Gusau — Farmers at the Bakalori irrigation project in Mafara, Zamfara State, have said the improved rice seedling provided to them by Maslaha Seeds Company for their rice irrigation project covering over 23,000 hectares of land germinated but refused to produce grains several months after it was planted.
Speaking to Sunday Trust at the irrigation project site, the angry farmers said Maslaha Seed Company provided them with improved rice seeds which they planted during the wet season and it did very well. But when they gave them the same rice seed for irrigation, the seed germinated and the rice shot up as expected but refused to produce, causing total waste on the farms.
Speaking on behalf of other farmers, Alhaji Sahabi Mafara said, "We have never seen such a thing before. The company came with the seeds and gave us enough for our farms. We planted for the dry season farming. It all germinated and was growing beautifully because the company gave us four trailer loads of fertilizer that every farmer got as much as he or she wanted. We applied the fertilizer and every farm looked promising. "Officials Maslaha, from Abuja and others from Sokoto Rima River Basin Development Authority came to appreciate the farms. Suddenly, we noticed that it was taking longer than necessary to produce. When it became clear than the rice plantation was not yeilding, we drew the attention of Maslaha officials to the abnormal situation. The officials, in turn, invited some other officials. They visited the farms many time. It was after a very long period that some of the rice started producing, but we could not get much from it," he said.
On the agreement between Maslaha and the farmers, another farmer, Malam Isa Mai Rake, said Maslaha provided the seeds and fertilizer on the understanding that after the harvest, the entire produce would be sold to the company which will deduct the cost of the seeds and fertilizer they initially provided to the farmers and then pay them their balance.
"But because the plantation could not produce as expected, we could not pay anything to Maslaha. In fact, majority of us could not even recover anything to pay for our labour. Most of us have been apprehensive of rice irrigation. We were just starting rice irrigation here and it came with a frightening problem. Yes, officials of the company have been coming around telling us that they identified the problem and would guide us next time on when to plant. I have not decided yet whether or not I would try rice irrigation farming again," he said.
But the Managing Director of Maslaha Seeds Company, Alhaji Ibrahim Abdullahi, said the problem was environmental and has nothing to do with the foundation seeds given to the farmers. He said the planting of the seeds was done at the wrong time.
Alhaji Abdullahi said, "We are into the production of certified seeds that include maize, high breed rice, soya beans, millet, sorghum and all other crop varieties for the past seven years and we have never had such a problem. So, what happened between us and the Bakalori irrigation farmers was not that we supplied certified seeds to them. It was not certified seeds that we gave them.
"What we gave them was what we call foundation seeds. We procured them from different mandated research institutions. They were not produced by us as a seeds company. It was not only to Bakalori rice farmers that we supplied these seeds. Ninety percent of our rice farmers are in Chiromawa in Kano State and we gave them the same foundation seeds and fertilizer as loans. The foundation seeds and fertilizer we gave them would be deducted when they finally produced these certified seeds under our care.
"We would then buy back the certified seeds, deduct our money and give them their balance. This is how we have been producing the certified seeds. Though we are based in Gusau, all this while we have been producing our certified seeds from Kano at Chiromawa irrigation scheme. Last year, we decided to supply Bakalori with the seeds because there are over 23,000 hectares of land there.
"We said it was good we start building their capacity. We went there, met the farmers and told them what we wanted to do. They told us the amount of fertilizer they needed and we supplied them. We sourced for the foundation seeds and gave them just as we had been doing with the Chiromawa farmers," Abdullahi said.
Abdullahi said the farmers called and to complain to him about the seeds' delayed yield. He said he asked many scientists about the cause of the unusual development and, they, too, claimed they had never seen anything like that too.
"We brought officials of the National Agricultural Seeds Council, who are the regulators of seeds industry, to visit the Bakalori project in the process of certifying the seeds. They could not explain what was happening to the rice.
"At first they were considering a problem called rice blast, but it was discovered not to be rice blast. If it were rice blast, we would have seen the sign. They suspected roast but that was also confirmed not to be so. That rice took several months without producing. It was at a later stage that I met somebody and narrated the story to him. The person said if it was dry season farming and not the regular rainy season farming, there could be some particular crops that could manifest this kind of unusual problem, and rice is one of them.
According to him, temperature is a determining factor in the length of time it would take for the seeds to yield, and it is vital for farmers to do a projection of when the weather would be favourable for their crops before relevant seeds are planted. He revealed, however, that about 30 percent of the farmers who used the variety of the rice seeds provided to Bakalori farmers reported very high yield and bumper harvests.
"We had an incident where a farmer from the same Bakalori saved some seeds that he planted during the rainy season and it did very well," he explained.
When other farmers raised the observation, Alhaji Abdullahi said, "I went with them and saw it. Even the Director of Irrigation of this state was there and he saw it. We met some weeks ago in Mafara and he was narrating the same story to me. So, what happened in Mafara was an environmental problem that we had never seen before. It was not the seeds that developed that problem."
Alhaji Abdullahi added that his agency was in the process of building the capacity of Bakalori farmers to enable them produce better seeds with excellent results.
