Nelly Bassily | January 14, 2008
Farmers in Nigeria’s northern Katsina State have been testing improved millet varieties from across Africa to see which grow best in dry conditions.
Farmers in 40 villages were asked by the Katsina State government to test the new seed varieties. In Sabon Gari Ganu village, for example, farmers divided their plots into 56 rows, which they planted with improved seeds gathered from 16 African countries. They also tried different methods of fertilization and weed control.
The farmers watched through the growing season and found that the new varieties produced higher yields. Later, the farmers – both men and women – voted on which seed varieties they preferred. In the end, four seed varieties were chosen.
A. Kabir R. Charanchi is a chief agricultural officer for the state government. He says the preferred seeds will be multiplied and intensively promoted across the state.
Abdul Malik is a local farmer. He says the improved seeds allowed him to increase his millet production by more than 50 per cent. With the extra income, he was able to purchase two soil-tilling machines.
Sitting on the border with Niger, Katsina State has some of the harshest growing conditions in the country. Climate change has led to higher temperatures and erratic rainfall, and drought is common. Overcultivation has depleted soils, contributing to crop failure, and in the worst cases, desertification.
Dependence on chemical fertilizer is also a problem. The government has a program to provide farmers with fertilizer, but last year, fewer than half received their allotment.
Crops frequently fail in northern communities, where most people make their living on small plots of land. The Katsina State government and the International Fund for Agricultural Development co-funded the seed testing project to help farmers improve yields.