The African Agricultural Technology Foundation (AATF) has establishment the first Early Generation (foundation) seed production entity in Sub-Saharan Africa (SSA) to effectively and efficiently supply high quality foundation seed for small and medium enterprise (SME) seed companies on the continent. The establishment, revealed on 30th January 2017, by AATF’s Executive Director Dr. Denis Kyetere, will be known as QualiBasic Seed. It will be based in Nairobi, Kenya, and has received an initial five year investment of US$ 8.4 Million from the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation.

QualiBasic was established to address acute technical, infrastructural and financial challenges seed companies face in maintenance, multiplication and timely supply of quality foundation seed. Overcoming these challenges is essential to improving farm productivity by small holder farmers. This is because low access and use of poor quality foundation seed by seed companies result in low crop yields and crop failure, in some cases, for small holder farmers. This affects sustainable food production and costs the continent a valuable development opportunity.

According to Dr. Kyetere, operating a functional foundation seed production system could cost a company, regardless of size, about US$ 500,000 per year which is expensive for many SME seed companies. Therefore, investing a similar amount to operate a centralised system that services the foundation seed needs of various seed companies would make foundation seed production more effective and efficient, benefiting from economies of scale and use of the most ideal agro-ecologies and seasons.

Enock Chikava, Deputy Director Agricultural Development at the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation said the foundation’s investment in QualiBasic helps small holder farmers, especially women, realize the full genetic gains of climate resilient crop varieties developed through public research and development. “Huge investments have been made by donors through various global public crop improvement programs for the benefit of African farmers. These breeding programs have released high yielding and very adaptable crop varieties, for example, maize hybrids, that offer high productivity opportunities. However, the benefits of these products are yet to be realized by smallholder farmers due to delayed seed production in some cases and low quality seed in others,” said Chikava.

Under the partnership, AATF will help establish and nurture QualiBasic into a professional fully-fledged, independent and sustainable private sector driven business within five years. QualiBasic operations will start with foundation seed for maize in East and Southern Africa then grow to serve other cereals and legumes across SSA when fully functional. Three foundation seed production hubs with seed processing and storage facilities will be established in Kenya, Zambia and South Africa by the second and third year of operations, in order to meet demand for products in a timely manner, and avoid lengthy delays in seed movements.

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