Weeds are major constraints to cassava production in Africa, contributing to yield reduction and placing a huge burden on the lives of farmers, especially women and children.

Because cassava is a long duration crop, women often stoop for hundreds of hours to weed and keep an hectare of cassava clean for an annum. In some cases, children are withdrawn from school to help their parents to weed, a practice that compromises the education of children and undermines their future.

However, the gloomy side of weeds in cassava is changing and becoming brighter, thanks to researchers from IITA working under the Cassava Weed Management Project (CWMP) / and the African Cassava Agronomy Initiative (ACAI).

In the last five years, the team has developed an integrated weed control package combining best-bet agronomic practices and the use of environmentally friendly herbicides in a kit known as the Six Steps to Cassava Weed Management.

The package is now being disseminated to help improve the livelihoods of farmers. Furthermore, the team has joined forces with the National Agency for Food and Drug Administration and Control (NAFDAC)—a regulator in Nigeria— and trained  659 spray service providers in communities in Abia, Benue, Ogun, and Oyo state.

The spray service providers comprise young men who already exist in local communities, but are now being empowered on the safe use and application of herbicides.

During the training, which had both practical and theoretical sessions, participants were taught safety and correct use of herbicides, and the use of best-bet agronomic practices in cassava farming systems. There was also a practical session on calibration using knapsack sprayers. A breakdown of trained participants across states showed that Abia had 105 participants, Benue had 101 participants, Ogun had 122 participants, and Oyo had 331 participants.

Through this approach, the researchers are addressing the issue of child labour as well as building local capacities among youth to deal with the problem of weeds. Moreover, the approach is helping to provide sustainable jobs for young people in local communities. The Assistant Director for NAFDAC in Ogun state, Pharm Linda J. Halim described the training of spray service providers as a step in the right direction. She commended IITA-CWMP/ ACAI for organizing the training, stressing that it would raise farmers’ consciousness on the safe use of herbicides, create jobs, protect and preserve the environment, and improve livelihoods.

Some of the spray service providers who participated in the training described the training as a ‘life-saving event.’

“Most of us spray herbicides without personal protective equipment, and sometimes we use herbicides’ containers for storing water or cooking oil. Through this training, we have discovered that these are wrong practices because empty containers of herbicides contaminate either the water or cooking oil, which affects our health,” farmer Emmanuel Tur said.

“If I go home, I will tell my wife and other members of the community to dispose of empty containers of herbicides properly,” he added.

Another farmer, Rachel Olanipekun said the training demonstrated the must-haves of any spray service provider.

“We have learnt how to protect ourselves, and I thank IITA for training us. This training is an eye-opener for all of us,” she added.

Alfred Dixon, Project Leader for the Cassava Weed Management project, said the feedback from participants was exciting.

“Through the training, we saw farmers making commitment in terms of behavioral change. This makes me happy,” he said.

Apart from NAFDAC, the trainings were conducted with the support of the National Root Crops Research Institute (NRCRI) Umudike, Federal University of Agriculture Abeokuta (FUNAAB), and the Federal University of Agriculture Makurdi (FUAM) and the Agricultural Development Programs (ADPs).