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.
Below is the photo of a cassava farm overtaken by weeds.
Weeding is recommended at 4-5 weeks after planting and at 8 weeks after planting until crop ground-cover is complete.
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!
Newspeakonline 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.
The research focuses on intercropping, tillage research and integrated weed management practices, including the use of herbicides that meet globally accepted standards.
The photo below is the result of the research so far. A small farm of 12,500 cassava plants intercropped with maize. The plant is currently 10 weeks old and there had been no weeding by hand or hoe:
How the feat was achieved
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 preemeergence herbicide was a major factor.
Use of herbicides in cassava cultivation
In Nigeria, the primary herbicides used are atrazine,metalachlor, glyphosate and paraquat. Within the farming community, less than 50 per cent of them 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 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.
In a statement by Godwin Atser, Communication and Knowledge and Exchange expert for the project, the IITA, “working with a coalition of partners including the Federal University of Agriculture Abeokuta, University of Agriculture Makurdi, the National Root Crops Research Institute, and extension partners; the team set up trials in the three agroecological zones of the country including the humid forest, derived savannah and the southern guinea savannah. These trials led to the selection of safe and environmentally friendly herbicides with other agronomic practices that formed the package that was used in setting up the demos in Ogun and other states of Nigeria (Abia, Benue, and Oyo). Results from the other states are also being compiled for analysis”.
Prof. Ekeleme said the results gotten so far indicated that the project was achieving one of its major objectives, which is to double the national average yield of cassava, generate wealth, and reduce the burden of weeding in cassava farming systems.