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The Seed Potato System in Bolivia: Organisational Growth and Missing Links

Research reports

Potatoes are a traditional, low-value staple food, produced by over 200,000 smallholders in Bolivia. Developing a formal seed system is a challenge; the seed is vegetative . not true seed . bulky, difficult to multiply and expensive to haul over dirt roads in the sparsely populated, dry Andes. In spite of these problems, Bolivia is one of the few countries with any kind of formal system for seed potato. This paper analyses the performance of individual components of the formal seed system and examines the interactions between the components. It highlights the importance of communication between projects and organisations and underlines the crucial role of local marketing and distribution in seed system development.

Donors have played a key role in the development of the seed potato system. A source seed project was initiated by the Swiss in 1984; a Dutch seed multiplication and extension project which organised small-scale seed producers into small seed firms began in 1990; a potato research project also began in 1990 with Swiss and World Bank funding; and seed quality control capacity was strengthened with US support, beginning in 1992. Bolivia. s seed system is better integrated than one might expect, given the diversity of donors and projects, and there are several examples of excellent coordination. But there are also several serious gaps in communication within the seed system. Links with research and marketing are particularly problematic and these raise questions about the future performance and focus of the system.

Most institutions that work with small-scale Bolivian seed producers have marginalised community organisations, choosing instead to form alternative groups which are said to be easier to work with. All of these institutions are financially dependent on foreign donors. The demand for certified seed potatoes is small and easily saturated. Probably over half of this demand is stimulated by NGOs donating seed, rather than by the market. Other problems faced by seed firms include quality control (management of light, storage, sprout management and pest control) and nematode infestation. seed producers are cutting forests to escape nematodes. Another shortcoming of the current seed system is its lack of attention to indigenous marketing channels. The vast majority of Bolivia. s (informal) seed potato is marketed by small-scale merchants, but seed projects have chosen to ignore this resource.

In spite of the above problems, Bolivia does have a functioning system for providing seed potatoes to farmers. Improved and European varieties are now widespread in Bolivia and smallholder farmers have accepted new varieties. Protected seedbeds, designed by researchers in farmers. fields, are proving to be effective for raising small amounts of high quality seed potatoes. A semi-formal seed system is developing spontaneously among farmers who can no longer grow certified seed.

Jeffery W Bentley and Daniel Vasques