“Hybrid seed is the cornerstone to improved agricultural productivity,” says Andy Watt, Managing Director of QualiBasic Seed Company – a silver sponsor at the inaugural Farm-Tech Expo Kenya taking place in Naivasha from 12 to 13 September.
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 3 countries and are already conducting business with 18 customers in 9 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 3 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 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 recognised stumbling block in getting more hybrid seed into the hands of Africa’s small-scale farmers. We will be partnering with the 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.
What makes your products and services competitive in the agricultural 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 centres, 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 optimise 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.
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.
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.
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 fertiliser 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 armyworm, 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 harmonised 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.
What inspires you about working in the agricultural sector?
I started in agriculture at the age of 8, 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.
What will be your message at Farm-Tech Expo Kenya?
Hybrid seed is the cornerstone to improved agricultural productivity. Buy good quality seed from authorised seed companies, look after it well and the result will be better farm productivity and profitability.
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!
Dates and details
12 September 2018: 09:00 – 17:00
13 September 2018: 09:00 – 17:00
Location: Kenya Agricultural and Livestock Research Organisation (KALRO), Naivasha, Kenya
- Farm-Tech Expo Kenya is organised by Spintelligent, a Cape Town-based exhibition and conference producer across the continent in the infrastructure, real estate, energy, mining, agriculture and education sectors. Other events by Spintelligent include African Utility Week, Future Energy East Africa, Future Energy Nigeria, Agritech Expo Zambia, Kenya Mining Forum, Nigeria Mining Week and DRC Mining Week. Spintelligent is part of the UK-based Clarion Events Group.