Annual Report 2018 | Seed Tracker: Enhancing seed systems for many crops
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Seed Tracker: Enhancing seed systems for many crops

Seed Tracker: Enhancing seed systems for many crops

Lava Kumar

Cassava is a stable, low-cost staple for millions in sub-Saharan Africa. This subsistence and industrial crop has tolerance for poor soil, harsh conditions, pests and diseases—benefiting both small-scale farmers and medium and large-scale entrepreneur.

Despite its widespread importance as a food security and cash crop, this crop for all seasons is not meeting its full potential for commercial production and processing, export, and use in local industries. The average root yield per hectare in Nigeria—the world’s largest producer—is less than half of what it could be.

A huge barrier to boosting cassava production in Africa lies within the severely fragmented seed production value chain. Majority of cassava seed in sub-Saharan Africa comes from the informal sector with unknown seed quality and that is often infected with viruses. There are few professional seed producers in vegetatively propagated crops such as cassava, and seed regulatory agencies often lack sufficient capacity to promote and enforce quality seed regulations.

Furthermore, seed regulations are cumbersome and expensive for smallholder seed producers to follow and are often avoided altogether. The most consistent challenge in the industry continues to be a general lack of awareness and information on seed availability and production.

Scientists from the CGIAR Research Program on Roots, Tubers and Bananas (RTB) developed a system that addresses these barriers to improving the industry and integrating the fragmented value chain. Called ‘Seed Tracker’, this web app focuses on improving cassava seed production and access, and is usable on any Internet-enabled device.

Cassava Seed Tracker is the world’s first web app for seed value chain integration for enhancing quality seed production and market access to help seed producers meet their potential.

It collects and organizes seed production information, making it easier for institutions to monitor seed quality and certify producers. It provides a database for ready access to information, such as seed quantity, location, variety, geography, and availability. It gives producers on-demand expert advice on agronomy, plant health, and other information.

The system connects all key stakeholders—from seed producers, to regulators, traders, and extension services. The integrated suite allows access to digital data collection tools from any Internet-enabled device and is customizable for different institutional accounts.

For example, the app can let buyers know when and where new crop varieties are released, helping to support the adoption and impact of improved varieties developed through breeding programs. It can also help seed producers understand national regulations and register their seeds.

In 2015, the ‘Building an Economically Sustainable Integrated Cassava Seed System’ (BASICS) project worked with the government of Nigeria to pilot the Cassava Seed Tracker. They customized the program specifically to meet the priorities of the National Agricultural Seed Council (NASC). In 2018 NASC formally declared Cassava Seed Tracker as the e-certification platform for cassava in Nigeria.

The Cassava Seed Tracker is helping NASC to understand who produces seed, how much, and where seed is produced. It helps stakeholders understand the rules, regulations, and best practices in producing quality seed. It is expected to help transform the informal seed producers to formal seed producers.

The Cassava Seed Tracker is already easing operations, reducing costs, and forecasting trends in production and regulation in Nigeria, where the largest number of people in the world depend on the crop for their food and livelihood. The program was even a finalist in the nation-wide Google Impact Challenge and stood out as a game-changing tool that creates economic opportunities in local communities.

Seed Tracker has shown its ability to enhance Nigeria’s cassava seed system. The software also has the potential to transform seed systems both regionally and beyond cassava. Designed with scalability in mind, the app can help formalize and mainstream production of many food security crops that are equally important but have yet to actualize their full potential.

The Seed Tracker platform is now being used to design and pilot programs for multiple crops that IITA studies, including yam. Currently, several customized platforms are under development. The versatile Seed Tracker technology paints a brighter future for the seed production value chain, across fields and scales.