Shortages of essential seeds and planting materials necessary to enable farmers to produce sufficient food for their families and a surplus for sale have been a constraint for many generations in South Sudan. The situation of seed shortages has been exacerbated by the 21-year violent conflict. In addition, recurrent floods and drought have impacted on the local seed supply. The increased influx of returnees, refugees and internally displaced persons (IDPs) means that an increased demand for seed has worsened the seed shortages, creating a situation in which farmers may not be able to purchase available seeds in the local markets due to lack of buying power.

Because farmers recycle their harvested crop grain as seed, food shortages result in seed shortages, which may justify relief seed interventions. A small fraction of the total harvest is required to establish a new crop. For example, the seed requirement for sorghum is 5–10 kg per farm household, compared with an average annual household food requirement of 300 kg. Imported seed carries a risk of uncertain quality and may not be adapted to local conditions. Unless farmers know the quality and performance of imported seed, they are unlikely to use it until its performance has been proven locally As the seed production system in place is inadequate, the majority of improved seeds used in South Sudan are imported from Kenya, Uganda or Sudan. MAFTAFCRD, FAO and other partners have initiated the use of locally adapted crop varieties through a ‘seed recollection programme’, in which seeds are supplied to farmers and then repurchased from them.

In 2009, 25 organisations (20 local and five international organisations) were subcontracted to recollect seeds through letters of agreement that specified the activities to be carried out, including type and quantity of seeds, recollection points and destination of the seeds. These organisations worked closely with local farmers’ organisations and with an expert or extension agent from the ministry to identify good seed producers and growers, preferably those who previously had been provided with good quality seed by FAO. In addition, they organised seed quality testing. Recollection and bagging was carried out after the seed quality had been checked and certified by MAFTAFCRD officials. A total of 350 t of seeds was recollected and distributed in 2009. However, the genetic quality of the parent stock in this system is uncertain. The community-based seed production and supply initiative broadened the scope of seed and food security and created an opportunity for seed sector development.

This resulted in a 42.7% reduction in seed imports in 2008, and a 54.7% reduction in 2009, and ensured availability of quality seeds of locally adapted crop varieties to the needy populations. Although 800 farmers were trained in seed production and produced 500 t of seeds in 2009, the training and management of the fields and farmers they worked with were weak and the results were not validated. The seed and input trade fair (ITF) approach adopted in some areas has encouraged seed growers to practise market-oriented seed production, with cash received during these fairs acting as an important incentive to farmers to continue as seed producers. This has been an appropriate strategy to reach those in need of seed aid.