Knowledge for Development

Is Quality Declared Seed Production an effective and sustainable way to address Seed and Food Security in Africa?

Author: Britt Granqvist

Date: 27/03/2009


It is known that small scale farmers in Africa use 90 – 95 % farmer-saved seed for their crop production. The gap for additional use of certified seed cannot be solved by the seed trade only. Quality Declared Seed (QDS) sold locally in small quantities, where certified seed is not used or sold, is a good way to minimize this gap and to improve the seed trade and food production in Africa.

The author of this article, Britt Granqvist, is a Lead Consultant working for BriAgri ApS Consultancy Company, Toldbodgade 19 B, 2nd, 1253 Copenhagen K, Denmark.

This article is part of the Knowledge for Development dossier on Demanding Innovation.



Lessons learned
The Quality Declared Seed (QDS) production system was outlined by FAO (FAO, 2006). The system is not designed to replace a fully developed seed certification programme, but makes fewer demands on government resources, and yet still provides good quality seed.

QDS should not be seen as a competitive system to the existing seed trade, but rather a bridge to address the key gap areas and enable reaching small-scale farmers who do not use certified seed for their crop production.

To assist the growth of the seed trade, while encouraging the use of quality certified seeds, it is therefore recommended that QDS only be sold locally in small quantities, i.e. in the villages and surrounding villages within the district, where certified seed is not used or sold.



A Quality Declared Seed (QDS) production system has been successfully introduced by the government in Tanzania. Ten years of support by the Danish Government under the “On Farm Seed Production” programme provided the necessary knowledge on how to implement and control the QDS production in a sustainable way for small-scale QDS producers/ farmers. By means of QDS, a market-oriented local seed trade delivering quality seed has been built up.

Since 1998, 18 pilot districts have been introduced to the programme, and in 2007 more than 90 % of the districts in Tanzania decided to support and include QDS production in their respective areas. A country-wide training of District Extension Officers/ Supervisors in QDS production was carried out in 2007/2008. Other District Extension officers have also been trained as Authorized District Seed Inspectors/Samplers. The seed supply chain to the famers has been strengthened and the QDS producers can now access parental seed.

Together with the government, the seed trade and the QDS producers can now build an efficient and effective seed industry that meets the needs of the farming sector. This is the foundation of the future certified seed market and QDS should be seen as assisting in this process and contributing to a more secure food production.

The Tanzanian QDS

The FAO QDS system was modified and adopted by Tanzania in the year 2000. The QDS was incorporated into the formal seed system in the national Seeds Act of 2003, along with its seed rules, regulations & procedures (2007) and Guidelines for control (2007) for the QDS production. A brief description of QDS follows:

QDS is produced by a registered trained small scale farmer or a group of small-scale farmers producing seed for their own use or for sale to the neighbouring farmers within the ward where the QDS is produced. Therefore any farmer who wishes to become a QDS dealer must submit an application to the Tanzanian Official Seed Certification Institute (TOSCI). A QDS producer should have an alternative source of income before starting up the seed production, to avoid economical hardship if there are unanticipated problems, for example, drought which occurs one year, or if the produced seed does not pass the germination test.

It is essential to build up a sustainable production, to ensure that a crop and a variety can be sold in the area. The producer should know her/his customers – the market. To avoid conflicts in the market place, QDS producers are advised not to produce QDS crops or varieties already successfully sold by the seed trade in that market area and to produce quantities that can be sold the same year. It is essential that the genetic background/ pedigree is known and therefore either basic seed or certified seed should be used to ensure good seed quality. In Tanzania only OP varieties that are on the official national variety list can be produced under QDS and not F1 Hybrids. After a QDS producer has been trained in QDS production of a crop, he/she can later decide to add additional crops or varieties to the seed production, at his/her own risk, if the market exists.

