Recent advances in biotechnology have paved way for the development of hybrid seeds which are not only high-yielding but also resistant to pests, diseases and climate change effects.
Some agricultural experts believe that the success of Nigeria’s efforts to boost agricultural production and attain food security would largely depend on the availability and effective use of improved seeds for cultivation.
They, therefore, underscore the need for all stakeholders in the agricultural sector to be fully conscious of the role of improved seed varieties in efforts to enhance agricultural production and facilitate the Federal Government’s plans to rely on agriculture in its economic diversification schemes.
They also call on the government to encourage large and smallholder farmers to adopt improved seed varieties in their cultivation so as to increase their harvests and nation’s agricultural output.
For instance, Dr Philip Ojo, the Director-General of the National Agricultural Seeds Council (NASC), said that the country’s farmers should use improved seed varieties to boost crop productivity, create jobs and improve their income.
Sharing similar sentiments, Chief Audu Ogbeh, the Minister of Agriculture and Rural Development, emphasised that without the existence of a sustainable seed system, the country would not be able to achieve its food sufficiency targets.
“It is crucial to note that agricultural seeds play a pivotal role in efforts to stimulate the rapid development and transformation of agriculture.
“Therefore, without a viable and sustainable seed system, we will be very far from achieving the benefits of an improved and transformed agricultural sector, which is a catalyst for economic recovery and development.
“Seeds, as we know, constitute the farmer’s most precious resource; therefore, in making sustainable progress, a catalytic innovative approach must be adopted for ensuring a sustainable seed system to drive the growing needs and concerns of Nigeria’s agricultural and economic sectors,’’ he said.
In spite of all these claims, the adoption of improved seed varieties by farmers, particularly rural and smallholder farmers, who account for a significant portion of the nation’s total agricultural output, has been somewhat low and insignificant.
For instance, Faro 60 and Faro 61 — two high-yielding rice seed varieties released by the National Agricultural Research Institute (NARI) since 2011 — have yet to gain traction among rice farmers due to several reasons.
Some of the reasons adduced for the rice farmers’ slow acceptance of the seed varieties include lack of knowledge, poor access and outright fear of change as well as indifference and high cost of procuring improved rice seed varieties.
Some rice farmers voiced these reasons when they spoke at the field demonstration of Faro 60 and Faro 61 rice seed varieties, which was organised by NASC for farmers in Egbenti, Kacha Local Government Area of Niger State, in November last year.
Sani Umar, a smallholder rice farmer in Niger, conceded that he was not even aware of the existence and benefits of the new rice seed varieties.
Umar, who was obviously excited about the improved rice seeds on display, said that prior to the introduction of the new rice seed varieties, he had been cultivating seeds which were selectively chosen from previous harvests or sourced from neighbours.
Similarly, Aliyu Wakama, another smallholder rice farmer, said that although he had heard about the high-yielding rice seeds, he was not aware of how to gain access to them.
“Even if the seeds were readily available, I would have been hesitant to procure them because of the health concerns raised by some people who believe that such seeds are treated with certain chemicals that are injurious to human health,’’ he said.
All the same, a major factor behind the slow adoption of improved seed varieties is the apparent apathy of many farmers towards the adoption of improved seeds.
A farmer, Babangida Marazu, said that he was not enthusiastic about using improved seed varieties because “crops that are produced from traditional seeds are more nutritious than crops produced from the new varieties’’.
Besides, Marazu said that it appeared more logical for him to use “tried and tested seeds’’ than to experiment with new seed varieties which he was unfamiliar with.
For Rufus Yakubu, another farmer, the main challenge is the “high cost’’ of improved seeds, which usually come in large quantities.
All the same, there are strong indications that the field demonstration of Faro 60 and Faro 61 improved rice varieties has impacted positively on the mindset of some cynical rice farmers, while sensitising most of the farmers to the benefits derivable from the utilisation of the improved seed varieties.
The farmers’ viewpoints, nonetheless, tend to reinforce the need for the government and other stakeholders to organise awareness creation campaigns for farmers on the use of modern farm inputs, while investing in the distribution of the inputs, particularly in rural communities.
In this regard, Dr Sunday Abimiku, the Director of Seed Industry Development in NASC, said that the agency had resolved to establish demonstration blocks in each of the 774 local government areas of the country for wider reach.
Abimiku said that although the council had been promoting the use of improved seeds in several areas across the country, there was a compelling need to reach more farmers.
“If you look at the population of farmers in this country, it is so huge that one demonstration block per local government is nothing to write home about, but we are largely constrained by insufficient funds.
“What we are trying to do is to collaborate with partners that also have passion for the adoption of improved seeds so that we can increase the visibility of new farming technologies across the country,’’ he said.
Judging by the excitement of rice farmers at the field demonstration of Faro 60 and Faro 61 improved rice varieties last year, experts underscore the need to step up investment in the promotion of improved seeds.
“Sustained investments in the production and acceptance of improved seed varieties for all crops will drive the country’s quest for sustainable food security and economic diversification,’’ some of the experts say.
“The Federal Government has banned the importation of rice, so the market for rice is so huge. Rice farmers should take advantage of the new varieties of rice to boost their productivity and incomes as well as feed the nation,’’ they add.
All in all, analysts say that tangible efforts should be made to improve the agricultural production of the country via increased adoption of improved seed varieties by farmers.
By Philomina Attah, News Agency of Nigeria (NAN)