80 African firms on track to produce certified seeds

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Increasing demand for improved seeds in Africa has been on the high but the demand has not been met owing, not only to few seed companies in existence, but also due to the fact that most of the existing companies produce less than 1,000 metric tonnes of seeds. But a report released recently at the Grow Africa Investment Forum alongside the World Economic Forum on Africa by the Alliance for a Green Revolution in Africa (AGRA) revealed that 80 small-to medium-size African seed companies in 16 countries are on track to produce over 80,000 metric tons of professionally certified seeds in 2014. Most of these small- to medium-size African seed companies are participating in AGRA’s Program for Africa’s Seed Systems (PASS.) which is offering high-yield crop varieties to smallholder farmers across the continent. Today, two of these companies have hit 10,000 metric tons production in a year. Maslaha Seeds in Nigeria is one of the two companies that have hit that mark. From production of 600 tons of seed in its first year in 2006, Maslaha Seeds has grown rapidly over the years producing thousands of tons of seed each year for a wide menu of crop varieties, including high-yield sorghum, millet, and cowpea developed specifically for Nigeria’s growing conditions. “Nigeria has the potential to become one of the world’s great breadbaskets, and giving our farmers access to certified seed for high-yield crop varieties is crucial to fulfilling that promise,” said Ibrahim Abdullahi, managing director of Maslaha Seeds. To grow on this success and encourage more seeds companies to do more, the Alliance for a Green Revolution in Africa (AGRA) recently brought together seed companies in Kampala, Uganda for the second bi-annual Seed Company conference dubbed the “10K Club”. The conference with the theme “Taking Seeds to African farmers through locally based Seed Companies” is coming against the backdrop of increasing demand for improved seeds on the continent. Speaking at the opening ceremony, the Associate Director of the Program for Africa’s Seed Systems (PASS) of AGRA, George Bigirwa, said since inception that the body has been working to ensure smallholder farmers in Africa get quality seeds that best suits them. He disclosed that the need to provide quality seeds led to the establishment of the Program for Africa’s Seed System (PASS) that provides higher yielding seeds farmers need not only to avoid food crisis in the continent but also improve their own lives and those of their children. “The demand for improved seed in Africa annually remains unmet owing, not only to few seed companies in existence, but also due to the fact that most of the existing companies produce under 1,000 MT despite having the key inputs such as technical know-how, genetics , land modern seed processing facilities and government supports among others.” Bigirwa said hosting the bi-annual Seed Company meeting was aimed to challenge the young and up and coming seed companies to grow 10,000 metric tonnes of annual seed production and sales. He noted that there has been impressive results from the first meeting held in Malawi in 2012 as two seed companies in Nigeria and Ethiopia have attained this tonnage. Also speaking at the opening which had delegates from over 17 African countries where AGRA operates, the Joe DeVries, Director of PASS, explained that with the result being turned out by the seed companies that they are targeting 120,000 metric tonnes this year against the 81,000 seeds of the past years. He said with PASS program that farmers have started seeing the impact of planting better seed as the program supports country level crop breeding teams who work closely with farmers to develop new varieties. DeVries noted that with the success recorded last year by PASS that it has received funding from Dutch government to support seed development in South Sudan and from Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation among others. Dr. Joe DeVries disclosed that the program was launched in 2007 to inject new energy into Africa’s commercial seed sector, which was failing to provide African farmers with a steady supply of locally-adapted, improved crop varieties—something that farmers elsewhere in the world take for granted. “The stagnant state of commercial seed production often is cited as a key reason why yields per hectare in Africa for staple crops like maize are up to 80 percent below what farmers outside of Africa achieve.” According to the report, “Planting the Seeds of a Green Revolution in Africa,” PASS started out working with a handful of companies that together produced about 2,000 metric tons of seed. Today, seven years later, it is partnering with some 80 companies across the continent that produce professionally certified seed for an array of African staple crops including maize, cassava, millet, rice, sorghum, beans, sweet potato, cowpea, groundnut, soybean and pigeon pea. These companies, according to DeVries, are focusing on varieties “carefully selected by local crop breeders for their compatibility with specific African agricultural environments.” He explained that when Maslaha Seeds was launched in Nigeria in 2006, it was producing mostly seeds for high-yield rice, such as the popular “New Rice for Africa” (NERICA) developed by the Africa Rice Center, and for a type of high-yield maize known as a “hybrid.” “But it worked with PASS and other partners to rapidly expand and now produces thousands of tons of seed each year for a wide menu of crop varieties, including high-yield sorghum, millet, and cowpea developed specifically for Nigeria’s growing conditions.” The AGRA team in ranking the countries about the progress of quality seed production has ranked Nigeria as the leading country followed by Ethiopia with Uganda and Tanzania ranked 3rd and 4th respectively. Leading the Nigerian pack is Maslaha Seeds which was represented at the conference by its Managing Director, Ibrahim Abdullahi, who said “Nigeria has the potential to become one of the world’s great breadbaskets, and giving our farmers access to certified seed for high-yield crop varieties is crucial to fulfilling that promise.” The story of Maslaha Seeds is a testament to the entrepreneurial spirit percolating in communities across Africa and to the pent-up demand among Africa’s smallholder farmers for improved, high-yield crop varieties. He attributed the success of the seed company to the support of AGRA and what he called the seed system culture brought about in Nigeria by the Growth Enhancement Scheme (GES) of the federal government. “Our relationship with AGRA has been of great help to us, because before we came in contact with AGRA we were making lots of mistakes, you know I told you I joined the company without a background in seeds production. “These mistakes even happened in terms of seed handling, so we had so many problems at the beginning. Our seeds will weevil, we did not know what to do, we will continue to fumigate and all that, but when we came in contacts with AGRA we were exposed to a number of trainings. “I will invite them to my company to see my problems and they will advise me on what to do. I will remember a year when my entire store was weevil; it was disastrous and was thinking of what was happening to me. Suddenly, one of the consultants came and I took him to the store to show him my problem. He said “Ibrahim” this is what to do and he taught us how to quarantine the seeds and since then I have not experience any weevil up till this moment. Another of the AGRA consultant made us realize the importance of financial management when he told us our company was bleeding and what he told us was implemented which greatly helped us. Sometimes, people don’t realize that those small things are important. Getting these things right is important. We have nothing to say to AGRA but a big thank you for the assistance and they are part of our success stories.” Ibrahim added that the GES has helped the growth and 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 standalone attitude of working individually. So one of the positive thing 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.” The conference also afforded the seed companies to talk about challenges they face in the areas of regulations; technology disseminations; capable   and insecurity on the continent. James Onsando, Managing Director, Kenya Plant Inspectorate , while sharing his country experience, disclosed that they face challenges in accessing seeds fields due to distance they need to cover; decreasing land; inadequate supply of basic seed varieties; fake seeds; quality of seed packaging materials as well as unethical practices among some of the seed companies. He added that they lack power to prosecute offenders just as the punishment for offenders are not strong enough to deter others from unethical practises.

Read more at: http://www.vanguardngr.com/2014/08/80-african-firms-track-produce-certified-seeds/

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