Improving legumes, cereals seeds for small farmers

There are efforts to develop new high-yielding and climate-resilient legumes and seeds for farmers across Africa. It involves strengthen breeding capacity, develop better seed varieties, and improve the seed delivery systems. The goal is to empower smallholder farmers to pursue better lives DANIEL ESSIETreports.

Income security for farmers has taken the front burner in recent years. This is because the more farmers are able to grow more crops, the greater the possibilities for rural development and increased youth employment in the years in future.

Buoyed by this, many organisations have joined the international campaign to improve the capacity-building support provided to farmers and their families. There are various capacity-building activities designed to improve the livelihoods and food security of smallholder farmers and rural producers.

With its abundant fertile soils, Africa is a major global producer of numerous tropical products, offering strong opportunities to smallholder producers.

Yet, millions of smallholder farmers cannot leverage the opportunities due to limited access seeds.

To address the urgent need to increase income and providing job opportunities for farmers, scientists have been working on developing better legumes and cereals to enable farmers achieve healthier lives. They are harnessing clean technologies to produce high-quality, legumes and cereal seeds to meet growing demand.

To achieve this, Accelerated Varietal Improvement and Seed Delivery of Legumes and Cereals in Africa (AVISA project was launched in February 2019 to work on modernising breeding and increasing incomes for smallholders in seven countries of Africa.

Funded by the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation, it builds on gains made by earlier initiatives funded by the Foundation – Tropical Legumes (TL), Harnessing Opportunities for Productivity Enhancement for Sorghum and Millets (HOPE) and HarvestPlus.

In partnership with National Agricultural Research Systems, AVISA includes the most important dryland cereals (sorghum and pearl millet) and legume crops (groundnut, common bean and cowpea) in Nigeria, Tanzania, Burkina Faso, Mali, Uganda, Ghana and Ethiopia.

Across the CGIAR, (formerly the Consultative Group for International Agricultural Research) consortium, the International Crops Research Institute for the Semi-Arid Tropics (ICRISAT), the International Institute of Tropical Agriculture (IITA) and the International Center for Tropical Agriculture (CIAT)  are  working  on continuous stream of improved varieties designed  to enable  smallholders to achieve greater yields, higher incomes and improved livelihoods. The cereals included sorghum, pearl millet, cowpea, common bean and groundnut.

A Principal Scientist at International Crops Research Institute for Semi-Arid Tropics (ICRISAT) and Project Coordinator of the Tropical Legumes and AVISA initiatives, Dr Chris Ojiewo,  stressed that boosting domestic production of staple foods  is a solution to strengthening national food security.

With the harsh growing conditions of sub-Saharan Africa, he continued, that food legumes were a key option to help countries achieve this.

AVISA project, he  maintained,   was  committed to ensuring farmers in Nigeria, Ethiopia,Ghana,Tanzania, Uganda, Burkina Faso and Mali, have equal access to high quality  sorghum, pearl millet, cowpea,common bean and  groundnut.

According to him, the European Union and the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation have committed to  driving  research and technical and organisational innovations across agricultural and food systems in developing countries to address some of the most pressing challenges posed by climate change.

To take advantage of   the Tropical Legumes (TL) project, famers in the North, have organised themselves into innovation platforms (IPs). The goal is to groom successful groundnut seed producers, with farmers adopting improved variety seeds and good agronomic practices to obtain high yields that help them improve their nutrition as well as incomes in the community.

A  groundnut breeder at the Centre for Dryland Agriculture, Bayero University of Kano (CDA/BUK), Prof Sanusi Gaya, explained, “Members of the association cherished the TL project as a development intervention which focused on enhancing smallholder farmers’ access to seeds of improved groundnut varieties.”

AVISA’s approach is the continued use of IPs to serve as a medium of activities to drive technological innovation among members and communities.

Also, Syngenta Foundation for Sustainable Agriculture (SFSA) launched 13 Farmers’ Hubs to serve 13,000 sorghum and cowpea farmers in Kano and Jigawa states.

The organisation believes that one of the best ways to encourage economic growth is through the development of business hubs. The initiative was in response to survey findings on low farm yields attributed to difficult access to quality seeds, inputs and adulterated agro-chemicals (including adulterated fertiliser) in Northern Nigeria.

The hubs are an integral component of the operational strategy of SFSA in Nigeria to boost crop productivity while facilitating linkages with different markets.

The Country Programme Manager, SFSA-Nigeria, Isaiah Gabriel, said the initiative was part of the implementation of AVISA Project in Nigeria. Given the long distances many farmers have to travel to find quality input supply stores and markets, the hubs will also serve as sales points for farm produce, facilitate access to weather information and provide hands-on training and link AVISA partners in Nigeria to extension services of NGOs and the Agricultural Development Programmes (ADPs). The decision to construct the hubs was based on findings from many adoption and value chain studies carried out by ICRISAT and national partners in Northern Nigeria.

Gabriel said managers have been screened to ensure the effective functioning of the hubs.

He cited the Hub Manager of Bichi, who had a turnover of N5 million within two months of operation. He announced a support fund from SFSA, which is available to Hub Managers of the targeted local government areas of Kano and Jigawa states.

SFSA will continue to provide technical back-stopping and mobilise same from national and international research institutes such as the Institute for Agricultural Research (IAR), International Institute of Tropical Agriculture (IITA) and ICRISAT.

Read the original version of this article here.

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