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Imagine You Are a Smallholder Farmer: Taking Seed Sector Stakeholders on a KT Journey

Posted On: December 8, 2022
Group photo at the SeedNL conference
SeedNL annual conference participants.

By Elijah Mwashayenyi, Head of East-West Seed Knowledge Transfer in Africa

On the 30th of November 2022, I had the honor of speaking on the important role of public-private partnership projects at the first annual SeedNL conference, entitled Seed Sector Development: Public-Private Partnerships for Change. SeedNL is a network organization that increases farmer access to quality seed in low- and middle-income countries to integrate key stakeholders in the seed sector. 

Through my role managing the Africa regional portfolio at East-West Seed Knowledge Transfer Foundation, I have had the privilege of leading experienced teams on public-private projects, including the HortiNigeria project and the SDGP project Transforming Nigeria’s Vegetable Market, both currently being implemented by EWS-KT in Nigeria. In addition, from 2014 to 2020, I managed a public-private partnership called SEVIA, a project of East-West Seed, Rijk Zwaan, Wageningen University & Research, and the Netherlands government. SEVIA sought to increase productivity and production of vegetables in Tanzania. All this adds up to more than 8 years of experience bringing public-private development project ideas to scale.

Held in Amsterdam, the Seed NL conference brought together 101 champions of the seed industry, Wageningen University, representatives of the Dutch government in the form of RVO, and other stakeholders. I was one of three keynote speakers, sharing the stage with Dr. Agnes Kalibata, President of AGRA) and Dr. Hugo Campos, Interim Deputy Director General for Research and Development at the International Potato Center (CIP). 

From left to right: Dr. Agnes Kalibata, Dr. Hugo Campos, Willem Schoustra (SeedNL Program Director), and Elijah Mwashayenyi
From left to right: Dr. Agnes Kalibata, Dr. Hugo Campos, Willem Schoustra (SeedNL Program Director), and Elijah Mwashayenyi.

I was the last to speak, and I had already planned to do things differently. Having wondered what would really capture the imagination of the conference participants, I decided that it was time for them to walk in the shoes of the smallholder farmer, at least for a little while. 

I would like all of you to take a few moments and imagine that you are a smallholder farmer … ,” I began.

  • “You are in northern Nigeria, where you are constantly battling the elements, including a security situation that does not seem to end.
  • Or you are in northern Uganda, where communities are still recovering from a civil war that ended over a decade ago and a refugee crisis that is not of your country’s own making.
  • Imagine you are from Zimbabwe, like me, where a  moribund economy has killed many dreams.
  • Perhaps you might be from a relatively more stable environment, like Ghana or Tanzania, but your household economy is no better.
  • Your situation offers no quick returns and hence it is not attractive to investors.
  • Yet someone still needs to step up to the plate—you need organizations like East-West Seed Knowledge Transfer Foundation and public-private partnership projects that see beyond the obvious.”

I paused to let that sink in. 

“My name is Elijah Mwashayenyi, and I am from East-West Seed Knowledge Transfer Foundation,” I continued. “East-West Seed Knowledge Transfer is …

You can guess the rest! 

Elijah Mwashayenyi speaking at the SeedNL conference
Elijah during his keynote address.

Some highlights from the speech:

  • Our work is epitomized by demonstrations on farmers’ fields because we believe in the adage, “Seeing is believing.” While it is good to tell a farmer about a good variety, technique, or technology, it is even better for the farmers to see them in action and judge for themselves.
  • Our techniques and technologies are not rocket science; they are something farmers can easily adopt.
  • Women and youth empowerment are critical for sustainability. 
  • We have to make agriculture attractive. Some of us grew up farming in the old ways, and hence we excelled in school because we wanted to run away from agriculture. So we cannot farm in the old ways! The youth cannot farm in the old ways. 
  • We have witnessed increased youth participation with our digital solutions.

My presentation included public-private partnership examples from SEVIA, the SDGP Nigeria project, and HortiNigeria, as well as common challenges of public-private partnerships and suggestions for partnership success. 

A few partnership takeaways:

  • It is strategic to have Wageningen University & Research—a highly regarded public university—in a partnership. 
  • RVO, the Netherlands Enterprise Agency, is at the forefront of many effective public-private partnerships. 
  • Public-private partnerships are a recipe for bringing real long-term change. They enable us to have a systems approach to interventions instead of focusing on a single portion of the value chain. 

It was gratifying to be able to share EWS-KT and my partnership experience with such a wide audience, and based on the compliments I received, the speech hit its mark. “Elijah,” Coen Everts, the East-West Seed Regional Business Head for West Africa, told me, “I have heard you speak before, but today I had goosebumps.”

After the keynote speeches, we had the opportunity to workshop in small groups on a number of topics, including how we as the private sector are all striving to reach smallholder farmers, and whether we were being effective. 

The conference ended with a call for the members of SeedNL to interact with each other more often for the benefit of smallholder farmers. “SeedNL is a network,” SeedNL Program Director Willem Schoustra said as a parting message: “We are all SeedNL.”