When we talk about agriculture the first thing that pops up in our mind is a seed! It is true because seeds are the basis for human sustenance. They are the repository of the genetic potential of crop species and their varieties resulting from the continuous improvement and selection over time. Besides a seed is a decisive factor to ensure food security in a nation.
A seed of low-yielding variety is usually results in low productivity. Therefore, seeds of superior varieties must be developed or identified, demonstrated, produced and multiplied, and released to farmers. The Ministry of Agriculture (MoA) has been playing a big role in the development and production of the basic seeds. Private farms and small scale farmers are involved in the multiplication of seeds and their distribution.
The National Agricultural Research Institute (NARI) and researchers in other institutions have the primary responsibility to develop new varieties based on the strategic needs of the country and problems of farmers. To ensure the strategic need of food security the country focuses on growing strategic crops such as Sorghum, Pearl millet, Sesame, Wheat, Barley and Chickpea. Farmers in the different agro-ecological regions of Eritrea also need early maturing, high yielding, disease and pest-resistant crop varieties with acceptable processing quality. Researchers develop and submit the varietal seed for evaluation, release and registration.
Mrs. Rishan Ghebrekidan, head of safety and quality of seed varieties, said that, in agriculture seed is the basic factor; No seed, no productivity which means no food. Ensuring quality seed is very essential in ensuring agricultural yields. As a result the MoA has been making efforts to attain quality seed varieties. To enhance the program the NVRC which comprises team members from different institutions with diverse profession, collaborates with Zoba and sub Zoba extension workers. It organized field visit and did a variety performance and evaluation twice. Fields planted with improved varieties were visited and evaluated in Zobas Maekel, Debub, Anseba and Gash Barka. During 2015- 16 data was collected, analyzed and a report was compiled and submitted.
Seed certification and documentation is carried out by plant resources regulatory division of the department (RSD). The purpose of seed certification is to preserve the genetic identity and purity of field crop seed varieties and ensure the provision of quality seed to the growers. To be selected by the RSD the seed must first be one of the national strategic crops. Second, the seed must be inspected by a qualified inspector who makes sure that the crop has met the standards. Then a sample is taken from the seed group by the inspector and tested in a seed laboratory. Finally, an official report is issued stating whether the seed has met the prescribed standards or not.
Furthermore, RSD is responsible to coordinate and monitor the multiplication activities of the seed, and the documentation and timely reporting of its performance on the ground.
There were accepted and unaccepted seed varieties collected between 1998 and 2016. These seed varieties were examined by NARI, and so far 47 varieties of seeds have been listed in the national varieties list. Among those listed are barley, wheat, maize, sorghum, pearl millet and finger millet. Some of these varieties were banned from being distributed due to their decreasing in fertility.
Mrs. Rishan said that, the quality of these seed varieties underwent inspections. The plants date of maturity, plant height, panicle size and their pest, disease and drought resistance/tolerance were checked. Interviews and focus group discussions were held with farmers and extension workers to find out their opinion with respect to the performance and socio-economic aspects of the varieties distributed in their areas.
Farmers’ awareness of the relative importance of quality seed has been becoming evident in the recent years. Due to low supply and high price of these varieties, however, the application is limited mainly to some commercial farmers. Most farmers prefer to retain seed from their own harvest, because they lack confidence of what is available at the market. One of the main reasons of the direct involvement of the MoA is to build confidence on farmers by enhancing breeder and foundation seed on the Ministry’s research centers. NARI, in collaboration with Hamelmalo Agricultural College (HAC), is responsible for the development of the quality seed varieties in Eritrea.
Seed distribution is equally as important as its production. Since producing improved seed demands high cost and long time, managing the improved seed requires skill, facilities and proper mechanism. Therefore, identifying model farmers (commercial and traditional farmers) is a very crucial step in the development cycle of improved seed chain. To coordinate the process (improved seed chain), the MoA has established seed unit within the Agricultural Extension Department (AED).
Mrs. Rishan also explained that, the farmers’ awareness about quality seeds is increasing, after they tried it and had a successful result. The farmers started to tell others and they asked them to save some of the seeds for the coming year. Besides in “Farmers’ Field Day” there is an opportunity to gather the farmers and give them practical awareness raising in seed multiplication. This helps them to see how productive the seeds are and encourages them to use the improved seed varieties.
The Ministry framed a “Seed Policy”, an important step in laying out a comprehensive framework for seed development strategy. It covers most of the relevant topics in considerable details. The document states that the private sector’s involvement is considered as having the potential to play an important role in the development of commercial seed industry in the long-run. The policy maintains that for the medium term, the government must bear the responsibility of initiating and promoting the development of the seed industry. The document also foresees contracting with the private sector for seed multiplication, which signifies government encouragement of the private sector to participate actively in seed marketing, probably well before their involvement in production activities. This is because the private sector’s capacity for managing seeds needs to be developed. The policy document highlights that the government acknowledges that the outputs of research is fundamental to the seed industry. With this regard, the government encourages the private sector’s involvement that supports national priorities. Owing to the high cost of basic research, the national agricultural research program will continue to encourage collaboration with relevant international, regional and private institutions.
In the recent years the ministry has strengthened its partnership with VITA, the Irish NGO, to enhance the programme. The ministry has conducted research over the past three years in collaboration with VITA which has enabled the development disease-resistant, high nutrient potato seeds. In three villages it has been possible to produce 400-600 quintals potato and that the select potato seeds have already been distributed to 10 exemplary farmers.
All in all, the ultimate goal of the ministry is 0to produce high amount of yields with high quality of nutrients.