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AATF introduces stewardship to track seed quality for PBR cowpea 

In this interview, Francis Nwankwo, the Programme Officer of African Agriculture Technology Foundation (AATF), West Africa, speaks on the importance of Stewardship program in ensuring that right quality of PBR cowpea seeds get to the farmers. He also highlighted some of the steps taken by AATF to ensure the sustainability of the Stewardship program in the future. Agro News Updates brings excerpts.
With the level PBR cowpea is now, how does Stewardship come in?
This new technology like many other technologies needs to be managed, if you don’t manage it properly, the benefits that they are supposed to give will elude the farmers.
Stewardship simply refers to the responsible management of a product and is not only applicable to Genetically Modified products or biotechnology-based products, it is for any technology whatsoever that farmers are using, if they are not managed properly it will not give the maximum benefits. Stewardship enhances product durability and sustainability and involves some dos and don’ts which are often summarized in the technology-use guide (TUG).
It’s just like, there are some times you go to the hospital and they give you a medication and advise you to avoid something that has vitamin C, because the vitamin C may interfere with the pathway that the medication works, so the pharmacist will tell you to take the medication with something that doesn’t have vitamin C. In this case the Pharmacist fulfils their stewardship responsibility by advising the patient on the best way to make the medication effective, while the patient does their part by sticking to the instruction.
So, Stewardship works in two ways, it is good for the integrity of the people who developed the technology, because if the technology doesn’t work, the farmers will complain, then on the part of the farmers it is also good for them to get maximum benefit, and it is the adherence to the stewardship guidelines that enables sustainable benefits on the product.
So, on the part of the developers of the technology, it enhances their integrity, on the part of the farmers, it makes their technology to produce maximally in their fields.
In a nutshell, Stewardship is just about responsible management of the product, it begins from the time it is being developed in the laboratory to the field by the scientists, and then goes to the seed companies who produce the seed and to the farmers who grow the seeds. For the insect resistant beans that has just been released, stewardship involves managing quality, ensuring trait purity, certifying the various classes of seeds, complying with the insect resistance management (IRM) and integrated pest management (IPM) protocols, and continuous monitoring.
Everybody on the product chain have responsibility to maintain Stewardship.
For example, with vaccines, sometimes you see people moving around to vaccinate for polio or any other disease, if you notice they carry vaccines in a bag that has an ice pack in it because those vaccines cannot survive if the cold chain is broken.
Now, if the cold chain is broken at any point, it means the organisms in the vaccine will die, even if you receive the vaccination, it is not going to work, so to make it viable, you have to maintain the cold chain from the place of production until the time it enters into the body of the receiver. So, the entire process of maintaining that cold chain is what is called Stewardship.
Do we really need to add another burden of Stewardship to the farmers?
That is a very critical question that people always ask, now what farmers are already planting, you will see that the production is not good, like cowpea has an average production of 2000kg per hectare in some places they even get 3000kg per hectare, but how much do we get? Most farmers get between 150kg to 400kg which is far below the average potential yield 2000kg/ha. If you look at it, Stewardship is probably not maintained along the product line for even the conventional products.
Now the good thing that this new technology comes with and the way we are just developing as a product that goes to the farmer is that it also comes with those advisory services and then those teaching and learning that makes everybody on the chain to know what they are supposed to do. So, it is not going to add additional burden, but it will add additional knowledge that will help make it work better for the farmers.
How will this Stewardship program ensure that seeds are not adulterated?
We are making an arrangement with something that already exist in Nigeria, if you notice, if you buy most antibiotics now Nigeria, you find out that they have a kind of code that is in the pack, when you scratch it, you can text the number and get an immediate response to know if the product is adulterated or not. Mobile Authentication Service (MAS) scheme will be used as one of the anticounterfeiting strategies to detect adulterated and falsified pod borer resistant (PBR) cowpea seeds
The codes will be encrypted on every authentic seed package so that the farmers can quickly verify their seed using their mobile phones.
We anticipate that people may package anything and give to farmers in the name of PBR cowpea, so to ensure that farmers get the right quality, we will use that approach, taking advantage of the mobile phone technology and those scratch codes to confirm that the seeds are well certified.
How sustainable will be this Stewardship program giving that your organization is just giving intervention?
Another thing we are trying to do now is that we have had series of discussions with the Extension system in Nigeria. We are trying to mainstream this Stewardship approach into the extension system and we are working with the National Agricultural Extension Research and Liaison Services (NAERLS), we have had series of discussions with them and in couple of months we will begin to train all Extension agents in Nigeria basically for this PBR cowpea, but of course the same principle can be applied to any other crop in Nigeria, the most important thing is for the Extension system to understand what needs to be done, which they can now apply to any other thing, but of course this project is on beans, that is how we want to mainstream it even if AATF goes out at some point, it is already part of the system because the product is developed for Nigeria and Nigeria has to take ownership, so at some point, AATF will exit, and Nigeria will continue to do the thing, so that is the whole essence for the sustainability.

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