By Jimoh Babatunde
GETTING quality seeds across to the smallholder farmers was the major problem that Sir. George Zangir and his team in Value seeds, Nigeria, faced at the inception of the company in 2009 as they lacked the funds to create the necessary awareness among the farmers on the need to use improved seeds.
All this changed in 2011 when the government of Nigeria came up with Agriculture Transformation Agenda (ATA) and chance meeting with the Alliance for a Green Revolution in Africa (AGRA).
The company’s President, Sir. George Zangir, in this chat disclosed what the chance meeting with AGRA has done to the company in terms of capacity building and scaling up.
“I don’t have agric background. When I started working for UAC back in 2003, I was in administration and at a point the Managing Director felt I should be converted to marketing and since then I have worked in the marketing units of either seed companies or Agro chemical companies.
“So in the agric sector I have always been a marketing person and I have always worked for companies that valued trainings. I was very fortunate to be so trained and well trained as well.
“I have experience cutting across technical aspects of seed production and of course marketing aspects of it. I have been t o Lagos Business School and Harvard Business School too. ”
Having worked with UAC where he discovered that the major challenge of the smallholder farmers was the availability and access to top quality seeds, he decided to go into seed business with the establishment of Value Seed Company in 2009.
“When we started in 2009 we could barely sell 100metric tonnes of seeds. The challenge had always been that of distributions, we did not have money to create good awareness for seeds of improved varieties.
“Farmers did not know about the existence of quality seeds, you needed to do demonstrations, you needed to do a lot of activities that will create awareness, but we were handicapped by dearth of funds and in time we decided to go small and increase gradually.”
The solution to funding came in 2011 when the Nigerian Government decided it was time to pay more attention to agriculture with the introduction of the Agriculture Transformation agenda. “The ATA program which gave the seed companies access to affordable financing with sovereign guarantee to a number of banks and today a lot of Nigerian seed companies have been empowered and it can only get better.”
He added “We were fortunate to be among the seed companies picked, though we had always had our plans to transform the sector but for lack of funds. So with access to funding we decided to implement and since then we have done a lot in developing farmers’ awareness to improve seeds of good varieties.
Since 2009, Zangir sees their assistance to almost 10,000 farmers in the area of extension services as a major achievement, “We have also introduced improved varieties and like I told you in my introduction that our key focus is bridging the gap between top quality materials, which are results of good research, and commercializing the research work.
“So what we have done is also take this to the farmers by creating very good distribution channels over the years. We have done a number of works in lots of states in Nigeria cutting across the northern states, the middle belt and we looking of moving into the South West.”
He added “Until we came on board the packaging in the seed sector was something that needed a lot of improvement. Lots of seeds companies were using the polythene; we came and started using the poly woven sacks.
“We introduced affordable packages like 2kg, 1kg which were not in existence and this provided affordable seeds to farmers.
“We have also gone ahead in the area of seed dressing as most often farmers are short changed by being given seeds with only colorant instead of seed dressing. We have partner with some agro chemical companies in making available to farmers seeds that are dressed with top quality dressing materials.
“This has helped in improving the yields of farmers and I tell you they calling to commend what we are doing .Most of the farmers that have been using our seeds have been able to turn around their fortunes.”
Zangir believed the achievements and impacts they have made would not have been rapid without coming in contact with the Alliance for a Green Revolution in Africa (AGRA) as they are one of the latest guarantees of AGRA having accessed their grants to boost their activities in seeds distributions and awareness creation in Nigeria.
“AGRA is good news to Africa; AGRA is good news to Nigeria. AGRA is good news to farmers and extremely good news to Value seeds.
“In 2011, AGRA officials were in Nigeria going round to look at what their guarantees have done and then they were going to hold meetings of guarantees in Kano. I think as they were going they got to a village at Kura and were meeting with Agro dealers.
“In one of the agro dealers’ shops, I think they spotted our seeds, we were completely not known by AGRA at that time, but when they saw the seed they insisted that this seed company should be among those to participate in their meeting in Kano.
“So we were invited and for the first time participated in AGRA activities and since then it has been one added value addition activity to the other.
“We have benefited from AGRA in the area of training; technical capacity development; in the area of marketing; in area of distribution channels and development.
The result of AGRA in the life of the company is giving them hope of scale up their seed production to 10,000 metric tonnes soon as they are already producing above 5,000mt.