Seed System is a collaboration among diverse national and international organizations aiming to improve seed security in high stress and vulnerable areas across the world.


About This Website

This website is dedicated to strengthening smallholder farmers’ seed systems. is for practitioners, researchers, managers, policy-makers and donors working in humanitarian relief and agricultural development. Let us move forward as a Community of Practice that promotes seed system security and puts the needs of women and men farmers fully front and center. This site shares resources (tried-and-tested technical guidance!) and has three main aims:

  • to improve intervention practice;
  • to improve assessment;
  • to improve strategic thinking around seed system response and seed system development.

Humanitarian Relief

During periods of disaster–whether drought, flood, earthquakes, political instability, civil strife or displacement—seed system responses need to take place quickly. Good interventions can bolster vulnerable seed systems in sustainable ways; poor interventions do real harm—compromise farmers’ food security and create dependencies. offers practical ‘how- to’ advice to guide immediate humanitarian response. It starts step-by-step with the assessment—the seed system security assessment (SSSA)—and then moves to key responses—bolstering markets, promoting resilience and putting farmers in the decision-making chair.

Chronic Stress and Seed System Development focuses equally on interventions for chronic stress regions, areas that are environmentally harsh and/or lacking development institutions and innovations. Tools and approaches seek to spur plant breeding, seed production and delivery, and agro-enterprise responses that serve diverse types of farmers. One size rarely fits all and poor, vulnerable farmers deserve interventions tailored to their needs—really practical and sustainable solutions. We welcome you to this site. Make liberal use of the practice briefs, system assessment tools, diagnostic manuals, background reviews, and policy guides. Most of all, comment, share, give feedback. Let us work together to make seed system interventions more effective!


Catholic Relief Services

Catholic Relief Services (CRS) was founded in 1943 by the US Conference of Catholic Bishops to assist the poor and disadvantaged overseas. CRS’ mission statement calls the agency to alleviate human suffering, advance full human development, and foster charity and justice in the world. While CRS seeks to capitalize on its strategic advantages as a faith based organization, all of its programs assist persons on the basis of need, regardless of creed, ethnicity or nationality. CRS is one of the world’s largest private voluntary organizations, supporting relief and development work in more than 100 countries and territories worldwide. Because much of its work is focused on the rural poor, agriculture is a key priority. CRS implements agriculture programs in Africa, Asia, Latin America and the Caribbean. CRS focuses on smallholder farmers and collaborates with farmers through participatory methods, building upon and improving current practices, and developing sustainable agricultural strategies accordingly. CRS programs impact entire farming systems, seeking diversity for stability of production and income, integration with household nutrition, gender, and other socio-economic factors. CRS is a leader in the PVO community in regards to seed systems in both relief and development situations. Our publications on this topic can be found both on this SeedSystem website and on our home website at (About Us/Publications).

Louise Sperling is a Senior Technical Advisor with Catholic Relief Services leading a program focused on strengthening vulnerable populations. She has managed and technically backstopped projects and programs in over 30 countries in Africa, Asia and Latin America. Her focus is on impact-oriented plant breeding, formal and informal seed systems and pro-poor delivery approaches—with all programs embracing values of gender equity and farmer empowerment. In terms of seed systems, per se, Sperling’s work encompasses ‘normal’ small farmer systems as well as high stress ones: as examples, she led assessment missions during the pivotal 1983-85 drought in East Africa, after the 1994 Rwandan civil war and genocide, and immediately post-earthquake in Haiti. Widely consulting for a range of agencies (USAID/OFDA, the UN system, the World Bank, Rockefeller, northern and southern NGOs), she is the author of over seventy articles and book chapters, inter alia: Making seed systems more resilient (Global Environmental Change 2013, McGuire and Sperling) Understanding and strengthening informal seed markets (Experimental Agriculture 2010: Sperling and McGuire); Moving towards more effective seed aid (Journal of Development Studies 2008, Sperling, Cooper and Remington) and When Disaster Strikes: A guide to assessing seed system security (CIAT: 2008).


The International Center for Tropical Agriculture

The International Center for Tropical Agriculture (CIAT)—a member of the CGIAR Consortium—develops technologies, innovative methods, and new knowledge that better enable farmers, specially smallholders, to make agriculture eco-efficient—that is, competitive and profitable as well as sustainable and resilient. Eco-efficient agriculture reduces hunger and poverty, improves human nutrition, and offers solutions to environmental degradation and climate change in the tropics. Headquartered near Cali, Colombia, CIAT conducts research for development in tropical regions of Latin America, Africa, and Asia. CGIAR is a global research partnership for a food secure future. Its science is carried out by the 15 research centers of the CGIAR Consortium in collaboration with hundreds of partner organizations.



