One of the major issues that worry stakeholders in Nigeria’s agricultural sector is the lack of vibrant seed industry, which is the backbone of any productive agriculture economy.
Nigeria has an estimated national demand of over 350,000 metric tons of certified seeds every year, according to the National Agricultural Seed Council (NASC) but produces less than quarter of that national demand.
Majority of smallholder farmers-in their millions, do not have access to quality seeds in most of the grains and legumes- a situation many experts said has made the country’s average yield far below global standard.
Only a significant fraction of rice farmers has access to Faro 44, 52, 60, which are good seed varieties in the country.
Ms Chika Okoh, Federal Partnership Facilitator of the DFID Partnership to Engage, Reform and Learn - Engaged Citizens (PERL-ECP) said after a critical analysis of the country’s agriculture, came to the conclusion that seed, which is very important to good yield, was being overshadowed by fertilizer.
To this end, the program organized a two-day strategy session for partners advocating for farmers’ increased access to quality seeds at the federal and state levels in Kaduna recently.
The program brought together different farmers’ group that expressed serious concern regarding the many challenges facing the seed subsector in the country.
Some experts like Aghan Daniel of the African Seed Trade Association (AFSTA) believes that at the end of the 2018 rain-fed planting season, less than 20% of smallholder farmers in Africa would have planted clean certified seeds. Mr. Daniel stressed that seed companies must show commitment to end food insecurity in Africa.
He also opined that the “Bottlenecks that bedevil the sector, could, for example, be slayed if political leaders kept their word sprouting from their meeting in June last year where there was renewed commitment to allocate at least 10 percent of their national budgets to agriculture. The initial commitment was born in what is fondly referred to as the Maputo Declaration of 2003 where African presidents declared they will each allocate at least 10% of their total national budget towards agriculture. Fifteen years on, Africa still reports that the average expenditure on Agriculture is 4.5%.”
Over 157 seed companies but fewer clean certified seeds
Despite the fact that the numbers of seed companies rose from 11 in 2011 to about 157 in 2018 according to the Federal Ministry of Agriculture and Rural Development and Nigeria Agricultural Seed Council (NASC), producing or trading seeds in the country, availability of pure certified seeds is still very limited in the country.
For decades, Nigerian farmers use grains from the market to plant, making progress in terms of yield low-something Minister of Agriculture and Rural Development, Chief Audu Ogbeh, Acknowledged.
Chief Ogbeh admits that “the seed system of many food and industrial crops are collapsing due to inadequate quantities and poorly coordinated systems.”
The Minister stressed that “addressing the challenges of making available quality early generation seeds in the seed value chain is critical to achieving the goals of the Green Alternative Agenda of this administration to attain self-sufficiency in our local staples.”
Low productivity in some grains, legumes very worrisome
The 2017 National Report for the country’s agricultural performance survey by the Federal Department of Agriculture and National Agricultural Extension and Research Liaison Services (NAERLS), ABU Zaria shows how poor the nation is doing in some of these crops compare to global average.
Take Sorghum for instance, the total estimated hectare of land cultivated in the 2017 season was 5.6 million, producing 6.7 million metric tons- an average yield of 1.19 tons per hectare.
Maize, however, did better from a cultivated land area of 5.9 million hectares in the 2017 season, producing an output of 9.1 million metric tons with an average yield of 1.6 to 2.5 tons per hectare.
Millet was cultivated in an estimated land area of 1.8 million hectares, which produced 1.4 million tons. The yield was 0.8 ton per hectare.
For soybeans, the total area used for the cultivation of the crop was estimated at 493,950 hectares producing about 494,000 tonnes with an average of 1 ton per hectare.
These crops yield performance ranges in between 4 to 7 tons per hectare in Kenya, South Africa and Zimbabwe.
The IITA 2016 report on Transforming African agriculture through research noted that “Although access to quality seed of improved maize varieties has been of the upswing in recent years, the production and supply of sufficient quantities of early generation seeds (breeder and foundation seeds) still pose a challenge particularly to emerging and small-scale seed companies in West Africa that rely heavily on varieties bred by national agricultural research systems (NARS) and international agricultural research centers. Until such time that policies and scales of production allow for improved efficiencies to address this constraint, public organizations must shoulder part of the responsibility of providing early generation seeds.
“Maize is cultivated by approximately 55 million smallholder farmers in sub-Saharan Africa. Farmers’ current maize yields are 50% to 75% lower than attainable yields. The persisting yield gap has been attributed to many biophysical and socioeconomic factors and is exacerbated by extant weak support systems for wide technology adoption among farmers.”
NASC and the way forward
The Director General, NASC, Dr. Phillip Ojo, in work of the workshop on seeds stated that “it is in a bid to find solution to the multifarious challenges bedeviling the production and delivery of Early Generation Seeds (EGS) in the National Seed System” that NASC has taken a number of steps.
The agency stressed that the problem in the sector, that requires urgent attention, include low improved seed adoption rate, low yield per hectare, adulterated and fake seeds in the seed markets, knowledge gap of improved seed benefits as to where and how to where and how to identify quality seeds, and lack of connectivity with agro-industries.
To deal with the situation, NASC sought a special intervention fund from the Federal Government to scale up Early Generation Seeds production to make sure that seed system growth in Nigeria.
The four-year intervention sought last year was N7.6billion covering 2017 to 2020, which expected to add 10,355 tons of EGS and 918,743 metric tons of certified seeds within the period.
If granted such intervention would dramatically help to preposition the industry.
Strengthening research institutes, others is important
Almost all the 16 research institutes and colleges of agriculture and the three universities of agriculture are doing very little regarding seed development due to poor funding and budgetary allocation.
A source in one of the research institutes who sought anonymity said some PhD holders in some of the institutes are returning to the universities because of lack of funds and facilities to do demand-driven research-something that government needs to seriously look into.
Government most also provide the enabling environment for the seed companies; entrepreneurs to do sustainable seed business in the country.
A number of them and the global leaders like Monsanto and Syngenta, in collaboration with National Agricultural Research Institutes have so far released some seed varieties in some of the grains, legumes and tubers but most lack capacity to widen their reach to millions of smallholder farmers in the country.
OLAM Nigeria, for instance, has made a significant investment in the soybeans value-chain. The company partnered with IITA and invested into bringing the highest quality of Soybean seeds into the country. It has the best team of breeder scientists, seed scientists as well as $150m factory plant that creates breeder seeds, foundation seeds, and certified seeds on an average 1000 hectares of land.
The company recognizes the scarcity of good seeds in the country and resolves to double production to over two million metric tons soybean production in the next five to seven years.
No matter the efforts, however, there is need for immediate government intervention just as interventions from private participants, donor agencies as well as research institutes are needed. Time for action is now; tomorrow will leave us behind in sub-Saharan Africa as Kenya, South Africa and Ethiopia are going faster.