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Where Has All The Maize Seed Gone?

by Jacquiline Nakandi
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By Prossy Nadundu and Joshua Kato

Mary Nanteza, a 45-year-old farmer in Kasanda district, grows maize as her main cash cow.

So, when, at the start of August, the Uganda National Meteorology Authority announced the onset of rains for the second planting season, she jumped onto a taxi to Kampala to buy improved maize seeds.

“I always buy my seeds from one of the leading suppliers in Kampala to avoid getting fake ones,” she said.

Nanteza needed 80kg of seed for her eight acres of land.

“I wanted the DK777 variety because it is drought-tolerant and produces large cobs,” she noted.

However, on reaching her usual supplier, there was a long queue of farmers waiting for seed.

“I was told that there was no seed and I had to book in advance,” Nanteza said.

The scarcity of maize seed has persisted into September, yet the planting season is around the corner. The most affected areas are Kampala, Wakiso, Mukono Mbale and Masaka districts.

On the other hand, the northern region is out of the woods because they had planted following an early onset of rains. Lamula Katende, a farmer from Mukono district, said she last visited Container village, in Kampala for seed, only to be told that it was out of stock.

“I was looking for Bazooka because it is tolerant to drought and the grains are always packed on the cob so a farmer gets high returns,” Katende said.

Phoebe Musiitwa, another farmer from Wakiso wanted 100kg of seed and was asked to book and wait for a call from the agro dealer on when she could pick her order.

“My prayer is that I get the seed because I made an order using funds from a group. If I don’t deliver, members will assume I misused their money,” Musiitwa noted.

State of the seeds sector Before 1968, Uganda’s seed sector was informal and that year, the agriculture ministry took over. The scheme gained ground in 1990 with funding from Germany and the African Development Bank.

In the late 1990s, the seed sector was liberalised allowing private companies to join. The private sector has steadily increased annual seed production since 1991 to date. Overall, Uganda needs at least 18,000 metric tonnes of improved maize seed per year.

Currently, according to the Uganda Seed Traders Association, Uganda has 36 certified seed companies under the formal sector, however some stakeholders have alleged that 60% of the seed companies have no machinery or equipment to process the seed.

Edward Erongu, the head of certification at the agriculture ministry, said on average, seed companies in Uganda produce an estimated 13,000 metric tonnes, supplemented with 2,000 tonnes of imported seed.

The ministry notes that the informal seed system on the other hand provides 85% of seed planted. These are mainly farm-saved seed by farmers or sold in local markets and social networks.

“Every season, I select the cobs with the largest seed, dry them and then keep them for the next season,” Solome Nakibuuka, a farmer in Nakaseke, says.

The most demanded varieties of maize are Bazooka, which is now going for sh10,000 to sh15,000 up from sh6,000 per kilogramme.

The other variety is Longe 10H, which is going for sh15,000 up from sh7,000, plus the DK series, that cost between sh10,000 and sh15,000 per kilogramme.

These varieties are drought[1]tolerant, high-yielding and are resistant to some pests and diseases. Whereas Bazooka and Longe10H are locally processed, DK is imported from Europe and South Africa.

In terms of maturity, Longe 10 matures within 120 days and in an acre, a farmer can harvest up to 28 bags; DK matures at 110 days, with a farmer harvesting 30 bags, while Bazooka grows within 125 days and a farmer can harvest 36 bags.

According to the Uganda Bureau of Statistics (UBOS), maize is the most important cereal crop in Uganda, providing over 40% of the calories consumed in both rural and urban areas.

The crop has increasingly become a staple food in many parts of the country. Additionally, livestock farmers are also now heavily using it for processing silage and grain feeds.

UBOS reports that small-scale farmers, who constitute the bulk (80%) of the rural population, also account for the largest share of maize production.

What could be the problem?

In an interview with a marketing manager of one of the biggest suppliers of seed, he attributed the scarcity of maize seed partly to an increase in the number of people investing in maize growing, after farmers realised that the grain prices continue to rise.

Due to the unexpected rise in demand, what was supplied in the first season sold out, leaving no reserves in store to start off the second planting season.

“In the first season, my company produced 4,000 metric tonnes of seed. The expectation was that only 3,000 metric tonnes would be consumed and the reserve of 1,000 metric tonnes would be spared. Unfortunately, all the seed was consumed in the first seasons, creating a gap,” he explained.

And the third reason, he says, was due to the fact that harvest of seed that usually takes place in August coincided with the start of the second rainy season, making it hard for companies to process seed for the market in time.

In an interview with an agro dealer from Masaka, Buddu street, where most sales of seed and agro inputs take place, Hassan Kato Kwitegyeza attributed the demand of the seed to the increased commercial value of maize.

