QualiBasic Seed INTERVIEW: “Hybrid seed is the corner stone to improved agricultural productivity”

1.    Let’s start with highlights for your organisation during the last 12 months.
QualiBasic Seed (QBS) became fully functional about a year ago, on 12 June 2017 to be exact.  In that time we hired a brilliant team and started operations in three countries and are already conducting business with 18 customers in nine countries in East and Southern Africa. It’s been a busy 12 months! Our headquarters are in Nairobi, just off Mombasa road, where we have warehousing and cold storage and are in the process of procuring a seed processing plant.

In Zambia we’re on the Kafue Road just on the edge of Lusaka and we’re currently installing the cold store and procuring the plant to process both our pre-foundation and our foundation parent seed. In South Africa, we’re in Brits, north of Pretoria and are equally installing our cold room facilities. We’re using highly skilled out-growers in all three countries to produce the seed and operating our own quality control processes to ensure that only seed of high quality is available for our customers.

We were born from an idea by AATF (The African Agricultural Technology Foundation) who successfully gained support from the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation (BMGF) to set-up QBS to be a stand-alone commercial enterprise, producing and selling high quality parent seed for hybrid Maize, the lack of which was a recognized stumbling block in getting more hybrid seed into the hands of Africa’s small-scale farmers. We will be partnering with AATF to showcase their Hybrids along with seed company customers who have licences to the Hybrids and who will in turn QBS parent seed to produce their stocks of certified seed.

2.    What makes your products and services competitive in the agri sector?
We’ve coined the phrase “The Finest Parent Seed for Africa”. We’re currently focused on producing parent (or foundation) seed for maize hybrids, our customers are independent seed companies who multiply and sell hybrids to farmers. The production of foundation seed is painstaking and costly and can take a couple of seasons to get sufficient quantity of the required quality. This places a big demand on the scarce resource of working capital and technical expertise which is frequently better spent on the sales and marketing operation by our customers, to help them win business.

By getting involved at an early stage, supporting the production of high quality foundation seed in three dedicated production centers, QBS is able to lever economies of scale and help customers manage their working capital better as well as providing them with the seed they need to optimize their production of certified hybrid seed for sale to their customers. We also respect our customers’ business by guarding their intellectual property closely and promising not to compete with them for their customers, we only produce foundation seed for sale to seed companies and will not produce certified seed for sale to famers.

Photograph caption: A QualiBasic Seed production field which has been hand pollinated, with bags over the cobs to prevent any contamination by unwanted pollen which could destroy the purity of the seed.

3.    Where in Africa are you active? How important is Kenya and the region as a market for you?
We have operations in South Africa, Zambia and Kenya. Our headquarters are in Kenya and we do business across the whole of East and Southern Africa, we even have a few enquiries from West Africa – we’re an African company doing business in Africa. The East African region is very important to us and we spend a considerable amount of time visiting our customers to understand their needs and their issues and work with them to provide high quality solutions to their foundation seed requirements.

4.    Which projects that you are involved in currently are you particularly excited about?
The whole business! It’s brand new and represents a significant change in the way parent seed is supplied. We are unique in this part of Africa and are the only company entirely dedicated to the supply of foundation seed. If you look at the world’s largest market for maize, the United States of America, independent foundation seed companies have been operating for over 80 years, so we firmly believe that we’re at the start of something really great and ready to change the whole early generation seed, supply chain to the benefit of Africa’s seed companies and ultimately Africa’s farmers.

5.    What in your view are the main challenges to the sector in the region?
Showing farmers the benefits of buying and growing high quality hybrid seed is a key challenge, about 45% of maize seed grown in East and Southern Africa is hybrid, in some countries it can be into the 70% plus bracket whilst others still less than 10%, so technology adoption is key. Then once the decision to use improved seed has been made, farmers must use the correct fertilizer and grow the crop well to achieve the desired result. This means planting, weeding and keeping the crop weed and disease free.

New pests such as Maize Lethal Necrosis virus and Fall Army Worm, present a significant challenge, which must be carefully managed. A critical piece of the jigsaw is getting high quality seed to move across country borders, through mutual recognition of certification based on harmonized certification and the control of fake seed, which requires farmers to only buy from bona-fide seed companies, who can assure they are selling the genuine article.

6.    What inspires you about working in the agri sector?
I started in agriculture at the age of eight, I’m proud to say that’s 52 years ago! I’ve been living in Africa for just over 10 years and I’ve never worked in a more professionally and personally rewarding environment. Agricultural output in Africa is often lower than it should be, but it can be significantly improved with relatively small interventions. African farmers are hard working and deserve better. I view my job almost as a crusade to take information, technology and know-how to the field to result in mutual benefit - Frankly it’s the most rewarding thing I’ve ever done.

7.    What will be your message at Farm-Tech Expo Kenya?
Hybrid seed is the corner stone to improved agricultural productivity; buy good quality seed from authorized seed companies, look after it well and the result will be better farm productivity and profitability.

8.    Anything you would like to add?
I’m really excited about Farm-Tech Expo, the farming sector is desperate for a really well organised agricultural event. The sister event Agritech Expo in Zambia has been a resounding success, providing a basis for interaction between farmers ( large and small) and businesses,  supplying farmers with what they need to succeed. It’s taken a few years to get to the size it is today but was really good from day one and I’m sure that Farm-Tech will be equally impactful in Kenya – See you there!