Authorized District Seed Inspectors carry out the seed inspection and a minimum of 10 percent of a district registered QDS production is check inspected by TOSCI. Seed sampling is done by an Authorized Seed Inspector, in accordance with QDS and International Seed Testing Association (ISTA) rules. The seed lots are tested by TOSCI, using ISTA Rules and procedures. Lots passing the quality test will be registered as QDS and can be sold. A declaration is completed for each seed lot and the farmer/the producer labels the QDS bags. Registration, control inspection, seed lot test costs are minimal.

The sale of QDS production normally totals for example, a few tons of a maize or rice variety or a few kilos in the case of a vegetable variety. QDS addresses the key gap area between formal seed sector and small-scale farmers and the quality declared seed is sold at affordable prices that generally cost less than certified seed. The seed price is set by local market condition.

Advantages of QDS

It is costly for the established seed trade to reach all areas. If companies decide to distribute seed to retailers in the villages, they are often faced with many obstacles. Small-scale farmers who buy certified seeds can normally only afford to buy very small quantities. Further compounding the problem is that farmers often do not know the varieties, the characteristics which must first be demonstrated, or the buyers and markets for final product or grain do not exist or are not known and roads are not accessible.

The advantages for small-scale crop producing farmers - future users and buyers of QDS - are that they can choose the crops of interest for their markets and target areas where certified seed is not available. They are introduced to new varieties and/or new market opportunities through demonstrations. Further they choose their varietal preferences and are introduced to new technologies when they use quality seed, needed for stable crop production and food security. All farmers in the QDS production area are in good contact with other stakeholders in the seed chain including wholesalers and grain buyers. They must also be seen as the future seed producers for seed companies, starters of seed associations, retailers or future seed traders or owners of seed companies or owners of other businesses. Another advantage of QDS for the seed trade is the development of the farmers’ wider knowledge and demand for different varieties and good seed quality. QDS production also offers female farmers good possibilities to start up small businesses.

QDS, food security and disaster preparedness

Seed is the most important agricultural input of crop production. Free seed distribution, short term seed relief projects, seed fairs, kits of seeds and tools distribution, seed vouchers, all assist the farmers during lean periods to minimize dependency on food aid and are complementary and, an innovative way to help farmers recover. Giving routine ‘Seed Aid’ assistance year after year to small-scale farmers as an automatic agricultural response in areas, where farmers grow crops under marginal conditions is not a solution. Instead it is important to find other means to support their existence. In areas in Tanzania where QDS is now produced, and where previously there was a tendency to ask for seed more or less routinely every year, this now happens only a few times or not at all, thereby reducing the dependency on food aid.

Combining local vegetable QDS production also safeguards the small-scale farmers by making it possible to earn a better livelihood through increased and more stable production, improved income generation and increased nutrient levels. QDS farmers see QDS as a good business. If a severe drought period occurs they quickly start up seed production again once their financial situation is stable. QDS enables national researchers and seed companies to better focus on farmers needs, and the farmers themselves have better knowledge and demand better varieties.

It is known that small scale farmers in Africa use 90 – 95 % farmer-saved seed for their crop production. The gap for additional use of certified seed cannot be solved by the seed trade only. QDS is a good way to minimize this gap and to improve the seed trade and food production in Africa. Further, the seed trade gains a better understanding of the local seed market.

While it is possible to start up a QDS production in a country by bypassing the extension service and directly training a few (2-4) small-scale farmers and their partners in sustainable QDS production in a village, this is not recommended. Official inspection and sampling control must still be carried out to secure quality seed. Therefore it is important for the government agencies to be involved in these procedures. It is also essential; that the farmers in the area where QDS is produced, are assisted - a value chain approach; that good varieties are used in the production and that better varieties are bred for all crops since few successful varieties are available outside of the existing maize based commercial seed sector in Southern Africa. Further, the farmers who use farmer saved seeds in the QDS production areas should also be assisted, by improving the preferred local varieties, recommending agronomic practices and providing advice on how to select seed from healthy plants, how to handle the harvest, the post harvest and storage of farmer saved seed, and other related aspects.

FAO, 2006. Plant Production and Protection Paper, no.185. ISSN 0259-2517

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