Variety Adoption and Demand for Quality Seed in the Central Dry Zone of Myanmar


August 17, 2020 - <>, Simrin Makhija, <>, <>, David Megill, David L. Ortega, <>, Lavinia Plataroti, David J. Spielman, Marja Thijssen, and Myat Thida Win

Duncan Boughton, Simrin Makhija, Mywish Maredia, David Mather, David Megill, David L. Ortega, Ellen Payongayong, Lavinia Plataroti, David J. Spielman, Marja Thijssen, and Myat Thida Win, 2020. Variety Adoption and Demand for Quality Seed in the Central Dry Zone of Myanmar, Feed the Future Innovation Lab for Food Security Policy Research Paper 179. East Lansing: Michigan State University.


For countries like Myanmar, where crop production accounts for the largest share of agricultural GDP, improved varieties are an essential source of increased and/or more stable crop yields. The adoption of improved varieties often increases the incentives for farmers to invest in complementary improved crop and soil management practices. For this reason most countries give priority to variety development, and Myanmar is no exception despite the very limited research budget allocated to crop research by the government.

Yet improved varieties only generate benefits for farmers if they are adopted, and farmers only adopt new varieties if they are aware of their existence and benefits. For farmers to evaluate and adopt improved varieties they need access to quality seed (seed which is pure, exhibiting only the true genetic characteristics of the variety, with a high level of germination and uncontaminated by disease, weed seeds or other foreign matter). Access to quality seed is important because the attributes of farmer-saved seed degenerate with multiple seasons of use. Sustained benefits from variety adoption therefore require farmer awareness of, and access to, quality seed which preserves those benefits.

Despite the importance of variety adoption and access to quality seed for crop productivity growth very few survey-based studies have been conducted in Myanmar. Our study focuses on the Dry Zone. This major agro-ecological zone was chosen for the following reasons. First, the Dry Zone is home to approximately 10 million people who are dependent directly or indirectly on farming for their incomes; second, a wide variety of crops are grown in the Dry Zone for which improved varieties have been officially released; third, access to improved varieties is recognized as an important means to adapt to rapid climate change experienced in the Dry Zone over the past thirty years (increased frequency of flooding and drought); and fourth, no previous survey-based studies on this topic have been undertaken for this zone.

The specific objectives of the study are: 1) to determine the level of adoption of improved varieties for eight target crops; 2) to assess farmer preferences for varietal attributes for each of the crops; and 3) to assess the demand for quality seed. Data were collected using community and household surveys in 6 townships, two in each of the three regions that comprise the Dry Zone (Sagaing, Magwe and Mandalay Regions). Interviews were completed for a total of 1,388 households that produced at least one of the eight focus crops: rice, sesame, groundnut, pigeonpea, chickpea, green gram, black gram and sunflower. The results indicate that lack of awareness, not just lack of access, underlies low levels of uptake of improved varieties and quality seed by Dry Zone farmers. The good news is that this a problem that can be resolved through more intensive dissemination efforts, especially on-farm demonstrations that allow farmers to compare the performance of improved varieties or quality seed with their existing stock.

The highest level of adoption of varieties perceived by farmers to be improved was 41% in the case of sunflower, and lowest for pigeon pea at 8%. Triangulation of farmer reported use of improved varieties with the opinions of research and extension experts (based on the characteristics of officially released varieties), the actual level of adoption of improved varieties ranges from 6% for groundnut to 79% for chickpea. Compared to other countries in South, Southeast, and East Asia, the estimated adoption rate of improved varieties based on farmers’ own assessment is at the lower end of the rates reported in recent years. Furthermore, based on the estimated weighted average age of varieties and varietal turnover rates, farmers on average are growing older varieties (on average 18 years) and growing them for a longer period of time before replacement (on average about 12 years). Peer farmers appear to be the most important source of exposure to new varieties, as well as the main source of seeds of new varieties.

One implication of the key role of peer farmers is that on-farm demonstrations have a potentially important role to play to increase farmer exposure and adoption of new varieties. Although more than half of farmers (57%) in the Dry Zone reported receiving extension information about seed, only 11% received information from a public extension worker. Among farmers who received information about seed only one in six received information about improved varieties. Only one in twenty farmers had access to a field demonstration of an improved variety. The low penetration of information about new varieties through demonstrations is probably a reflection of multiple constraints such as limited extension coverage, limited mobility of extension workers, the lack of practical training in how to engage with farmers, the absence of an objective results monitoring system for extension, and the absence of incentives for extension workers to promote variety adoption

The lack of demand for quality seed is reflected in low seed replacement rates for existing varieties. These rates vary widely by crop but range from once every 6.6 years on average for sunflower to once every 13.2 years for pigeonpea. For rice, the average frequency of seed replacement for a variety in use is once every 6.9 years.

