Within the Nigerian context, a revival of the groundnut pyramid era of the 1950s is the main idea that comes to mind from the objectives of the N2Africa project. Since 2009, the project has been taking proactive and practical steps away from theory and putting nitrogen fixation to work for smallholder groundnut, soybean, and cowpea farmers, by supporting soil agents such as rhizobium for improved yield.

To achieve this, N2Africa advocates an integrated approach through the use of a combination of the fertilizer Single Super Phosphate (SSP), improved legume seeds, and an inoculant for rhizobium developed by IITA and known as Nodumax. Farmers in sub-Saharan Africa are encouraged to grow legumes due to their ability to fix nitrogen from the air and improve soil fertility, and also for their nutritive and commercial values. A preliminary market analysis conducted by IITA suggests that Nigeria requires about 300 t/year of soybean inoculant for 30,000 t of seeds grown on 500,000 ha. Inoculation was found to result in an additional 150,000 t/year of soybeans worth US$93 million per year to the farmers.

Nodumax was developed because of the lack of supply of inoculants to West Africa. “Its use is also economically profitable; farmers spend only $5 per hectare using inoculants compared with more than $100 on urea fertilizer for the same expanse of land,” said Dr Bernard Vanlauwe, IITA’s Director for Central Africa.

On 23-25 March, over 70 project partners, implementers, seed companies, public- and private-sector stakeholders converged at De Bently Hotel, Abuja, for the N2Africa-Nigeria Annual Planning Meeting. They shared and discussed constraints identified on the field particularly for women and the youth, reviewed project milestones, evaluated progress, identified new gaps, ensured the integration and sustainability of project impacts, and also developed strategies for implementation in 2015. Challenges identified by state Agricultural Development Programs working with the farmers were also addressed at the meeting with the expectation of an improvement in this second phase.

Dr Vanlauwe commended the progress which partners have achieved so far. He said that the tasks before the scientists in Phase II were more than writing scientific papers. They revolve around creating jobs for the youth, and solving real problems that affect many farmers by developing value addition, value chains, networks of markets, and storage systems. He also enjoined all partners to work towards ensuring sustainability and the practical use of the project results. “Sustainability means private sector engagement; it’s not the job of IITA to commercialize agricultural inputs. We need to integrate and work with partners in the private sector to achieve this.”

On the need to improve the availability and accessibility of Nodumax, Dr Vanlauwe said the project would not demonstrate inoculants which the farmers could not buy. “The IITA Business Incubation Platform has been repositioned to this end. The first acceptable product is now being manufactured and production of 16 tons is the target by mid-April 2015.”

Based on the project’s action pillars, some challenges were noted. These included poor yields, lack of awareness of Nodumax, gender constraints, the selection of trial plots, and the need for value addition to legumes to promote nutrition. Dr Emmanuel Sangodele, N2Africa Country Coordinator, noted that legume yields were still low and far below their potential. He attributed the low yield to inadequate application of scientific knowledge by both farmers and researchers.

“The cowpea and soybean yield per hectare in Nigeria is still hovering between 1 and 1.8 tonnes. To improve this, N2Africa is working to enhance yields through the application of scientific knowledge including the use of improved varieties and rhizobium inoculants to maximize the yield potential of grain legumes. We have resolved to identify and promote legume varieties which have performed excellently in their regions. We are also proactively building the capacity of young people in degree and nondegree programs,” he said, “so they can be able to promote the science of rhizobiology even after our generation retires.”

Other resource persons at the meeting were Dr Fred Kanampiu, N2Africa Project Coordinator; Theresa Ampadu-Boakye, Project Monitoring and Evaluation Specialist; Joost Van Heerwarden, Wageningen/N2Africa Coordinator research and data; and Edward Baars, Senior Business Development Officer of the N2Africa Project.

At the end of the deliberations, Dr Vanlauwe spurred the partners to action saying, “We can do this. The rapid and almost magical transformations in the agricultural and infrastructural scene of the country show that the project can achieve its milestones in Nigeria with the concerted efforts of all partner organizations. If this momentum continues, I firmly believe we will take all the necessary risks and achieve all we have set out to in 2015 and move the Nigerian agricultural sector forward”.

Adapted from IITA