Adopting smarter seeds for food security

Most areas of the country are considered food secure, meaning that people can afford to eat three meals a day of diverse foods. But the country also has vulnerable regions facing food insecurity and malnutrition.

At least 20 per cent of the population are food insecure, according to various data provided by analysts. Also, millions of children, five years old or younger, are stunted. Only 14 per cent of infants have what is called a minimum acceptable diet, meaning that they get enough food and essential nutrients. This notwithstanding, experts believe the goal of ending hunger by 2030 is still within reach, if Nigerians act to accelerate the progress made.

One way to achieve this is through the use of smarter seeds. The Country Manager, HarvestPlus Nigeria,  Dr Paul Ilona, said the quality of seeds farmers plant mattered in terms of achieving meaningful livelihoods and food security.

Ilona said smarter seeds were not  only high in nutrition, but also high-yielding, pest and climate resistant.

He said HarvestPlus International’s scientists were breeding nutrient-packed crops that would fill stomachs and lessen the effects of malnutrition, stating that the scientists had produced 150 varieties of staple foods, including corn, beans, rice and potato.

He said his organisation was supporting young entrepreneurs to make available high-quality seeds to farmers, saying at least 500 entrepreneurs are involved in the production and distribution of fortified stems.

Currently, the cassava stem business is worth over N20 billion yearly. Despite this, Ilona noted that there was still room for expansion to end cassava and its byproducts import. Also, the country  cultivates an average of seven million hectares of cassava farmlands.

He said: “In Nigeria, a hectare of cassava farm requires a bundle of 60 cassava stems to cultivate and when multiplied by seven million hectares of cassava farm yearly, that gives us 420 million bundles.

“A bundle of 60 stems of one meter-long each sells at N500. Since we plant seven million hectares for cassava yearly, in monetary terms, 420 million bundles multiplied by N500, which translates to N20 billion yearly.

“The cassava sector is a very profitable sector, from the stem, to the tuber and to the processed food, even to those who distribute the products.”

Working with the International Institute of Tropical Agriculture (IITA), Ilona said HarvestPlus was doing everything to maximise crop yields that required quality seed production and the development of new varieties. To ensure farmers adopted new varieties, Ilona said the organisation was working with seed entrepreneurs to build their capacity.

Stressing the need for smarter seeds, IITA Deputy Director-General for Partnerships and Delivery, Dr. Kenton Dashiell, said deficiencies of  key nutrients could leave people more vulnerable to illnesses and infections, and in extreme cases cause blindness and stunt growth.

Dashiell commended HarvestPlus for its efforts to end malnutrition.  He said the problem of malnutrition was that it limits the abilities of children.

He said the partnership with Harvest Plus and others representsed a milestone in tackling hunger.

Agriculture and Rural Development Minister Mr. Sabo Nanono said one of the objectives of the Federal Government was to reduce malnutrition.

Nanono, who was represented by the Director, Federal Department of Agriculture in the ministry, Mr. Frank Satumari, urged the government to intensify efforts  at combating malnutrition.

The Head, Micronutrient Deficiency, Federal Ministry of Health, Dr. John Uruakpa, said the ministry embraced bio-fortification because of its benefits.

“Right from the farms, our staple crops are being bio-fortified as their nutrient contents are being improved upon.

“We encourage farmers to cultivate bio-fortified crops; vitamin A cassava, maize, sweet potato and others.

“This is because when we have enough quantities, we are sure of tackling malnutrition in our households which is a starting point,” he said.

The Oyo Programme Manager, Agriculture Development Programme, Mrs. Fadekemi Akande, said the state partnered HarvestPlus to disseminate information on the importance of bio-fortified crops to farmers and stakeholders.

Ilona said the Fifth Nutritious Food Fair (NFF), being organised by his organisation and scheduled for November 13 to 15 in Ibadan, would, among others, explore business opportunities across the sector.

Themed: Nutrition is everyone’s Business, Ilona said the fair would create over 3,000 jobs. It would be opened on November 13, by the Oyo State Governor, Seyi Makinde.


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