Nigeria: High cost of improved maize seeds forces small-scale farmers to plant saved seed

| September 26, 2021

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MaryAnn Anaedu vit à Kuchiko Bwari, près du quartier de Bwari, à Abuja, la capitale du Nigeria. Elle se dit satisfaite du développement du maïs, du manioc, des ignames et des légumes qu’elle cultive en association sur son champ d’une demi-acre. Cependant, en raison du coût élevé des semences de maïs améliorées, madame Anaedu utilise des semences recyclées. Pour certaines catégories d’agriculteurs(trices), le coût moyen des semences améliorées de 900 nairas (2,18 $ US) par kilogramme est élevé. Pour réduire le coût des semences au Nigeria, les autorités ont simplifié la procédure d’enregistrement des sociétés semencières et le pays compte désormais plus de 300 sociétés semencières nigérianes et étrangères.

Ignoring the early morning drizzle that keeps most people in bed, MaryAnn Anaedu walks a kilometre to her farm. At six o’clock, she is already weeding. 

Mrs. Anaedu lives in Kuchiko Bwari, near Bwari town in Abuja, the capital of Nigeria. She says she’s very happy with the growth of the maize, cassava, yams, and vegetables she is intercropping in her 2,000-square-metre farm, about half an acre.

Because of the high cost of improved maize seed, Mrs. Anaedu plants recycled seed. She explains, “If I were buying maize seed from the market, it would cost me over 20,000 Nigerian Naira (about $40 US). This is too much, considering my very low income level.”

To address the high cost of seed, Mrs. Anaedu recycles maize seed by selecting the best seed from her previous year’s harvest. She explains, “What I do every year is select the best cobs of maize from my harvest and store them at a place where weevils and other insects cannot damage the cobs—and these are the ones I plant.”  

Despite poor access to improved maize seed for small-scale farmers like Mrs. Anaedu, the government of Nigeria has been encouraging farmers to plant disease-resistant, high-yielding, climate-resilient, and improved maize seeds. But most small-scale farmers are still planting recycled seeds because of the high cost.

Rachael Chukwuma is another small-scale farmer in the Kuchiko Bwari area who says that improved maize seeds are just too expensive. She explains: “I am already spending a lot of money to buy fertilizer and herbicides, and since I already have seeds from my last harvest, I find it prudent not to spend money buying maize seeds from the market.”

Although small-scale farmers are using recycled seed as a solution to the high cost of inputs, Kabir Ibrahim, President of the All Farmers Association of Nigeria, says that recycling seed is not the best option because of decreased yields. 

Mr. Ibrahim says: “Most small-scale farmers who use recycled seeds hardly harvest more than two tonnes per hectare, whilst if they plant improved seed from the market, they can harvest 10 tonnes per hectare.”

Oketola Folarin is the assistant director general at the National Agricultural Seeds Council in Nigeria, or NASC. He says NASC discourages using saved seeds and is trying to support small-scale farmers to access improved seeds. 

He explains, “The recycled seeds do not give the required yield. If we must achieve food security, we must encourage our farmers to embrace improved seeds for planting.” 

Mr. Folarin adds, “We are doing everything to ensure that small-scale farmers have equal access to improved certified seeds.”

However, Mr. Folarin admits that, for some categories of farmers, the average cost of improved seeds at 900 Nigerian Naira ($2.18 US) per kilogram is high. He explains that registering a seed company has been simplified in order to encourage qualified players to invest in the sector and reduce the cost of seeds. There are now more than 300 foreign and local seed companies registered in Nigeria. 

Kolade Dada is the managing director at Agriseedco Limited in Nigeria. He says that, because many small-scale farmers do not know how good improved seeds are, they complain about the cost without analyzing the advantages of improved seeds.

Mr. Dada explains: “A farmer needs at least 15,000 Nigerian Naira ($36 US) [to purchase seeds] for a hectare. That is actually on the higher side considering the poverty levels amongst small-scale farmers. However, it is worth investing because the farmers may only harvest two tonnes per hectare if they use their saved seeds, whereas if they planted improved seeds, they can harvest nine to 11 tonnes per hectare.”

Although Mrs. Anaedu chooses to plant recycled maize seed over improved varieties, she says that if she had the money, she would purchase improved maize seed. She says, “Most people think we don’t know that the improved seeds yield more. Of course we do, but we can’t afford it.”

This resource was supported with the aid of a grant from the German Federal Ministry of Economic Cooperation and Development through Deutsche Gesellschaft für Internationale Zusammenarbeit GmbH (GIZ) and its project “Green Innovation Center for the Agriculture and Food Sector” in Nigeria.