Research Articles Quo Vadis? Opportunities and Bottlenecks for Improved Forage Seed Markets in East Africa

Opportunities and bottlenecks for the improved forage seed market in East Africa - Alliance Bioversity International - CIAT

In East Africa the livestock sector is one of the most important subsectors of agriculture in economic, social, and environmental terms, and dairy farming is of special relevance as it is practiced by most smallholder farmers. Forage is a key element of the feed basket in this region, but producers mostly rely on local varieties, often of low quality; this offers important opportunities for introducing and scaling new improved forage materials. 

Improved forages allow for increased yields in meat and milk production and improved mitigation and adaptation of livestock systems to climate change, as they are more tolerant to adverse weather conditions such as prolonged droughts. They are also a good strategy for climate change mitigation as they produce more biomass of higher quality and reduce the use of space for growing animal feed. Additionally, they have the potential to reduce methane (CH4) emissions associated with ruminant diets.  

During 2022 and 2023, within the framework of the OneCGIAR Market Intelligence Initiative, we conducted a study on the behavior of the improved forage seed market in East Africa, with special emphasis on Kenya, recently published in Grassland Research. Through informant interviews with key actors from the forage seed system (i.e., seed companies, research institutions, government institutions, development organizations, and producers and associations) we generated information for a qualitative analysis of the forage seed market’s recent and expected future behavior and the main challenges and opportunities for improvement it bears. 

The past: How the market has evolved over the last decade 

In Kenya and other East African countries, local forage species (i.e., Cenchrus purpureus and Chloris Gayana) have historically predominated as a source of feed for livestock. In recent years, the promotion and adoption of improved forage varieties, including Megathyrsus maximus and interspecific Urochloa hybrids developed by the Alliance of Bioversity International and CIAT, have increased. The high demand for these materials and the often-limited availability and accessibility have resulted in a seed deficit in the region and led to strongly increased prices. The market price of Urochloa hybrid seeds oscillates between $40-50 USD/kg – a lot of money for a smallholder farmer and considering the amount of 8-10kg required to establish one hectare. This represents a significant barrier to the adoption of this technology on farms.  

The future: Prospects for future market development 

It is expected that in the coming years, increased demand for improved forage seeds will continue. To achieve an adequate balance in this market, it is essential to achieve rapid growth in seed supply, which would allow closing the gap with demand, stabilizing prices, and favoring the adoption of this technology on farms. The key sector actors expect the boom of Urochloa and Megathyrsus maximus, the two most popular improved varieties, to continue and the use of these varieties to increase in the region. They also emphasize the key role of research institutions, government institutions, and development organizations in the promotion of improved forage seeds and the adoption process. 

Challenges and opportunities for market development 

We identified three fundamental challenges that must be addressed to improve the functioning of the improved forage seed market in the region: 

Seed prices 

As mentioned above, improved forage seed prices are high in the region, which is largely attributed to seed scarcity, high transportation costs, and the fact that the seeds are not produced in the region. In fact, the seeds even must be imported from other continents, mostly from South America (Brazil), North America (Mexico), and Asia (Thailand). Transportation costs increased considerably during the COVID-19 crisis, given the disruption of the global supply chains, and have not yet returned to pre-pandemic levels. 

Registration of new varieties 

This process is complex and sometimes delays the arrival of new varieties to the region, which can discourage seed producers and importers to open new markets. The good news is that the involved authorities are aware of these limitations and seek ways for improvement. 


Managing improved forage varieties can be more complex than managing traditionally used local varieties. In general, producers do not have much knowledge about this type of forage and its management, for example, knowledge about soil adaptation and environmental conditions is not widely disseminated. Many producers in the most remote areas are not even aware of the existence of these technologies. 

What’s next? 

Favorable conditions are observed to accelerate the adoption of improved forage seeds in Kenya and other East African countries since the different actors of the forage seed system seem to have strong interest in this topic and are keen to support market development: Research institutions continue developing new varieties through plant breeding and germplasm selection. Seed companies seek to expand seed production and exports, even thinking of establishing seed production sites on the continent, and in investing in seed distribution networks within the region. Government institutions and development organizations want to continue supporting the adoption process through policies for streamlining variety registration, financing mechanisms, knowledge creation, and extension. Producer associations aim to support seed distribution and even build their own seed distribution networks to enhance seed availability, reduce prices, and encourage adoption. This positive panorama gives a lot of hope for the future, both in terms of new opportunities for employment creation through the establishment of a strong seed sector and the adoption of more productive and sustainable seed technologies that contribute to achieving the United Nations Sustainable Development Goals in the region, especially those related to poverty alleviation and environmental sustainability.  

The Team