I was introduced to the Ministry of Agriculture of Niger by my great friend and longtime colleague, Dr. Issoufou Kapran. He put me in contact with Mr. Boukari Diamoitou Nguessibo, the Secretary General of the Ministry. I flew into Niamey’s brand new, and very impressive, international airport, and met with Mr. Diamoitou and the head of seed inspection, Ms. Salamatou Hassane, the following morning. In our discussions, both of them insisted that the priority for Niger has to be on local seed marketing and distribution of new varieties of seed by private companies, to liberate the country from dependence on the free seed syndrome, which is debilitating to the private seed sector.
Niger is not a “typical” SSG country, in that it has benefited from some international support for seed systems development, mainly via AGRA, which had an investment program there for five years, funded by The Rockefeller Foundation and the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation. As a result, it has a full complement of PhD-level breeders, some new varieties, and several private seed companies. But that support was cut to only five years, and Niger’s population growth vs. food supply issues are urgent, so it is on SSG’s list.
Over the course of a week in Niger, I met four fascinating personalities:
Aichatou Salifu is the CEO of a seed company she inherited from her father when he passed away. She earned a Master’s degree from Michigan State University, and is very proud of the automatic expresso maker she keeps in her office at Ainoma Seed Company headquarters in Niamey. She is also a force of nature for Niger’s seed sector. Under
her leadership, the company has grown steadily, in spite of a government seed give-away program funded by the EU that depresses private seed sales. Ainoma produces certified seed of pearl millet, sorghum, groundnut, cowpea, and maize. She has test-produced seed of ICRISAT’s hybrid millet. She has developed a unique seed marketing scheme based on village-based advisor farmers who sell her seed. She is a national treasure, and deserves to be supported to bring hybrid millet seed to the masses of Niger, and beyond. She can do it.
Issoufou Maizama owns Alheri Seed Company, the best-established seed company in Niger. He also believes the seed sector needs to move to hybrids, and focus on local marketing, to free itself of the subsidized seed issues. But marketing takes money, and earning a profit from sale of seeds to some of the world’s poorest farmers is not easy. Nevertheless, I have always been inspired by Issoufou, and hope he doesn’t give up on supplying Niger’s farmers with the seed they need.
Aissata Mamadou is a sorghum breeder who earned her PhD from the University of Ghana’s West African Center for Crop Improvement. She had just officially released three hybrid sorghum varieties which she developed from her own breeding lines, and was riding high in spite of the endless phone calls and documents which flow through her office as head of all rain-fed crops research in Niger. She, too, is a major force for good for the country’s farmers, and deserves our support as she struggles to keep this arid country fed.
Prakash Gangashetty is a 30-something pearl millet breeder from India working for ICRISAT, based in Niamey. He is a dynamo, a true “breeder’s breeder”, and has developed a whole series of hybrid millet varieties, as well as several extra-early-maturing open-pollinated varieties. Without going into a lot of detail, hybrid pearl millet is a very big deal, and could revolutionize agriculture in this part of the world where almost nothing but pearl millet will grow. I found him engaging, curious, and, perhaps most important of all, highly committed to working with private seed companies. He has already supplied several companies in several Sahelian countries with seed of his new hybrids.