What began as a development project has steadily grown into a thriving seed company in Uganda. Nalweyo Seed Company (NASECO) was first established in 1996 as part of a project that supplied free seed from Uganda’s National Agriculture Research Organization to farmers in Nalweyo village, Uganda.
NASECO has since grown from producing 20 tons of seed in 1999 to over 3,000 tons in 2016, exports 10 percent of its product to Burundi, the Democratic Republic of the Congo, Rwanda and South Sudan and continues to expand across eastern Africa. NASECO also produces three of Uganda’s top-selling maize varieties that are high-yielding, drought and disease tolerant, and shows no signs of slowing down.
Nicolai Rodeyns, Managing Director of NASECO, poses with bags of the range of improved seeds produced by NASECO. Photo: K. Kaimenyi/CIMMYT
Part of the company's success is due to strong collaboration with various partners, including maize seed contributions and funds from the International Maize and Wheat Improvement Center (CIMMYT) and Uganda’s National Agricultural Research Organization (NARO), that have allowed them to expand their market and product growth. The CIMMYT-led Drought Tolerant Maize for Africa Seed Scaling (DTMASS) project in particular has helped NASECO and other companies plan business development and marketing strategies, as well as build their facilities, since 2015. NASECO now has over 2,000 demonstration plots mapped out across the country and is an industry leader in Uganda with 100 percent of its certified seed meeting certification standards.
Below are six key business practices that NASECO Managing Director Nicolai Rodeyns credits to the company’s success.
1) Farmer-driven development
Farmer demand as the driver of progress is what NASECO strives for by ensuring the seed they sell meets farmers’ needs and preferences.
“Our growth has been gradual – not sporadic – and based largely on repeat purchases,” says Rodeyns, adding, “Farmers shouldn’t be viewed only as consumers, but as investors too – if they are able to profit from your product, they will continue to purchase from you.”
2) Quality over quantity
NASECO keeps a lean range of products for two reasons: to maintain product integrity and not overwhelm customers with too many choices. When a more improved variety is released, it replaces an existing one rather than adds to NASECO’s products.
“We believe that few but very high quality products work well,” says Rodeyns. “For instance, our top selling drought tolerant hybrids are Longe 10H, Longe 7H-IR and Bazooka so we produce them exclusively until we find a variety with better traits. However, before we introduce a new variety into the market, we have to be absolutely sure that it's good for the company—meaning production costs are low—and that it has the benefits farmers need, such as reduced crop failure and high yield.”
3) Hybrid seed
NASECO’s hybrid production comprises 65 percent of their total seed production. This is demand driven, according to Rodeyns, despite hybrids being more expensive to buy.
“From my experience, a lot of farmers prefer hybrids to open pollinated varieties (OPVs), and don’t mind paying a little extra for the hybrid seed,” says Rodeyns. “It’s an investment that pays off when they harvest an extra ton or two of grain compared to OPVs. This payoff ultimately influences purchasing choices in favor of hybrids.”