With all of its natural advantages in the area of agriculture (central location in West Africa, strong research capacity, long history of private sector involvement, and very favorable agro-ecologies for the production of a wide range of crops), one might expect Côte d’Ivoire to be well-advanced in the development of its seed systems. Côte d’Ivoire is also the country where World Food Prize Laureate, Dr. Monty Jones, developed the Nerica rice varieties in the 1990’s and early 2000’s.
But shortly after this breakthrough (and just as private sector was gaining some early recognition as a viable seed supplier in Africa), civil war broke out, and all further agricultural progress was put on hold. Fortunately, the country is peaceful now, and the progressive administration of President Alasane Ouatara has laid the foundation for a vibrant seed sector, provided an effective public-private model can be pursued.
At present, though, very few of the country’s 2.5 million farmers are getting access to improved seed, in spite of the great work being done on both the breeding and seed production front by AfricaRice in Bouaké. The piority simply hasn’t been there, on the part of the government or its development partners. But make no mistake: developing Côte d’Ivoire’s seed sector carries huge potential for benefitting millions of people, but within the country and in the region.
While in the country I met with most of the key officials, minus the Minister of Agriculture, who was travelling in Korogho region during my visit. I did, however, meet with his Directeur de Cabinet, Dr. Yao N’guettia René, who expressed a lot of enthusiasm for collaborating with SSG. Together with colleagues from Cornell University and Sathguru Consulting, we also met with the under-director for seed, Mr. Kouadio Esse, and Emmanuel Coulibaly, who heads seed production at the Office National de Développement de la Riziculture, likewise met with several representatives of multi-national seed companies which are interested in the country’s under-developed seed market.
As much as food security in Côte d’Ivoire is driven by rice and cassava, the middle belt and northern regions of the country have huge potential for the production of maize and soybean which are highly under-exploited. This is also where most of the country’s future private seed companies are likely to operate, due to the favorable seed production environment. Both Corteva and SeedCo are eyeing the potential for hybrid maize seed sales in that area.
In the meantime, as usual, local entrepreneurs have taken the lead, and we were highly impressed with the work of Mr. Faustin Lohouri, CEO of Bilohf Seed Company, near Yamoussoukro. He produces several hundren tons of seed of maize and rice, annually on his own land, and has great plans for future growth. There are more Faustins out there who, with the right kind of support, could become large-scale producers of a wide range of seed. So Côte d’Ivoire is an exciting place for seed systems development.