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Seed Council Centre Will Enhance Current Industrial Manpower Gap

The director-general of the National Agricultural Seed Council, Dr Ojo Olusegun, in this interview with journalists, opens up on the many benefits of the proposed Seed Centre of Excellence, the first of its kind in West Africa.

What is the Seed Council Centre of Excellence all about?

The proposed establishment of the NASC-CoESI, Nigeria, is a strategic centre for seed industry development and seed business incubation, to enable both public and private individuals and small-holder seed companies to boot-strap themselves to help solve the problem of food insecurity.

The Seed Centre of Excellence will include a sound seed testing laboratory,  guest hostels for the accommodation of trainees, a training hall with up-to-date equipment, a conference centre, greenhouse, seed storage facility, demonstration barn and associated infrastructure, all constructed to meet international standards.

In addition to the above, the project will include civil works to provide site services for the buildings and the purchase of new state-of-the-art seed technological equipment.

What will be the functions of the Seed CoE?

The Centre of Excellence is a hub of a lot of activities which includes quality control, capacity building, as well as information dissemination. Also, it is going to be a centre for all these for the whole of West Africa because there is no centre of excellence for seeds in West Africa. It is going to be a hub of so many activities to ensure that, at the end of the day, quality seeds actually permeate and becomes available to farmers.

What will be its benefits?

The centre will enhance our current industry man-power gap and conduct diploma and certificate programmes in Seed Science and Technology.

The NASC-CoESI will offer short courses for public and private sector experts in seed certification, seed-testing, seed quality control, seed storage and handling, seed business management and provide practical field hands-on training on seed field establishment and management, plus demonstrations and promotional activities.

What is the target investment?

For now, conservatively, we are talking in the region of N400m as a start and it is going to, actually, occur in phases. The first phase includes a N200m investment in agriculture seed teaching and innovation, while phase 2 targets N150m Applied Seed Research and Technology Training Centre, with accommodation facilities to host trainees.

The centre is not an end in itself; the end is ensuring a strong seed certification system in the whole of Nigeria and West Africa – an effort which requires men and women of skill. Hence, the need for articulate capacity-building for the officers of the council and key seed industry actors engaged in seed business.

The NASC has done so much, as far as its budgetary provisions are concerned. I,  therefore, use this medium to medium to appeal for further partnership in the area under the BASICS project.

What are some of the key challenges in the seed sub-sector?

We are challenged by lots of unscrupulous seed dealers out there trying to short-change the process, paucity of funds compounded by limited budgetary allocations, amongst others. This has been a great challenge and we crave more support from partners, as we march towards achieving this dream. Also, we are challenged by the capacity gaps. We need to continue to develop the capacity of all stakeholders, particularly, those of the industry, to ensure that they meet standards. [There is the challenge of the] poor facilities we are trying to upgrade, amongst others, but these are the ones in the forefront.

How would the CoE help in curbing these challenges?

We are now trying to see a situation, whereby, we will get good quality seeds and package them in such a way that people will be able to identify them. Right now, it is actually a little difficult [to do that], except for the origin of the seeds.

What are some of the collaborations the NASC getting into, so as to curb some of these challenges?

We are actually partnering with the research institutes, particularly the Agricultural Research Council of Nigeria (ARCN). We are meeting them regularly and will continually do so, but, of course, they too have their own challenges and we are trying to see what can be done, particularly at the ministry level. For where development and funding, partners will come. We are talking to developmental partners, BASICs, which are bringing in the molecular activities within the next three years, funded by the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation, AGRA, CORAF and others. All these agencies, corporate bodies and development partners are willing and trying to come to our aid.

Would you agree that the Seed council has been neglected over time?

No, it has not. However, what we are saying is that it is a developmental process. We started from a particular place and had to move out, but we are coming back, because this is the place where all the action should be.

What are your immediate targets?

The dream of an effective and efficient seeds system is the cassava seed system, because, despite all the laudable strides in developing the country’s potential in cassava production, the cassava value chain remains one of the weakest links. This weakness is occasioned by the stress of transporting the sticks and the dearth of information as to their availability. This challenge has been a recurring bottle-neck to the full actualisation of potentials of cassava in Nigeria.

How do you hope to strengthen this weak link?

The distorted links between cassava seed producers and end-users have, over the years, created a great challenge which the seed tracking system is set to address.

The cassava seed tracking system, if fully embraced, is set to address the various bottlenecks, such as a saturated seed system with old varieties that makes introduction/adoption of new varieties difficult or very slow to adopt. The problem of cumbersome transportation will also be readily addressed, as well. This will be replaced with enhanced distribution and multiplication of healthy (free from pests and pathogens), true-to-type (genetic uniformity), quality (physical attributes) cassava seeds, amongst farmers in the country.

How does the cassava tracker work?

The cassava tracker is a very important instrument. Using it, we can see cassava and trace it from beginning (planting) to end (harvesting). It is going to look at the whole value chain, including information, as well as digital certification. We have to see what is happening along the value chain and that is one of the important issues of the cassava tracker. In addition, we want to go beyond cassava and ensure that there is some form of e-certification for all crops.

However, we are starting with cassava, but, in the next one year, we should be looking at other crops.

Who are the target stakeholders of the seed process?

Members of the Seed Association of Nigeria, seed companies, research institutes, farmers, as well as other persons involved in the seed process system.

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