Nigeria Seed Sector Has Huge Potential but Weak

interview

Michael Keller is the Secretary General of the International Seed Federation (ISF), Nyon, Switzerland, which is the voice of the seed sector globally with national seed trade associations membership spread across 61 countries, from South and North America, Africa, Australia, New Zealand, Asia, Europe. Daily Trust on Sunday caught up with him during the just-concluded SeedConnect Africa 2019 in Abuja. He explains how Nigeria could strengthen her seed sector, become visible globally and maintain a robust, sustainable agricultural sector.

What do you make of some of the discussions of the seed structure in Nigeria?

One of the discussions we had today is on the structure of the seed sector. The seed structure today can be a family business of one or two person(s), it can be a mid-sized company, it can be a cooperative formed by the farmers like the Limagrain in France and there are many other examples like that or it can even be a multinational company based somewhere but acting everywhere.

I think the important thing is, first of all, the diversity of the seed sector from very small companies to very big size companies but also the diversity of what the seed sector doing. We have the three pillars of the seed sector: one is breeding, the second is production and third is trading; you have companies who are acting in the three pillars, and you also have companies who are acting in one pillar. Our companies' members are working on all ranges of crops, which can be on grains, vegetables or minor crops but one thing is always important: what we are looking for is to bring quality seed to farmers everywhere.

How will you rate African countries in the organization in terms of their participation and performance in the seed sector?

I do not like to raise too many figures but we know we have figures, which show that today the international seed trade is steadily increasing. We have today seven times more seed trade around the world than fifteen years ago. It's clear if you look at the structure, first of all within ISF, the presence of national seed associations in Africa, I must admit, is really weak because yes, we have South Africa, yes we have Kenya, yes we have countries like Egypt, Morocco, Niger and we have now also, Ivory Coast and Senegal but nevertheless many countries are still missing. For me, this is the missing link: that Africa is not part, first of all, of the discussion within the seed sector. And yes, it's clear when you look at the figures today, Africa continues to increase in seed trade but also in terms of domestic seed market- and I think there are many great opportunities existing here in Nigeria-lots of arable land not used, also a lot of farmers perhaps looking to get improved varieties. That means we have to create choices for farmers. That is what the ISF is looking for.

Is Nigeria visible in this federation?

No. let me be very open with you; Nigeria is not visible because we do not have any members from Nigeria. Therefore I came here to discover Seed Connect Africa, which is a wonderful event, lots of seed companies here but also public, and politicians. For me, here are some dynamics in Nigeria, are important discussions to have independence in terms of food security and sustainable agriculture perhaps. It clear there is a lot of will, openness and interest from Nigeria side to attract more seed companies from around the world but I will like to insist that it should not only be foreign companies coming to Nigeria, What we are looking for, is to create in the country, a vibrant seed sector, which includes local seed companies, farmers cooperatives which also include opportunities for other companies to come here to settle down here to start seed breeding programmes or production.

Do you think if Nigeria becomes a member of ISF, it will open up its seed sector for more investment?

What I'm saying is that there is a clear need for a stronger seed sector in Nigeria to address all the topics we have discussed here today.

So what do you think the country must do to strengthen its seed system, bearing in mind your experience in ISF?

First of all, there needs to be a clear political vision. We got today, a clear vision from a representative of the parliament(National Assembly) showing that we want to have more{ seed} production, agricultural production, we want to scale up Nigeria, we want to be able to use all our arable land; we want to also scale up our farmers perhaps. We want to give them opportunities to improve their income, to produce more. I think that is the starting point- the political vision is very important. With the political vision comes the legal frame, I think that's very important.

We had a discussion on the Plant Variety Protection Act (PVP) law, which is in the parliament, Nigeria is putting in place PVP law, that's important because the investment can be attracted and one can also get returns on investments. That's what we have to structure. But as I always say, yes it's about sustainable business, but sustainable business means it needs to be sustainable for the seed companies, wherever they are coming from but it also needs to be sustainable for the farmers, if not, the system is not fine.

I won't let you go without asking you this question: the issue of GMOs has been one controversy that results in the trade war between Europe and America with some African countries caught up in the web and many NGOs kicking and wailing. How do you deal with this in the ISF across these member countries?

(... Laughter) absolutely, I'm saying yes absolutely to GMO and GMO can be part of the solution we need to address issues like pest, disease or like climate change, let be clear. It's an important tool, which should be available for farmers in different countries. Yes, we have to take into account the questions of regulations. We need to have an open dialogue that is why we are saying as a seed sector, what is the DNA of our seed sector-its innovation because we need to constantly innovate. We need to innovate more; we need to produce more with more areas facing climate change, pest or more diseases. What we are saying is very clear about the discussion on regulations, and bio-safety. We need to find solutions which are science-based but we need to also find solutions which give predictability to companies to go into different countries. We need to also have an open dialogue on things like GMOs but I will rather put in a bigger picture-innovation. Our sector is about innovations and all the tools should be used-and yes there can be regulations but please let us have science-based regulations.

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