Nigeria is the world’s largest cassava producer, but its average root yield per hectare is less than half of what it could be. A number of factors could explain such poor yields, chief among them is a weak and informal cassava seed sector characterized by lack of reliable, affordable, quality certified planting materials of improved varieties for farmers to purchase when they need to. A fundamental overhaul of the cassava seed sector into a responsive, sustainable and integrated value chain has the potential to significantly raise the cassava productivity in Nigeria, and this exactly is the core mission of the BASICS project.
The four-year (2016-2019) ‘Building a Sustainable, Integrated Seed System for Cassava in Nigeria’, or BASICS, project is working to strengthen all components of the cassava seed value chain. The fundamental focus is on progressively strengthening these building blocks and transforming the practices of stakeholders in the cassava value chain, such that the value creation at each level of the chain creates enough vested interest for all players to keep the system going after the project ends.
The BASICS project is structured by four components, and a Project Management Unit that coordinates these activities and is responsible for project level management and monitoring.
Cassava (Manihot esculenta) is a major crop in Nigeria, with over 7 million ha under cultivation, producing around 55 million tons of cassava roots (FAOSTAT 2014). Here, the largest number of people in the world depend on the crop for their food and livelihood despite an abysmally low average productivity of under 10 tons/ha. In Nigeria, cassava mosaic disease and cassava bacterial blight are existing threats to cassava productivity, while cassava brown streak disease, though not reported in either Nigeria or West Africa, is an impending threat. Quality and productivity gains from using varieties resistant to viruses and other pathogens can be vast. Many varieties have already been developed, tested and released by researchers in Nigeria. Establishing a robust cassava seed system will ensure the benefits of these improved varieties benefit the entire value chain and the nation.
BASICS Building Blocks
Strengthening cassava seed systems
Over the last four decades, researchers have released 46 improved varieties of cassava in Nigeria. However, there remains significant scope for increasing the adoption of these varieties in the country. Three main reasons for less-than-ideal adoption rates are a lack of sustained supply, a lack of sustained demand and lack of sufficient number of market based transactions between buyers and suppliers. Differing schools of thoughts on which one comes first, the demand or the supply, and how to catalyze it has hampered progress in the direction of setting up a sustainable seed system. A commercially oriented cassava seed system promotes responsive feedback loops between all stakeholders and fosters a more efficient allocation of resources (i.e., financial, infrastructure, human, and germplasm) throughout the system. This lowers the overall cost of production, dissemination, and adoption of high-quality cassava planting material of improved varieties, which is essential to achieving productivity gains from seed. To achieve these improvements, BASICS is taking a multi-pronged approach to strengthening the entire cassava seed value chain.
Piloting two seed multiplication and distribution business models
To strengthen the supply side, BASICS is piloting two business models for seed multiplication and distribution. In a decentralized Village Seed Entrepreneur (VSE) model, more than 130 VSEs will be developed in Benue, Abia, Imo, Akwa-Ibom, and Cross River states to become trusted, dependable, and accessible seed providers to the farmers in their area. In a Processor Led Model (PLM), cassava processors multiply good quality, improved varieties of cassava and supply their outgrowers under a roots buy-back arrangement. The project has developed a portal called the Cassava Seed Tracker (CST), to facilitate easy registration of seed producers and real-time monitoring of field inspections and a pioneering e-certification system by the National Agricultural Seeds Council (NASC). This revolutionary platform offers database of seed value chain actors, decision support tools and consultation with experts, and facilitates market linkages.
To create the demand, BASICS is working to sensitize farmers on the need to use high-quality seeds of improved varieties for achieving higher net profits from growing cassava. A shift in mindset in the vast number of smallholder cassava farmers to see cassava production as a micro business enterprise and not as a subsistence farming is needed.
Accelerating seed multiplication through innovation
BASICS is also working to overcome one of the key bottlenecks of the cassava seed system – a slow and low seed multiplication ratio. It is piloting the use of an innovative rapid seed multiplication technology, called Semi-Autotrophic Hydroponics (SAH), which has been successfully used in commercial potato seed multiplication in Argentina. SAH facilitates high-ratio multiplication of virus-free, true-to-type, tissue culture plantlets resulting in cassava plantlets that withstand direct plantation in the fields. SAH is expected to significantly help the cassava seed system by enhancing the capacity of breeder and foundation seed producers to make available adequate quantities of certified planting material of improved varieties for further multiplication by commercial seed producers.
BASICS is funded by the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation (BMGF), with project management and coordination provided by the CGIAR Research Program on Roots, Tubers, and Bananas (RTB). Project implementing partners include NRCRI, National Agricultural Seed Council (NASC), CRS, IITA, Context Global Development and FERA Science Limited.