Smallholder farmers often find it difficult to access seeds of improved crops and varieties. Seed fairs such as the one held in Niger recently are critical for enhancing agricultural productivity, as well as helping the resource-poor climb out of poverty.
April 29 was truly a red letter day for Maadiben, the Farmers’ Union in Falwel in Niger. Hosting their first-ever Seed Fair that day, it was a culmination of the past two years of being part of the mini-packets seed systems project that ICRISAT and the Institut National de Recherche Agronomique du Niger (INRAN), the NARS partner in Niger, have piloted with several seed-producing farmers’ unions, with support from the McKnight Foundation and the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation (BMGF).
Mini-packets of seed of improved pearl millet varieties, chosen in earlier participatory varietal selection projects, were sold during the seed fair, apart from seed packets of cowpea and groundnut sold by union members and by a private seed company from the district capital of Dougondoutchi.
The morning of the fair, under shade structures, tables were set up to display seed packets for sale. Early in the day, people began to trickle into the union compound, located near the weekly market, Twhich was happening simultaneously. People exchanged news, discussed their experiences with improved varieties, and had plenty of time to check out products available and think about a purchase.
When local and regional officials arrived, several members of the Maadiben Union spoke of the appreciation farmers have for improved variety seeds and the union’s efforts to further spread both information and the seeds. A group of local girls, wearing T-shirts advertising the ICRISAT-HOPE project’s Integrated Striga and Soil Fertility Management (ISSFM) package, sang a song about the benefits of the new seeds, and thanked all project partners – especially ICRISAT. There was also a short skit depicting farmers learning from an agricultural agent about the benefits and qualities of improved varieties.
Local officials also showed appreciation of the new seed production manuals in French and the local language (Djerma), as well as of the skills and confidence demonstrated by the Farmers’ Union members. The chief of the district agricultural chamber said, “When people ask us where they can find the seeds they need, we can now suggest they come to Falwel.”
The heat of the day (>45ºC) did not deter people from persistently asking questions to union members about the varieties and making decisions about the packet size (100 g, 250 g, 500 g or 1 kg) to purchase, or the variety most suited to their own needs. It was particularly interesting to see women familiar with the seeds explaining to others which variety to try and how to use them. Interest seemed to build, with more and more women buying seeds throughout the day.
The seed fair also allowed Maadiben to show its members and others from surrounding villages the diverse activities that they are currently undertaking, ranging from grain storage facilities and seed processing equipment, to a newly constructed compost pit and preparations for the construction of an expanded seed/grain storage facility. The presence of local and international partners, including ICRISAT, demonstrated support for Maadiben’s initiatives. With new projects in the works and plans to expand seed production activities in 2012, Maadiben will have even more to showcase at next year’s Falwel Seed Fair.
A one-day workshop was organized at the Kano State Agricultural and Rural Development Authority (KNARDA), Kano, Nigeria, on 25 April to identify the actors relevant to agricultural innovations in Kano State and to find out the role mobile phones and other communication means play in agricultural innovation.
Organized by the Department of Agricultural Economics and Extension, Bayero University Kano in collaboration with KNARDA, the workshop was designed to answer one of the research objectives of an on-going PhD program by Ali Abdullahi who is registered at the University of Reading, UK. Those who spoke on the occasion included Alh Othman Yahaya, Director, Extension Services, KNARDA, Dr Amina Mustapha representing Prof Awalu Bindawa, Dean, Faculty of Agriculture, Bayero University Kano, and Dr Hakeem A Ajeigbe of ICRISAT who spoke on ‘Formal agricultural innovations in Kano State, Nigeria: Problems, agricultural constraints, and solutions’. A total of 42 participants made up of lecturers from the university, KNARDA staff and representatives of farmer groups attended the workshop.
Groundnut remains an important crop for resourcepoor farmers in Nigeria, crucial for their economic prosperity and nutritional security. The country was the world’s leading groundnut exporter in the 1960s with the crop accounting for about 70% of the country’s total export earnings. However, groundnuts fell from the country’s export list by the end of the 1970s, aggravated by severe drought and disease infestations.
“ICRISAT is fully committed to collaborate with Nigeria’s national agricultural research system (NARS) in increasing the income generation and livelihoods of farmers by increasing productivity and sustainability of groundnut-based systems through increased adoption of farmer- and market-preferred groundnut varieties,” says Director General William Dar.
ICRISAT’s technologies are ready for large-scale deployment and dissemination in Nigeria. “Improved varieties coupled with farmer participatory evaluations and community seed production schemes linked to available seed companies can ensure availability of high quality seeds to farmers for maximum yields and incomes,” Dr Dar stresses.
ICRISAT’s expression of commitment is in response to the call for collaboration to boost Nigeria’s groundnut production to export levels by Executive Director, Corporate, Investment Banking, and Treasury of Union Bank of Nigeria PLC, Philip Ikeazor. He made this call recently in India at the Governing Board Meeting of ICRISAT where he has been its member in the last six years, completing his tenure in July this year.
Mr Ikeazor’s challenge also solicited a strong response from fellow Nigerian and former ICRISAT Board chair, Dr Uzo Mokwunye, now Development Strategy Consultant specializing in natural resources management, capacity development, and innovation systems in agriculture.
Dr Mokwunye expressed his support in pushing forward this initiative to introduce science-based innovations to revive Nigeria’s groundnut industry, by offering to link ICRISAT with Nigeria’s NARS as well as with the Agriculture Ministry. He emphasized the urgency to work together to significantly boost groundnut production and sales in the country, create employment and improve the livelihood of smallholder farmers, and reclaim Nigeria’s former groundnut glory.
ICRISAT is now in the process of developing a proposal to concretize the proposed collaboration with the Nigerian government. The proposal will highlight the benefits of the collaboration, expected roles of all partners, and scaling up of ICRISAT’s impact-oriented and farmer-centered research such as growing improved groundnut varieties and better aflatoxin management to meet export market demands.
Enabling private seed companies to market their products without depending heavily on government patronage is a sure way of making them sustainable. With this in mind, the ICRISAT-WASA Seeds Project (SP) organized a training program at the Institute for Agricultural Research-Ahmadu Bello University (IAR-ABU), Samaru, Zaria from 24-25 April. The workshop was targeted at chief executive officers and management staff of seed companies, with an overlapping linkage program for seed companies’ marketing staff, ADPs seed officers and agro-dealers from the states of Kano, Kaduna, Katsina, Zamfara, Jigawa and Benue, and Abuja. The workshop had resource persons from national agricultural research institutes, Bayero University, seed companies and ICRISAT-WASA SP, Kano and was attended by 71 participants.
The welcome address was delivered by IAR Assistant Director for Research, Prof Amas, representing IAR Director Prof Balarabe Tanimu. This was followed by an address by ICRISAT’s Country Representative Dr Hakeem A Ajeigbe.
The business plan development training gave management staff of private seed companies insights into putting together a corporate business plan, with the resources persons and participants doing a SWOT analysis for each company, and discussing current and expected markets for products, organization and management, production, planning and monitoring, and writing a business plan.
A linkage program saw marketing staff of the seed companies interacting with agro-dealers who sought clarifications on various crops and varieties produced. The agro-dealers visited the seed company stalls to explore business opportunities.
The program will greatly assist in the implementation of the Agricultural Transformation Agenda of the Federal Republic of Nigeria and the directive by the Minister of Agriculture, Dr Akin Adesina, who has encouraged seed companies to market their seed directly to farmers. The seed companies felt the training would enhance their capacity to run their companies and increase sales with the linkages provided, thereby diversifying their income sources.
ICRISAT-WASA Nigeria Consultant\Seed System Manager Lawrence Fajana thanked ICRISAT, project staff, Chief of Party Dr Ram Shetty, and seed companies and agro-dealers, IAR, National Agricultural Seed Council (NASC) and ADPs who have worked closely with the project in the last three years, for their support.
Two meetings of the ICRISAT-HOPE project were held in Maharashtra on 3-5 May to review gender and monitoring survey in the project clusters – Jalalpur village under the Marathwada Agricultural University (MAU), Parbhani, and Hattur village in Solapur under Mahatma Phule Krishi Viswavidyalaya (MPKV), Rahuri.
Dr Chanda G Goodrich, Principal Scientist-Empower Woman, Dr N Nagaraj, Principal Economist (ICRISAT) and project members interacted with women and men farmers on the performance of improved varieties of rabi sorghum compared to local land races where the differential generated preference was majorly on quantity vs. quality.
Men farmers preferred the improved varieties due to their higher grain yield, larger grain size and fodder while women farmers preferred them due to the grain color, grain size and longer keeping quality of the “rotis”. A woman farmer in Hattur village informed that though the improved variety took longer to grind compared to the ones they used to cultivate, she felt it was not a problem since most of the households got the grain ground at the mill.
MAU (Parbani) gave a presentation on the activities conducted. They have numerous activities in which women farmers participated in good numbers, including the direct distribution of seeds to women farmers. A Farmers Association has been formed where 33% members are women. In Jalalpur, women have formed SHGs – they make pickles and papad from sorghum to sell to the neighboring town.
MPKV (Rahuri) has linked with a women’s SHG that markets sorghum products to cities. This SHG is outside of the project. However, the SHG has been approached to buy the sorghum flour from the project farmers.
It was found that exchange of seed within the village is done by women, while buying/getting the seeds from markets and other villages is done by men. While women give seeds for free, men prefer to sell them. An interesting finding was that daughters are given seeds of grains, including sorghum, as gifts on their marriage, and also when the married daughter visits her natal home.
It was also revealed that women farmers were in favor of keeping wider gaps between the plants as directed by the project scientists, as this meant that they did not have to do weeding; the hoeing being done by men. Thus the project has led to reduction of drudgery for women.
The annual ICRISAT-HOPE project review and planning meeting for Ethiopia was held on 27 and 28 April, at the Melkassa Agricultural Research Center in Nazareth. Led by national coordinator Alemu Trifessa, the meeting was attended by key project implementers from the districts of Guungua, Kobo, Bahirdar, Melkassa, Bako, Diga, Mieso, Shala and Gisangu. ICRISAT was represented by Eric Manyasa.
Addressing the participants, Dr Getachew Ayana, Director, Melkassa Agricultural Research Center, emphasized the need for the project implementing teams to work diligently in achieving the milestones set in order to benefit target sorghum and finger millet farming communities.
The meeting was also attended by Dr Brhane Gebrekedan, Project Advisory Board member and pioneer of ICRISAT-Nairobi. Dr Brhane appreciated ICRISAT’s role in supporting the country’s sorghum research with its significant outcomes over time. He underscored the need for the national program to continue leading sorghum and millets research and for the ICRISAT-HOPE project to fill the gaps in achieving set national research objectives.
The implementing centers presented and discussed their technical progress reports for 2011, and work plans for 2012 were developed. Many milestones are on target and those not up to date will be fast tracked this year. Preparations for 2012 have seen the production and distribution to farmers of 0.8 tons of finger millet varieties (Tadesse, Necho, Wama and Degu) and 1.7 tons of sorghum varieties (Teshale, Melkam, Chiro, Chelenko, Mesikir, Hormat and Girana-1).
On his recent visit to China, Dr Rajeev Varshney was conferred a Visiting Professorship by the Guangdong Academy of Agricultural Sciences (GAAS), for his contribution and expanding collaboration in the area of groundnut genomics. Dr Varshney was a special guest at the conference on “Application of peanut genomics and products commercialization” held on 26 April and jointly organized by the GAAS, Science & Technology Cooperation Department of Guangdong Province,and Crop Research Institute (CRI). The meeting was attended by more than 80 people, including GAAS Vice President Chen Dong; Director Liu Jiaping; Deputy Director of Science and Technology Cooperation Office Sun Ling; and top officials, scientists and students. The conference held deliberations on genomics, biotechnology, breeding, processing, industrial development and international cooperation for peanut.
At the conference, Dr Varshney presented a lead paper on “Advances in applied genomics of peanut,” providing a global overview of peanut genomics applied to breeding, and highlighting the work of ICRISAT and its partners. He met with Drs R Cheng, Director, and Liang Xuanqiang, Head, Oilseed Crop Improvement. Dr Xuanqiang welcomed ICRISAT’s continued cooperation and collaboration with their peanut genomics and biotechnology program.
Dr Varshney also delivered an invited presentation entitled “Application of next-generation sequencing and high-throughput genotyping technologies for crop improvement” at the Guangzhou University. He also had discussions with senior officials from BGI-Shenzhen and Macrogen companies on sequencing and re-sequencing projects for ICRISAT’s mandate crops.
ICRISAT’s Agri-Business Incubation (ABI) program has partnered with the Universities Business and Research in Agricultural Innovation (UniBRAIN) of the Forum for Agricultural Research in Africa (FARA) in setting up six Agribusiness Innovation Incubator Consortium (AIIC) in five African countries through an initiative of the Africa Commission of the Ministry of Foreign Affairs of Denmark. Each AIIC consists of a university, a business, and a research partner.
UniBRAIN will support the AIIC in business planning, management, and governance of the incubator and training of its staff, involving refining each AIIC’s business plan and sensitizing the leaders of the institutes in the consortium about agribusiness incubation and the roles of each institute in ensuring the incubator’s success.
The first port of call in this endeavour was the Agri-Business Incubation Trust (AgBIT) of Zambia, proposed as a value chain incubator on fruits and vegetables. ABI-ICRISAT’s preliminary field study helped in refining the business plan. A sensitization meeting on 24 April provided guidance on incubation management. The meeting led to the signing of a Memorandum of Understanding (MoU) among consortium members to register AgBIT as a legal entity.
In Ghana, Creating Champions in Livestock Agribusiness (CCLEAr) of the Centre for Scientific & Industrial Research (CSIR), the incubator supporting entrepreneurship in livestock, came next. Dr Rahul Srivastava assisted ABI-ICRISAT in developing the plans and operations for the incubator. The sensitization meeting was conducted at Accra on 30 April by Mr SM Karuppanchetty and Dr Srivastava.
AfriBanana Products Ltd (ABP), Kyambago University’s agribusiness incubator in Uganda focuses on enhancing banana production and banana by-products through value addition and trade. Mr Bhubesh Kumar, Business Manager of the Agribusiness Incubator of Tamil Nadu Agricultural University (TNAU) did the market work and refined the business plan. The sensitization meeting on 4 planning, management, and governance of the incubator and training of its staff, involving refining each AIIC’s business plan and sensitizing the leaders of the institutes in the consortium about agribusiness incubation and the roles of each institute in ensuring the incubator’s success.
The business plan refinement activities of the consortium for enhancing the University Responsiveness to Agribusiness Development (CURAD) incubator of Makerere University, Uganda, was conducted by Mr Karuppanchetty and Ms Anitha Nadipalli, in partnership with Dr George of Pan-African Agribusiness and Agro-Industry Consortium (PanAAC). The sensitization meeting was held on 7 May with all key stakeholders of CURAD.
Similar activities will be held at two more incubators in Kenya and Mali in the coming weeks.