What should seed co's keep a close eye on?

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Our Nigerian team recently hosted a workshop on seed production. Experts stressed the close connection with good agronomy. Seed companies and their customers all stand to gain.

“We designed the workshop to highlight the combined importance of high standards in both seed production and agronomic practices”, says Ephraim Manga from our Seeds2B team in Nigeria. Production topics included key principles and priorities, as well as seasonal planning, quality control, and certification. There was a strong focus on cowpea* and sorghum. These are important crops in Nigeria, particularly in Kano State where the workshop took place. 

The 44 participants came from a wide range of institutions and numerous local seed companies. In his welcome speech, country program manager Isaiah Gabriel reminded them of our Mission: “To strengthen smallholder farming and food systems, we catalyze market development and delivery of innovations, while building capacity”. The workshop demonstrated this well. 

Speaker Professor Daniel Abbah of IAR urged all stakeholders to work closely together to bridge gaps in the seed system. Representing ICRISAT, Dr. Hakeem Ajeibge stressed the importance of a fully functioning seed system for agricultural productivity. He sees potential for further development here at Nigerian seed companies.

As one of the workshop coaches, our Foundation engaged African seeds expert Steve van der Merwe. He believes that “Nigeria has all the potential to do well in agriculture”. Van der Merwe emphasized the importance of combining improved seed and sound agronomic practices. Early generation seed (EGS) lays the basis for the later broad availability of good seeds. Explaining the need for seasonal production planning, he made it clear that “EGS must never be in short supply”. Further seed production then flows more easily. 

Van der Merwe laid out what he sees as key principles of production. “With EGS, it’s all about reliability and quality”, he stressed, “not about maximizing yields”. That means, for example, reserving equipment exclusively for EGS production and never compromising on the quality of seedbeds. A well-prepared bed is a major determinant of uniformly high quality. Further up the seed multiplication ladder, other factors grow in importance, with intercropping a possible option, for example. Van der Merwe also pointed out that there is a great difference between seed producers and grain producers. The former look at quality, the latter at yield. “Any seed company that engages in both activities should think about them differently and do them separately”, he declared. 

Dr. Alpha Kamara, Head of Station and Systems Agronomist at IITA, picked up on the issue of good agronomic practices. He gave a range of advice on cowpea production. His colleague Professor Lucky Omoigui, a cowpea breeder and seed system specialist, highlighted the importance of ecological zones. In addition to numerous other criteria, seeds must always match local growing conditions. Not every cowpea variety is suitable for every zone.

ICRISAT’s Dr. Ignatius Angarawai made similar thematic links with his advice on agronomy for sorghum seed production. “It is important to have an idea of the importance of seed in agronomic practice”, he said. Sorghum is a warm-weather crop; for optimum growth and development, it requires temperatures of 27 to 32°C. 

These and further topics were followed by a field visit. Professor Omoigui and Dr. Angarawai led practical training on cowpea and sorghum seed production. “We received a lot of appreciative comments from the participants”, reports Ephraim Manga. “That is a further encouragement to press ahead with our capacity-building efforts.”

*Our Nigerian team recently analyzed Covid’s effects on cowpea production. 
Another of our capacity-building workshops in Nigeria took a new look at seed systems.