One of the sectors, the world is trusting to solve the COVID-19 pandemic is agriculture and food production, yet this sector will not be able to rescue the world without quality seeds. Worst still, the measures taken to solve the problem of COVID 19 – lockdown seems to be doing much damage to the seeds sector, JOHN OBA reports.
The Nigeria seeds sector, is not fairing any better, in the face of the current lockdown imposed on the country as part of measures to tackle the pandemic. Worst still is the fact that, some of the task force members did not understand this danger, as they also complicate the problem by further hindering the moving of seeds producers/suppliers despite President Muhammadu Buhari’s instruction that exempt stakeholders in the agriculture sector from the lockdown.
This is even more worrisome, since March and April are the most critical months for the sowing of crops such as maize, genuine corn, soybeans, open field vegetables etc) while in some states, the months of May and June are critical for the planting of crops that are crucial for the agricultural economy and food security, including cereals, legumes, root and tuber crops; if farmers miss this window because seed is not delivered to the fields in time the result will be serious food and feed shortages in the second part of the year.
Yet, Food and Agriculture Organisation of the United Nations (FAO) has predicted that border closures, quarantine, transport restrictions and trade disruptions can reduce availability and access to a great deal of variety of nutritious food particularly in countries stricken hard by the virus, hence causing more hunger.
While the International Seed Federation (ISF) sought the support of governments to facilitate the international movement of seed under the COVID-19 crisis and not to impose restrictive measures to avoid disrupting the agriculture supply chain, COVID 19 actors in Nigeria have been busy restraining free movement of agro products across states.
COVID 19 Presidential Task Force
Despite, the huge possibility of hunger pandemic in Nigeria, the over-zealous security operatives of the COVID 19 Presidential Task Force (PTF) seems to be causing more damage even when the president announced that stakeholders in the sector should be given freedom to move food items including seeds, many of these security operatives don’t seem to understand that seeds producers and farmers are part of those given exemption.
And their actions already has far reaching implications, as this has hindered farmers’ access to financial services for investing in the purchase of agro-inputs such as seeds and have implications on the costs of production, processing, transporting and marketing seed, e.g. the costs for transport has tripled.
Considering uncertainty, farmers advance purchase, delays have shown a reduced willingness to pay for quality seed of improved varieties and this has major implications on the business model of seed companies, producers, and other seed entrepreneurs.
Seed producers and companies will be hampered in the next season’s production of the right quantity of certified seed of their portfolio of hybrid and open pollinated maize varieties, as well as for the production of certified seed of improved varieties for crops such as rice and legumes.
This will impact negatively the quantity of seed and diversity of varieties that seed companies make available to farmers in the market, and with a foreseen subsequent scarcity, seed priczes will increase, and some entrepreneurs will put on the market carry-over or substandard seed.
To avoid a food and hunger crisis following the current COVID-19 health crisis, urgent action is needed to address key agricultural challenges, including bottlenecks identified in the seed sector. Hence, National Agricultural Seeds Council (NASC), published a monthly report, ‘Seed Alert Nigeria’ on at least reiterations of a rapid assessment identify alerts and actions.
This is aimed to assess the impact of the COVID-19 crisis on the functioning of the seed sector. The pilot project operates in Ethiopia, Myanmar, Nigeria and Uganda, where Wageningen Centre for Development Innovation (WCDI) collaborates with partners in seed programmes.
According to this publication, aimed at contributing to developing immediate actions and interventions that will enhance resilience and support the continuity of activities in the seed sector, taking the unpredictability of the crisis and the seasonal dependency of the seed sector into account, raised concern that COVID-19 measures reduce mobility of farmers as farmers cannot travel to points of sale, agro-dealers, formal and informal markets, where they purchase quality seed and other agricultural inputs.
Difficulties to reach or even operate within markets or locations
Adding that, agro-dealers, traders and other seed entrepreneurs have difficulties to reach or even operate within markets or locations where they do their business; this challenges their ability to sell quality seed and agro-inputs
The report reveals that COVID-19 measures reduce mobility of farmers as they cannot travel to points of sale, agro-dealers, and formal and informal markets, where they purchase quality seed and other agricultural inputs. Agro-dealers, traders and other seed entrepreneurs have difficulties to reach or even operate within markets or locations where they do their business; this challenges their ability to sell quality seed and agro-inputs.
The measure allows only authorized persons, such as certified agro-dealers, seed companies, seed inspectors and farmers entrance to the markets.
“The COVID-19 measures negatively impact the functioning of field inspection and laboratory testing required for seed certification while NASC inspection officers are hampered inspecting seed production fields.
Hampered quality assurance services
“Hampered quality assurance services create a risk to the business model of seed
companies and producers in the production of certified seed of improved varieties. A subsequent result is that because of scarcity, seed prices will increase, and
some entrepreneurs will put on the market carry-over or substandard seed,” the report states.
Alhaji Liman Adamu, a seed producer, said the lockdown is not affecting seed production but seed suppliers and farmers. He said the task force action towards farmers’ movement has greatly affected farmers access to seeds.
“Seeds should be with farmers since March, but till now most have not accessed improved seeds because of the lockdown and the way the task force members are handling the whole thing.
“Seed producers are losing a lot because of low patronage, you can image that I had to sale a seeds that worth N45,000 at the rate of N10,000 because they farmers have not access to purchase seeds,” he said
But more encouraging is the proactive measures taken by the National Agricultural Seeds Council (NASC) to ensure that seed is available for the upcoming planting season and also to ensure seed production.
Recently, during a Webinar press conference with journalists, the Director General, Dr. Philip Olusegun Ojo, said the Council is doing all within reach to ensure that seed sector related activities are sustained and promoted even in the midst of the pandemic for Nigeria to be able to have continuous supply of adequate quantities of food for its population.
And because of the impact of the lockdown, NASC uses a decentralized model for organizing the markets that allows quality seed and agro-inputs to be transported close to farmers, and thus reduce the distance that farmers need to travel to access inputs.
Ojo said the government now to review regularly the interstate movement of essential agricultural goods and services (by agencies at federal and state level) and provide guidance on measures to be taken to responsible authorities.
And that the authority responsible should ensure that the services and business of seed companies and agro-input dealers are designated as essential and should communicate their role as essential to food security and the national economy
widely through all traditional and social media platforms
The report further encourages governments to provide seed subsidies to farmers as a palliative measure and ensure subsidies only to be applicable for seed purchased from NASC approved seed companies and producers share in a structured manner and at state level information on the availability of seed with companies and producers.
“Engage in an organized manner in the marketing and distribution of the subsidized seed directly to farmers and ensure seed quality and package identity to allow companies to remain accountable for seed quality, and reduce opportunities for substandard or fake seed.