Are investments in an informal seed system for cowpea a worthwhile endeavour?

Document Type: Research Paper

Authors

1 International Institute of Tropical Agriculture (IITA), Kano, Nigeria. Centre for Crop Systems Analysis, Wageningen University, Wageningen, The Netherlands.

2 Centre for Crop Systems Analysis, Wageningen University, Wageningen, The Netherlands.

3 International Institute of Tropical Agriculture (IITA), Kano, Nigeria.

4 International Institute of Tropical Agriculture (IITA), Ibadan, Nigeria.

5 International Institute of Tropical Agriculture (IITA), Ibadan, Nigeria. Current address: International Maize and Wheat Improvement Centre (CIMMYT), Mexico D.F., Mexico.

Abstract

High seed quality is a critical component for realising yield potential. For
smallholder cowpea farmers in northern Nigeria the informal seed system is a
major supplier of genetically high-quality seed, but the physiological quality of
farmers’ produced seed remains unknown. The project “Promoting Sustainable
Agriculture in Borno State” (PROSAB) trained and supported farmers in seed
production in Borno State, Nigeria. We analysed the quality of farmers’ produced
cowpea seed based on standard quality testing criteria, and evaluated its field
emergence as a proxy for non-genetic seed quality. We carried out a survey among
seed producing farmers about their production and storage practices, and tested
seed quality of samples from these farmers, from seed companies and compared
these to foundation seed. Field emergence of farmers’ produced seed was not
significantly different from that of foundation seed (P=0.47) or seed company
samples (P=0.12). Cowpea seed quality, however, was inadequate in both the
formal and informal seed systems. Five out of six foundation seed samples, 79 out
of 81 samples of farmers’ seed, and six out of six seed company samples failed to
meet standards for foundation and certified seeds of the National Agriculture Seed
Council (NASC), the seed industry regulatory agency in Nigeria. Multiple
regression analyses predicting field emergence showed that projects like PROSAB
can improve seed quality. Especially proper storage and reducing seed damage can
increase field emergence significantly. Our findings suggest that it is worth to
invest in improving the informal seed system of cowpea.

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