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Nigeria: High cost of inputs forces farmers to recycle maize seed

It’s a bright sunny Friday morning around 10 o’clock. Muhammad Rabilu is weeding his maize field, using a small knife to help him uproot unwanted plants.

Mr. Rabilu lives in the Ungogo local government area of Kano State in Nigeria. He started farming about 15 years ago in order to support his family with food and income. Because maize seed is expensive, Mr. Rabilu says that every year during harvest, he selects and keeps some cobs as seed for planting the next season.

Although he always plants recycled maize seed, plants in his farm look amazingly green and healthy. He says, “I learned how to grow maize and select seed for planting in the next season from my parents.”

After selecting seed, Mr. Rabilu says he makes sure to adequately dry it in the sun without shredding the seed from the cob. Then he stores the seed in places that are free from moisture and pest infestation so that during planting, he achieves a high rate of germination.

He says that seed selection is an important activity and that he performs it with due diligence and care every season. 

He explains: “I take this activity seriously because it determines the quality and quantity of maize I produce and harvest in the next growing season. The income and profits I get from selling maize also depend on this seed selection activity because poor quality seed cannot give a farmer a good harvest.”

But when Mr. Rabilu recycles maize seed over a number of years, the quality and germination rate dwindles. When he notices a reduction in yield and quality, he either asks fellow maize farmers to give him some seed or buys seed from agro-input dealers.

He explains: “I then decide to buy maize seed from agro-input dealers based on the quality of yield I see on the fields of my neighbours. I usually ask them where they bought their seed so that I can buy from the same shop.”

Maimuna Monsoor is a small-scale farmer who also lives in the Ungogo local government area of Kano State. Mrs. Monsoor always consults agricultural extension workers when she wants to select seed for recycling. But she also consults the agro-dealer when she intends to buy seed from the shop to ensure that she plants the best maize seed every year. 

Like Mr. Rabilu, she only obtains maize seed from other farmers or buys from input sellers when the yield on her farm drops. She says: “I regularly ask questions of an extension agent or agro-input dealer to guide me in decision-making regarding maize seed to plant on my farm.”

She adds: “I consult them because my desire is to always achieve a high quality bumper harvest of maize so that I can make more money. I sell good quality maize at between 3,000 and 5,000 Nigerian Naira (US$7.28 – US$12.15) per bag.”

Abdulhameed Tijjani is the community extension worker at Seeds for Change, a non-governmental organization. Mr. Tijjani explains: “For best agronomic practices on maize farming, it is advisable for farmers to get seed that is certified and is drought-resistant, disease-resistant, and safe for consumption. Fertilizer application is also important to ensure the plant grows well and for high yield.” 

Despite the high cost of maize seed in the market, Mr. Rabilu is happy he can still achieve better yields using recycled seed. He says: “Although recycling seed is not the best option in maize farming, I am surviving using seed I select for planting in the next season. I am glad that I am able to support my family using proceeds from maize.” 

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.

Photo: Muluwek Legese stands in a maize field in Woliso District 1, Tanzania.