Increased availability of quality seed in Cameroon is enabling smallholder farmers to boost their yields and incomes, and increase the food self-sufficiency of the country.
To enhance productivity in Cameroon, more than two dozen seed multiplication farms for maize, cassava, beans, yams and plantains have been established, which supply rural smallholders with improved, affordable seeds. The farms, which have been set up by the Southwest Development Authority (SOWEDA) in Buea, in collaboration with local farmer organisations, provide a reliable stock of resilient seeds for smallholders struggling to adapt to the impacts of climate change. In 2017, over 70,000 t of maize seeds, 20,000 t of bean seeds and 15,000 yam sets from the farms were distributed to smallholders in the region. Further, since the project’s implementation in 2014, 63 farming groups with over 70,000 members across the south-west region have benefited.
According to Patrick Esapa, president of the Southwest Farmer’s Cooperative Union, severe droughts between 2012 and 2015 led to a limited supply of quality seed, and prices soared. Tomato seed, for example, quadrupled in price to €240 (CFA 160,000) for a 5 l container. By contrast, farmers who join a SOWEDA common initiative group can get a variety of seeds at the beginning of each year for €75 (CFA 50,000). The farmers also receive inputs like fertilisers for free. “In the past, accessing seeds has been a major hurdle. Sometimes we could get quality seeds from agriculture research centres, but at prices three times higher than what we get now from the seed multiplication farms,” says Julius Takem, a cassava farmer from Buea. “We now get a regular supply of quality and adapted seeds at affordable prices,” says Divine Nkeng, also from Buea.
Since 2014, maize farmer Adolph Njokwe has been using the improved SOWEDA variety, which matures in 90-100 days as opposed to 130-150 days for the traditional variety. He says that since adopting the seed, harvests from his 1.6 ha farmland have increased from 3.5 t to 8 t. Speaking on the resilience of the farm seeds, Nkeng says, “The seeds do well even during dry periods, unlike the ones we used before.” Due to the increased availability of quality, adapted seed and a surge in production, the government estimates that more than 30,000 smallholder farmers in the southwest region have increased their income by 25%.
SOWEDA officials acknowledge that the programme faces some difficulties and needs more funds to expand its research and development into high-yielding seed varieties. “The need for partners to support the creation and diversification of seed multiplication opportunities in Cameroon to fight growing food insecurity is crucial,” says Samuel Tangu, chief of the economic empowerment and food security support project in the east of the country. However, the multiplication farms cover all six divisions in the south-west region and are also now selling seeds to farmers in other regions. “We are happy the seed multiplication farms are expanding as many more farmers from other parts of the country are attracted to the high yielding seeds,” says Christopher Ekungwe, regional delegate of agriculture and rural development for the south-west region. “For agriculture to be successful, it starts with quality planting material,” he explains.