The Pan-Africa Bean Research Alliance (PABRA) was established in 1996 to improve the food security, income and health of smallholder farmers and urban dwellers across Africa through bean research. Facilitated by CIAT, the alliance works in partnership with more than 415 partners and members across 30 countries to strengthen national bean programs, and develop and disseminate new bean technologies. As a result of these collective efforts, improved bean varieties and production practices have reached over 19.5 million rural households. Moreover, the alliance has helped a number of African nations bounce back from conflict and high stress situations. For instance, Rwanda has transformed climbing beans from a subsistence crop into a cash crop, and is now a net bean exporter. In Ethiopia, the average yield nearly doubled, from 0.86 tons per ha to 1.49 tons per ha between 2004 and 2014. The world’s newest country, South Sudan, became the 29th country to join PABRA (in 2013).

Jean Claude Rubyogo is seed systems specialist in PABRA/ CIAT supporting bean seed system development and the transfer of complementary technologies toward smallholder farmers. Since 2004, he has facilitated multiple seed programs in east, west, southern and central Africa contributing to durable partnerships among CIAT, national agricultural research systems (NARS), seed entrepreneurs, farmers’ organizations and development partners. This partnership model has also attracted progressively greater private investment in bean seed systems, creating novel business opportunities as well as employment. Jean Claude also currently coordinates the legume seed system research and development component of Tropical Legumes II (a Bill and Melinda Gates – supported project) covering four legumes crops (beans, chickpea, cowpea, groundnut,) in eight countries in sub-Saharan Africa and India. He has extensively published on seed systems, for example, J.C. Rubyogo et al. 2010, Bean seed delivery for small farmers in Sub-Saharan Africa: the power of partnerships (Society and Natural Resources, 23 (4):1-18.)


The School of International Development (DEV)

The School of International Development (DEV) at the University of East Anglia in Norwich, UK, is a leading global centre of excellence in research and teaching in international development. With around 40 academic staff and 500 students, the School is committed to making a difference, contributing to knowledge and providing policy advice and guidance on major global challenges such as poverty reduction and environmental sustainability. The School has a unique relationship with International Development UEA, a charitable company that has pioneered research, training and consultancy in international development since 1967.

Shawn McGuire is a Senior Lecturer in the School of International Development, at the University of East Anglia (UK). His work supports innovation in crop breeding and seed supply which helps link farmers and formal research, builds resilience to stress, and which delivers benefits to small farmers. For over 15 years and in a number of countries, his research on seed systems has combined both natural and social science, and sought to inform development policy and practice. Support for this work has come from scientific research councils, development donors, and NGOs, addressing plant breeding, conservation, and seed system development. Along with Sperling, he has helped develop the Seed System Security Assessment (SSSA) and co-led assessment missions in a range of countries (e.g. Ethiopia, DRC, Haiti) to inform both short- and long-term policy. Other work focuses on capacity development in Kenyan crop breeding, and on informal seed networks. He has written over 25 articles or book chapters: including: Making seed systems more resilient (Global Environmental Change 2013, McGuire and Sperling), Fatal Gaps in Seed Security Strategy (Food Security, 2012, Sperling and McGuire) and “Seed exchange networks for agrobiodiversity conservation: a review” (Agronomy for Sustainable Development, Pautasso et al., 2012).


The United States Agency for International Development

The United States Agency for International Development (USAID) is an independent government agency that provides economic, development, and humanitarian assistance around the world in support of the foreign policy goals of the United States. Within USAID, the Office of U.S. Foreign Disaster Assistance (OFDA) is responsible for leading and coordinating the U.S. Government’s response to disasters overseas. OFDA responds to an average of 70 disasters in 56 countries every year to ensure aid reaches people affected by rapid on-set disasters—such as earthquakes, volcanoes, and floods—and slow-onset crises, including drought and conflict.

Julie March is the Agriculture and Food Security Technical Advisor for the United States Agency for International Development’s Office of US Foreign Disaster Assistance. With a long term focus on ecology, ecological systems and farming systems, she has technically supported the integration of this kind of systems thinking into disaster response, recovery and resilience programs. Encouraging international disaster programs to move beyond early forms of seed assistance and enhancing the forms of tools and assessments used to ensure that no harm is done and that interventions contribute to sustainable systems where possible are a highlight of her role at USAID/OFDA.