Seed System Security Assessments of Resilience

SEADS Handbook Location: Chapter 5 (book p. 53, PDF p. 60)

While seed security is key to food security, concrete means for building resilient seed systems remain unexplored in research and practice. A new toolkit, the Seed System Security Assessment (SSSA), examines what actually happens to seed systems during crises and highlights specific features that foster or undermine resilience. Drawing evidence from SSSAs in contexts of political and civil conflict (Zimbabwe and South Sudan), earthquake (Haiti), and drought (Kenya), the article shows that seed systems prove to be relatively resilient, at least in terms of meeting farmers’ planting needs for the upcoming season. Altering crop profiles, making use of multiple delivery channels, and innovating (for example, with new barter mechanisms) all become key, as does mobilizing cross scale seed supply linkages. However, despite short term survival, in the medium term, both formal and informal seed systems will have to be transformed to address agro-ecological and farming system challenges, which are partially shaped by global environmental changes. Key is that formal seed systems will play a catalytic but supporting role, with the onus on resilience response lying within informal systems, and especially with local markets and their traders. Also key is that achieving seed security in fluctuating environments will hinge on developing resilience-linked information systems that put as much weight on helping farmers strategize as on delivering the planting material itself. The article defines seed system resilience, identifies eight principles linked to processes that build such resilience, and makes 15 practical recommendations for enhancing seed system resilience in the short and medium term. The eight principles are:

  • a systems perspective
  • a goal of retaining seed system function
  • a diversity of crops, variety, and supply channels
  • temporal breadth in terms of planning for the very short-term and having a longer-term strategy
  • technology provision linked to relevant information to assist strategic decision-making
  • feedback loops
  • a repertoire of flexible responses
  • consideration of trade-offs between multiple stresses and risks.

The 15 recommendations fall under the broad categories of:

  • identifying germplasm strategies in reserve that can be revitalized quickly
  • ensuring availability of this germplasm and seed
  • securing access to seed, including for more vulnerable groups
  • fostering information systems that strengthen farmers’ ability to strategize and deal with fluctuations
  • enabling systems evolution by developing space for new repertoires and opportunities.

Finally, drawing insights from seed systems, processes central for building resilience in other development sectors are highlighted.

McGuire, S. & Sperling, L. (2013). Making seed systems more resilient to stress. Global Environmental
Change, 23, no. 33, 644–653. https://seedsystem.org/wp-content/uploads/2014/03/Resilience-and-