Traditionally, farmers in Nigeria plant cassava from year to year using planting materials from their own fields or via farmer to farmer exchange. Cassava stems were considered by the average farmer to be of little value and hence were discarded at the end of the planting season or given away for free. Because of this system of seed distribution, cassava seeds are recycled over time leading to build up of diseases and loss of genetic vigor, which affect yields.
Again, because the planting materials are obtained as a byproduct from fields intended for cassava root production, there is usually no specialized seed production.
This leads to poor quality of stems of mixed or unknown varieties being traded, with no control or certainty of volumes and timing of availability. While the low and slow multiplication ratio of cassava stems and its easy re-usability makes it unattractive to commercial seed producers, its bulkiness makes long distance transport uneconomical. Hence, even though cassava is critical for food and livelihood security of over 500 million people, its seed system has been weak and mostly informal, thus contributing to its low productivity. The Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation funded Building an Economically Sustainable, Integrated Cassava Seed System in Nigeria (BASICS) project is working to change this by developing an economically sustainable cassava seed value chain in Nigeria.
Catholic Relief Services (CRS) has been implementing the Village Seed Entrepreneur (VSE) component of the
BASICS project in Benue state since 2015.
The BASICS project is coordinated by the CGIAR research program on Roots, Tubers, and Bananas (RTB) and implemented by six partners in Nigeria. CRS trains and supports VSEs to produce cassava seeds commercially.
VSEs learn basic cassava agronomic and business management practices, to enable them successfully establish and manage their fields. While strengthening the supplyside, the project also creates demand pull through demonstration plots and mass media messages to create market awareness.
A key challenge of the multiplication and dissemination of cassava planting materials is its low multiplication rate and the long time needed to produce them. BASICS is addressing this challenge using a unique rapid multiplication technology called Semi-Autotrophic Hydroponic (SAH). A 20 sqm SAH lab has the capability to produce high quality, virus free planting material sufficient to plant over 20 ha in one year.
In comparison, to obtain enough planting material to plant the same 20 hectares, it will take about 2.4 hectares of traditional seed multiplication field, and the same will be open to virus exposure (assuming 12,500 plant density and 500 bundles stem yield per hectare).
CRS, in collaboration with the International Institute of Tropical Agriculture (IITA), carried out the first laboratory-to-farmer field trials of this licensed technology. SAH plantlets were transported from IITA, Ibadan by road to Benue state and planted in open fields in the year 2017.