Smart partnership between soyabean seed and inoculant producers in Zimbabwe

Display start
Display end
Newsletter #
Newsletter item #
News homepage item #

Seed Co Limited, a public listed seed company incorporated in Zimbabwe, is the leading producer and marketer of certified crop seeds in southern Africa. Seed Co develops and releases soyabean varieties for Zimbabwe, Zambia, Malawi and South Africa. The seed house has produced a number of specific and high yielding soyabean varieties that are transforming soyabean production for smallholder farmers. This has been a direct result of production of seed products in ecological conditions nearest and similar to end-users’ environments. While improved soyabean seed availability in southern Africa has greatly improved due to the efforts of private sector investments, such as Seed Co, access to quality inoculants has lagged behind, especially for Malawi and Mozambique. Both countries have had to wholly rely on imports from other regions of the world. Yet, there seems to be inoculant production capacity in Zimbab-we that is underutilized. Without quality inoculants, soyabean productivity is only a small fraction of the potential that can be realized.

The Soil Productivity and Research Laboratory (SPRL) under the Department of Research and Specialist Services in Zimbabwe is renowned in sub-Saharan Africa for its long-term research efforts in rhizobiology and inoculant production (see Podcaster 36). The inoculant factory has produced quality inoculants that fuelled soyabean production in the commercial sector since the 1960s in Zimbabwe - the N-fixer (see picture). To ensure the high standards are maintained, N2Africa has made investments at the factory through purchasing new equipment, and training for the laboratory technicians as well as graduate students. A major challenge is related to the distribution of the inoculants to the end-users. Often, the marketing of inoculants is centralized at a few provincial or district outlets, making these products highly costly to access, even though the products themselves are relatively cheap.

To ensure increased accessibility and sales of its products, the SPRL has partnered with Seed Co and other agro-dealers that sell soyabean seed to systematically sell seed and inoculants under ‘one roof’. This strategy effectively removes any other costs that could be associated with accessing inoculants, as farmers incur only the fixed costs (transport, time etc.) that are related to purchase of seed. Thus, the cost of inoculants remain truly at $5 per ha! This innovation has resulted in many more smallholder farmers being able to invest in soyabean inoculants and producing soyabean successfully.

However, regional integration in marketing of inoculants has remained poor, partly due to current stringent regulations governing the trade in biological products. Apart from a few packets of inoculants that we have exchanged under N2Africa for Malawi, Mozambique and Zimbabwe for research purposes, there has been no substantial commercial volume traded among the countries. The SPRL is currently producing 80,000 units of inoculants, but has capacity to more than double this number to be a major source of inoculants for neighboring Mozambique, that is currently importing inoculants from Brazil, more than 8,000 km away. While current trading in inoculants with international partners could have been informed by past poor capacity with regional production and product quality, N2Africa is investigating whether this is still warranted. Besides the capacity in Zimbabwe, South Africa could be a major source of inoculants in the region.

Regis Chikowo