There are over 4.5million cassava farmers in Nigeria, and many more are willing to join, even at subsistence level.
The reason for the choice of the root crop is not far-fetched: Cassava is a money spinner. It has huge demand for domestic and industrial purposes. Cassava is processed to starch, ethanol, flour and gari—a staple food. Other uses include local cassava meals like akpu, and lafun. In some communities, the root is simply boiled and eaten.
But keeping a cassava farm free of weeds is a major challenge. It reduces yield, increases labour cost and discourages many who go into it as a venture outside their paid employments.
Traditionally, farmers commence weeding sometimes two weeks after planting until crop ground-cover is complete. And most of the weeding is done by women.
But a Cassava Weed Management Project (CWMP) research by the International Institute of Tropical Agriculture (IITA)which started four years ago, produced a healthy cassava farm land that has not been weeded at 10 weeks!
Journalists took a trip to a demo plot of IITA-CWMP in Ijaiye, Akinyele Local Government Area of Oyo state, at the weekend, to see how the feat was achieved. This was part of efforts to celebrate the World Food Day.
The research focuses on intercropping, cassava variety, spacing, fertilization, tillage research and integrated weed management practices, including the use of herbicides that meet globally accepted standards.
Prof. Friday Ekeleme is the Principal Investigator of the project. He explained that the feat was achieved by following proper field preparation techniques and use of preemergence herbicides at the time of planting.
Some proper field preparation measures, according to him, include crop spacing at 1m by 0.8m and soil tillage.
He said that the application of an experimental pre-emergence herbicide known as Fierce, was done with the intention of applying a post-emergence herbicide later, but at 10 weeks, the plot is still without weeds and looking as if there won’t be need for the post-emergence herbicide.
Prof. Ekeleme explained further that the observation is a major breakthrough in the fight against weeds in cassava cropping. He said that the preemergence herbicide was a major factor.
Use of herbicides in cassava cultivation
In Nigeria, the primary herbicides used are atrazine plus S-metalachlor, glyphosate and paraquat. Within the farming community, a few farmers use herbicides routinely, instead they manage weeds by hand hoeing.
The use of the herbicides mentioned above have not eradicated the weed challenge in the country, hence the need for more improved ones like the experimental one being used by IITA. This opens a new opportunity for chemical companies.
Prof Ekeleme said IITA was working with several chemical companies who provided samples of herbicides for testing.
He promised that by the middle of 2018, a lot of grounds would have been covered to see the introduction of the improved herbicide to farmers. Part of the grounds that need to be covered are involving stakeholders and getting government approvals and registration for the herbicide which has been tested to verify its environmental friendliness and consumption safety levels.
The Executive Director of Dominican Center, Rev Father Fortunatus Okeke commended the research efforts by IITA-Cassava Weed Management Project.
He said that the cassava weeds research had the potential to turn around the fortunes of Nigerian cassava farmers.
“I am glad to be part of this research because it is addressing the needs of farmers,” he added.
Dr Alfred Dixon, Project Leader of the Cassava Weed Management Project said the goal of the project was to reach 125,000 farmers in the first phase and later extend to 20 additional cassava producing states of Nigeria.
The IITA-CWMP is funded by the Bill and Melinda Gates foundation with collaboration with Nigerian government institutions. The aim of the project is to develop integrated weed management techniques that involve the systematic screening of new potential herbicides and testing of mechanical weed management techniques. The project is implemented by IITA in partnership with the National Root Crops Research Institute in Umudike, Federal University of Agriculture Abeokuta, University of Agriculture Makurdi, Justice Development and Peace Movement in Oyo and Ogun states, Oyo State Agricultural and Rural Development Program (OYSADEP), Benue State Agricultural and Rural Development Authority (BNARDA), Abia Agricultural Development Program, Ogun State Agricultural Development Program (OGADEP), KOLPING, and the Dominican Center in Oyo State.