioners can provide seed aid that truly supports farmers' fast and effective recovery. To learn more about these principles, check out the Seed Emergency Response Tool.


Remember, the key to good seed aid is understanding the needs of the farmers and tailoring your response to meet those needs. Whether it's providing the right type of seed, ensuring timely delivery, or offering a choice of crops and varieties, every aspect of your aid should be designed with the farmers in mind. By doing so, you can help farmers recover from disasters more quickly and effectively, and contribute to the resilience and sustainability of their farming systems.

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