Optimizing seed certification can boost sustainable agriculture: The case of Nigeria

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In the quest for agricultural productivity and food security, Nigeria has made significant strides in expanding the production and distribution of certified seeds for crops like maize, rice, and, to some extent, cowpea. However, a recent study by the International Food Policy Research Institute (IFPRI) and the International Institute of Tropical Agriculture (IITA), conducted under the CGIAR Seed Equal Initiative, highlights the need for a more nuanced approach to seed certification. The recommendations come in light of findings that an indiscriminate expansion of the current system may face diminishing returns.

Seed certification is a process in which designated authorities evaluate, test, and certify seeds for market release – to ensure they meet quality standards and specifications. While practices are advancing, our research indicates there’s room for optimization. Here, we delve into the key findings from the study, and propose three actionable recommendations to enhance seed certification practices in Nigeria. These summarize the recommendations laid out in a new Seed Equal policy brief.

The Challenge of Diminishing Returns

The study conducted between 2010 and 2018 reveals that while the initial increase in certified seed production positively impacted farm-level use, yields, and output, these benefits started to diminish as the supply continued to expand. This trend suggests that the current emphasis on expanding rigorous seed certification may not be the most effective strategy for sustained agricultural growth, at least in the short-term.

Understanding the Constraints

Several factors contribute to the diminishing returns associated with the current seed certification system. As certified seeds reach more remote areas, the higher delivery costs increase seed prices, prompting farmers to either cut spending on other inputs or switch to noncertified seeds. Additionally, the focus on older seed varieties limits the potential returns, as newer varieties with improved traits are left uncertified. The study also highlights the significant variation in yield benefits of seed certification based on agroclimatic conditions, emphasizing the need for a more tailored approach.

Policy Recommendations for Improved Seed Certification

  1. Revisit Seed Certification Targets: Excessive expansion of certified seed production may not necessarily lead to higher use rates or yield outcomes. It is essential to revisit and optimize seed certification targets for maize, rice, and cowpea. Rather than a one-size-fits-all approach, resources could be reallocated to more decentralized seed production. This would better target underserved areas and potentially lead to greater benefits from seed quality assurance. Prioritizing investments in agricultural research and development, especially in improved varieties, can also contribute to enhanced long-term productivity.
  2. Prioritize Spatial Expansion: If the policy still emphasizes seed certification expansion, it should be spatially targeted based on rigorous research. Identifying locations with high returns to certified seeds, considering agroecological and socioeconomic conditions, can optimize the impact of certification efforts. This involves enhancing certification capacity and deploying inspectors in these targeted areas. Enforcement capacity, such as spot checks on certified seeds, should be prioritized in these locations. Furthermore, a more flexible subsidy scheme could be considered to cover transportation costs to remote areas, ensuring equitable access for farmers.
  3. Promote Decentralized Systems: A shift towards more decentralized systems, such as Quality Declared Seed (QDS) or community seed schemes, presents a viable alternative. These systems allow for moderate levels of seed quality assurance, specifically tailored to local agroecological and socioeconomic conditions. Drawing inspiration from successful models in Eastern and Southern African countries, promoting QDS for rice, cowpea, and OPV maize can contribute to sustainable agricultural practices. This approach not only addresses the challenges of over-centralization but also fosters community involvement and resilience.


Balancing the need for seed quality assurance with the realities of agricultural production in Nigeria requires a strategic shift. The evidence from the study suggests that a more flexible and targeted approach to seed certification, incorporating elements of decentralization and prioritization, can yield better results. By revisiting certification targets, spatially optimizing expansion efforts, and promoting decentralized systems, Nigeria can enhance the efficiency and sustainability of its seed quality assurance practices, ultimately contributing to long-term agricultural growth and food security. It is time to embrace a dynamic and responsive approach to seed certification and other tools for quality assurance, ensuring that every seed sown paves the way for a bountiful harvest.


Blog by David J. Spielman (Seed Equal Initiative and IFPRI), Hiroyuki Takeshima (IFPRI), and Adam Hunt (Head of Communications, Genetic Innovation). Photo credit: Bioversity International/E.Hermanowicz. We would like to thank all funders who support CGIAR research through their contributions to the CGIAR Trust Fund.


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