Without seed security, there would be no food security

By Chris Paul Otaigbe

GgggAmong the many events that happened in Lagos this past week, one very important one caught my attention.

It was the sixth in the series and it was held at an event Centre in Lagos, on November 25 and 26, 2019. Tagged Agra Innovative West Africa Exhibition, the 2-day programme had exhibitors and participants from over sub-Saharan African 20 countries, across Europe, Asia, and the United States of America.

No less than 50 agribusiness and food and beverage (F&B) veterans, young innovative value chain development experts, with diversity in gender, nationality, and academic discipline, partnered with the event organizers and other international organizations, to adequately address this year’s theme which is: Identifying opportunities in agricultural value chains, for sustainable intensification of production systems, to enhance food security and export capacity in West Africa.

With over 18 sessions in two seminar rooms, issues that would enhance robust understanding of the art of improving and increasing productivity in farming operations were exhaustively discussed.

The part of the program that one would like to talk about here is the discovery that the seed aspect of agriculture has been given such a prominent place in the industry that it has its own enabling law and an agency to supervise its implementation.

Various researches had been conducted on the seed sub-sector of the agricultural industry to deepen the importance of seed in the agricultural value chain. As a matter of fact, the seed is the very foundation of agriculture because if you don’t get it right at the seed level, every other part of the value chain would be a failure.

Before 2015, the seed sub sector had been experiencing some challenges that had affected the development of the industry.

Quantities of certified seeds were inadequate, production of breeder and foundation seed was low, while seed distribution and information dissemination networks were poor. Furthermore, improved varieties were released slowly and this enhanced the dominance of the low-yielding local varieties.

Due to poor implementation of seed quality regulatory mechanisms, adulterated seeds took over for the most part, the seed market. Effective implementation of the seed policy was reportedly constrained largely by inadequate trained manpower and financial resources, as well as institutional problems. Requirements for certified seeds far outweighed the supply.

However, effective demand was less than 10% of the requirement for all crops considered.

Profitability analysis of the private seed industry however, showed that seed production was viable. But the profitability level remained comparatively low. This resulted mainly from the use of inadequate quantities of production inputs due to high costs, macroeconomic instability, low demand, and unhealthy price competition with the public seed sector.

Recommendations for improvement included strengthening the National Agricultural Seed Council (NASC), increased production of breeder seeds, decentralization of foundation seed production, increased production and distribution of certified seeds. Both human and institutional capacity building were recommended to be pursued simultaneously in order to improve on the efficiency of the seed sub sector.

Aggressive promotional activities on certified seed used in order to create greater awareness and demand among farmers. This could be done, through field demonstrations, adequate publicity, field days, etc. Provision of improved rural infrastructure would encourage private seed companies to expand sales networks to rural areas.

An overview of Nigeria agriculture and agricultural policy remind us that before her independence and in the early 1960s, agriculture was the mainstay of the economy and accounted for over 50% of the total Gross Domestic Product. Over 70% of the nation’s labour force was employed in the agricultural sector that also provided the nation’s food and raw materials for the growing industries.

Nigeria’s government provided little support which was concentrated on export crops such as cocoa, groundnut, palm produce, rubber, and cotton, as self-sufficiency in food production seemed not to constitute any problem. Agricultural production over this period was predominantly traditional, as farmers made use of mainly local varieties of crops and livestock and adopted mostly cultural practices and implements in their production. By late 1960s and early 1970s, signs of problems had begun rearing their ugly heads in the agriculture sector.

Shortages in food supply and increases in food prices, for example, were noticed. By the mid-1970s the contribution of agriculture to the nation’s GDP had declined remarkably to about 26% and the food deficit gap had widened significantly.
There were also shortfalls in government revenue from agriculture, in foreign exchange earnings from agricultural exports. This situation was attributed to the devastation of many farmlands during the Nigerian Civil War, 1967-1970; the diversion to the oil sector to the neglect of the agricultural sector, drought in some parts of the country, migration of labour from the agricultural sector, low agricultural output, rising food prices, and increasing population. There were also the effects of government fiscal and monetary policies.

In a bid to revitalize the agricultural sector and salvage the situation, the government initiated several policies and agricultural development programs and projects in context with three successive national development plans executed 1970-74, 1975-80 and 1981-85. These included the National Accelerated Food Production Program, Operation Feed the Nation, Green Revolution, and the creation of River Basin Development Authorities, and Agricultural Development Projects (ADPs).

The need to transform traditional agriculture through the adoption of modern farm technologies was realized and incorporated in these programs. Modern farm technologies are known to be technically and economically more efficient than the traditional system.

Despite these efforts, the performance of Nigeria’s agricultural sector was still poor. The food supply demand gap widened, food prices rose tremendously; and agriculture’s contribution to GDP declined to about 23% by the mid-1980s. Experience from these policies, programs and projects, however, convinced the government that there was no alternative to well-designed and articulated agricultural policies and instruments for promoting agricultural growth and development in Nigeria.

In pursuance of this, the first comprehensive agricultural policy was formulated in 1985. The policy instruments, which were to remain valid for the next 15 years, were composed of macroeconomic policies, agricultural sector policies, and policies for the support services. The macro-economic policies included pricing, trade, exchange rate, and agricultural land policies.

