Following the first year of implementation, the Program for Seed System Innovation for Vegetatively-propagated Crops in Africa (PROSSIVA) held its annual review and planning meeting from 12 to 14 December 2023 in Dar es Salaam, Tanzania. Implementing partners from CGIAR centers, consultancy organizations, national research institutions, seed regulatory agencies, and private seed companies gathered to review achievements of the first year and plan activities for the second year to advance the development of efficient VPC seed value chains in Africa. Sixty-one delegates attended the meeting physically, while over 40 participated online via Zoom. Specific objectives focused on:
- Reflecting on component work plans and progress for Y1 in alignment with the Project vision
- Fostering collaboration and cross-learning across project components and scaling partners
- Establishing work plans for the next 12 months
- Facilitating interaction and eliciting insights from the Project Advisory Committee (PAC) members for project improvement
IITA East Africa Hub Director Leena Tripathi welcomed the team and congratulated the project leadership on the commendable progress with project start-up activities and overall coordination. She highlighted the importance and timeliness of PROSSIVA, which should be able to contribute to addressing the current Banana Bunchy Top Virus (BBTV) spread in Tanzania.
“Improved crop varieties, high-quality seed, and fertile soils are key for the sustainability of agriculture systems. Efficient seed systems, particularly for the VPCs, are crucial, and PROSSIVA’s timely start is complementary to the Gates Foundation-funded RTB breeding project, which produces new crop varieties,” she added.
PROSSIVA project co-leads Delphine Amah and James Legg set the scene for the meeting with an overview of PROSSIVA, outlining the four pillars that anchor the project’s unique value proposition comprising:
- Co-creation of demand-led research to deliver technological, marketing, and institutional innovations that will resolve seed systems bottlenecks
- A results-oriented approach targeting the delivery of 65 outputs across five project components (banana and plantain, cassava, sweet potato, yam, and cross-cutting) and three innovation categories (technological, marketing, and institutional)
- Co-implementation and cross-interaction with diverse and context-specific seed system actors to develop sustainable models that address all aspects of VPC seed systems.
- Fostering and leveraging collaborations with key allied projects, including RTB Breeding, the Accelerated Breeding Initiative, the Seed Equal Initiative, and public- and private-sector partners for scaling.
Amah further highlighted key progress achieved with project coordination, stating: “The most important achievement for this first year is that single crop project teams from YIIFSWA, SweetGains, RAPID Banana, and BASICS (all previous Gates Foundation-funded projects addressing seed systems of single crops) are now consolidated under the PROSSIVA umbrella and working together harmoniously.”
Outlining expected outcomes for each session on the program, she enjoined implementing partners to plan and prioritize project activities towards developing functional seed systems that reach ‘last mile’ farmers.
Senior Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation Program Officer for PROSSIVA Lawrence Kent commended the project co-leads for clearly articulating the project and urged the team to prioritize bottlenecks and explore research-driven solutions emphasizing financial viability and profitability for seed companies. Kent assured the commitment of Gates Foundation to supporting the project’s vision and highlighted the significant impact that high-quality seeds can have on agricultural transformation.
Kwame Ogero of CIP, Hadija Musa of TARI, and Daniel Opanga of Wetfoot seed company provided spotlight presentations to showcase sweet potato innovations in Early Generation Seed (EGS) and commercial seed production in Tanzania. Component-level progress updates on yam and banana were presented by Morufat Balogun and Amah of IITA, respectively, while sweet potato and cross-cutting component updates were presented by Ogero.
Temi Adegoroye of SAHEL consulting, Stephen Magige of MEDA, and Will Rogers of Resourced moderated three exciting panel discussions on “VPC early generation seed production & supply” involving representatives from NARS, “VPC seed quality assurance” involving seed regulatory agency representatives and “scaling VPC commercialization” involving private seed companies across project implementing countries. Participants in the panels shared experiences and perspectives on bottlenecks affecting these three critical areas in VPC seed systems, and success factors in addressing the bottlenecks for shared learning.
Availability of preferred varieties, high costs of seed certification, financing for seed businesses, simple high-ratio seed production technologies, and seed demand planning were some of the bottlenecks echoed from panel discussions and targeted for PROSSIVA’s research and innovation agenda.
IITA’s Moses Malibiche showcased the new PROSSIVA website, which is being developed to enhance the project’s online presence and visibility. Key features include news, the project structure, partner profiles, and an interactive dashboard for real-time project data updates.
Virtual presentations on scaling and collaboration with allied projects included TAAT Program Coordinator Sabra Lewis highlighting opportunities for scaling seed system innovations via linkages with the Technologies for African Agricultural Transformation (TAAT) program through its strategic reach to millions of African farmers in multiple countries.
CGIAR Seed Equal Initiative Lead Chris Ojiewo underscored the initiative’s focus on delivering genetic gains to farmers’ fields, which is in harmony with PROSSIVA’s goal of building efficient seed systems. Deputy Director General of Research at CIP Hugo Campos presented the Gates Foundation-funded RTB Breeding Project, highlighting the overarching goals of modernizing and mainstreaming breeding across root and tuber crops in alignment with PROSSIVA’s objectives of building commercially sustainable seed systems to enhance the delivery of RTB crop varieties.
IITA’s Lateef Sanni recounted the BASICS-II project activities, highlighting recent developments in addressing seed production challenges and ensuring the availability of quality seeds of superior cassava varieties and the integration with PROSSIVA.
The recently constituted Project Advisory Committee (PAC), comprising six external experts, met for the first time during the annual meeting and interacted with the project team. PAC Chair Alfred Dixon commended the team for successfully initiating a complex project and encouraged them to focus on key elements of the vision to add value to the project.
Kent commended the project team for the impressive progress made and the PAC for sharing their expertise, drawing on experience from the public and private sectors. He emphasized the significant commitment of the Gates Foundation to supporting this effort and the expectations for the project in shaping functional seed systems for each of the four focus crops. “We need the private companies to succeed for farmers to have access to quality planting materials. We need to dialogue with the private sector to ensure that we prioritize the right issues which are key obstacles to the private seed companies,” he added.
Kent further highlighted the need to develop clear seed system roadmaps or models with the potential for scaling by TAAT. “We expect a lot not just for farmers having access to improved quality planting material but also for seed companies and various seed entities to be profitable and sustainable so that the systems can continue to work even after the project,” he concluded.
Representing the project co-leads, Amah, in her feedback, recapped key takeaways from the three-day meeting focusing on integrating market-preferred varieties, digital certification, quality seed value proposition experiments, efficient value chain approaches for seed system development, realigning to the project vision and operationalizing linkages with allied projects.
IITA’s Regina Kapinga closed the meeting on behalf of the East Africa Hub Director, thanking the Gates Foundation for its sustained investments in the VPCs, which are critical crops for Africa’s food systems. Kapinga emphasized the need for scaling innovations through TAAT and AGRA at the country level. She concluded by commending the PROSSIVA leadership and team for a successful meeting.
The PROSSIVA team is prepared to take the next steps toward building commercially sustainable VPC seed systems in Africa. Key next steps involve completing Year 2 work plans for all partners, undertaking further country team engagements for prioritizing crop and context-specific seed system models, and strengthening collaborative efforts with allied projects and scaling partners. The focus remains on providing practical solutions to seed system bottlenecks and delivering innovative models for scaling and replication beyond project countries. The PROSSIVA project, with support from the Gates Foundation, aims to develop functional seed systems that ensure farmers’ access to quality seed in an economically sustainable way for vegetatively propagated crops (VPCs) comprising banana and plantain, cassava, sweet potato, and yam.
Contributed by Delphine Amah and Olusola Bodunde