Africa’s most populous country is facing a shortage of quality seeds it needs to boost farmers’ productivity and improve their yields per hectare despite having 314 registered seed companies.
Access to adequate, secured and timely supply of quality seeds and seedlings is a major hurdle on Nigeria’s quest to achieve food sufficiency that demands urgent attention if the country hopes to stabilise prices and control inflation, say experts.
BusinessDay spoke to more than a dozen people including breeders, farmers and experts and they said most of the hybrid seeds in the country are not viable and of low quality despite successive government efforts to make quality seeds accessible to farmers.
“The quantities of quality early generation seeds (EGS) are inadequate to service seed companies for certified seed production,” Anthony Job, an independent plant breeder, said in a telephone response to questions.
According to him, only about 20 percent of the country’s 314 seed companies are functional and consistent with business, thus causing a shortfall in quality seed supply.
He added that many seed companies do not put in adequate efforts to ensure quality control and assurance when producing seeds, making farmers unable to get the maximum benefits from growing improved seeds and thereby losing confidence in patronising seeds from companies.
Nigeria’s agricultural production has been hard hit by low-quality seeds and worsening insecurity that has caused a production shortfall and forced the country to rely on imports for food security.
An estimated 26.6 million Nigerians are projected to face acute food insecurity in 2024, according to the United Nations food agency.
“We cannot attain food security and stabilise prices if we don’t address issues around seeds,” said Jude Obi, president of the Association of Organic Agriculture Practitioners of Nigeria (NOAN).
According to him, Nigeria is failing to grow enough food for its rapidly growing population owing to a combination of issues of which low-quality seed is at the top of the problems.
“Nigeria is supposed to be sufficient in the production of most staples, but if farmers can’t access quality seeds, production will be affected and demand will be unmet.”
Also, farmers complained that the low-quality seeds are affecting their yield per hectare capacity, which is making it very low. And the quantity of seeds in the market is very low compared to the number of farmers in the country, adding that the prices of the few available ones are expensive and out of reach.
“I visited the Cocoa Research Institute for bitter kola seedlings and was told it wasn’t available. If the research institute mandated for the crop does not have the improved seedlings, where do you then get it?” asked Ayopo Somefun, a bitter kola farmer in Ogun State.
“I had to travel to Burkina Faso to get improved bitter kola seedlings for my farm as I couldn’t find any in the country,” he said, adding that other farmers will resort to plating grains instead since improved seed varieties are not available.
He noted that if the government is serious about its food security and price stabilisation quest, then it must ensure farmers have easy access to improved seeds and seedlings at affordable costs.
Seeds are the basis for crop improvement, allowing farmers and plant breeders to develop cultivars with high levels of adaptation, according to experts.
This is the reason why a lot of effort is put into breeding improved varieties in terms of yield and tolerance to production limitations such as drought and diseases.
Owing to this, in 2021, the federal government signed the Plant Variety Protection bill into law to accelerate investment in the industry and give farmers more access to quality seeds.
But not much progress has been made since the law was signed as breeders still do not get adequate compensation for their work.
“The few quality seeds you find in the country are all imported. Locally, we have not been able to provide quality seeds for our farmers,” said Abiodun Olonrundenro, managing director of Aquashoots Limited.
According to him, most farmers are yet to see farming as a business as the majority of them still think it is a waste of money to buy seeds from reputable seed companies, making them continue planting grains.
He noted it has made the country’s yield per hectare remain one of the lowest globally.