When a Nigerian novelist, Florence Nwapa (1931-1993) wrote about the importance of cassava in her poem—Cassava, not many people may have appreciated the importance of cassava in national and food security. Nwapa’s article was inspired by the events that occurred during the Nigerian civil war (1967-1970) and how cassava was able to save lives, guarantee food security, and provided incomes to farmers. The four stanza poem went thus:
We thank the almighty God
For giving us cassava
We hail thee cassava
The great cassava
You grow in poor soils
You grow in rich soils
You grow in gardens
You grow in farms
You are easy to grow
Children can plant you
Women can plant you
Everybody can plant you
We must sing for you
Great cassava, we must sing
We must not forget
Thee, the great one
Today, cassava is playing a similar role as Nigeria navigates out of economic recession. According to farmer Julius Kpenkpen, “If not cassava, many of us would have died of hunger… But thank God, cassava was handy to save the situation.”
Kpenkpen is one of the farmers who is participating in the International Institute of Tropical Agriculture led Cassava Weed Management Project. His farm is located in the Benue State, North Central Nigeria—a zone that is often described as the bread basket of the country. Last year, he harvested some of his cassava, and with the help of his wife processed to gari for sale and household consumption.
Returns from gari sales were used in paying his children’s school fees and meeting other needs in the home, he explained.
Like Kpenpken, several farmers in Nigeria smiled to the banks in spite of the country’s economic recession. Prices of cassava based products such as fufu, gari, and chips have more than doubled as the country looks inwards to meet its food demand. The naira, Nigeria’s currency, has lost its value by over 50% against the United States dollar since June last year, raising the competitiveness of locally produced food products.
A local measure of gari in south western Nigeria called Kongo has risen from N100 early last year to N250, causing major pain to consumers.
In Nigeria, about 4.5 million people are involved in cassava farming but yield of cassava is below 8 tons per ha (FAO, 2014). One of the principal limitations is poor weed management, which often limits farmers’ farm sizes and undermines yield.
Farmer Aba Dapo who is also participating in the IITA Cassava Weed Management Project’s onfarm trials is optimistic about increasing his farm size having learnt new techniques for weed control.
Farmer Dapo helped manage one of the IITA Cassava Weed Management Project’s onfarm fields in Oyo State, South Western Nigeria where he cultivated both cassava and maize on the same plot. On a plot of less than an acre, he harvested maize and sold for $100 and hopes to harvest his cassava later this year. On another field, he harvested cassava and sold for $400.
“Last year was good for cassava farmers. Previously, I could hardly realise $70 from cassava… cassava is helping in a great measure,” he said.
For farmer Dapo, the knowledge he gained from the IITA Cassava Weed Management Project is a valuable asset that will help him transform his farming practices.
“The knowledge you gave to us on how to control weeds is very useful. With this knowledge, I hope to increase my cassava farm size,” he said.
Another farmer, Hajia Misirat Olomitutu said the onfarm trial had given her the knowledge, confidence and tools to expand her farm.
She commended the IITA Cassava Weed Management Project for bringing the knowledge on weed control to her community, adding that it would reduce the burden faced by farmers to control weeds.
In the last three years, the IITA Cassava Weed Management Project screened environmentally friendly and safe herbicides, and explored agronomic factors and motorised mechanical options for weed control in cassava. Best-bet recommendations for each of the components were pulled together in a package and applied on farmers’ fields. For instance, researchers found that increasing the population of cassava from 10,000 to 12,500 at a spacing of 1mX0.8m gives a better result than the current practice of 1mX1m. Cassava variety TME 419 competes better with weeds than other varieties, and ridged cassava performs better than cassava on flat soil. Researchers also found that herbicides application in cassava incorporated in the agronomic package is effective in weed control.