IT is believed that smallholder farmers can become the bedrock of food security in Africa, provided they can access the essential ingredients of modern agriculture like quality seed of improved crop varieties.
One of the leading African seed companies that have hit the 10,000 seed production mark is Maslaha Seeds based in Zamfara State. The company that started humbly in 2007 producing about 600 metric tonnes of seeds, but with technical skills through consultancy and trainings from Alliance for a Green Revolution in Africa (AGRA), the company has changed the lives of many smallholder farmers.
The Managing Director, Ibrahim Abdullahi, a trained Accountant that once worked with the Bureau of Privatization Enterprise (BPE) before setting up the company, talks on the seed industry in Nigeria in this chat with JIMOH BABATUNDE.
ON the role of research institutions in seed production
They have a very vital role to play. The research institutions have lots to do not only in Nigeria but everywhere. Seed is a technology and it is a product of research, you can’t produce seeds without research and these institutions are always engaged in how to improve on existing varieties or they develop new varieties.
There are lots of challenges in getting quality seeds in terms of drought, weather, pests and diseases, and these things keep changing and it depends on the situations. So the research institutes have to be there and they have to keep working day in day out in order to address existing challenges and upcoming ones.
So, the research institutes have very important roles to play. They develop seed varieties, test and continue to test. It takes time for the varieties to see the light of the day. And even when it is registered and released it takes time for it to be commercialized, because most of the seed companies now dont take commercial business just like that. They subject the new varieties to number of tests before they go into large scale commercial production.
On technology dissemination in Nigeria
In seed technology dissemination, we have a long way to go in Nigeria, the government has tried, but the problem in Nigeria has to do with the death of our ADPs. The ADPs need to be reactivated. They are not the ADPs that we used to know. This has greatly affected dissemination in Nigeria, so if you look at the way things are done now they are not encouraging. The information dissemination is now done by the private sector or some public intervention from time to time on some projects.
The way things are done now cannot sustain us, so if we want to do something in a sustainable way, we really need to invest heavily in seed dissemination.
I think the transformation agenda is trying to do something in that regards as the minister has established a full fledged department for extension services. This is good and when it is fully operational it will be of great service.
On why African Development Projects (ADPs) are moribund
It has to do with funding. Those days when the ADPs were ADPs, they were funded by the World Bank.
But today, when the projects are funded by the government interventions , there are problems, because it shows that the government is not really funding the extension but the World Bank and when the World Bank left, the whole thing collapsed.
The government is only maintaining salaries for the staff there, but the money to really carry out the function is not there as there is no budget for extension work.
This issue of voting money into agriculture as called for by AU in the Maputo declaration is very important. Though Nigeria is nowhere near the call for 10% budget allocation to agriculture, but we really need to improve.
Maybe when we get to that 10% there will be something for extension services in Nigeria.
On role of biotechnology in Nigeria
You see seed production is technology and biotechnology is science. For example we just developed a cowpea that is resistant to maruca which has been a serious problem for cowpea not only in Nigeria but everywhere cowpea is grown.
Farmers have been spending lots of money spraying their farms five to ten times and at the end of the day the maruca disease will still destroy the crops.
But now through biotechnology process they have developed a cowpea variety that is resistance to that. You don’t have to spray five to ten times. I think when farmers get this new variety they will be happy.
I will say there is need for strong regulation on biotechnology because of issues surrounding it, so there is need for bio safety regulation in Nigeria before we get into it; it is about assuring people about their safety. When I say regulation, I mean strong institution in Nigeria that will monitor, that this thing is safe.
Biotechnology is different to GMO, they are but increase in knowledge but we need not close our doors, but we should invest in setting up the institutions and strong regulations that will save guards Nigerians of the safety of this thing.
If we don’t close our doors to this technology it will create jobs like the telecommunication sector too. All we need is strong government regulations. The fear of most seeds companies in Nigeria is that when GMOs are allowed into Nigeria that they will lose their businesses, but I don’t think that way. I am open minded. I believe in changes and where ever you see changes, you adjust and move along. If you don’t move with changes you are doomed.
The fear by most of the local seed companies not only in Nigeria but Africa about GMOs should not be the case, but my concern is about the safety of it for the local people who don’t have the knowledge. So the government should be there to save guard the people.
On how the GES has helped the seed business in Nigeria
The Growth Enhancement Scheme (GES) of the federal government has facilitated the growth of seed system in Nigeria. The seed system before now has been very problematic in the sense that this kind of synergy and linkage was not there so to say between the seed companies, the agro dealers and the farmers.
There has been that kind of stand alone attitude of working individually. So one of the positive things this GES has done is establishing that linkage and system. Now I can tell you that in Nigeria we have what we can call a seed system.
In related components that when we produce seeds we deliver to agro dealers and agro dealers get it delivered to farmers. This is a very good thing that has happened.