The sector-specific policies included food production, input supply, and subsidy policies while the support service policies included agricultural technology generation and extension, agricultural credit, insurance, produce marketing, and research.

At the base of all these remain the seed, its significance and relevance to the life of agriculture.

Nigeria’s seed Industry had not developed remarkably about a decade after the formulation of the National Seed Policy and the enabling Agricultural Seed Decree No. 72 of 1992. Although, the structure and implementation programmes of the seed policy were similar to those of India, the situation in Nigeria had not been very successful.

The various bodies involved in the implementations of Nigeria’s seed policy had not performed creditably. There still existed problems associated with non-availability of adequate quantities of certified seeds to the farmers due to low production of breeder and foundation seeds as well as poor seed distribution and information dissemination networks; slow release of improved varieties which encouraged the dominance of the local low-yielding crop varieties; and the existence of adulterated, unviable and infested seeds due to poor implementation of seed quality regulatory mechanisms.

Effective implementation of the seed policy by the relevant bodies was reportedly constrained, among others, by inadequate manpower and financial resources, as well as institutional problems. The private seed industry is viable although the profitability level is comparatively low. This situation resulted mainly from use of inadequate quantities of production inputs due to high costs, macroeconomic instability, low demand, and unhealthy price competition with public seed sector, among others.

Addressing these problems effectively at both policy and industry levels would provide the much-needed push to realize the objectives of the seed policy.
When the Mohammadu Buhari government took over, in 2015, one of its agricultural policies was to ensure it tackled the seed sub sector head on and that meant ensuring the right manpower managed the agency set up to drive the seed agenda for the industry.

The then Minister of Agriculture and Rural Development, Chief Audu Ogbeh appointed Dr. Olusegun Ojo as the Director General (DG) of the Agency. His appointment came at a time when the council and the seed sector were faced with challenges and dwindling resources occasioned by economic recession.

Prior to his appointment in 2015, he had worked as a seed scientist for over 35 years. His areas of special expertise include seed certification and quality control, seed production, seed testing, seed conditioning, seed storage and capacity building.

With six regional offices situated in the six geo-political zones of the country, the agency deployed its six certification officers to man each of those centers.

On the surface and since agricultural and agro allied activities are largely grassroots based, one would assume NASC has a grassroots presence. However, Dr. Ojo said the agency has a different approach to their operations. “Our responsibilities do not include going to meet the farmers. We are not Extension Agents. But then, in the seeds industry, we do extension but not direct interface with the farmers.

We actually oversee the operations of the seeds enterprises that have direct contact with the farmers, because whatever they produce are certified by us. After making sure those products meet the seeds standards and the field standard, the seeds companies with their agents now ensure they are sold and distributed to farmers at the grassroots.” Said Dr.Ojo.

However, the only times they have to deal directly with farmers is in the area of demonstrations of improved varieties. “We set up demonstration plots both at our regional offices and geo-political zones, where we interface directly with farmers for them to come and see exactly what we are doing.

This is because there are some seeds some of these farmers are not aware of and since we are also determined to shore up seeds adoption rate, it is our responsibility to showcase all these seeds at our demonstration plots.” The NASC DG said.

On those occasions, the agency observe what the DG describes as farmers’ feed days where its Seeds Officers interact directly with farmers and that is one of the opportunities the agency has to interface with the Farmers.

A deeper look at the mandate of the agency would remind one of a similar Regulator in a somewhat related field, ie, the National Agency for Food and Drug Administration and Control (NAFDAC). He said the seed is the very foundation of agriculture and if “you don’t get it right from the seed the whole production process would be in jeopardy and as an organ of government, we have a responsibility to ensure whatever seed that is given to the farmer meets standard.” He said.

Explaining further, he said there are seeds standards and feed standards and seeds that have passed through this process and have the agency’s authorization in terms of tags are the ones farmers are encouraged to buy. In other words, NASC is the regulator of the seed industry.

As a result of the regulatory work of the agency, Nigeria produces the 60-70% of the good and quality seeds exported to the West African sub-region. “We are the leaders in West Africa and we have become a learning center for West African countries because countries that are setting up similar seeds councils come to Nigeria to see what we are doing…” said Dr. Ojo.

Consequently, the NASC DG said the council is setting up a center of excellence for Research and Development. “We are also deploying technology because without technology, we would not be able to get farmers to where they ought to be in terms of access to the right quality of seeds.”

The NASC boss also said there would be a national seed tracker that would be a platform for producers, seed entrepreneurs, marketers and transporters to interact. The idea for the platform is for these seeds actors to know where quality seeds abound, price range and so many more. There is also the statutory aspect that mandates every seeds practitioner in the subsector to register. “If you want to produce and market, the law makes it mandatory for you to be registered by NASC.” Said Dr. Ojo.

Since the NASC offices, both in Abuja and other regional offices cannot be reached by as many would-be seeds entrepreneurs as possible, the agency has made it a lot easier by setting up online platforms via the seed tracker mechanism. “Also, by this ICT platform, we want to make sure farmers actually are directed to the site where they can get quality seeds because as you know there are dubious and mischievous people who want to cut corners among others. With this, we believe we would be able to ward them off and cut them off…” said NASC boss.

