The supply chain for seed: Where does it all go wrong?

It is well-known that there are significant challenges along the input supply chain in agriculture in Uganda. In particular, once these inputs get down to a farmer level they are of very sub-standard quality, not resulting in the expected yield increases. This is one of the primary reasons why farmers do not face incentives to invest in these inputs.

The recent Bold, Svensson et al (2015) IGC funded study on low input quality fertilizer was novel with respect to quantifying the extent of the issue of sub-standard inputs in Uganda at a farmer level. It further investigated and concluded that farmers’ expectations do in fact match the low yield results they would achieve investing in this fertiliser. This has led to a number of other studies that have investigated this problem further. The input supply chains are highly complex starting from the Ministry of Agriculture to the national seed agency, in the case of seeds, which supplies the foundation seed, through the out-growers, distributers, wholesalers, retailers and often many other channels before ultimately being planted by the farmer.

Although these subsequent studies continue to confirm that there is indeed a problem, however, none of them make it clear at what point of the supply chain the input quality is deteriorating the most and why this is the case. There are a number of hypotheses ranging from poor storage and handling all the way to malicious mixing of seed with sub-standard quality. However, no known study to date has explicitly researched this and dissected the input supply chain to try and establish at what point it is weakest.

This is important for policy as it will be difficult to work on challenges across all the points of the supply chain at once. Rather, a more targeted approach at the weakest points is a more feasible approach. Therefore, there is a great demand from policy makers and development partners, who are investing large sums of money into the agricultural sector, to better understand how they should target their interventions.  This is fundamental in addressing the agricultural productivity gap that Uganda faces vis-à-vis many similar countries. Therefore, research that can investigate the supply chain and suggest a targeted approach at the potential weakest links is extremely relevant from a policy context.

This project therefore looks at establishing a research design that will allow us to further investigate the seed supply chain in particular. It will focus on maize seeds (both hybrid and open pollinated varieties) as well as soya bean and the geographic focus will be limited to Northern Uganda for the initial part of the study.  The study design will involve both mystery shopper surveys and seed testing.