Seed sector professionals have said that businesses selling improved varieties and high quality cassava stems for cultivation could help African farmers significantly raise their productivity. The benefits of this raised productivity will be enjoyed by all the stakeholders across the value chain in a sustainable way.
This was part of the resolutions from a national stakeholder conference on cassava seed system organised by the project, “Building an Economically Sustainable Integrated Cassava Seed System” (BASICS), that was held at the Institute of Tropical Agriculture (IITA), Ibadan, last week Thursday.
The meeting, which reflected on the experiences of BASICS in 2016 and refined the project plan for 2017 and beyond, brought together national and international researchers, academics, policymakers, the private sector, non-governmental organisations and farmers to a roundtable.
Making the case for an urgent need for all the stakeholders to work towards a sustainable seed system in Nigeria, the director for the BASICS project, Hemant Nitturkar, reminded the participants that Nigeria is the largest producer of cassava in the world with a production of about 54 million tonnes, but its yield per hectare of cassava roots is about 8 tonnes, less than half of the realisable yields of more than 20 tonnes per hectare.
Researchers say that one of the factors responsible for the low yield of cassava is the low adoption of clean and healthy seeds of improved varieties of cassava by farmers.
“We have to start with the right planting material and nurture it with good agronomy and weed management practices. Each of these three components has the potential to raise the productivity of cassava by 30 per cent. If we do not improve our practices in seed, weed, and agronomy, we are incurring a lost opportunity of about N200 billion annually from each of the three issues,” he explained.
BASICS is commercially piloting two distinct pathways of seed delivery. In one called the Village Seed Entrepreneur (VSE) model, in partnership with the Catholic Relief Services (CRS) in Benue and with the National Roots Crop Research Institute (NRCRI), Umudike, Abia as well as Imo, Cross Rivers, and Akwa Ibom states, the project is helping to develop a network of 130 community-based seed enterprises.
These VSEs will source certified stems of improved varieties of cassava from the NRCRI and IITA to multiply and sell to the farmers in their vicinity. This way, the farmers will not have to go far to source for quality stems for planting. In the second pilot called the Processor Led Model (PLM), in partnership with Context Global Development, the project is working with large processors of cassava who will then make available quality stems to their outgrowers with a buy back arrangement for the roots produced.
A senior programmes officer at the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation, Lawrence Kent, said that the aim of the project is to build an economically sustainable seed system that is profitable both to the sellers of quality stems and to the farmers who purchase and plant those stems. He encouraged all to create reusable bridges to continuously link technology developers with farmers through business oriented approaches like the one being implemented under BASICS