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Nigeria: Overcoming knowledge barriers to nutritional security, higher income

Tropical vegetable seed company East-West Seed shared its long-term vision to transform Nigeria’s vegetable markets through pre-commercial Knowledge Transfer activities that will catalyze innovation at the farm level, giving farmers and business an opportunity to grow.

“We have a long-term vision to develop a market in Nigeria. It is challenging, but also exciting,” said Stuart Morris, East-West Seed knowledge transfer executive director, at a recent conference on the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs).

Organized by Wageningen University & Research (WUR), the conference titled “Towards Zero Hunger: Partnerships for Impact” centered around SDG2: end hunger, achieve food security and improved nutrition and promote sustainable agriculture, and SDG17: create partnerships. It brought together key stakeholders to discuss their views and contributions for achieving the SDGs.

East-West Seed led one of the sessions at the SDG conference, with former Ambassador Joan Boer and Public Affairs Manager Maaike Groot as moderators.

In her introduction, WUR President Dr. Louise Fresco said, “When I was at the FAO we calculated the potential gap between demand and production of vegetables from a nutritional perspective. It was particularly staggering for Nigeria. Why is this important? Population growth, alongside urbanization and more people without their own plots, will increase the need for fruits and vegetables. We still know very little about nutrition, but we know that fruits and vegetables are essential because of fibres, micronutrients and vitamins. It is not easy to grow fruits and vegetables in a hot climate. There is enormous competition in the natural ecosystem, apart from the many other challenges farmers face. This is where partnership is required. East-West Seed is a really successful example of private public partnership.”

Standing (L-R): Former Dutch Ambassador to Thailand, Myanmar, Laos and Cambodia, Mr Joan Boer; East-West Seed (EWS) Knowledge Transfer Exec Director, Stuart Morris; and EWS Business Development Manager for Nigeria, Hadiza Yaro moderating a panel discussion at the SDG conference in Wageningen University.

Why Nigeria?
Nigeria’s potential for food production has not been realized due to heavy reliance on rainfed agriculture (<7% of irrigated land), lack of infrastructure that leads to isolation of farmers from inputs and markets, and an aging farmer demographic (50+ years old) that grow crops on 1.8 hectares of land and majority of whom live on less than USD 1.25 a day.

However, East-West Seed sees potential in vegetable farming which currently supports 2 million households and possibly generating more than USD 3 billion at farm gate level, though its relevance is greatly overshadowed by field crops. Vegetables are grown in 3.4 million hectares of land, with main crops including okra, tomato, onion, hot pepper and leafy vegetables. Yields remain low compared with the regional average while post-harvest losses are high.

Hadiza Yaro, East-West Seed Business Development Manager for Nigeria, shared the experience of a typical farmer in Nigeria. “Alhaji Musa Makarfi is a chili pepper farmer from Kaduna State whom I met recently. For him nothing has changed in decades. He said, it has been 30 years since I started cultivating chili pepper on about 20ha. I don't renew my seeds he said, but instead I use my saved seeds, with no idea why I should renew my seeds with improved seeds. His seeds are low yielding, harboring seed borne diseases. Plants from such seeds are susceptible to infestation. Other practices show poor nursery management, poor spacing, inadequate pests and diseases control, poor fertilizer management, no drip facility to supplement water during dry months. His yield remains as low as 2 tons per ha, compared to what farmers in India, for example, produce at 17 tons per ha.”

Farming is a way of life for Alhaji Musa Makarfi (right) from Kaduna State, Nigeria who has been growing chili pepper for 30 years.

“Part of the transformation we want for Nigeria is how farmers view farming. We want them to see it not only as a way of life but as a successful and sustainable business,” said Yaro.

How to make it happen
With partnerships at the crux, the session saw the high profile participation of both the Dutch and Nigerian governments, scientists, international NGOs and private sector. This follows discussions made in July, when Nigerian President HE Muhammadu Buhari met with Dutch CEOs with business ties in the West African nation, including East-West Seed’s CEO, Bert van der Feltz.

Morris explained the pre-commercial activities that his Knowledge Transfer (KT) team conducts in several countries. He describes KT’s approach as:
  • Evidence based demonstrations showing profitable and sustainable production practices
  • Long term commitment to practical training; from land preparation until harvest.
  • Field days to promote vegetable as a viable business opportunity. Main focus is on the economics. What are the inputs and what were the outputs (how profitable is it).
This model has been applied in Tanzania through a project called “Seeds for Expertise for the Vegetable Industry of Africa” or SEVIA which was setup through a partnership between the Dutch government, WUR, and private seed companies East-West Seed and Rijk Zwaan.

Elijah Mwashayenyi, Managing Director of the project, shared a few lessons from SEVIA: “Our experience from the field illustrates that it is important that smallholder farmers learn more about technicalities of farming. That’s how they will earn better income and elevate their status as agro-entrepreneurs. Knowledge transfer coupled with improved varieties and technology lead to increased productivity.”

“When women do the marketing, the income benefits the whole family,” said Elijah Mwashayenyi, Managing Director of SEVIA in Tanzania.

“Projects must be inclusive. Farmer-to-farmer learning is important and should be part and parcel of any knowledge transfer strategy. In particular, targeting women and youth in training facilitates sustainable vegetable production. When women do the marketing, the income benefits the whole family,” he added.
For more information:
East-West Seed
No. 50/1 Moo 2, Sainoi-Bang Bua
Thong Rd, Amphur Sainoi, Nonthaburi
T: +66 (02) 831 7700
F: +66 (02) 923 7794
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