Nigeria is Africa’s largest cassava producer, yet average yields are a paltry half of what they could be. A number of reasons explain such poor yields, chief among them is a cassava seed sector hobbled by a lack of affordable, quality certified planting materials of improved varieties that farmers can purchase when they need them the most. An inefficient cassava seed value chain, neither well-integrated nor well-coordinated among different levels of seed producers, is also a serious factor. If Nigeria is to realize its yield potential, the time is ripe for a fundamental overhaul of the cassava seed sector that is both sustainable and integrated.

The Approach

The four-year (2016-2019) ‘Building a Sustainable, Integrated Seed System for Cassava in Nigeria’, or BASICS, project is working to address the cassava production constraints of affordable and accessible access to healthy seed of more productive varieties. Implementation activities reflect a two-prong approach: developing and promoting commercial models of seed provision, and strengthening the entire cassava seed value chain by integrating breeder’s, foundation, and commercial seed segments. BASICS aims to transform Nigeria’s cassava seed sector so that all sector activities develop into sustainable building blocks of a larger seed system; one that is based more on incentives, is transparent and competitive, and functions within an enabling environment. New seed businesses (or reinvigorated older ones) will emerge to provide farmers a more affordable and timely source of quality certified planting materials. Greater net profits from using better seed to grow higher yielding varieties with broader market appeal will lead to wider adoption of these varieties and help to ensure ongoing demand for improved seed.

The approach to implementing the BASICS project is structured by four key components:

Cassava (Manihot esculenta) is a major crop in Nigeria, with over 7 million ha under cultivation producing about 55 million tons of cassava roots (FAOSTAT 2014). Here, the largest number of people in the world depend on the crop for livelihoods and food, despite abysmally low production of under 8 t/ha. Yield and productivity gains from using new, farmer- and industry-preferred cassava varieties resistant to viruses and other pathogens can be profound. In Nigeria, cassava mosaic disease and cassava bacterial blight are existing threats to cassava productivity; cassava brown streak disease, though not reported in either Nigeria or West Africa, is an impending threat.

BASICS building blocks

Strengthening cassava seed systems
A commercially oriented cassava seed system promotes responsive feedback loops between the three classes of seeds—breeder’s, foundation, and commercial. It also fosters a more efficient allocation of resources (i.e., financial, infrastructure, human, and germplasm) throughout the system. This will lower the cost of production, dissemination, and adoption of high-quality cassava planting material of improved varieties, which is essential to achieving productivity gains from seed. To achieve these improvements, BASICS is taking a step-wise approach to strengthening cassava seed systems for all three classes of seed by focusing on key seed system services and capacities and targeting specific seed value chains.

Piloting seed multiplication and distribution business models
BASICS is working to sensitize farmers on the need to use high-quality seeds of improved varieties for achieving higher net profits from growing cassava. To strengthen the supply side, BASICS is piloting two business models for seed multiplication and distribution. In a decentralized village seed entrepreneur (VSE) model, more than 130 VSEs will be developed in Benue, Abia, Imo, Akwa-Ibom, and Cross River states to become trusted, dependable, and accessible seed providers to the farmers in their respective catchment areas. In a processor led model, cassava processors multiply good quality, improved varieties of cassava and supply their outgrowers under a buy-back arrangement for the roots produced. The project has developed an online platform, called the Cassava Seed Tracker (CST) (available at http://seedtracker.org/cassava/), to facilitate easy registration of seed producers and real-time monitoring of field inspections and certification by the National Agricultural Seeds Council. CST can also link seed producers with needy farmers, and is a vital tool for activities under the Quality Seed component. Many more features will be added to the platform as the project matures.

Accelerating seed multiplication through innovation
BASICS also is working to overcome one of the key bottlenecks of the cassava seed system: slow and low seed multiplication ratio. It is piloting the use of an innovative rapid seed multiplication technology, called Semi-Autotrophic Hydroponic (SAH), that has been successfully used in commercial potato seed multiplication in Argentina. SAH is expected to significantly help the cassava seed system by enhancing the capacity of pre-basic and basic seed producers to make available adequate quantities of certified planting material of improved varieties for further multiplication by certified seed producers.

BASICS runs from 2016 to 2019, and is funded by the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation. The CGIAR Research Program on Roots, Tubers, and Bananas (RTB) provides overall project management and coordination. See a full list of project partners.