The International Institute of Tropical Agriculture, IITA, and its partners are working to develop a new and more sustainable cassava seed system that would make high quality stems of high yielding varieties available for sale to African farmers.
African cassava farmers need regular and reliable access to high quality planting materials of the newest and best varieties, in order to improve their yields and incomes.
However, access to such cassava stems is often a problem as agro dealers do not sell them and free distributions by NGOs and government programmes are sporadic and unreliable. Consequently, many cassava farmers are obliged to save stems of older varieties grown in their own fields or buy uncertified stems in informal markets of questionable quality and unknown identity.
IITA and its partners started the work in Nigeria five years ago as a programme called, Building an Economically Sustainable, Integrated Cassava Seed System (BASICS). Some 150 cassava seed enterprises were created in Benue, Abia, Akwa Ibom, and Imo States to multiply and sell cassava stems, following a business model that is both profitable and beneficial to its farmer clients. A sister project in Tanzania nurtured a similar network of cassava seed entrepreneurs. Government agencies certify the stems to ensure quality.
In June, 2020, the program benefited from a new investment of $14.3 million by the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation to consolidate and expand the work in both Nigeria and Tanzania under the project name of BASICS-II.
The goal of the project is to provide farmers with access to affordable, quality-assured seeds of the cassava varieties in demand by local food and processor markets through the establishment of a commercially viable seed value chain operating across breeder, foundation, and commercial seed levels.
BASICS-II would create a more efficient dissemination and trigger the adoption of new varieties to improve productivity; raise incomes of cassava growers and seed entrepreneurs; enhance gender equity and contribute to inclusive agricultural transformation in Nigeria and Tanzania.
The Director General of IITA, Dr Nteranya Sanginga said, “The approval of BASICS-II provides a window of opportunity for cassava farmers to create new lines of income while at the same time catalyzing the diffusion of new varieties.”
IITA Director for Development & Delivery and Technical Adviser to BASICS-II, Dr Alfred Dixon, disclosed that the coming of BASICS-II, which he considered the most exciting part of the project, would not only create seed enterprises but also spark the diffusion and adoption of improved disease-free cassava varieties that would offer farmers higher yield.
Over the years, IITA and its national partners had developed over 40 cassava varieties but the diffusion and adoption of the varieties have been low due to the absence of a functional seed system to incentivize their multiplication, distribution, and sales.
The 5-year project would be led by IITA, working in partnership with Mennonite Economic Development Associates (MEDA), National Agricultural Seeds Council (NASC), National Root Crops Research Institute (NRCRI), Catholic Relief Services (CRS), IITA GoSeed, Umudike Seed, Sahel Consulting Agriculture and Nutrition Ltd., Tanzania Agricultural Research Institute (TARI), and Tanzania Official Seed Certification (TOSCI).
The Senior Program Officer, Gates Foundation, Lawrence Kent, said, “This new phase of the BASICS project will strengthen and expand its innovative approach to the supply of cassava planting materials, helping farmers in Nigeria, Tanzania, and eventually additional countries to access and purchase disease-free stems of the most productive, most demanded, and promising cassava varieties.”
Known as a poverty fighter, cassava is grown mostly by resource-poor farmers, but its productivity has been constrained by lack of access to improved varieties with national average yield reported at less than 10 tons per hectare in Nigeria. Even when the best of agronomic practices is employed, yields remain poor if the seeds are not right.