Omahenene: Maintenance breeding of released and pre-released crop varieties in Namibia: foundation seed production Omahenene: Maintenance breeding of released and pre-released crop varieties in Namibia: foundation seed production

Background:

After independence in 1990 the Government of the Republic of Namibia through the Ministry of Agriculture, Water and Forestry (MAWF) launched a national crop improvement program with pearl millet (omahangu) and sorghum as major crops, while cowpea and Bambara groundnut have secondary importance. Concurrently, a system of seed production of improved varieties was put in place to ensure timely sustainable supply of good quality seed to communal and commercial farmers.

Target Group or Beneficiaries:  Farming households in communal areas of northern Namibia and commercial farmers.

Benefits from the Service Offering: Farmers that use early maturing, high yielding improved varieties have lower chances of incurring crop failure due to recurrent drought, therefore, contributing to enhanced household food self-sufficiency. Moreover, seed producers earn cash income from seed sales.

Seed classes: There are three major classes of seed, namely breeders', foundation and commercial certified seed. The government produces on research stations the first two classes. As the name depicts, the breeders' seed is produced by a plant breeder and is normally available in small quantities; whereas the foundation seed is the progeny of the breeders' seed. The foundation seed is multiplied into commercial certified seed which is used for grain production by the general public.
 
Released and pre-released varieties: Released varieties are Okashana 2, Kangara (pearl millet) and Macia (sorghum); while pre-released varieties include Nakare, Shindimba and Bira (cowpeas).

Requirements for foundation seed production: This seed is produced under the supervision of a plant breeder. The seed crop requires complete isolation particularly during the reproductive phase to prevent contamination through cross-pollination. Isolation techniques include isolation by time of planting, isolation by space (distance) between seed fields and the use of pollination bags.  
With regards to isolation by time of planting, early planting or off-season planting, when no same crop species is grown, are the commonest ways for controlling cross-pollination.  For special isolation, the seed crop is isolated by leaving a recommended minimum distance between individual isolations of same species, which is 400 m, 200 m and 10 m for pearl millet, sorghum and cowpea, respectively. Pollination bags are used where the other methods can not be applied, hence common in breeding nurseries.

Management of seed crops: Good crop management is necessary to produce high quality seed. Seed crops are grown or under full or supplemental irrigation, depending on the season. Therefore, critical activities entail proper irrigation as well as constant monitoring to remove off-types. Other activities include timely fertilizer applications, weeding, bird-scaring and harvesting contribute greatly to successful seed production.

Seed processing and marketing: MAWF sells the foundation seed to the Northern Namibia Farmers Seed Growers Cooperative (NNFSGC) at a subsidized price of N$8.00 kg-1 for pearl millet and sorghum, and N$4.00 kg-1 for cowpea.  The cooperative cleans and packages the seed which is then sold to the cooperative members for the production of commercial certified seed, which is finally sold to the general public for grain production.