New Project to Build Cassava Seed System in Nigeria

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Crusoe Osagie
A four-year project to develop a commercially sustainable cassava seed value chain in Nigeria, has been launched at a public event at the headquarters of the International Institute of Tropical Agriculture (IITA) in Ibadan, Nigeria.

Titled: ‘Building a Sustainable, Integrated Seed System for Cassava in Nigeria’ (BASICS), the $USD11.6 million project is funded by the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation and led by the CGIAR Research Program on Roots, Tubers and Bananas (RTB).

Despite being the largest cassava producer in Africa, Nigeria’s average yields of 14 tons per hectare are less than half of what may be realistically attainable.

The project aims at helping Nigerian producers reach their potential through developing a commercially sustainable cassava seed value chain based on the purchase of quality seed by farmers provided by vibrant and profitable village seed entrepreneurs and basic seed production linked to cassava processors.

These seed businesses will provide healthy seed of more productive cassava varieties leading to adoption of new varieties to improve productivity and food security, increase incomes of cassava growers and village seed entrepreneurs and enhance gender equity.

Kicking off the public launch, IITA Director General, Dr. Nteranya Sanginga, explained that the key to industrialising cassava is to increase productivity, and this means addressing the problem with weeds, improving agronomy and providing quality seed.

RTB Program Director, gave the project overview: “Our vision is that by 2019 smallholder cassava growers are buying high quality stems of their preferred varieties and planting them with improved agronomic practices. As a result yields have jumped by at least 40% and farmers have more secure markets for expanded production… Novel rapid multiplication technologies have lowered the cost of producing seed and accelerated the introduction of new varieties. Vibrant new businesses have been created all along the cassava seed value chain creating employment especially for women and youth.”

A representative of Minister, Federal Ministry of Agriculture and Rural Development, Mrs. Doyin Awe noted that exciting new opportunities were opening for cassava, but planting materials for cassava present special challenges as they are bulky and perishable. She committed the full support of the Ministry to the new project and thanked the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation for providing the funding.

Executive Director, National Root Crops and Research Institute (NRCRI), Dr. Julius Okonkwo noted that Nigeria’s cassava seed system was informal, and that NRCRI was very pleased to form part of the project in developing a modern seed system for cassava.

On his part, the Executive Director of the Forum for Agricultural Research in Africa (FARA), Dr.  Yemi Akinbamijo, said: “I am excited to get back to BASICS so that we could move forward for a food secure Nigeria.” He underscored the need to work on the entire innovation to impact pathway, and stressed that today history is being made, and that he was very proud to see such a great initiative unveiled.

Mr. Louw Burger of Thai Farms, a cassava flour processing company, explained that better roots were easier to harvest and that its extremely  important to start with the right seed.

Following the launch the project partners including National Agricultural Seed Council (NASC), the National Root Crops and Research Institute (NRCRI), International Institute of Tropical Agriculture (IITA), Catholic Relief Services (CRS), Context Network, and FERA (UK) took part in a participatory workshop to finalise work plans and move ahead with the project.