An Integrated, Economically-Sustainable Cassava Seed System is Emerging in Nigeria

The project “Building an Economically Sustainable Integrated Seed System for Cassava (BASICS)” came together with its stakeholders to review progress and plan the way forward between 11th and 13th of March 2019 at the IITA Headquarters in Ibadan, Nigeria.

The meeting, reflected on the activities of the project in the past three years to foster a sustainable seed system to assess the improvements catalysed across the seed value chain and to discuss ways to take the successes forward in an economically sustainable way beyond the project support.

Dr. Graham Thiele, CGIAR Research Program on Roots, Tubers and Bananas (RTB) Program Director and the PI for BASICS project stated that the project falls under the RTB Flagship Project 2 “Productive varieties & quality seed”. RTB benefits the project by incorporating its global outlook to foster a new breeding mindset – gender responsive, targeting product profiles with a stronger focus on varietal replacement and bringing in learnings from seed systems work in vegetatively-propagated crops from across the world. RTB acts as an honest broker for players in seed systems and currently coordinates all the component partner activities under the project.

Dr. Hemant Nitturkar, BASICS Project Director

Dr. Hemant Nitturkar, BASICS Project Director, in his address, gave an overview of the achievements and challenges of the four-year project so far. “This year’s meeting is a time for reviewing, reflecting, and renewing what we set out to do. We have achieved some credible outcomes in the last three years, and we have also hit some roadblocks that we are trying to overcome. We had set out to develop an economically sustainable system to produce and sell cassava breeders seed, foundation seed, commercial seed of improved varieties so farmers can access and use quality seed of improved varieties that help improve their net productivity and income.”  Some of the highlighted achievements were:

  • Dedicated private seed businesses were established at IITA (IITA Go Seed) and NRCRI (Umudike Seeds). These new entities produce and market breeder and foundation seeds. This is a globally unique instance of a public-private sector partnership initiative to strengthen the early generation seed (EGS) system for vegetatively propagated crops like cassava.
  • An innovative rapid multiplication technology called SAH™ adapted from SAHTechno has been successfully tested and deployed, allowing quick bulking of planting material for breeder seed of different varieties.
  • Over 125 village seed entrepreneurs, signed on and trained by the project, are producing and selling certified commercial seeds to cassava farmers.
  • The National Agricultural Seed Council (NASC) has increased its capacity to offer market responsive seed quality regulatory services through the establishment of a seed diagnostic lab and adoption of an award-winning online tool, Cassava Seed Tracker, that connects all the seed value chain players.

Dr. Nitturkar recounted the project’s achievement, “In the ECOWAS report of 2015, there was no certified breeders seed, no foundation seed, and a limited number of certified commercial cassava seed. In 2018, BASICS facilitated production and sale of 4,556 bundles of breeders seed, 13,325 bundles of foundation seed, and 25,375 bundles of certified commercial seed.”

Dr. Olusegun Ojo, Director General of NASC enumerated the importance BASICS on NASC operations; “The BASICS project has enhanced all external projects of the council in terms of innovation, impact, and sustainability”. He further explained “the impact of the BASICS project has been overwhelming. The reports we receive daily from the field have been so encouraging. The production of certified cassava seed has increased tremendously and the need to use the certified seed is gradually becoming institutionalized.”  Dr. Ojo also commented positively on the Cassava Seed Tracker, and how NASC is looking to adopt it as the Nigerian Seed Tracker to apply to all crops being certified for seed.

Dr. Okechukwu Eke-Okoro, National Root Crops Research Institute (NRCRI) Director of External Projects, representing the Executive Director, Professor Joseph Ukpabi, stated “NRCRI has collaborated with IITA in many projects, and this collaboration has enhanced the accomplishments of NRCRI as a federal institution with the mandate of genetic improvement, production, storage, processing, and social economics of root and tuber crops. The BASICS project is changing the future of the rural farmers from growing food for consumption to earning higher commercial returns with its technology of providing multiple pests and decease-free planting materials of cassava through Semi Autotrophic Hydroponics (SAH™).”

Dr. May-Guri Saethre, IITA Deputy Director General, Research for Development, reaffirmed IITA’s commitment to improving cassava production and livelihoods in Africa while highlighting the efforts of BASICS in transforming the cassava value chain in Nigeria. “The BASICS project is critical for creating a sustainable commercial seed system that will equitably deliver improved varieties to men and women farmers through commercial markets.” Dr. Saethre further praised the SAH™ technology and the success of its deployment and increasing popularity as the technology for cassava rapid multiplication. l

Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation Program Officer for BASICS, Lawrence Kent, reiterated that “we want to build reusable bridges that deliver breeder seed to foundation seed to commercial seed to the farmers’ fields in a profitable manner. This is exciting because many people thought it wasn’t possible. Farmers were used to getting free seed. Through BASICS, we have been able to show what is possible. We need more time to consolidate this. I am very proud of this project and want to thank all partners. Together we can make sure that disease resistant improved varieties will benefit farmers in a sustainable way.”

The meeting was attended by national and international partners, policymakers, and development experts from Catholic Relief Services (CRS), National Root Crops and Research Institute (NRCRI), National Agricultural Seed Council (NASC), Fera Science Ltd. (FERA), Context Global Development, SAHEL Consulting, RTB, the International Potato Center (CIP) and IITA.

All the partners in the BASICS project identified IITA GoSeed Cassava, Umudike Seeds, SAH, village seed entrepreneurs, the Processor-led Model (PLM), Quality Seed and market responsive certification and Cassava Seed Tracker as key innovation packages to be scaled up to be able to establish an economically sustainable cassava seed system. Building on the good work done so far and the deliberations on what needs to be done going forward to make sustainable changes in the seed value chain, the project team agreed on a way forward to develop a concept note to be submitted to the donor to seek funding for a potential second phase of the project.

Building an Economically Sustainable Integrated Seed System for Cassava (BASICS) in Nigeria is a 4-year project, led by the CGIAR Research Program on Roots, Tubers and Bananas (RTB) and funded by the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation that seeks to create a commercially viable private sector cassava seed system in Nigeria that is compliant with improved seed certification standards implemented by the National Agricultural Seeds Council (NASC). More information on the project can be obtained from the project website – http://www.rtb.cgiar.org/basics