Agriculture is currently the second most important economic activity in the country, after livestock, with up to 30% of the population depending on it for their livelihoods. Crop agriculture is currently underdeveloped and offers considerable potential, both in cereal and horticultural production.
It is an important economic activity with roughly 60% of the population’s Sorghum and Maize requirements are met through domestic production and 80% of animal feed requirements in the dry season.
The two main agricultural seasons are: Gu Crop production, from March to June and Karan/Dayr crop production is from July to September. The areas that are considered high potential for crop production with rainfall ranging from 400mm to 600mm: is the area in the Northwest (west of Hargeisa) and Awdal region where 80% of cereal production are produced.
The production system is predominantly subsistence in nature with a marketable surplus above normal years.
Rain-fed farming accounts for 90% of the total area cultivated, while the area under irrigation constitutes only 10%. The sector is dominated by smallholder farmers who tend small farms ranging from 5 to 30 hectares in area. The size of the average farm is just about 4 hectares in the Rainfed farming whereas in the irrigated farms the average size is 3 ha. The estimated level of cereal production (Maize and Sorghum) on average in normal years is estimated at 1.5 tons/ha.
The Somaliland Seed sector
Seed is one of the most important inputs in an agricultural production. It is the single most important factor in production without which no other factor or investment can add further value in productivity. In transforming agriculture therefore seeds play a key role and must be prioritized. While several national policy and development documents pronounce themselves towards the transformation of the Somaliland agricultural sector, little is mentioned about the needs of the seed sector.
Given the challenges to the agricultural sector that range from very hostile climatic conditions, to lack of well adapted crop varieties, the development of the seed sector that improves access to high quality seeds of improved varieties is critical. Improved farmers access to high quality well adapted seeds contributes to significant increase in production and productivity. It is therefore an important strategy that can be applied to transformation the agricultural sector. Developing the Somaliland seed sector is therefore a priority and is in line with the national agricultural policy. It supports the agricultural policy objective to contribute to reduction of inequalities among the people and economically empowering the rural populations. It also provides an opportunity for increasing productivity through use of appropriate well adapted crop varieties and efficient utilization of the natural resources by the rural populations.
As currently conceived, the Somaliland seed system is predominantly informal. By definition the informal seed system is a situation where farmers may access seeds from their own farmer saved seed, farmer to farmer exchange, and barter, exchange between friends, relatives, neighbors, and purchases of seeds from the local grain markets. The farmers themselves produce, disseminate and access the seeds through their own locally adapted mechanisms. The informal seed system is diverse, some of the varieties in the system may be landraces or mixed race populations. The quality of the seeds are highly variable. They are of different physical and physiological purity.
In cereal production farmers in the country get nearly 99% of seeds through the informal system. In horticultural production quality declared seeds (QDS) may find their way into the country through uncontrolled seed imports from neighboring countries. Although no formal seed sector is in place, certified vegetable seeds are marketed in the country by agro-input dealers who import the seeds without going through any seed import procedures or seed testing to determine the most suitable varieties for the country.
The informal seed system covers the transitional system where seeds and planting materials are accessed from the community and research institutions. The improved varieties are disseminated directly through extension services working with farmers.
Transforming the informal seed system into a viable commercial seed sector is vital but must also recognize the unique constraints of all categories of producers within the system. The roles of different gender in the seed sector must be clearly articulated in policy making. That will ensure that different roles of different groups are well defined to improve ownership of the new policy.
A formal seed system is a deliberately constructed and bounded frame which involves a chain of activities leading to clear products: certified seeds or verified varieties. The formal seed system is made up of registered seed dealers producing, conditioning, distributing and marketing improved seed from released varieties. It focuses mainly on hybrids and cross pollinated crops and few self- pollinated varieties. In Somaliland the formal seed system is almost non- existent. Opportunities however exist for progressive development of the formal seed sector.
The main guiding principles in a formal seed system are to maintain varietal identity and purity. The focus is also to produce seed of optimal physical, physiological and sanitary quality. Seed marketing and distribution takes place through officially recognized outlets usually for commercial sales although seed may also be distributed through research centers, universities and NGOs. A central premise of the formal system is the distinction between seed and grain.
Developing a formal seed system with strong institutional structures that can manage a seed certification process is a major challenge in Somaliland. The main constraints to the development of the formal seed sector are: very little incentive for the private sector to invest in seed trade because of lack of demand from farmers. The harsh climatic conditions under which the Somaliland agriculture operates sometimes lead to inadequate rains for crop germination. Farmers incur heavy loses when seeds fail to germinate. The poor germination acts as a disincentive for farmers to purchase high quality seeds for fear of losses.
The national institutions charged with the development of the seed sector have little capacity and resources to effectively implement the development of the seed sector. Public agricultural universities and national agricultural research organizations have no seed development units able to conduct research and produce basic seeds for multiplication. The national extension system has limited human resource and technical capacity to disseminate appropriate technologies to the farmers. And yet farmers cannot produce enough crop to meet local demand unless they have access to adequate quantities of improved high quality seeds. A policy framework that provides an enabling environment for farmers’ access to high quality seeds is a prerequisite for overcoming the challenges.
The absence of proper structures and processes in managing the seed supply system directly impacts agricultural production and productivity. Therefore the envisaged agricultural transformation as spelt out in the Somaliland agricultural policy (draft) would be difficult to achieve unless the above issues are addressed.
Abdirahman Ibrahim Abdilahi