The deployment of improved seeds backed by the dissemination of innovative agricultural practices is helping in changing the fortunes of farmers in northern Nigeria-a savannah region where agriculture is the main source of livelihood- thanks to the International Institute of Tropical Agriculture and partners working on the Sudan Savanna Task Force of the Kano- Katsina-Maradi (SS TF KKM) Pilot Learning Site (PLS) of the Sub-Saharan Challenge Program.
Local farmers say the improved seeds have raised their incomes, improved health and agricultural productivity.
"My family is happy I am now a successful farmer. I can easily feed my family and send my children to school," says Mohammed Mustapha, a farmer in Kunamawa village in Safana Local Government of Katsina State.
As a participant in the SS TF KKM PLS project, Mustapha has seen his yield double using the same plot of land but with improved varieties and agronomic practices.
"This was possible due to the training and also the improved seeds I acquired from the Sudan Savannah Task Force team that are working on the KKM project. Before I used to get two bags of cowpea from this field but in 2009, I harvested five bags which were more than double the initial amount," he explains.
For Hajia Binta Garba, who heads a women farmer group in Bunkure Local Government Area of Kano State, the drought- and Striga -tolerant varieties are helping farmers in her Mustapha harvesting cowpea. With him are two women offering assistance Garba, a women leader, taking care of the group's cowpea farm group to overcome the negative effects of climatic change in the region.
She says the varieties which are either early-maturing or drought-tolerant have raised yield by more than 100 percent.
"I used to get one and half bags of cowpea but now I harvest nothing less than four bags on this field," Garba says. Like Mustapha and Garba, several farmers in northern Nigeria are tapping the opportunities presented by improved seeds and agronomic practices to better their livelihoods.
Though rich in vast arable land, northern Nigeria is faced with myriad problems that reduce agricultural productivity and keep farmers in poverty. These include the predominance of parasitic weeds, Striga and Alectra, and pests which lower yields of major cereals and legumes. Others are ineffective extension systems, poor soil fertility, poor crop management by resourcepoor farmers, poor access to information, low access to animal feeds, dysfunctional market and postharvest losses. Besides, the prevailing negative effect of climatic change occasioned by unpredictable bouts of droughts and floods has dire consequences on the food security in the region.
The SS TF KKM project, which is funded by the Forum for Agricultural Research in Africa, (FARA) is seeking to mitigate these constraints and also to enhance marketing opportunities for farmers in the region.
Partners in the project include the Katsina State Agricultural Development Programme (ADP), Institute of Agricultural Research, Zaria; National Agricultural Extension Research and Liaison Services, National Animal Production Research Institute, Bayero University Kano, Local Government Councils and input and output dealers.
Alpha Kamara, IITA-Savanna System Agronomist who is the Sudan Savannah Taskforce Leader, says the dissemination of the solutions is helping in boosting crops' productivity and generating wealth in the drought-prone regions of the savannas. According to him, the team is tackling the limitations via innovation platforms in a holistic manner.
For instance, the deployment of drought-tolerant cowpea and maize varieties is helping in mitigating the effect of drought, offering farmers improved harvest and incomes.
Kamara and his team have also through experimental studies established the influence of phosphorus application and plant population on growth and yield of soybean genotypes. They are now recommending that farmers apply nitrogen on Striga-tolerant maize and grow it in rotation with soybean applying sufficient quantities of phosphorous on the soybean. In trying to match crops to soils and environments, the research team has conducted trials on maize varieties and planting date interactions as well as effect of cereal-legume rotation of yields. Results from the trials are used in assisting farmers in choosing appropriate agronomic practices that will reduce the vulnerability of their crops to drought and Striga as well as improve soil fertility.
Adoption of these improved technologies by farmers has brought relief to farmers in the region who face poor harvest.
Farmer Mustapha says, "Since I became a farmer, this is my first time of meeting an efficient organization as IITA. If IITA were to be a woman, I would have married her."
Apart from farmers, policy makers in the implementing states have testified to the success of the KKM project.
At a recent Farmers' Field Day in Jikamshi, Katsina State, Hajia Fatima Shema, Wife of the Executive Governor of Katsina State; and Dr. Lawal Musawa, the Honorable Chairman of Musawa Local Government Area confirmed that the researches by IITA and its partners were reducing poverty and improving the livelihoods of millions of people who are mostly farmers in Nigeria.
"The fortunes of many of our farmers have improved in terms of increased crop productivity as a result of the operations of IITA," they stated.
The Wife of the Governor noted that the adoption of improved seeds was important for agricultural development in the state and called on farmers to tap the improved technologies offered by IITA scientists. They also promised continued support for the project.