Integrated weed control holds promise for cassava revolution in smallholder farms, says Cornell professor

L-R-- Peter Kulakow (IITA), Kathy Lopez (IITA), Ronnie Coffman (Cornell University), Godwin Atser (IITA), Chiedozie Egesi (IITA), and Paul Ilona (HarvestPlus), during the visit of Prof Coffman in IITA Ibadan

L-R– Peter Kulakow (IITA), Kathy Lopez (IITA), Ronnie Coffman (Cornell University), Godwin Atser (IITA), Chiedozie Egesi (IITA), and Paul Ilona (HarvestPlus), during the visit of Prof Coffman in IITA Ibadan

Integrating diverse but proven weed management options could help small-scale farmers overcome the limitations posed by weeds and help them maximize the benefits of genetic improvement, according to Prof Ronnie Coffman, Director of International Programs in the College of Agriculture and Life Sciences (IPCALS), Cornell University.
Prof Coffman said efforts in weed management should be directed towards helping smallholder farmers. “And I see the use of chemicals as one option that can benefit smallholder cassava farmers,” he added on 2 September in International Institute of Tropical Agriculture (IITA), Ibadan at a meeting with IITA researchers and members of the IITA Cassava Weed Management Project
Grown by over 4 million farmers in Nigeria, cassava’s productivity has been disappointing at about 14 tons per hectare as opposed to more than 20 tons per hectare in countries of Asia such as Thailand. One principal factor that has kept yields low is poor weed control. In most cases, small-scale farmers — especially women and children — use hoes, cutlasses and hands to weed. The use of herbicides in cassava is growing but not common.
The Cassava Weed Management Project is a five-year project funded by the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation that is seeking solutions to weeds menace in cassava farming systems using mechanical, best-bet agronomic practices, and the use of environmental friendly herbicides.
Prof Coffman also suggested more research into mechanical weed control, saying that mechanization and integrated weed management approaches were likely to provide more sustainable results.
Seminar presentation in IITA
Earlier, while presenting a seminar to researchers in IITA, Prof Coffman underscored the need for research that would create impact at the farm level with positive outcomes on the lives of resource-poor farmers.
For sustainability to occur, he proposed the need for greater support to the agricultural sector and commended emerging private sector initiatives in agriculture as demonstrated by the African Development Bank (AfDB) under the Technologies for African Agricultural Transformation (TAAT) program. The TAAT program is an AfDB led program that is being supported by the CGIAR and partners with the aim of addressing food insecurity and wealth creation by scaling out proven agricultural innovations in Africa.
While acknowledging that science and technology has pulled many out of poverty, