African farmers do not need to be reminded of the struggles they face in cultivating their crops. Access to inputs such as seed and fertiliser, whether due to costs or transport, is not a new struggle. But as always, the African spirit rises to the challenge to devising a plan.

Research has indicated that as little as 10% of farmers rely on seeds from commercial sources. Most farmers retain seeds from their own crops, or source from local markets and fellow farmers. Seed banks also serve an important function in this seed network.

In some areas, using imported hybrid or GMO-seeds from local agricultural companies have completely fallen out of favour as these seeds cannot be harvested and planted the next year. Most of these seeds can provide a bigger yield, but the fine print that is rarely understood is that performance is based on crops growing in “the right” conditions.

To make matters worse, it is only when seeds do not germinate that some farmers realise seeds were not stored correctly.

Seed from vegetable crops like beans also need to be stored carefully. (Source: Nicholas Githiri on Pexels)

Seed saving is preparing for the next harvest

The traditional practice that subsistent and small-scale farmers use to ensure that they have seed to plant, is called seed saving. They take a percentage of seed from a harvest and store it for the next planting season.

Seed saving not only ensures the continuous existence of indigenous crops, but also promotes crop diversity among farmers who exchange seeds.

However, even after saving your own seed, there is no guarantee of a harvest the following year. Seeds do not always germinate properly and then there are factors such as drought, insects, heat, and erosion challenging growth.

The seeds retained from ancient African grains, and eventually the plants as well, have a better chance in these conditions, but it is still important to store the seed correctly.

Do not place seed directly onto the ground. Always use either pallets or plastic sheets. (Source: Vecteezy)

Storing seed correctly

It is vital to understand how and why seed needs to be stored correctly. Even for the farmer who purchases commercial, hybrid seeds, good storage practices protect the products, otherwise, it spoils, and it is money down the drain.

There are a few factors to keep in mind when you store.

These are the following:

  • Moisture content of the seed
  • Temperature of the storage area (damage through temperature extremes)
  • Humidity of the storage area (encourages mould and pest activity)
  • Improper storage containers or packaging
  • Improper seed cleaning

When removing seeds from the plant, they need to be fully matured. Seed heads of wheat, for instance, need to be dry. Chaff is then removed, only leaving the seeds. This separation of seed from the rest of the plant material is called threshing.

Next, it is cleaned through winnowing or other methods. After this, the seed is properly dried to ensure the moisture content has been reduced sufficiently to prevent mold or grain fungi from growing in the seed container. Recommended moisture levels within the seed is 12%.

The way farmers choose which seeds to use differ from crop to crop, but the general rule is to choose the biggest, brightest seeds from the plants that were the healthiest, tallest, and highest yielding at the time of harvest. Using this approach ensures that plant offspring has the best chance of survival, given that the parent plant was able to thrive.

Seeds need to be clean and dry to ensure longevity. (Source: Pixabay)

The right seed containers

Dry seeds can be stored in plastic bottles, sealable plastic containers, laminated paper bags, aluminium pouches, or dark-coloured glass jars. Some traditional methods of storage do not use containers at all, drying cobs and hanging them upside down. Using containers, however, means that seed is firstly protected from weevils, but also other pests such as rats.

For larger quantities of seed, sealable plastic drums or barrels can be used.

Regardless of the container used, the goal is that it should be airtight to keep moisture out.

Ensure that every container has been sanitised and is dry before filling it with seed. This ensures that no mould spores are trapped in the container with the seed, contaminating your hard work.

It is safe to store seeds in paper bags or envelopes. (Source: Vecteezy)

Seed needs the right storage environment

Filled containers need to be safely stored away from any pests such as rodents and insects that can damage containers. Choose or prepare an area that is clean and where regular pest control checks can be done easily.

The area should not have extreme temperature fluctuations. The ideal temperature is 10 °C or lower but not freezing. Low temperatures lower humidity, a crucial factor in preventing seed from rot. The room also needs to be dark.

You may frequently check on your seed. Ensure that the room is pest free, containers undamaged, and that the content is still in good condition.

Watch out for discolouration, mould, odours, or insects. This can help you identify issues early and potentially prevent losing too much seed – or find alternative seed in time before planting season begins.

Handling your precious seed

Whether you save seed, buy it from your local agro-inputs company, or trade seed at a community seedbank, you need to follow the following measures:

  • Bags of seed should be handled with care, not carelessly thrown. Bags can tear and become contaminated.
  • Storage areas should be dry and well ventilated. This also assists with keeping moisture and temperatures low.
  • Do not place bags or boxes directly onto the floor. Use pallets or PVC sheets.
  • Do not buy seeds from open bags or buckets. It can be contaminated with mould spores.
  • Ensure that there are no chemicals stored in the same room as the seed. These sometimes emit toxic vapours that affect the seed.

Storing seed correctly starts with choosing the right seeds to store from healthy, abundant yields. (Source: Pixabay)


Greenpeace Africa (2020) How to guide 5: Seed sovereignty and saving, Greenpeace. Available at:

Makumbe, M. (no date) The ‘lost’ seeds helping to feed a nation. Follow the food. Available at:

Matsimela, M. (2022) Using indigenous knowledge in subsistence farming, Mzansi Agriculture Talk. Available at:

Stark Ayres (2023) A guide to seed storage and maintenance for farmers, Starke Ayres. Available at:,moisture%2C%20pests%2C%20and%20air