Dimieari Von Kemedi
A New Seed Strategy will Increase Agricultural Profits and Reduce Food Prices
A September 2017 National Geographic story titled “This Tiny Country Feeds the World” explains how almost two decades ago the Dutch made a national commitment to sustainable agriculture under the rallying cry “Twice as much food using half as many resources”. This led to many changes and inventions including precision agriculture, reduction in water use, and even the total elimination of pesticides in green houses for vegetable production.
Universities are involved in commercial contract research and science and commerce combined to make the Netherlands the number two exporter of food measured by value. It comes second only to the United States, which has 270 times its landmass.
According to the United Nations by 2050 Nigeria will be the 3rd most populous country in the world. To be self sufficient in food production we have to improve our science and technology. One area improvements can make quantum impact is the development of a robust seed industry.
Without doing anything differently, adding more fertilizer or spending more, a farmer can improve her yield by between 20% and 200% or more using the right seed variety.
Seed companies, research institutions, the Nigerian Seed Council, and various state and federal government institutions have done much to improve farmers’ access to better seed varieties which enhance yield, resist disease, and adapt to climatic and other conditions.
Many smallholder farmers now understand the need to use better seed varieties, and across the country most of the old and less productive varieties are giving way to improved seed varieties.
But we shouldn’t stop there. Our lack of a coherent seed strategy is depriving us of access to the top percentile of seed science and technology.
Almost all the improved staple food seed varieties we use today are the work of not-for-profit tropical agriculture research institutions. While they are doing a great job there is a lot of room for private companies to help move things along quicker.
We need to review our regulatory environment to take advantage of advances made by private seed companies around the world, otherwise we remain uncompetitive and continue to subject our farmers to a harsh operating environment.
The best seed varieties in the world today are hybrid seeds, which in most cases cannot be replanted, as they will simply not germinate. Every planting season will require a new set of seeds. For this reason long term arrangements have to be made for hybrid varieties to be used on a sustainable basis within the country before a developer will be granted license to commercialize them here.
As part of this process localization tests have to be carried out over a period of three years and laboratories and production infrastructure have to be established within Nigeria.
Many seed companies are reluctant to invest the millions of dollars required because of inadequate incentives and safeguards.
Amongst other incentives and safeguards we need to improve our intellectual property laws and enforcement mechanisms, and put in place funding arrangements to help farmers buy seed varieties which cost more than lower performing options.
A new seed strategy developed jointly by all key stakeholders will attract the best companies and scientists in the world to Nigeria and ultimately help improve local knowledge, create high value research jobs and provide opportunities to commercialize the excellent work of our academics across the country.
Dimieari Von Kemedi works with smallholder farmers in the Alluvial Agriculture network.