‘Food security is impossible without viable seeds, adequate funding’
Dr. Philips Ojo is the Director- General of the National Agricultural Seeds Council (NASC). During the just concluded AgraInnovate’s exhibition in Lagos, he spoke with Head, Agro-Economy Desk, FEMI IBIROGBA, on the importance of seeds to food security, the menace of seed adulteration and efforts of the council to rid the farming space of inferior farm inputs. Excerpts:
There is too much adulteration of seeds in Nigeria and this affects productivity. What effort is the National Agricultural Seeds Council making to prevent adulteration of seeds?
Seed adulteration is actually a worrisome thing and what we are doing is that a department has been created in the state offices. Formerly, we called it a law enforcement unit, but it is now a seed inspectorate department. That department has a responsibility of sensitising farmers and all stakeholders on what to look for while buying seeds. The original seeds have manufacturing and expiry dates; names of the seed companies; addresses of the companies; and contact information, among others.
They also raid markets, stores and sales outlets of input dealers and adulterated seeds are destroyed.Also, there are sanctions for those who are adulterating seeds. I want to put it on record that three seed companies were delisted recently for supplying adulterated seeds to farmers. Also, the seed law makes it an offence for people to adulterate seeds in Nigeria.
As of now, the council has got two convictions of people who either adulterated seeds or who forged packaging materials of some reputable seed companies. One is in Kano and the other in Kaduna. The Seed Act, which is actually undergoing some amendments, has introduced several penalties for some people who will contravene regulations in supplying good quality seeds.
Most farmers are not aware of importance of improved seeds. What are you doing to create awareness?
As I said, we have a unit that goes from one state to another, from one zone to the other and big seed markets to educate not only farmers but also seed dealers. Our responsibility is to ensure that what they are actually selling to farmers are seeds that meet the standards. And we go to markets to educate these people on what to do and what not to do and the penalties for those who adulterate, though we have challenges with funding. Going to the market and other necessary places requires funding.
What is the contribution of the seed economy or seed business in the Nigerian agricultural sector?
Actually, the seed economy is a big business. I won’t be able to give you a particular percentage now, but I want to say that the seed is the beginning of agriculture. And without seed security, we cannot be food-secure. The seed is a very big factor.
The council got some foreign support recently. Is it a technical or financial support?
There is a programme called Building Sustainable Cassava Seed System in Nigeria. It is a Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation programme and it has supported us with manpower development. About six of our staffers have been trained in the act of molecular seed facility and seed testing. The programme also supplied us with molecular laboratory equipment, which was commissioned about two months ago in Abuja.
What is the lab used for?
That molecular facility lab is to detect diseases, particularly in cassava. But it can go beyond cassava by preparing acids for different diseases one might want to test. We are using it to identify the cassava bacteria blight. I will want you to come and look at the facility and see exactly what we are saying.
What are you doing to promote the local varieties of rice in Nigeria?
The council has a responsibility to inform and educate farmers, and actually, this work is extension service. But we, from our little resources, cannot meet up with the extension. I know Ofada varieties rice have been released. We are partnering with traders to ensure that they are well popularised.
And you know exactly what is happening today; the resources available to the Federal Government are little. There should be a kind of partnership between the federal, state and local governments because these farmers belong to their states. Farmers and the state governments should partner.
To ensure that some of these things work, we are paying advocacy visits to state governors to create what we call seed coordinative committees and it is their responsibility to find out exactly the kind of seeds that are needed at the state level.
They will look at it and have primary meetings and let us know the quantity of seed that is required and since we don’t produce seeds, we have a responsibility to advise them that Company A has that verity of seed you are looking for and Company B has that variety of seed you’re looking for. So, that is exactly what we have been doing in Kano and Kogi states and very soon, we will be going to Ekiti State.
The Agricultural Promotion Policy (APP) of the current Federal Government aims to ensure food security, import institutions, job creation and economic diversification. How will you describe the level of realisation of these?
The objectives are very good ones but the achievements are based on only available resources. You cannot go beyond resources you have. As far as we are concerned, those objectives are being pursued, and we have to depend on the available resources to push towards them.
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