HarvestPlus hosted more than 150 farmers, extension agents, food processors, and marketers at the first edition of its bi-monthly business forum to stimulate increased investment and bridge the supply gap in the biofortified seeds and foods value chain.

The forum was organized for stakeholders in the biofortified seeds and foods sector to share experiences, challenges and successes recorded in the course of commercializing vitamin A cassava and vitamin A maize in Nigeria.

The participants consisted of existing and potential investors in the value chain, who were encouraged to strategize and build linkages to meet the estimated half a million metric tons in demand for biofortified seeds and foods in 2017.

An expected outcome of the forum is strong commitment by investors to embrace the various investment opportunities in the biofortified crops value chain. It should also have a ripple effect among smallholder farmers and medium-scale investors, both of whom are expected to form farming clusters around processing centers for greater efficiency and profitability.

Sharing his experience as a key actor in the value chain, the Provost of the Federal College of Agriculture in Akure (FECA), Dr. Samson Odedina, noted that the forum was timely given that demand for biofortified foods far exceeded supply. “Students in my college have also bought into the revolution we are witnessing in Nigeria today,” he said. “We are, at the moment, the hub for the production of biofortified seeds and food in Ondo State.”

According to Dr. Odedina, “In 2016, students and other investors in my college made well over 50 million naira ($158,730) in sales of biofortified crops and foods. Demand for the products is growing. It is becoming evident that our production is not enough for the market. This is why this forum is important; we need everyone here and even more people to get involved.”

For his part, leading agricultural industrialist and Chief Executive Officer of the Niji Group, Mr. Kolawole Adeniji, affirmed his decision to venture into the cultivation and processing of vitamin A cassava. He added that increased demand for the products had inspired him to build at least three more processing factories. Mr. Adeniji pledged his readiness to buy any quantity of roots that farmers could supply, noting that producing vitamin A cassava food derivatives was a top priority for his factory in 2017.

HarvestPlus Nigeria Country Manager Dr. Paul Ilona was pleased with the overwhelming turnout at the forum, which he linked to the growing adoption of biofortified crops by Nigerians. This, he added, called for a “Marshall Plan” that would ensure access by the rural poor across the country to affordable biofortified crops and foods.

Dr. Ilona noted that the forum was an avenue to share success stories and essential business lessons with farmers, extension agents, processors and marketers, and he called for a farming-as-a-business mindset if participants were to make substantial gains from their investment in agriculture.

“We project demand of 500,000 metric tons of biofortified crops and foods in Nigeria in 2017,” he said. “Small-scale enterprises are short of flour to make combo-bites (a snack produced using vitamin A cassava flour, cowpea and onions). Processors are in constant need of roots. All these gaps require farmers with keen business acumen to spot and exploit. This must be done because the need to tackle micronutrient deficiency is rising by the day. We cannot afford to let malnutrition win this war.”.       

The forum also featured presentations from representatives of Heritage Bank, Premier Seeds, Sultry Farms, and the media. There were break-out sessions on production, processing, and marketing of biofortified seeds and foods, and networking sessions to strengthen linkages in the seeds value chains.

The next edition of the business forum is scheduled for FECA in Ondo State and promises to engage even more stakeholders from across the Nigeria.

*The author is a Communications Officer with HarvestPlus-Nigeria.