ACAI to address yield gap in cassava production ----- Jalloh

Stakeholders in the Cassava value chain gathered recently at the International Institute of Tropical Agriculture (IITA), Ibadan, for the first annual review and planning workshop of the African Cassava Agronomy Initiative [ACAI].
The project, which is led by the International Institute of Tropical Agriculture (IITA) with funding support from the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation, will  improve cassava yields, cassava root quality, cassava supply to the processing sector, and fertilizer sales, thereby engaging over 100,000 households in Nigeria and Tanzania, and facilitating the engagement of at least 30% women farmers.
During the meeting,  JIMOH BABATUNDE engaged  the coordinator of the initiative, Dr Abdulai Jalloh, on  how the initiative will be used to  unlock the potential of cassava in Africa.
Here is an excerpt.
On what the initiative is out to achieve
The initiative is mainly aimed at reducing the cassava yield gap. It has been realized that there are many varieties of cassava that have been developed with high potentials, but the yields obtained by farmers are still very low.
We could have as high as 30 tonnes per hectare , for example in Nigeria here, the averages is between  12 to 15 tonnes per hectare , so what the initiative is trying to do is look at interventions that will enabled the farmers to reduce that yield gap by increasing their yields to about 20 to 30 tonnes  per hectare.
On the interventions being put in place for farmers to get higher yields
Those interventions have actually been identified by partners, because the philosophy of ACAI is a demand-driven approach whereby its interventions are responding to specific agronomy-related needs by partners already actively engaged in cassava dissemination and value chain activities in the target countries.
These partners over a year ago have identified key issues that we call used cases. For example they identified fertilizer, soil fertility as an issue. So we are trying to look at what will be the most appropriate fertilizer combination that is really specific to cassava application.
There is another used case that is related to fertilizer, but is directed to the blending companies that make fertilizes.
So, we expect that if we are able to provide this recommendation of the nutrients that are more needed for cassava, these blenders will have a market to blend for and they will be able to sell.
We also realised that the partners have identified inter cropping  in terms of how much fertilizes do you apply , what are the relative population of cassava and the other crops and see if cassava has been identified as the major crop .
We want to make sure they have management practises that will not reduce the yields of cassava at the expense of the other crops. So that they have high cassava yields, but could still have the other crops.
There is also what we call best planting practices, how do they prepare their land, when do  they  plants and things like that. There is another used case that is referred to when do they plant, when they harvest to make sure that they have high starch contents and high yields.
On who the partners are and on the assumption that cassava does not need fertilizer
I will address the last point you raised, which has to do with fertilizer usage. It is  very important to address that as that is what is keeping us down. The good  and  bad thing about cassava unlike other crops like rice and maize, is that  if you plant them in poor soil they will not give anything and these farmers know that when they plant rice or maize they will make sure they add some fertilizer to these crops.
But for cassava , no matter how bad the soil is, if you plant  it  the farmers will still get something, so that gives them the notion that  you don’t need to apply fertilizer , which is wrong.
Because what you are doing is that you are mining the soil and investing labour and having just fraction of what you are supposed to have, so you are wasting resources and it is important to know that if you give the nutrition (fertilizer) that is needed that you will get very high yield more than the inputs you have put in there.
In terms of partnership,  I will tell you that in all of these we are doing that the farmers are  in the centre, because it is the farmer that is producing.
But we have realised that over the years that there are players  in the field, who have been working with the farmers and ACAI does not want to start something that will not be continued  in that regards.
 ACAI has engaged developing partners like SG2000, CAVA 2, the Oyo Cassava Growers Association and Notore, who are fertilizer blenders.
We have partners in Tanzania we are working with also on this initiative. We have whole lots of partners that we have the same interest in helping the farmers.
On intercropping of potatoes with cassava as practiced in Tanzania though in Nigeria it is with maize
Like we say, ACAI is demand driven and like you are saying you are not aware of cassava being inter cropped with potatoes  as it is not a common  practice in Nigeria, so we will not concentrate on that at all , we will not come and force people to do cassava and sweet potatoes  intercropping.
But you are aware that maize and cassava are predominantly cropping system in Nigeria, so that is what we are focusing on in Nigeria.
In Tanzania too, it is not in all part of the country that they intercrop sweet potatoes with cassava, it is only in Zanzibar that it  is traditional system of growing crop there.  So we are helping them improve that system.
The philosophy of ACAI is to reduce the yield gap, whatever system that cassava is obtainable in any country is what we will build on for the farmers to increase their yields. If you are having 10 tonnes per hectare we want you to have 20 to 30 tonnes per hectare, even 50 tonnes. That is ACAI interest.
On the role of women in the initiative as well as ICT
Like I said the initiative is demand driven, we are coming into the system to see how we can improve on it. You know women play very important role in agriculture in these countries and so there are high involvement of women in all stages of cassava production like in planting, weeding, harvesting and these are very laborious operations.
In as much as ACAI is trying to improve the yield, we are also trying to see how we can reduce the burden on these people. So, we are looking at whatever technology will be appropriate to reduce these burdens particular for women farmers.
And this also applies to the youth, as we are trying to encourage the youths to come into agriculture and we know that one predominant factor that has been keeping youths and many other people from agriculture is the intensive labour involved.
We are trying to look at options that are less labour intensive, that are more profitable and could encourage people to come in.
We are also looking at areas of ICT, because this is what the youths are interested in  as ICT is used in  information sharing , sharing prices of commodities  , all of that impact on cassava production  and cassava market.
So we want to see how we can encourage youths to be engaged along the value chains of this operation.
If ACAI is working on market and value addition
You can see from the stakeholders identified earlier, you will see that there are representatives of the major stakeholders along the cassava value chain.  Farmers they are producing, when we talk about fertilizer, these are the input people, when we talk about sultry is a processing factory and we have several of those here.
We have engaged cassava processors that are operating below capacity. So the fact of the matter is that they don’t have enough cassava roots to supply their machines. So, we are not only helping these farmers to boost their production, we are also helping them to supply roots and increase the turnover of the factories and linking them to markets.
On the challenges of ACAI in the past twelve months and the plans for the future
Well there are always challenges in every endeavour. We have challenges in building the partnerships. It is always good to build trust among stakeholders, who come together.
 Some people will come wanting something and if they don’t see them early enough that is a big challenge. You need to encourage them to see the bigger picture which is not immediate.
It has been a challenge, but I think we are overcoming that. I think we are seeing the participation. We have been able to establish trials. The farmers are very happy, they are working with us.

All the members of the value chains seem to be looking and seeing the potential benefits that ACAI will bring on and they have started coming. I think we are getting there gradually. 


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