• December 15, 2019

Move to save seeds industry

Private sector and government are working to boost farm yields and farmers incomes through quality seeds, DANIEL ESSIET reports

Agriculture is the largest sector of the economy and majority of Nigeria’s population depend on it. It contributes about 30 per cent of the Gross Domestic Product (GDP) and accounts for 70 per cent of some African countries’ employed labour force. Like other small business owners, farmers must purchase the inputs necessary for the production process. The chief operational expenses by farmers are on seeds. For crop farmers, net farm income is sensitive to the price of seed.

But lack of quality local seed has left farmers totally dependent on imported varieties.

On the average, the use of improved seeds and the right farming practices have enabled farmers to more than double their yields. One of them is Innocent Mokidi, an Abuja- based farmer.

With imported seeds, Mokidi said smallholder farmers could realise the full potential of farming and also run it as a lucrative business.

Mokidi said quality seed is one of the determinants of farming success, but that they are expensive, therefore, poor farmers at a disadvantage. He said for all the problems facing the local vegetable industry, the solution could start with one quality seed.

To him, farming promises good income like other professions, but good inputs will go a long way to helping farmers achieve success.

For him, adoption of improved varieties has become more significant in vegetable farming with particular emphasis on certain crops.

He said seeds of improved varieties are important in raising yields and ensuring food security, proper nutrition and prosperity for not only smallholder farmers, but also for the general population.

He said farmers had shown the willingness to try new imported improved variety seeds if offered to them, provided some guarantees or testings are made available.

Role of large commercial growers

Hybrid corn seeds are now imported by big agro business groups. The seeds imported include maize, watermelon, melon, strawberries, tomato, cucumber and soya beans. Many companies focus on imported seeds because they provide high yields which enable the companies and producers to increase their revenue and stay in business.

The Executive Director of the Agricultural and Rural Management Training Institute (ARMTI), Dr Olufemi Oladunni, said the demand for imported seed maize is increasing due to the yields achieved by farmers who are privileged to plant them.

Corn and soybeans have improved  resistance to herbicides, pests, or both. Due to their bolstered yield and the reduction in necessary labor, most big  farms view  their seeds as indispensable to their operations. To this end, there is increasing importation of corn and soybean seeds .

 Threat of counterfeit seeds

Industry stakeholders believe the volume of fake seeds being sold in the market has been on the increase.

While farmers may be able to cut their expenses for seeds by half, what they do not know, according to a World Bank Consultant, Prof. Abel Ogunwale, is that this thriftiness may cost them more than the price tag.

He explained that utilisation of counterfeit seeds costs farmers the same amount of input but results in lower yield, saying counterfeit seeds deprive farmers of their livelihoods and lower their productivity.

He added that individuals and organisations resorting to illegal seed practices are exploiting farmers.

Constraints

Oladunni argued that there’s no strong regulation at the moment, which is why players are encouraged to engage in the illegal practice. He wants the government to strengthen the law-enforcement powers of the National Agricultural Seeds Council (NASC) in seizing illegal seeds in the market, saying that the demand for improved seed varieties is on the rise, as farmers are more eagerly adopting and have witnessed economic benefits associated.

 Using improved seeds to increase crops

Scientists believe that using genomics and biotechnology in plant breeding lead to improved seed varieties that can help farmers to get higher yields.

One of those scientists is Prof Martin Onuh of Imo State University, Owerri. He said plant scientists must constantly strive to improve crop plants in ways that directly benefit farmers and food processors.

For the National President Federation of Agricultural Commodities Association of Nigeria (FACAN), Dr. Victor Iyama, there are a lot of locally produced seeds that are good in quality, pointing out that local seeds have the highest acceptance among small farmers, mainly because they have been tried.

He said local private seed companies are a critical player in delivering a green revolution, saying there is need for locally adapted well performing seeds as crops such as maize, sorghum, millet and legumes, such as cowpeas, have become more important.

Promoting better plant varieties’ development

Professor of Crop Production/Weed Science, Kaduna State University, Ibrahim Sodangi, said improved quality seed is not only the cheapest and basic potential of increasing yield, but it’s also fundamental in raising the efficiency of other inputs like fertilisers, agro-chemicals and agro-machinery.

He said a greater percentage of improvement in agricultural production has come from the use of improved seed. He said, in essence, no agricultural practices such as fertilisation, irrigation, and so on can improve crop production beyond the limit set by seed.

