Despite increasing number of industrial processing companies and widespread consumption of the root crop and its derivatives in Nigeria, farmers keep experiencing decreasing accruable income due to forces of demand and supply, discouraging investors and youths from actively participating in the cultivation of the crop.
However, Dr Richardson Okechukwu, a cassava breeder at the International Institute of Tropical Agriculture (IITA), said if right spacing, good varieties, effective weed control and other good agronomical practices are embraced, and if market is secured before production, farmers can make a lot of profit by increasing their productivity using the same number of hectare, time and other resources by 100 per cent.
He said this during a farmers’ field day at the Federal College of Agriculture, Akure, on Wednesday, sponsored by Cassava: Adding Value for Africa (C: AVA), an initiative sponsored by the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation, revealing farmers could have their production increased to around 40 tonnes per hectare or at least 25 tonnes where the soil very poor.
“It is agronomic practice you put into it that gives you the yield. So, getting different variety and not getting the right plant population, you are not doing business. Even if your soil is not rich and you are able to take the right plant population, getting 20 to 25 tonnes per hectare is very easy and this is the message we need to take home.
“A commercial farmer or a cassava farmer who wants to make money should consider not doing inter-cropping. The money you make is a function of yield and the cost of input you used in growing the farm. The root you want to sell is subject to some prices and some other forces that you cannot control. The processor who wants to buy fresh roots will want to price you down because there are so many people producing. So, you don’t have that power to push up price as a root producer, thus, you can only gain by decreasing your expenditure and by increasing your yield. That is where the money is.”
He emphasized that farmers too should move beyond selling raw cassava roots, saying, “If you must sell roots, in C: AVA, we tell you to add value because you can do more than just sell roots.” He emphasized that the old spacing of 1m by 1m had been discovered to be ineffective in two ways. It reduces the number of plant per hectare and it gives rooms for weed infestation.
“How you handle your planting materials matters on your yields. When you are cutting your stems and you don’t cut it through or sharp to leave the surface smooth, you limit the number of roots that will be produced from that stick. If the edge of your cutting is rough, it only remains hardwood that will not germinate well. So, the root production will not be entire,”
He said mechanization of cassava farms would go a long way in reducing the cost of producing the root. “The business is to get the right planting population at the time of maturity. We should also know that one way to lower cost is mechanisation. Farm labour is very expensive. Not only that, it is also scarce and so mechanisation is one of those few things that can bring the youth back to the farm. It can also lower your cost of production and your our aim is to lower cost and get higher yields.”
Provost of Federal College of Agriculture, Akure, Dr Samson Adeola Odedina, also buttressed the inevitability of mechanization and good handling of the planting materials.
“The way forward for the farmer is changing the way you cut cassava stem to plant you have already increased your yield by 25 per cent. That is not mechanization and it is not technology. If you change the way you prepare your planting material, without spending extra money, you can get 15 extra per hectare. There are about 100 common errors in cassava production that is non-cash, non-mecnanisation and so our farmers need to know it and change the way of doing agriculture,” Odedina said while taking participants from Nigeria, Ghana, Tanzania, Malawi and Uganda round the demonstration hectare of cassava.
“So farmers need to link with people who are already doing good business in service provision for commercial agriculture and it services a wide range of farmers, including smallholder farmers,” he added, “here we run every year a course we call sustainable cassava production practice, it is a weekend program for farmers and entrepreneurs and we have facilities for tourism.
Project Director of C: AVA II, Professor Kolawole Adebayo, said light on the activities of C: AVA, saying, “The focus of C: AVA I then was to develop the quality of cassava flour that was used for confectioneries. The reason for doing that was to link farmers to companies that have the technology to convert cassava root to high quality cassava flour. But as we then continued with the second phase of the project, C: AVA II, the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation who were funding the project gave us two primary conditions. “The first is that the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation Agriculture Development group said they wanted African leadership. Cassava is grown in Africa, the people who are going to benefit are in Africa. Natural Resources Institute in the United Kingdom shouldn’t be the one leading. So, through a very consultative process, we selected the Federal University of Agriculture in Abeokuta to be the leader, and I was selected to be the project director.
“The second thing that changed was given the lessons that were learnt in C: AVA I, you can’t focus on product which is depending on government policy to run. So that is why in C: AVA II, we opened up the range of products into every value added products that cassava can go into. So, now in C: AVA II, we work with high quality cassava flour, starch, ethanol, and cassava for livestock feed and aquaculture feed so that we can work with companies who use cassava as raw materials to achieve all of these products.”
To get maximum gains from the cassava value chain, speakers identified improved varieties, good soil fertility/land preparation, good agronomical practices, market development and right policies as necessary conditions.