How Accessible, Affordable Seeds Could Boost African Food Production

By Abdallah el-Kurebe 

> The large multinational companies’ quality and range of seeds, if available and affordable, could help boost yields.” – TASAIndex

As the value of each seed increases, farmers look to get the most from it and protect that investment. This means planting earlier to hit that optimum window…” – Martin Faerber, Syngenta Seedcare

Generally, seeds play important role in agriculture and food security. It is the primary pride of farmers, followed by fertilisers. This explains why government and other stakeholders should ensure timely seeds accessibility to ‎farmers.

If smallholder farmers’ access to modern seed varieties ‎is improved, we could be sure that food security concerns would be tackled.

The African Seed Access Index (TASAI), which objective is to promote the creation and maintenance of enabling environments for competitive seed systems serving smallholder farmers‎, has established the fact that Western Africa was an exception in the activities of the seed industry. “There is a clear gap” and seed companies have no presence in Gambian Guinea, Guinea-Bissau, Liberia, Niger and Sierra Leone. 

TASAI notes that only 2.5 percent of seeds used by the farmers come from global seeds firms. Ido Verhagen, Executive Director of Access to Seeds Index had told the BBC News that “research shows that smallholder farmers use a mixed bowl of seeds, including seeds they have saved themselves, seeds that they buy from the market and certified seeds from companies.”

He posited that access to certified seeds from companies was limited not only because of availability but also affordability and capability.

Umar Aliyu, an agronomist with the Department of Crop Science, Usmanu Danfodiyo University Sokoto (UDUS) explained that ‎”government should make seeds available and affordable to farmers. Farmers need quality seeds, which genetic purity is aascertained. Seed companies have not met the needs of the farmers.”

Tukur Mu’azu, ‎Managing Director of Yola-based Asma Seeds Limited told me that seeds in Nigeria were insufficient for farmers. 

“The research institutes have not been able to meet the requirements of the seeds companies‎. Some of the foundation seeds are not properly processed by the institutes – their impurity in terms of foreign particles, different sizes, mix colours, especially in maize, germination rates are not as claimed by the institutes.

“Foundation seeds are not released to seeds companies at the appropriate time and ‎there is delay in the release of approvals to seeds companies for the purchase of the foundation seeds,” Mu’azu lamented.

On Certified Seeds, the Asma boss observed that Seeds Officer’s who monitor the entire seeds productions were inadequate‎ And that “unlicensed seeds abound in the market and are cheaper than the certified seeds.”‎

According to him, “educated farmers have high demand for certified seeds while the uneducated farmers prefer to use farm-stored-seeds.”

As a solution, Mu’azu suggested that “the Growth Enhancement Support Scheme (GESS) pro‎gramme introduced by the Federal government should be adopted with amendments in areas of: The National Agricultural Seeds Council (NASC) should be solely responsible for appointing seeds companies for the supply of seeds; the Seeds Officers should be assigned to collect the seeds from the supplying companies on behalf of the beneficiaries and prompt payments be made to the suppliers.‎”

However, the Director General (DG) of the National Agricultural Seed Council in Nigeria, Dr. Philip Ojo thinks that the industry was doing well.

According to him, for the 2016 wet season, 150.64mt of breeder and foundation seeds were received and distributed to seed companies.

“The seeds are expected to produce a total of 10,263,70mt of both foundation and certified seeds. ‎The Council supervised the production of over 69,787.674mt of quality and certified seeds in 2016 wet season and plans an additional 25,635.35mt for the dry season in order to prepare Nigeria for the 2017 early season production,” the DG said.

Ojo further assures that seed companies had stockpiles in their warehouses. “From our current seed stock position of seed companies, there is an additional 18,668.93mt available in warehouses of seed companies.”

It is my opinion that if ten seed companies ‎control 94 percent of global seeds market, then there is need to strengthen smaller companies to bridge the availability gap that now exist.

Also, as the African Seed Trade Association (AFSTA) Congress 2017 comes up in Dakar, Senegal between February 28th and March 2nd 2017‎, it is hoped that challenges of accessibility, affordability, and others would be addressed.