Until recently, indigenous systems of seed flow and variety development have essentially been ignored by local and public agricultural development organisations to promote seed and crop varieties. In Tanzania perceptions of seed and variety development by public service organisations appear to be shaped by familiarity with a model of centralized action and regulation leading to a standard distinct official product. However there are indications that official variety release authorities are now beginning to give more weight to farmers’ decision-making criteria and are keen to promote wide testing of new materials with farmers to ensure wide demand. The seed fair concept and subsequent follow-up work described in this paper can contribute to increased understanding of local seed networks by local and public services and NGOs involved in agricultural development, and bring a wide range of materials to the attention of many farmers.
Small two-day rural seed fairs were initiated in south east Tanzania in 1997 and 1998 by the local agricultural research station and a donor-supported rural development programme. The fairs drew the attention of several hundred farmers, as well as local agricultural agencies and planners, to a wide range of seed and planting materials, both from research stations and from farmers’ own sources. Seed was packaged, sold or exchanged in very small quantities so that many could obtain some for testing. Contacts made at the 1997 seed fair were subsequently used in a rapid study of varietal testing and seed procurement in Marambo village, Nachingwea District, Lindi Region. A small number of local farmers were identified as local seed providers. These farmers generated income through their seed provision activities but also saw themselves as providing a community service. They sold seed at low prices, gave away free seed or bartered seed in return for work. Local seed producers practiced methods for ensuring higher quality seed and were interested in learning new methods. Through contacts made in connection with such fairs, crop research development initiatives can better focus on supporting these farmers’ activities.