Challenges and Agribusiness Opportunities in Kenya’s Seeds Sector

young sprouts/seedlings on seeding tray

This post will explore the three key challenges facing small scale farmers in accessing and using quality seeds and other planting materials.  Besides, you will learn several agribusiness opportunities in the seed sector that you can invest in if you as a youth in Kenya.  

You can improve security in Kenya by using better quality seeds. It will help farmers to harvest high yields despite climate challenges. However, the industry currently faces many challenges for its key partners. You can categorize them into environmental, research, technology, market, or poor policies.  

The small-scale farmers are the key players in this sector and hence face most of these challenges. The key ones are poor quality of seeds (counterfeit and informal Seeds), Low access to market information, rising business costs and climate change among others. These will lower your yields, profits and hence your ability to create wealth and develop economically.

Seed Access Challenges Facing Small Scale Farmers in Kenya

What are the three major challenges that small scale farmers face in search for planting seeds? They are poor quality seeds, low access to reliable information and climate change.

Poor quality of seeds

Most farmers are frustrated with the poor quality of seeds that they buy from seed companies or shops. Sone of the seeds register very low germination rates. Others are highly susceptible to pest and diseases attacks. Finally, they register lower yields than informal seeds.

There are many factors that affect the quality of seeds; these are counterfeit seeds, old variety seeds and use of uncertified seeds. The final one is use of old seeds.

  • You may buy counterfeit seeds from an unscrupulous businessman. They will sell you their take own seeds from the store. They will color, apply pesticides and pack them for sale to unsuspecting consumers. Ensure you buy from a KEPHIS registered seed company and farmers store to avoid this loss.
  • Old variety seeds were commercialized a few decades ago but are still sold by a seed company. An example is H16 maize seed variety in Kenya. It was first distributed in 1970s. Today, it is highly susceptible to new maize diseases and pests like the fall army worms (FAWs) or the Maize Lethal Necrosis Disease (MLND). Besides, old seed varieties have low yields given climate changes like lower rainfall.
  • Uncertified seeds are the ones that you source from neighbors or the open-air market for replanting.  The simple fact that they are uncertified and untreated makes it hard to guarantee their quality.  They may be spoilt and expired past their growth duration period. On average the farmers must purchase more than required seed quantity to cater for poor germination rates  

Lack of access to quality market information

Farmers have inadequate information about the quality, availability, and prices of seeds they require. Besides, Proper information on planting seeds must consider your area’s agro-ecological factors such as soil type, amount of rainfall, altitude etc.

Farmers rely on “informed” friends and neighbors about the best seeds to plant. The only quality market information is possessed by seed company agent, retailers, and agricultural extension officers.  Agents are very biased for their aim is to attract more sales revenue for their company and self-gain. The extension service in Kenya in dysfunctional and not accessible to small scale farmers in rural Kenya. The other information challenge is over-concentration of research and data on maize seeds only. Information on other cereals, pulses and vegetables is either outdated or absent. Finally, many seed companies operating in Kenya are multinationals operating regionally and across different ecological characteristics. They have done little to provide area -specific or customized information for all regions.  

Climate change

 Finally, global warming and climate change has led to unpredictable weather patterns in the region. Droughts are forcing farmers to plant several times of the year before the crop can successfully germinate and grow to maturity. Rainy weather during harvest season has led to low quality of seeds. Aridity is forcing the need for modified (expensive) hybrid seeds that are tolerant to pests, diseases, and droughts. Indigenous and older variety seeds no longer thrive in areas they used to. The overall effect is low yields and increasing business costs

Agri-Business Opportunities for youth in Kenya’s seed sector

The above challenges present lucrative agribusiness opportunities for young investors in Kenya. The investments in seed production and distribution can focus on one or all the following objectives.

  • Produce more quality seeds on fewer land acreage.
  • Use fewer farm inputs in seed production
  • Utilize modern technology in production and distribution of seeds
  • Improve investors’ returns and profits.

Which are the most profitable ideas to invest in the seed industry? To pinpoint the very best, we will consider the planting seeds’ supply value chain from research to farmer sales. As an entrepreneurial youth you can disrupt this supply chain by providing goods or offering services to players in the market.  Considering this simplified analysis, the following are the areas you can set up and run a profitable agribusiness in Kenya.

Seed Research and Certification

Start a private research institute to certify improved seed varieties through use of biotechnology. Apart from seed regeneration you will attract funding, grants and profits through experiments, documentation, and dissemination of information. You will need a farm that uses modern agricultural practices such as irrigation and organic farming etc. The facilities will assist in experiments and plant control purposes in the process of seed improvement.

Seed Multiplication

Become a contracted seed grower. Your seed yields will later be certified for sale to farmers later in the supply chain. As an outsourced outgower, you will enjoy better farm inputs, credit, agronomic advice and prices for your seeds.

Control and Support

It has majorly been the practice of governmental agencies like KEPHIS, Agriculture NGOs and research institutes like universities involved in food security and poverty alleviation. As an individual investor, you can tap this gap by setting financial and knowledge consulting firms. For instance, a group of youth might be involved in providing loans and insurance services for an institute involved in seed improvement program

Seed company

You will need to get the intellectual property(patent) to produce and distribute a certain seed variety. You can then start a seed company that will multiply, pack and market a brand of seeds. A successful seed company must provide hybrid seeds or genetically modified seeds that can withstand the effects of harsh weather, diseases & pest attacks, or drought.

Other bonus tips to start a sustainable seed company is to focus on specialty crops like fodder, biofuel, or medicinal crops. Besides you can concentrate on indigenous type of seeds like traditional vegetables.

Retail and wholesale

Your business will offer market information, goods, and services to improve farmer’s experiences. Competitive advantages in this flooded sector will include focus on quality, information, provide a wide variety of seeds and free transport etc. Besides bundle various services together like soil testing, fertilizer, and pesticide sales to get more profits

Financing services (Loans and insurance)

Finally, you can help farmers to access better seeds by offering them loan and insurance services. An example is an Agri wallet, farmers can access cheaper credit to buy seeds at better prices. In case of droughts or floods, you can compensate them for their losses.

How best can you invest in the seed sector? You can do it as an individual, a family business or a group of investors. Individual ventures would require setting a sole proprietorship while as a group, several young people can join resources and knowledge to incorporate a partnership, cooperative, private company, or a public company.

S.K.

S.K is the founder and senior agribusiness development consultant at Agcenture. He can be reached at info@agcenture.com

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