One of the major challenges of African countries is to achieve national food security while reducing environmental degradation and depletion of natural resources. African rice productivity is generally low and, therefore not competitive, especially among poor smallholder farmers. Rice yields are generally low (about 1 t ha-1 in uplands, 1 to 2 t ha-1 in rainfed lowlands and 3 to 4 t ha-1 in the irrigated zones; FAOSTAT 2008). A range of factors explains this low productivity and lack of competitiveness, including the absence of improved varieties adapted to low input systems, low and declining soil fertility, the absence of appropriate policies that encourage the development of rice production and marketing, and an underdeveloped seed sector.
Consequently, national seed systems are unable to meet farmers’ needs in supplying quality seed of improved varieties at the right time, place and price. The situation became particularly crucial starting from the 90s with the closure of the public sector development companies that were supplying farmers with seed of improved varieties, knowledge to grow them and marketing through a well-established distribution system. Nowadays, most farmers regularly resort to traditional varieties and associated knowledge in seed production, seed conservation and seed diffusion. In fact, less than 10% of the seed planted in Africa are obtained through the formal seed system (Rohrbach et al., 2003). To address the lack of certified seed, several initiatives were undertaken by African countries in close collaboration with international research and development agencies during the last 50 years. These initiatives comprise different interventions including government subsidies allocated to the rice seed sector, emergency projects, the pin-point injection of Foundation seed, Mini-dosage (the farmer who receives seed is required to reimburse the double after harvest) and Mini-kits promotion (farmers get small packets of seed accompanied with fertilizers), and the rehabilitation of lost varieties. In particular, in the 70s, governments, with assistance from donors, established large public and semi-public seed production and storage facilities in sub-Saharan African (SSA) countries. However, these initiatives were proved unsustainable