Village Seed Entrepreneurs
The Village Seed Entrepreneurs (VSE) component establishes and engages with a network of geographically distributed, community-based village seed entrepreneurs (VSEs) who will produce and sell certified stems of market-preferred improved varieties. Led by Catholic Relief Services (CRS) in Benue State, Nigeria, the component builds on the sustainable cassava seed systems model but operates more intensely by establishing several VSEs in each local government area. The goal is to establish more than 80 VSEs across 18 of these areas in Benue. Farther south, the National Root Crops Research Institute (NRCRI) is establishing and supporting a network of 50 VSEs in Abia, Imo, Akwa Ibom, and Cross River states. The institute is using similar tools and approaches as CRS in Benue, but works in a far less intensive manner—primarily with seed producers who are already established and have at least two ha each. This network of VSEs, once established, will efficiently service the country’s southern and eastern states.
VSEs are being trained on basic agronomic and business management practices of cassava production, so that they can establish and manage their fields more effectively. Once VSEs are trained, CRS will provide mentoring and technical support in collaboration with local partners based in Benue. CRS plans to conduct a buyer and non-buyer study in the project area. The study examines the reasons for buying or not, and will help us to understand how we can better target the market (available at: hyperlink for a copy of the report). The results of the study are being used to design a promotion and marketing strategy for BASICS.
To stimulate demand for planting materials, CRS is collaborating with NRCRI and the VSEs. In Year 1 of the project, 15 demo plots were set up; 50 each are planned for Years 2 and 3 in VSEs fields. Since there are cassava growers in most communities in Benue State, demo plots also are being established at highly visible locations in those communities. The plots are used to showcase best agronomic practices regarding spacing, use of fertilizer and herbicide, and time of operation, as well as to demonstrate how well the improved varieties perform.
Communication and awareness are key. BASICS takes advantage of community market days to increase awareness of VSE activities and ultimately to promote seed sales. Communication messages, translated into the dominant languages of the project area, are conveyed through printed materials, banners, billboards, radio programming, and a website to reach more sophisticated buyers. VSEs and cassava buyers receive agriculture text and voice messages in their local languages free of charge on their mobile phones. This use of a GSM-enabled messaging tool is thanks to an ongoing CRS partnership with Human Network International and Airtel Nigeria. The VSE component also ensures the capacity building of female seed entrepreneurs and promotes their social capital and networking.
The VSE component is working toward two primary outcomes:
- The value proposition is demonstrated by organizing a network of profitable multipliers to populate the catchment area with high-quality, improved varieties
- VSEs have established profitable business models.