Role of National Agricultural Seeds Council (NASC)

Addressing African Farming‘s Second Agribusiness Summit in Abuja last month, the Director-General, National Agricultural Seeds Council (NASC), Dr. Philip Ojo, represented by his Senior Technical Adviser, Folarin Sunday Okelola, said the Council was seeking the protection of the rights of breeders of new varieties .This, according to him, is an important trigger for the development of better plant varieties.

He expressed hope that if properly implemented, it will encourage the creation and dissemination of new plant varieties.

He said the council is promoting an innovative system of varietal selection with the aim of developing new genetic materials to meet the varied needs of small farmers, adding that NASC has commenced the use of National Seed Tracker to improve the seed system towards a sustainable food and nutritional security in the country.

He explained that the seed tracker which has been designed to fit the needs of local farmers has the potential to transform the National Seed system, improve farmers’ revenue and uplift their social economics status.

On how the App works, he said it provides real time information on seed variety, quantity and availability, while facilitating trade decisions and timely access to seed markets.

Highlighting the place of improved seedling in the agricultural value chain, Ojo said private and international agencies engaging in programmes of production, distribution of seeds must get concurrent NASC approval and involve the Council from the planning stages.

He highlighted the modification of penalty for adulterated seed dealers and infringements as one year imprisonment, or a fine of N1 million for first offender and N2 million for previous offenders. He said the penalties are to serve as a deterrent.

Ojo said the Council would pilot the deployment of smart, tamper-proof and enhanced security certification tags, which would replace the old seed certification tags, “this is in a bid to ensure that farmers have access to only the best quality seeds in 2019 and beyond.’’ He said the initiative was launched with support of the Alliance for Green Revolution in Africa (AGRA) and U.S. Agency for International Development (USAID).

He said this was done under the umbrella of the Partnership for Inclusive Agricultural Transformation in Africa (PIATA).

“The initiative was introduced to enhance the efficiency of our quality assurance mechanism with the deployment of a tamper evident traceability system. It allows farmers and seed users to be able to reach the Council and get first-hand information on the authenticity of the seed they purchased from any vendor or source using SMS verification code.

“The NASC certification tags will now have a scratchable portion with specialised electronic codes which the farmer will be able through SMS to send to a dedicated NASC number in our office. He will then receive immediate information on the genuineness of the seed he is purchasing. Seed producers will also be rest assured that their product cannot be counterfeited due to the NASC tag issued,” he explained.

Ojo added that doing business without accreditation of the NASC, importation or exportation of seeds of any form without NASC approval, false labeling, selling of seeds in open container, are all infringements of the Seed Act.

Need to certify seeds

According to Rice Knowledge Bank, the purpose of seed certification is to maintain and make available to farmers high-quality and genetically pure seeds of superior cultivars. Certified seed is high in genetic purity, high in germination and vigor, and of good quality (i.e., free from disease and from damaged or immature seed).

Classes of seeds

Breeder seed – this is the seed of a new variety that has the highest purity and is produced, developed, controlled and provided directly by breeders or their institutions for further multiplication.

Foundation seed – this is the progeny of the breeder seed, produced by trained officers of an agricultural station in conformity with regulated national standards and handled to maintain genetic purity and identity of the variety.

Registered seed – this is the progeny of the foundation seed grown by selected farmers, handled to maintain genetic purity and identity, and has undergone field and seed inspections to ensure conformity with standards.

Certified seed – this is the progeny of foundation, registered, or certified seeds, handled to maintain sufficient varietal identity and purity, grown by selected farmers under prescribed conditions of culture and isolation, and subjected to field and seed inspections prior to approval by the certifying agency. Harvest from this class is used for commercial planting.

 FAO links Nigerian farmers to certified quality seed

About 5 000 farmers  receive seed and fertiliser in a series of seed fairs organised by Food and Agriculture Organisation( FAO) in Yobe and Adamawa states between  June 1 – 15. They were supplied with vouchers which they used to select their preferred seed in an open market setting. The fairs brought vendors and famers together, allowing FAO-trained out growers to directly market to farmers.

Farmers participating in the seed fairs were selected based on their need for farming inputs like seed and fertiliser, their access to land and ability to farm during the 2019 rainy season. Vouchers were used to redeem the seeds of staple crops like millet, sorghum and cowpea, as well as high-value cash crops like groundnut. To enhance household nutrition, FAO developed specific vegetable kits including okro and amaranth seed for all farmers. A 25-kg bag of NPK fertiliser was also given to each of the 5,000 participants.

SOURCE: THE NATION

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