The influence of seed aid in Chimanimani district, Zimbabwe

PhD candidate Bulisani Ncube gives an update on his research.

Smallholder farmers get their seed and planting material from a variety of sources, including their own stored seed, local informal markets, social networks, agro-input dealers, and seed aid. Seed aid is an important source of seed for smallholder farmers from Chimanimani, up to 20% of their seed comes from this source. Seed aid comprises the distribution of mostly free seed to beneficiary households at the start of a cropping season. Seed aid, sometimes called direct seed distribution in seed security studies, is mostly provided by governments and non-governmental organisations (NGOs).

In my study area, smallholder farmers from two Chimanimani clusters, Chikukwa and Chaseyama, are beneficiaries of seed aid. The Chikukwa cluster is located in a mountainous, cool and remote location on the eastern side of Chimanimani district and is characterised by very high rainfall at 1 000 mm per annum. The Chaseyama cluster on the other hand, is located on the western side of Chimanimani, and is characterised by very dry temperatures and low annual rainfall of 300 mm.

Seed aid sources

During the period 2012 to 2016, the government of Zimbabwe was responsible for providing most of the seed aid to farmers across both Chaseyama and Chikukwa clusters, with the latter cluster showing a higher proportion of farmers receiving seed aid. On the other hand, the number of farmers receiving seed aid from NGOs is higher in Chaseyama compared to Chikukwa.

Frequency of receiving seed aid

Most farmers from Chaseyama and Chikukwa have benefitted from seed aid in the period mentioned above. The proportion from Chikukwa was higher, and the data shows that almost all farmers interviewed had benefited from seed aid in the last five years.

Seed crop types targeted for seed aid

The seed aid received was assessed in terms of the type of seed that farmers received, these include maize, sorghum, cowpeas, pearl millet, groundnuts and finger millet.

In Chaseyama, most of the farmers received maize seed through government sources rather than from NGOs. On the other hand, for sorghum, most households received seed aid from NGOs rather than from government sources. Groundnut, cowpea and pearl millet seed aid was supplied exclusively by NGOs. In Chikukwa, most of the maize seed received by farmers in the study period was from government rather than from NGOs. All the other seed types – sorghum, groundnuts, Bambara nuts, cowpeas, and finger millet – were from NGOs.

Lessons learned from seed aid

In Zimbabwe, the government is a major player in providing seed aid to rural farmers, therefore the government influences the type of seeds that farmers are exposed to and grow, and ultimately the food that they eat. This is part of the political process of engaging rural households through input support (most of whom are farming households) as they constitute a large proportion of the electorate. Giving seed aid is easier than providing food aid in terms of sourcing the seed from major seed companies, easier to handle and distribute and less perishable. Seed aid is also seen as more ‘developmental’ for communities compared to food distributions.

Seed aid is a significant seed source for smallholder farmers in Chimanimani district. The majority of farmers across both clusters of Chimanimani were recipients of seed aid over the study period with more farmers in the wetter part of Chimanimani (Chikukwa) receiving seed aid assistance compared to the drier part (Chaseyama). It is interesting to note that the last official and thorough seed security assessments in Zimbabwe were done in 2009 and the most recent was done in 2017. Despite this relative paucity of information, seed aid has been occurring every year based on the assumption that smallholder farmers require seed. The higher proportion of farmers from the wetter part of Chimanimani district receiving seed aid assistance and more frequency may be due to the logic of supplying more farmers with seed since the area is more suitable for cropping.

Seed aid is biased towards a limited number of crops. Maize and sorghum are the main crops distributed to smallholder farmers. The government seed aid focuses on maize seed while NGOs provide a broader diversity of seed crops (small grains and pulses) albeit to a smaller number of farmers compared to those supplied by government. This government bias is attributed to limited diversity of crops available in the first place from seed companies (the only source used by the government) and the notion that availability of maize in the country constitutes national food security. So, even though the NGOs contribute to seed diversification through seed aid, this is still limited to a small number of farmers.

Implications of findings

The implications of these findings are that the seed aid providers should be informed and guided by seed security assessments to determine who is in need of seed aid.  Additionally, seed aid should be sourced from both commercial and informal seed channels to ensure a diversified choice of crop types.