Kato, who supplies up to western region, including Masaka, said in January, maize grain at the Mutukula border was going for between sh2,000 and sh25,000.

And because of continuous sensitisation of the need for quality, Derrick Mayiira, an agro dealer from Mbale Agro produce, said they are yet to get stock from seed companies.

Because of the scarcity, especially maize seed, dealers with old stock are selling a kilo of Bazooka at sh15,000 up from sh6,000, while Longe10H is going for sh15,000 up from sh7,000 a kilo when there is no scarcity.

He also attributed the demand to stability of maize grain prices, forcing most farmers in the Elgon region to abandon tomatoes and onion growing due to losses made early this year for maize. Mayira added that a kilo of maize grain is going for between sh1,200 and sh1,500, while maize flour has stagnated at sh3,000 a kilo.

Other causes of scarcity Although seed scarcity has been attributed to erratic rains, increased demand sources from the farming community alleged that the scarcity was due to the failure by NARO’s commercial arm and the prisons’ failure to supply foundation seed to seed companies in time for multiplication.

Sources from the Grain Council of Uganda accused NARO and Uganda Prisons of withholding foundations seed, so they can be the only sources of quality seed.

Chris Tanansi Muwanika, the general manager NARO Holdings Limited, however, disputed the claims, arguing that seed companies haven’t been placing orders for foundation seed since season two of 2021.

“We always ask them to book in advance which they never did since 2021. We actually produced seed, which have never been taken up to now. We recently tested for germination and realised it’s no longer productive and plans are underway to destroy them,” Muwanika clarified.

He also attributed scarcity to drought in the month of May.

“Late planting was due to late rains that appeared in April, meaning seed had to be harvested in August. If seed had been planted in March, it would have been harvested in July; in time for the second season,” Muwanika explained.

According to the Grain Council of Uganda, it is wrong for the Government to research, produce packages and also sell seed like it is being done by the Uganda Prisons Services that produce Gavi seeds and through NARO Holdings, the commercial arm of the National Agriculture Research Organisation (NARO). Because the two institutions have gone commercial, stakeholders accuse them of delaying to release seed to companies for multiplication, hence the shortage to date.

“What we are proposing as a solution is that NARO Holdings should either work directly with the private sector or should form a seed company and become a member to have a fair seed trade environment,” a member of the Uganda Grain Council of Uganda said.

Ministry explains shortage

Edward Erongu, a senior seed inspector from the National Seed Certification Services in the agriculture ministry, attributed the delayed delivery of seed to three theories.

First, are the erratic rains, because the first season rains disappeared at the time of planting and have come back at the time of harvesting.

“That will make it hard to dry. For example, in northern Uganda, farmers have been planting because the rains being experienced are sufficient, while some parts are still experiencing the dry season,” he said.

Erongu said seed production is not rushed. Seed has to go through the normal process, where the crop has to attain its maturity age, properly harvested, dried to right temperatures before it can be processed.

Such a process will ensure that the crop’s germination viability is protected. Any slight mishandling leads to the death of the life or germination potential of the seed.

Estimated demand for seed annually is 18,000 metric tonnes, which are supplemented by the importation of about 2000 metric tonnes, according to Erongu.

The other reason is that suppliers were dependent on the Government, that until last year, would buy seed from seed companies for distribution through National Agricultural Advisory Services (NAADS), Operation Wealth Creation (OWC), where they were sure of payments.

Last year, the Government decided to move away from supplying free seedlings to allow farmers to purchase their own seed.

“Seed companies also didn’t produce much seed, they wanted to observe the performance of the market without Government intervention before they could go back to production in big volumes, because seed must be sold within the production time to maintain germination potential,” explained Erongu.

Solutions to scarcity

According to a seed intervention report done by the agriculture ministry in 2022, it was discovered that there was scarcity of maize seeds due to various reasons.

Among these were;

  • Lack of information about accessibility of seeds due to poor communication by producers.
  • Smallholder farmers religiously rely on the ‘saved’ seeds from the previous harvest, which may not be of good quality.
  • A cumbersome process to produce seeds that takes long. However, the liberalisation of the seeds production sector has helped ease some of the challenges, because private commercial multipliers do it with the expectation of a profit.

Way forward;

  • Seed companies must place orders for foundation seed on time.
  • Seed producers must adopt drought mitigating measures, including irrigation, so that they do not depend on rainfall for production.
  • Authorities should carry out a specific survey to determine actual seeds needs in the country and region.
  • In case of scarcity, importers of maize seed should be encouraged to increase their volumes in order to cover for the deficit.

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