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Fatal gaps in seed security strategy


Seed security initiatives are proliferating in both developmental and crisis contexts but the field as a whole is weak in critical thinking. Two gaps in particular are explored in this paper: the need to set explicit seed security goals and the need to ensure balance among the security elements of availability, access and quality. Differences in the planning and implementing of seed security initiatives are examined in some detail for programs that variously aim for: food production, nutritional enhancement, system resilience, and income generation. Results show that one seed security program is not like another and that features such as partner choice, product design, delivery and awareness-raising strategy need to be tailored to meet the overarching goals. The paper closes with five key policy and programming recommendations.

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    This is an underestimate and results from author and public information on the seed-related budgets of programs funded by Alliance for a Green Revolution in Africa/Program for Africa Seed Systems (AGRA/PASS), Swiss Development Cooperation, McKnight and The Bill and Melinda Gates Foundations (which includes but goes beyond support to AGRA/PASS).

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    The Tropical Legumes II project, funded by the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation (2007 and ongoing as of 2012) does contain some of these unique features, including programming 15 different methods for awareness-raising and demand creation (Tropical Legumes II Seed Systems Working Group 2009).

  5. 5.

    A step by step expansion of this logic might run as follows: increased seed availability will drive increased and widespread adoption of new varieties; increased production of staple crops will then result; increasing staple grain production will increase food availability; and increased availability is the way to address food security.

  6. 6.

    We stress here farmers as the pivotal actors in determining quality needs, both the seed quality and the desired varieties. Some farmers strive for certified seed and commercial variety use. For others, non-certified seed that has some social certification is optimal (Catholic Relief Services in Sperling et al. 2008) and local varieties may be preferred, for agronomic, cultural or organoleptic reasons.


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The authors thank Stephen Beebe and the anonymous reviewers for comments on the full manuscript.

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Correspondence to Louise Sperling.

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Sperling, L., McGuire, S. Fatal gaps in seed security strategy. Food Sec. 4, 569–579 (2012).

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  • Food security
  • Seed security
  • Nutrition
  • Resilience
  • Climate change