Braving the Dragons’ Den: A Joint Effort in Kigali
By Elijah Mwashayenyi, Head of East-West Seed Knowledge Transfer in Africa.
It is a no-brainer that East-West Seed and its non-profit foundation, East-West Seed Knowledge Transfer, are two sides of the same coin; you cannot have one without the other. In this spirit, Elijah Mwashayenyi (Head of East West Seed Knowledge Transfer in Africa) and Annet Kiiza (East-West Seed Business Development Manager for Uganda) were a tag team at the recently ended Integrated Seed Sector Development (ISSD) conference. Held 17–19 October in Kigali, Rwanda, the event attracted over 100 participants from across the continent and beyond.
One of the main barriers to increased agricultural productivity in Africa is limited access to quality seeds. To address this, the ISSD Africa program seeks to guide seed sector innovation and development in Africa and develops Africa-grown solutions to seed sector challenges. The October conference, entitled Advancing the Transformation of Africa’s Seed Sector – Emerging Insights and Perspectives, was co-organized by Wageningen Centre for Development Innovation and KIT Royal Tropical Institute, as well as the Rwanda office of the International Food Policy Research Institute.
The main conference theme where our approach featured highly was “How do we create demand for quality seeds?” This is the kind of question that we are answering every day through our long-term strategy. When we were asked to pitch this strategy in the Dragons’ Den format—where a group of investors listens and asks questions about one’s business model—we happily obliged.
Annet gave the pitch with her usual passion, and both Annet and Elijah answered questions from the Dragons thereafter. There are a number of superlatives that can describe Annet. Suffice to say that she is an excellent commercial manager with knowledge transfer in her DNA: a clear case of two-in-one. Elijah is “Mr. Knowledge Transfer.” The presentation won the day against two strong competitors. With this win, EWS-KT has the opportunity to be marketed to prospective partners by ISSD.
Now, what generated so much interest in our strategy? The uniqueness of the EWS-KT approach is that it treats vegetable production as a profitable business that improves the lives of smallholder farmers and others in the value chain. Our extension services showcase good agricultural practices (alongside quality seeds) to farmers struggling with low yields, incorporating an inclusive approach, integrated pest and disease management, and climate smart techniques. With this strategy, we also create a competitive agro-input market. Linkages with markets present further opportunities for smallholder farmers to increase their income.
Farmers making a profit are in a position to demand quality inputs, including seed. Our approach is a perfect recipe for creating sustainable demand for quality seed. This was our message to the Dragons and fellow participants alike—a message we share with all those who are willing to walk this journey with us.
Other themes at the conference included seed company strategies targeting smallholder farmers in Africa (a topic on which Annet was a panelist), seed supplies in emergency situations, community seed banks and enhancing seed quality assurance for vegetatively propagated crops, agrobiodiversity, and seeds and climate change.
However, it goes without saying that creating demand for quality seeds, exemplified by our success in northern Uganda, including the ever-evolving pumpkin story, stole the limelight.