"The same foundation seeds we gave to the Bakalori irrigation farmers were the same we gave to farmers in Dansadau area. But because Dansadau farmers did not do irrigation farming, they used the same seeds for rainy season and they did very well. We gave the same foundation seeds to the farmers at Chiromawa and they did very well," he said.
Reacting to a report allegedly authored by the Value Chain, an agency of the government saying Maslaha gave Bakalori irrigation farmers bad certified seeds, Alhaji Abdullahi said, "It was not under the Federal Government programme. The government's programme deals with certified seeds. The ones we gave the farmers were foundation seeds.
"May be they don't know that you cannot use certified seeds to produce certified seeds. It was foundation seeds that we gave to the farmers to produce certified seeds under our direct supervision. As I am talking to you, the National Agricultural Seeds Council, which is the regulatory body for seeds business in Nigeria, has certified all those farms which developed problems. The reports are there! The regulatory body has certified them. Officials of the regulatory body were at Bakalori irrigation project and saw how good the rice was at the growing stage and did their reports only for the rice to develop problem later. We have the detailed report.
Asked to explain the different classes of seeds, the Managing Director of Maslaha said, "You should note that there are different classes of seeds. We have the certified seeds; we have the foundation seeds and the basic or breeder seeds. All these different components of seeds are produced by different mandated institutions. For the certified seeds, they are being produced by seeds companies. The foundation seeds are being produced by different research institutions in Nigeria such as the Institute of Agricultural Research (IAR) in Zaria, Lake Chad Research Centre in Maiduguri and the National Research Center in Badegi. They all have different mandates for different crops.
"We assist in sourcing the foundation seeds from those institutions I just mentioned. We would then organize our farms, engage them, contract them out and give them the foundation seeds. It is these foundation seeds that these farmers will now plant under our supervision. We would continue to monitor them and the regulatory body would come for supervision. At the end of the day they will now certify that it is now a certified seeds. So, it is this seeds that is produced by farmers that is called certified seeds. We will now buy back from the farmers, bring to our company and process," he said.
"It was Faro 44 which is the best seeds for rice in Nigeria that we gave to the farmers. We do not have high breed rice here in Nigeria. There is no rice seeds in Nigeria that is as good as Faro 44. We just heard few weeks ago that a particular variety called 'Jamila' which is an upland variety had the same problem in Kano some years ago," he said.
He said his company had been working with the federal and some state governments on improved agricultural programmes for the past seven years and as a seeds company they use foundation seeds to produce certified seeds.
"We have been approached by governments to key into their programmes with a view to supplying improved seeds. We have supplied several states including Kano, Sokoto, Kebbi, Zamfara and Katsina states under the programme," he said.
Giving details of the agreement between government and his company on the production and distribution of certified seeds to farmers, Abdullahi said, "It was a programme introduced by the Federal Government. The intention was to improve the seeds up-take in Nigeria, a situation whereby all major stakeholders will be involved through a value chain approach. The seeds and fertilizer producers are required to produce and supply the inputs through a platform developed by the government. Under this platform, agro allied-dealers are supposed to be involved. Then, we will now supply the seeds to agro allied-dealers and these dealers will now supply the seeds to farmers at 50 percent subsidy.
"When we commenced the programme, one of the value chains broke down and that is the agro allied-dealer component which led to government saying the seeds suppliers and the fertilizer producers can now go directly and supply the farmers. That was when the Federal Government decided that the seeds would be given free to the farmers. There was a platform created by Cellulant; that is the company engaged by the federal government to create a platform whereby farmers are registered to benefit from the programme. It was through this platform that we supplied those states I mentioned earlier.
"For both the fertilizer and the seeds, because of the Federal Government's decision that the seeds go to the farmers free of charge through this platform, the Federal Government pays us the money for the seeds supplied. But the initial arrangement was that we would supply the seeds to agro allied-dealers and the dealers would pay us 100 percent of what we supplied. The dealers will then sell the fertilizer to registered farmers at 50 percent subsidy. But because of what happened along the way, that kept the dealers out of the system, we now have to go directly and supply the farmers," he said.
Conducting this reporter round the company to see the process of seeds production, Alhaji Abdullahi said when they sourced for foundation seeds from a research institute, they would process the seeds and then give them to farmers to plant. After harvest, they again process the seeds before selling them out as certified seeds for planting and harvesting of grains.
"We do our very best to ensure that all necessary measures and procedures are put in place to achieve the necessary requirements. We do the seeds production; isolation, ensure the quality and moisture content of the seeds. We do germination test before processing, check everything if it is okay then we do germination test again. Thereafter, we package and label them before we start selling after certification.
"Let me give you an example, we are doing maize here and we have about eight varieties of maize and each has different characteristics. We have the high breeds which looks small. But it has more flour content than the others. We have a variety that looks big. But it is the coat that is big. Ordinarily, the high breed maize that is small in size but with high flour content is the best for flour companies and the big one with thick coat is more suitable for animal feed millers.
"But you will discover that a flour mill will just go to market and buy any maize they see rather than going to a seeds company and request them to produce seeds suitable for flour production and take to big farmers to plant for them. This leads to wastes" he said.