LEG4DEV conducts evidence-synthesis review of barriers, opportunities, and scaling options for high-quality legume seeds in sub-Saharan Africa

26th March 2024

Realising development impacts from scaling of legumes requires that smallholder farmers have affordable and reliable access to high-quality seeds of the legume crops they seek to grow, market and/or consume.

Despite their many positive attributes for sustainability and nutrition, scaling of legumes is constrained for many smallholders due to lack of access to high quality seed of varieties that could improve their productivity and livelihoods.

To inform scaling of high-quality legume, seeds the LEG4DEV project has conducted an evidence synthesis (Systematic Review) to (i) identify and categorize existing legume seed systems, (ii) map legume varieties available to smallholders, (iii) identify barriers hindering the adoption of various legume varieties, and (iv) identify potential strategies and opportunities for strengthening legume seed systems in sub-Saharan Africa.

Seed systems are typically typologised into formal and informal seed systems, where formal systems are based on government regulations and oversight, while informal systems reflect where seeds are traded or exchanged with limited or few seed supply rules or standards.

In the LEG4DEV evidence synthesis review of 129 studies published in Agronomy for Sustainable Development, Breen et al provided an overview of the network of both formal and informal supply and distribution channels for the major legume crops in the region, with context specific limitations, barriers and opportunities facing each (Figure 1)

Figure 1: Schematic overview of stakeholders, components, and processes within formal and informal legume seed systems in sub-Saharan Africa (Breen, et. al, 2024, p.4).

The systematic review provides an overview of the key stakeholders in legume seed systems across sub-Saharan Africa.

While formal channels (e.g. national seed certification and release agencies, commercial producers, national and district level extension systems) were the key  source of certified legume seed varieties, costs, slow delivery times and limited information on new varieties were key determinants that drive smallholder farmers to rely on informal seed supply channels.

The evidence review indicates that informal seed networks drive legume variety diffusion among smallholders in the region. Expert estimates suggest that for many legume crops the vast majority of legume seed supply (e.g. 95%) for smallholders is occurring through informal seed supply systems. The predominant reliance of smallholders on the informal seed system for legume seed supply most likely arises from a lack of access by smallholders to improved varieties from the formal seed system. Given the choice of accessing legume seeds from formal and informal systems, it remains unclear whether smallholders would choose to source from one or indeed from both systems.

The review also identified and disaggregated the knowledge-based regarding farmer trait preferences and available released legume varieties in the region that have been identified in the research literature.  The farmers  trait preferences are influenced by crop type and gender dynamics. High yield and abiotic stress tolerance emerge as the most sought-after traits, underscoring the importance of breeding programs tailored to farmer needs and environmental challenges.

Different legumes on display

The study identified a range of options and entry points (including policy and regulatory options) that can be considered by legume seed systems stakeholders for strengthening legume seed systems in sub-Saharan Africa. There are  positive impacts of improved legume varieties on smallholder welfare, including improved food security, dietary diversity, and income generation. However, realizing these benefits necessitates the presence of supportive policy frameworks and robust technical support structures. Empowering smallholder farmers with the knowledge, resources, and access to improved seeds is essential for sustainable agricultural development in SSA.

Overall, the study underscores the importance of strengthening legume seed systems in the region to better harness their transformative potential. By addressing barriers, leveraging opportunities, and fostering inclusive policies, legume-seed systems stakeholders can foster more resilient and sustainable agricultural systems for smallholder farmers and food security.

As an open access paper, you can read the full systematic review, Legume seed system performance in sub-Saharan Africa: barriers, opportunities, and scaling options. A review, in Agronomy for Sustainable Development.