How we use Seedcodex technology to fight seed adulteration —Madu
Head, Corporate Affairs, mPedigree Network Nigeria, Chukwudi Madu, speaks on how the recently unveiled Seedcodex Observatory designed to sanitise the seed space in the country will help reposition the seed industry and boost productivity. COLLINS NNABUIFE brings excerpts.
WHAT is Seed Codex?
Seed Codex is a term we have assigned to the use of technology in the agriculture sector with regard to protecting seeds in Nigeria. Looking at the Food and Agriculture Organisation of the United Nations (FAO), Codex Alimentarius that has to do with growth of food and development of yield generally, we decided to channel our terminologies to align with what is recognized internationally. In a layman’s term, we use the technology to protect seed production companies to ensure that poor quality seeds are not allowed to circulate in the market as well. Basically, what that entails is that every registered seed company through the National Agricultural Seeds Council (NASC), now has unique codes that are attached to their seeds tag, be it in bigger bags or smaller bags which the average farmer can use to authenticate whether the seed he bought has passed through the screening of the councils and if it has, the code will authenticate and verify that those seeds are healthy for use. So whatever seeds which are not screened by the council, will not be protected by our codes. This means farmers can easily identify that these seeds are not from the council or there are of poor quality because those codes will not be assigned to them.
Talking about your collaboration with NASC, how will this Seed Codex help the agriculture sector?
We all know that the foundation for agriculture basically is seed. If a seed is poor in quality, or it lasted in a circulation for longer than its relevance, it will not give good yield, because we have what is called testing day for every seed. All seeds need to be monitored, because we have all kinds of people who are in the seed business who do not have farms as to know whether agriculture is growing or not, all they want to do is to collect money from the farmer and give him whatever they have. There are seeds that are not meant to be planted but are meant to be consumed. Now the council’s duty is to make sure that seeds that are in circulation for farmers to buy are seeds that are meant to be planted and healthy and are screened, they are free of diseases and pests. After the council has done that, they will now give go-ahead to the company to sell those seeds, But the question is, how do you now ensure that what the council has sanctioned not to be sold is not being sold? That’s when we will come in. Previously, the council used to give tags that are put inside the bags of the seeds. Those tags are signed by the council’s staff in some coloured printed papers. But it doesn’t have the one whose signature is relevant where and when and how, but with our codes now, which has one life span, you don’t need to ask whether the officer that stamped it is still with the council. All you need to do is to send a text message. What that means is that it will stop seeds that are not meant to be in the market from going there, because the person will not get clearance from us. Basically, the codes will ensure that what is supposed to be planted is planted and what is meant to be consumed will be consumed. And who is not supposed to be selling seeds in the market will not get close to the market. If a seed dealer takes seeds to the market and the farmer asks them for code he is going to use to authenticate the seed he bought, and they can’t provide it, it will be better for us to track them because if they go ahead to clone any of our codes, we can track through the phone numbers. We will check this cloned codes and then we will be able to catch them. So the bottom line is that food production, consumption and exportation are going to be secured because these codes are unique and they have one lifespan that can’t be cloned. Anyone who wants to sell seed must have to go through the seeds council or they will be treated like criminals.
The National Food, Drug Administration and Control (NAFDAC), does a similar thing, and you see how their run. What are you putting in place to ensure that these codes are not cloned?
The beautiful thing is that we are involved with NAFDAC as well, it will surprise you that we actually encouraged them to go and clone, because that will be showing their hand, but it doesn’t mean they will succeed. Every code that is cloned fails. The beautiful thing about that code is that instead of selling your seed quietly, once you clone, people will scratch and still text the codes. And once our system sees these codes beyond three times, it flashes them and then they are blacklisted. The next thing, certain numbers are flashed by our system as authenticating the blacklisted codes. What that means is that they are exposing themselves to us. We have had multiple cases where we walked into warehouses and we saw packs of drugs that were identical with those of the manufacturers, but how we caught them was that they used clone codes on their products because they didn’t understand the dynamics of our system that the moment any code that is supposed to be dead after one use keeps circulating, it causes a stir in the system, it uses read flag and we start investigating. We got the manufacturer involved because he owns the drug, and we also got NAFDAC involved and we made some contacts with the numbers on the system that use those codes and we realised that they got their supply from a particular place. If they haven’t cloned it, we wouldn’t have found out. The truth is that it hampers faking. Another thing is that logically, if a faker takes the pains to spend extra money to go and clone and trade, that means that thing he is trying to copy is actually preventing him from doing his business. It is actually working. We know the issues of network, at times, we Nigerians understand the dynamics of the limitations of the system we have here. Anybody that says it is not working, then the person is wrong. Yes, at times we might have network issues in some areas; at times, the line is working but it works very well.
What are the challenges faced presently?
The challenge I can mention is that most of these things are not done here; we are sorting locally to see whether we can produce them here, but it is still very exorbitant. So, at times when we bring the tags from outside, it takes time clearing them; so we rely on our partnerships with the Immigration and Customs to be able to clear those things. For instance, you will be working for close to three weeks to clear your goods from the Custom. And there maybe drugs that you need to bring in urgently, and if you don’t get them urgently, that means people who need them will not be able to reach them; so likewise in the agriculture sector.
We are hoping that bringing in those tags after there are produced, will be a lot easier, but in the long run, the council itself is working towards printing the tags in their in-house activity, so that should take care of that thing about custom. Then, we will love to be able to partner with the telecommunication companies, for them to understand that this things are government initiatives that are meant to boost the lives of Nigerians. Especially in the aspect of calls with lesser charges so we can be able to serve Nigerians better.
Talking of partnering with telecom companies, have you being able to approach them?
Though we are working with them but basically, they have how they structure and plan their commercial business, but is just like how you talk about 911. For instance, on the average, 911 is an emergency number where you can dial the number even if your phone is locked, there is a reason why those things work in that way, what I’m saying is that they didn’t make it not to look like the regular commercial calls for people. Because what we do is not something we can do at high prices and the funny thing is that the farmers or consumers don’t pay for these things. So we rely a lot on partnerships from bodies who finance the Ministry, like the seed council who we are working with now they have partners who give them VAT, these are things we rely on to deliver our services.
When are we expecting this commence?
As it is now, we are good to go, the tags are on ground, we just have to put one or two things in place, the system is live and working, is just to get some couple of seed companies to register first, because we will not just register all of them at once, give them tags and then, we will take off.