Seed quality is very difficult for farmers to perceive by visual inspection. Hence seed certification schemes are often employed to provide farmers with a guarantee of seed quality. In the absence of effective formal certification schemes, trust in the seed supplier is an important factor. Our survey found three major patterns in farmer seed acquisition. First, own-saved seed and informal seed sources play the largest role in households’ acquisition of seed, while the formal system plays a relatively small role, with the exception of rice, sunflower, and black gram. Second, many of the farmer-to-farmer exchanges of seed are monetized: farmers pay for seed purchased from their neighbors or from other informal sources, as well as from the government, and depend far less on free exchanges. Third, there is little evidence of free seed distributions, whether from government or non-governmental sources, which can undermine the development of market-based access to seed. These findings indicate that a vibrant informal seed market exists in the study area, and hence potential opportunities for growth of local seed businesses.

Informal sources rarely provide packaging or labelling whereas this is more frequent for formal or intermediate seed sources. For specific varieties of rice, for example, formal sector rates of packaging are 71 percent, labelling 46 percent, and certification 62 percent. High rates are also observed for sunflower (62, 62, and 100 percent, respectively), and similar rates are observed for green gram and chickpea. For groundnut, while packaging and labeling are not observed among formal/intermediate seed sources, seed of the varieties being acquired is reportedly certified. Despite the use of packaging and labeling, seed from formal sources is not perceived by farmers as being significantly better in quality than seed from informal sources or own-saved seed. But given the small number of observations for formal and intermediate sources, there are limits to the interpretation of these findings

Access and trust are important factors in farmer choice of seed source. For government seed farms and farmer seed producers, lack of access explains about 50 percent of all respondents’ reasons for not using these sources. In the case of traders, lack of trust in the quality of seed being sold explains 50 percent of all respondents’ reasons. Among agro-dealers and input retailers, farmers responded that a lack of access, a lack of trust in seed quality, and better seed source alternatives equally explain their reasons for not using seed from this source.

In the absence of formal quality assurance mechanisms, the seed from the government stands for good quality and is preferred the most by farmers, followed by seed saved from their own harvests. Seeds from agro-dealers that come in a package and are labeled are also perceived to be of high quality relative to all other sources of seeds that are not packaged or have no labels. Thus, it seems that traceability and quality assurance symbolized by packaging and labeling are important to farmers and are associated by them with good quality seed.

Based on the area cultivated and quantity of seeds planted per unit of land, total quantities of seed required annually for planting the total Dry Zone area of a given crop range from more than 7.45 million baskets for rice, 2.95 million baskets for groundnut, and about 1.25 million baskets for chickpea, to about 200-500 thousand baskets for sun flower, pigeon pea, green gram, and sesame. Of this requirement, the percentage met through purchase from the market (either through informal, semi-formal or formal avenues) is highest at about 78% for sunflower, 74% for rice, 68% for black gram, 60% for chickpea, 58% for green gram, 44% for sesame, 32% for groundnut, and 20% for pigeon pea. The rest is met through own-saved seed.

Overall, data suggest that the seed market for rice, oilseeds, and pulses in the Central Dry Zone region is dominated by grain seed produced by farmers themselves or procured through grain market channels. Although farmers know the attributes of quality seed (i.e., germination rate, seed health, uniformity) their willingness to pay for quality seeds appears to be low (in the range of 5-28%), which may not be enough to cover the cost of producing quality seed and sustaining a seed system based on a private seed company based model.

The findings of this study have important implications for seed sector development in Myanmar. First, our results suggest that expansion of on-farm demonstrations could be an effective approach to increase farmer exposure to improved varieties and quality seed. Increasing farmer awareness of the need for regular seed replacement through extension and education programs are also needed to increase farmer demand and their willingness to pay for quality seed. Second, farmer seed producers (i.e., seed entrepreneurs) may have a competitive advantage in supplying seeds to their communities due to lower costs, and thus need to be strengthened through training and capacity building efforts and developing an appropriate regulatory framework. Finally, for these SMEs to play an increased role in the seed sector, they need access to high quality early generation seed of public varieties to produce quality commercial seeds for farmers in local communities.




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