Improved seed varieties vital for better yields

Source: Improved seed varieties vital for better yields | The Herald September 11, 2019

Beaven Dhliwayo Features Writer
A visit to Kunatsa Estate, deep in Mashonaland Central Province in the Matepatepa area, shows that improved seeds are of paramount importance for boosting agricultural production.

The green scenery at the 525-hectare farm sums it all, with some crops already being harvested and being processed by over 200 workers.

Owned by ex-banker Douglas Munatsi, Kunatsa Farm plants maize, soyabean, wheat and pecans for both commercial and seed production.

With the extreme climatic changes in the country and the growing rate of diseases in high potential areas, it is important for farmers to adopt new varieties that counter the challenges which most farmers are facing.

Seeds are the foundation of agriculture.

Technology has modernised much of farming’s day-to-day operations, but without a steady supply of high-quality seed, yields and crop quality would be greatly decreased.

Seed quality plays an important role in the production of agronomic and horticultural crops.

Characteristics such as trueness to variety, germination percentage, purity, vigour and appearance are important to farmers planting crops and to homeowners establishing lawns and gardens.

Achieving and maintaining high seed quality is the goal of every professional seed producer.

Though agriculture is still the major occupation of the people of many countries, especially of the developing and least developed ones, there is insufficient agricultural production in these countries mainly due to the retention of age-old practices.

Actually, increasing agricultural production relies largely on improved seeds and their availability.

A good seed is an entry point for a good production, nutrition and resilience for both small-scale and commercial farmers.

While investments have been made to ensure improved seeds are available and accessed by all farmers, not every farmer uses the improved seed in their agriculture production.

For some farmers, especially small-scale farmers, improved seed is expensive and this makes it difficult for them to access the improved seed varieties.

There is need for Government and other partners to help and ensure that improved seed varieties are accessed by every farmer in the country.

During the visit, Seed Co’s agronomy and extension manager, Dr John Basera, told The Herald that it has been proved that the key to rapid increase in crop production and productivity is through the production and use of improved seeds.

“Choosing the right seed variety for one’s specific area of agro-ecology is one of the most important decisions a farmer can make in a season,” he said.

“A seed variety can make or break a farmer’s season. Choosing a correct variety is called taping into the genetic gains phenomenon. Genetic gains contribute to over 50 percent to farmers’ success equations.”

Dr Basera said farmers should always select a maize variety looking out at three yielding components, including cob length, high row number and high shelling out percentage.

Farm manager Cardmelon Manatsa said: “Potential of seed variety is three times more than the traditional seeds. Under Seed Co’s Eleven Tonne Plus Club, we have changed the way we do things here.

“The programme has taken us out of our comfort zone. We have realised with the new maize varieties we can actually do much more if we apply the right fertilisers.”

Dr Basera said most of their products were under contract farming and they worked with seed inspectors and agronomists from the seed producer.

Kunatsa Estate is the national winner of Seed Co’s Eleven Tonne Plus Club promotion.

Last season, the farm produced a staggering 21,2 tonnes of maize per hectare and was rewarded for its exploits by the seed manufacturer with a brand new Nissan double cab.

Seed Co’s Eleven Tonne Plus Club promotion targets commercial maize farmers and is meant to encourage them to produce more tonnage per hectare through the use of improved seed varieties.

Last year, over 50 farmers entered the competition and achieved between 11 and 22 tonnes of grain per hectare.

Lack of improved seed varieties at the farmers’ level is still one of the constraints to increased productivity in many countries and Zimbabwe is not an exception.

In most of these countries, subsistence farmers lack access to improved seeds due to a number of factors, chief among them lack of capital.

Zimbabwe has been largely an agricultural economy with more than 70 percent of the Gross Domestic Product (GDP) coming from this sector.

This means that instead of operating in professional silos, Zimbabweans should capitalise on new seed varieties to achieve more since most of the people now have access to land.