Still leveraging on the ICT, the agency has come up with an innovation known as the seed codex. “It is something that is close to what is available in the drug industry, whereby any farmer who wants to procure seed… with the seed container which has a label and silver cover on the tag. It has a number which you scratch and send to 1393… and you would be told immediately whether that seed is fake or authentic…” said Dr. Ojo.

That scratched card would, also, give you additional information which includes: the name of the producer, the quality of the seed and the date it was tested. “These are some of the ideas we are introducing into the industry to ensure farmers are protected.” He said.

Although, these plans are still in the works, the DG said they would be on ground within the next rainy season, in the first quarter of next year. “Depending on the availability of funds, we may begin with some pilot seed companies or pilot states. We may not be able to go the whole hog now, but between March and April we would have commenced.

He believes food security is tied to seed security in Nigeria and anywhere in the world. “If you have seed security, you have food security. To ensure that our goal for food security in Nigeria is accomplished, we are going the whole length to ensure every farmer gets what he need as much as possible.”

Clearly, Ojo’s mission to transform Nigerian Seed System into a leading seed industry in Sub-Saharan Africa worthy of generating foreign exchange and transforming into a key employer of labor and contributing positively to the country’s economy appear to be visible to the President who has deemed it fit to reappoint him.

However, there are huge challenges to tackle in the seed industry, including adulteration, smuggling and selling of grains as seeds, leading to poor harvests and low returns on crop cultivation investments. Sales of poor and adulterated seeds to farmers by unscrupulous merchants who defraud farmers and give companies a bad name are at their barest minimum as the Council’s seed inspectorate mechanism are working tireless with stakeholders to arrest fake seed producers and sellers.

Suffice to state, though, that there have been significant increases in the value of investment in the seed industry with Nigeria becoming the hub of seed production in Africa where presences of nationally owned large-scale seed production companies that compete well with multinational giants are recorded.

Hopefully, if the agency continues to up its ante, the vision to build a market-driven seed industry for the production and distribution of high quality and improved planting materials that are available, accessible and affordable to all farmers sooner than projected.

In brief…

Gas explosion kills two, injures 23 in Ajegunle

Two children were burnt to death as 23 others suffered severe burns from a gas explosion that occurred at Ajegunle area of Lagos.
The incident, which occurred at Aduke Street, off Ojo Road, left in its wake, major damages to houses and properties worth millions of naira.
Director-General, Lagos State Emergency Management Agency, LASEMA, Dr. Femi Oke-Osanyintolu, who confirmed the two deaths, said upon arrival at the scene of the incident, his team discovered a gas cylinder store had exploded as a result of gas leakage. Further investigations, according to him, revealed that the fire was ignited as a result of a call being made by an unnamed resident which escalated to other nearby shops and a bungalow behind the shops.
He also confirmed that all the casualties had being evacuated to the Burns Unit, Gbagada General Hospital.
He gave the name of the second body identified at the scene as Damilare Afolabi and disclosed that the remains were bagged by the LRT and handed over to the family.
The relevant Agency has cordoned off the entire area and commenced post-disaster assessment.

High Court reschedules case against former Lagos Speaker

The case of money laundering leveled against the former speaker of Lagos state House of Assembly, Adeyemi Ikuforiji and his aide, Oyebode Atoyebi, has been rescheduled for December 11.
They are standing trial over alleged N673 million money laundering, a sum, EFCC alleged belongs to the Lagos State government.

The court had in 2015 discharged both men on the ground that they had no case to answer the Federal High Court sitting in Lagos on Wednesday, November 27, said the defendants would be re-arraigned over the alleged money laundering.

Monitor state’s projects in your community- Sanwo-Olu tells CDAs

Members of Community Development Associations (CDAs) in Lagos State have been urged to monitor government projects in their various communities. This was the admonition given by the Lagos State Governor, Mr. Babajide Sanwo-Olu at the 2019 Community Day Celebration held recently.

Sanwo-Olu said CDAs and CDCs are the real growth engines in the state.
He said they would serve as voluntary supervisors to ongoing projects across the state to ensure contractors deliver quality projects.

Organized by the Lagos State Ministry of Local Government and Community Affairs, the theme of this year’s edition of the annual program designed to celebrate CDAs and their efforts in improving their communities, is “Revising Rural Communities For 21st Century Development.”

Increasing cases of sexual, domestic violence worry Sanwo-Olu

The increasing cases of sexual and domestic violence among others have alarmed the Lagos State Governor Babajide Sanwo-Olu, who has promised to wield “the big stick” on perpetrators.
He added that the state would support the police and the judiciary to ensure the crime is brought to the barest minimum.
Sanwo-Olu gave the warning on Wednesday, November 27, 2019, in his address to Lagosians after the “Walk to Commit and Act” rally organized by Lagos State Government through the Domestic and Sexual Violence Response Team (DSVRT) of the Ministry of Justice to further drive home his message against the menace.

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