For years, Nigeria’s agricultural output has been considered abysmal, and among the lowest in the world. Whereas some countries could get over 5 tonnes per hectare of crops such as maize and rice, Nigeria averages 2.5 tonnes. There is hardly any crop where the country can be identified to be outperforming the global average.
Perhaps deviating from crop a bit, even in dairy, Nigerian cows are said to produce about 1 litre of milk per day, whereas in places like New Zealand, Netherlands and others, a cow can give 30 litres (or more) of milk in a day.
The situation of productivity in Nigeria implies local farmers continue to grapple with poverty as their perpetually low farm yields make it difficult for them to produce enough for commercial success. In the same vein, agro-based industries which require inputs have to resort to massive importation so as to meet their required raw material demands. Apart from inadequate local production, uncertainty in the consistency of supply also makes it difficult to rely on the local value chain.
Frans Ojielu, global financial advisor, ICMG Commodities, wrote in an emailed response to BusinessDay enquiries, that “the availability of quality seeds is critical to agricultural productivity. This is a critical input and all efforts must be on deck to ensure the availability. The yield per hectare is bolstered by the quality of seeds. The time to maturity is also affected by the types and quality of seeds used which directly affect the economics and cashflow available to agribusinesses.
While Ojielu says that the “various seeds multiplication units are currently doing a great job”, he also believes that there is need for greater interface between the research institutes and the farming community.
The importance of good seeds is important, not only for the economic wellbeing of the farmers, but also for food security. With an estimated $5 billion food import bill, better yields in Nigeria will imply less importation, while many industries which require agricultural raw materials, will also get the required inputs.
However, the problem of seed in Nigeria is multifaceted, with two notable elements. The first borders on dubious seed dealers, who sell fake seeds, at times ordinary grains, to unsuspecting farmers as hybrid. This experience discourages many farmers who have used such seeds from making a repeat purchase. The second; most smallholder farmers (responsible for 80 percent of output) are too poor to afford good seeds.
“It is not so much about the availability of seeds. The seed may be available but affordability is another issue. If something is available but you cant afford it, you would want nothing to do with it,” said Hamza Ahmed Mahuta, a former key accounts manager at Syngenta, currently working as an agriculture consultant.
Olusegun Philip Ojo, director general of the National Agricultural Seed Council (NASC), in an exclusive interview with BusinessDay, said “Farm yield in Nigeria is dependent on numerous factors chief of which is the genetic ability of the seed as well as agronomic factors. “Furthermore, what comes to mind is how much of ‘seed’ farmers are using in Nigeria. The bulk of our crop production is still dependent use of farm saved seeds partly due to the lack of awareness on the need to use quality seeds. Over the years we have done a lot to educate our farmers on the need to drop their own saved seeds and use quality seeds purchased from reputable and approved sources.
According to Ojo, NASC has also in collaboration with the National and International Agricultural Research Institutes “made effort to inject quality early generation seeds (Breeder and Foundation Seeds) to ensure that certified seeds available to farmers are of the best quality that are superior to their own saved seeds. The changes can be seen in the level of increase in the quantity of seeds produced over the years.”
Rotimi Fashola, general manager, Elephant Group Plc, however posited that “improved seeds are not available in sufficient quantities because we are yet to fully change from subsistence farming to commercial farming. This is a process and it will take some time and persistence. The same for the seed quality. Therefore, more and more companies (private sector) will join seed production once its commercially viable.”
“Most farmers still re-cycle their seeds,” Fashola said. It complements Mahuta’s position, when he also noted that “many farmers in Nigeria are truly peasant. If you look at their lives you will realise what they produce is hardly enough to last them two to three months. The remaining periods they have virtually nothing, not even to keep as seeds but to feed their families. And unfortunately, about 80 percent of primary production in Nigeria is in the hands of these peasants.”
He further explained that “there is one thing about farmers; generally, our people resist change, particularly for something that is expensive. So, they may not leave what they are used to and go for an expensive one they don’t even know. So, the best way to get (good seeds) to the farmers is either donating to them or giving it to them at a subsidised rate.
“This is because, by the time they try it and see the difference between it and what they are used to, they will certainly want to adopt it. That is how fertilizer was introduced to Nigerian farmers,” said Mahuta.