In many African countries, rice consumption outstrips production, which leads to huge imports to meet local demand. One of the key challenges affecting the rice sector in the region today is the lack of efficient seed production and delivery systems that would encourage wider use of quality seed of improved, climate resilient, and high-yielding varieties. Developing a competitive formal seed sector will ensure the timely availability of quality seeds of new varieties at affordable prices, particularly to smallholder farmers. Public-Private-Partnerships (PPP) are critical for the seed sector in developing countries because, unlike the private sector, investment by public institutions in productivity-enhancing agricultural systems is low because of their limited capacity and other priorities.
The International Rice Research Institute (IRRI) has been at the forefront of catalyzing public-private partnerships by initiating negotiations between various entities in the seed value chain to break existing barriers. On 15 February 2023, Kenya Agricultural and Livestock Research Organization (KALRO) and Advanta Seeds International (Advanta) signed a licensing agreement after several months of consultations. The license provides Advanta non-exclusive rights to producing and distributing certified seeds of the variety IR 05N221, named 'Komboka', in Kenya, through their production and distribution network. In the current context, Advanta will obtain basic seeds of the IR 05N221 variety from KALRO and subsequently produce and market certified seed of the variety starting the 2023 rice growing season in Kenya. The International Rice Research Institute facilitated discussions between the two institutions to come to an agreement on objectives, roles, responsibilities, and incentives pertaining to each of the two institutions. KALRO is a semi-autonomous government institution in Kenya whose mandate includes streamlining, promoting, coordinating, and regulating research in crops including rice. On the other hand, Advanta, a subsidiary of Indian multinational UPL Limited, is a global leader in the production and marketing of high-quality seeds for various field crops including rice. In East and Southern Africa, the company has production fields and facilities in a number of countries including Kenya. This move of venturing into up-scaling of rice seed in the region has been because of a huge demand for seed for the variety IR 05N221 in Kenya following IRRI-supported awareness creation activities over the last two years.
According to The African Seed Access Index (TASAI) report for 2022 the number of merchants registered to be engaged in the production, processing, and/ or marketing of certified seed or planting material of any crop in Kenya stood at 185. However, there were only a few of these companies engaging in rice seed. The licensing agreement between KALRO and Advanta is expected to accelerate the scaling and reach of CGIAR-IRRI’s innovations and technologies to benefit farmers, particularly smallholders. The success of this partnership is likely to have a positive spillover effect locally and across the region. Hence, this PPP agreement offers a potentially important opportunity for farmers to access improved technologies not only in Kenya but also in other countries in the continent and would probably be the key to unlocking the agricultural potential in Africa.
"Kenya currently imports about 89% of rice it consumes and the Kenyan government is trying hard to minimize this gap through various value chain interventions. This includes expanding the area under rice production and providing the needed policy support. Some of the existing irrigation schemes in western Kenya are undergoing a significant expansion which is primarily meant for rice production. Overall, the government is aiming to expand the rice area in Kenya by about 20,000 ha. This kind of PPP is an urgent need not only to meet the current demand for the quality seeds of improved rice varieties but also to cater to the future quality seed demand”, according to Dr. Ajay Panchbhai, IRRI’s Regional Breeding Lead for Africa.
Similar agreements were executed by KALRO in the recent past with the private sector enterprises and farmers’ cooperatives such as Magos Farm Enterprises and Mwea Rice Growers Multipurpose Co-operative Society (MRGM) to accelerate quality seed production and dissemination of new high-yielding rice varieties. IRRI is in the process of further strengthening MRGM’s and KALRO’s infrastructure capacity to modernize and accelerate the processing of certified seeds to cater to the increasing demand. These partnerships in the rice seed chain in Kenya, which are being supported by BMGF-funded AGGRi and OneCGIAR Seed Equal initiatives, are paving the way to increasing rice production through strengthening the rice seed systems, ultimately contributing to the food, income, and nutrition security in Africa.