Maize conference leverages on private sector partnership to boost productivity in Africa

The SARD-SC maize conference held in Livingstone, Zambia,  from 14- 20 May, 2017 was a valuable opportunity  for the maize project and its partners  to interact  with other  stakeholders from Zambia, Nigeria and Africa in general, to share  key issues  pertaining to the maize value chain development, technology  generation  and  dissemination.

The expanded maize conference organized by the SARD-SC maize value chain with the  theme, Improving maize value chain  for transformational impact, “was to showcase our achievements in SARD-SC maize so that the lessons learnt in this conference would be useful for other maize countries and the forth coming TAAT program,” said Dr. Sam Ajala, Maize Commodity Specialist.

In his opening remarks, Dr. David Chikoye, Director of southern   Operations, who represented the Director General of IITA, enumerated key achievements of IITA but raised a pertinent challenge that maybe an obstacle to achieving the transformational impact of maize in Africa as a result of aging farmers, subsistence farming and lack of mechanization.

Dr. Chrys Akem, SARD-SC project coordinator lauded the institutional collaboration the project enjoyed from its partners; AfricaRice and ICARDA, which was responsible for the success of the maize value chain and the project as well. “It has been a challenging four year period and the maize team has come along very strongly.”

The Zambia Minister of Agriculture, represented by the Mr. Sinmu Choba, Permanent Secretary of the Ministry said the conference theme reaffirmed the importance of   maize to the economy and food security of many African countries.  This is because maize farming is by small scale farmers which contribute to their household incomes. He therefore called on researchers in the maize sector to find answers aimed at enhancing small scale farmers’ adoption of improved seed varieties and technologies among others.

An interesting dimension of the conference was the participation of the private sector which cuts across the banking sector in Nigeria and Zambia, Innovare; farming equipment leasing outfit, big conglomerate like Flour Mills of Nigeria(FMN), Babban Gona, a foremost commercial farm growth developer, in Kaduna and Kano, Nigeria, reputed for working with thousands of small holder  farmers while linking them to sustainable  output  markets while increasing their productivity. Interestingly, the participation of the actors from the private sector infused the discussions with a valuable business perspective that could help to achieve the quest for maize transformational impact in Africa.

Mr. Segun Falade, Head, Agro Inputs, Agro Allied Division, FMN, spoke of the need for partnership with both commercial farmers and Small Holder Farmers  to serve as outgrowers as sources of  raw materials for his organization, with the key objective to  reduce importation. The First city Merchant Bank,(FCMB) Nigeria, was represented by Mr. Olushola Obikanye. He spoke of the opportunities open to farmers to borrow money at 9 percent interest rate, based upon the bank’s developed working model which identifies aggregators with their growers and aggregators as primary obligors. Similar sentiments and observations were made by Mr –Arundel – Sakala, Standard Quality Coordinator, of the Zambia Food Reserve Agency that stressed the need for aggregation as a means for a steady supply of maize for food and industrial uses in Zambia thus creating a guaranteed output market and Zanaco, ably represented by –Mr.Chali Mwefyeni, Head Food and Agriculture Banking—who  presented and discussed financial products tailored to the needs of the different categories of farmers aiming to do farming as a business.

Dr. Ajala assessed the conference as “very successful because it has achieved its objective aimed at having a common understanding of what it takes to transform the maize scenario in Africa through enhancing its level of competitiveness.” He was particularly delighted with the involvement of the private sector “that each of them came with a special interest and focus; there were those in the value chain development business, inputs distribution, equipment leasing and end-users. It was an aggregation of people that had a role to play to increase maize productivity.”

Several and various scientific papers were presented accompanied with robust discussion by the audience. Dr. Sam Ajala, the convener of the conference presented two papers on Enhancing Maize Competitiveness in Africa and Maize Seed production and system development under SARD-SC project.

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