Tuesday, May 24, 2022

SEEDCODEX, Nigerian Farmers & Food Security

Ekum Ojogu.
Ekum Ojogu.

As part of its efforts to guarantee optimum crop productivity by farmers, the National Agricultural Seeds Council (NASC) organised a webinar as part of its National Seed Sector Platform series, to create more awareness of the need for farmers to buy agricultural seeds with the Seedcodex label as a mark of quality assurance processes as stipulated by the Seed Act 2019 and stipulated regulations.

The webinar, which was held on Tuesday, April 26, 2022, dwelled on the theme “The Seedcodex: improved seed quality assurance providing farmers value for money”and had in attendance the NASC director-general, Dr. Philip Ojo; Director, NASC, Dr. Khalid Ishiak; Managing director, Premier Seeds Limited, Mr. Ibitoye Oyewale; Senior seed advisor, Wageningen University and Research, Dr. Marja Thijssen; Seed inspector, Kenya Plant Health Inspectorate Services (KEPHIS), Mrs. Caroline Kavu, Mr. Timothy Maina of mPedigree Limited Kenya and notable stakeholders with a passionate interest in the transformation of the Nigerian seed industry.

The National Seed Sector Platform was established by NASC with support from the Collaborative Seed Programme (CSP) which brings together Nigerian and Dutch seed sector actors to enhance the performance of the Nigerian seed sector. The platform provides a structure for seed sector stakeholders to review, discuss, elaborate and monitor activities linked to the implementation of the National Seed Road Map. These meetings are held quarterly and are anchored by Mr. Ekum Ojogu, an agricultural seed sector and food security expert with NASC, who also serves as the desk officer for the platform.

In a goodwill message delivered by AGRA’s Nigeria country manager, Dr. Kehinde Makinde, who was represented by programme officer, AGRA Nigeria, Dr. Esther Ibrahim, emphasised that a viable seed system is required to increase the productivity of farmers. She noted that there is a need for strategic collaboration to ensure compliance, as the Seedcodex technology is a quality assurance tool capable of ridding the market of adulterated seeds.

As highlighted by NASC’s Ojo, the major objective of the webinar was to update stakeholders on Seedcodex as a tool guaranteeing the quality of seeds in the market, protecting farmers, ensuring traceability, eliminating adulteration and entrenching integrity of marketed seeds in trade; to stimulate information-sharing, learning and collective action; build trust and dialogue across key seed systems stakeholders and articulate key principles for resilient seed systems and for working together to achieve the goal of a seed sector that is competitive, resilient, profitable, innovative and adaptive, sustainable, inclusive, resistant and transparent.

A keynote presentation, “Implementation of Seedcodex in Nigeria: Current status and ambitions” by the chief agricultural officer, NASC, Mr. Osho Bankole, outlined the Seedcodex in Nigeria, NASC and seed quality assurance, how the Seedcodex works, the Seedcodex confirmation process, its challenges, various strategies of NASC and next steps employed by NASC. He further explained the role of Seedcodex as an official instrument of NASC for the regulation of seeds in trade in the market. “All seeds, after meeting the certification standards, must have a Seedcodex tag before it is traded in the market,” he clarified. “It is an offence punishable by law as contained in the National Agricultural Seeds Act No 21 of 2019 to market seeds/planting materials without the affixation of the Seedcodex tag issued by NASC after going through the prescribed quality assurance processes.” 

Another presentation, this time by the market lead specialist, mPedigree Networks Kenya Ltd., Timothy Maina, titled “Serialisation, e-certification and traceability for Agro Input: Agrotrack experience in Kenya”, was a collection of experiences from Kenya, with a similar seed certification system called ‘Agrotrack’, that has helped farmers verify the quality of seeds and ensure traceability for enforcement of quality standards. Maina said the process has successfully reduced the prevalence of fake seeds in trade from 30 per cent in 2015 to less than 1 per cent currently in Kenyan markets.

He advised that for Nigeria to upscale the implementation of Seedcodex, she would have to embark on continuous farmers’ awareness campaigns. Maina urged seed companies to consider continuous training of their staff to avoid a breakdown of operations and called on agro-dealers who play an important role in advising and informing farmers in regards to various seed varieties and their outputs to be the focus for sensitisation. He concluded by emphasising the need for the enforcement of strong regulations and laws to deal with the culprits marketing counterfeit seeds in Nigerian markets.

The interesting panel discussions were moderated by Dr. Marja Thijssen, senior seed advisor, Wageningen University and Research, featured Dr. Khalid Ishiak (NASC director, seed certification and quality control), Engr. Joseph Bamidele (national coordinator, Maize Association of Nigeria), Alhaji Abdul Lamido (agro-dealer), Mr. Ibitoye Olumide Oyewale (MD, Premier Seed Nig. Ltd), Mr. Timothy Maina (market lead specialist, Mpedigree Networks Kenya Ltd) and Mrs. Caroline Kavu (KEPHIS, Seed Inspector).

While describing his on-field experience of using Seedcodex, the managing director, Premier Seeds, Mr. Oyewale, described Seedcodex as an instant evidence-based instrument. “Once the farmers scratch off the code and send it to 1393, the authenticity of the seeds purchased is confirmed. The technology gives the farmers assurance and enhances the credibility of the seeds which discourages counterfeiting of seeds.

On his part, while focusing on farmers’ feedback on Seedcodex since its introduction, Bamidele said the development has reduced the issue of poor seeds in the market because farmers who bought seeds with the Seedcodex tag didn’t witness poor germination as has been the case. This is a clear indication that the seeds have gone through the prescribed quality assurance process regulated by NASC before being sent to the markets.

Dr. Khalid Ishiak opined that the seed companies are the chief beneficiaries of the Seedcodex technology, as it curbs counterfeiting of products in the market because it cannot be easily faked. The Seedcodex helps distinguish between genuine and fake seed products. He noted that, by law, all traded seeds in Nigeria must have the Seedcodex – whether breeder, foundation or certified seeds.

In his response to the request by agro-dealers for more capacity-building on the Seedcodex through Mr. Lamido, Khalid called on all stakeholders in the seed value chain to create awareness of the technology and ensure its complete adoption by all while NASC will continue in its effort to build more capacity of stakeholders, as it undertakes its regulatory and coordinating mandate of the seed industry.

Mr. Timothy advised on the needto vigorously engage agro-dealers, considering that they are the farmers’ first point of contact and can play an active role in ensuring that the information on Seedcodex gets to the farmers.

In the final remarks, the NASC boss pointed out that the council, as the driver of the Seedcodex, as a regulatory tool, will go all out to ensure monitoring of the implementation of the innovation with full compliance by all the stakeholders in the seed industry.

He noted that the council will work out measures with its technical partner, mPedigree, to fix whatever issues may arise.

The transformation of the Nigerian seed sector is hinged on ensuring the production, distribution and marketing of quality seeds and this must be done with the affixation of the Seedcodex tag as required by law.

“Those who default will face the wrath of the law. We are enjoined to join hands together in achieving resilient seed systems and working together to achieve the goal of a seed sector that is competitive, resilient, profitable, innovative and adaptive, sustainable, inclusive, resistant and transparent,” he rallied.

Ekum Ojogu is an agric seed sector and food security expert with the National Agricultural Seeds Council. He can be reached via ojekum@yahoo.com.

Ekum Ojogu
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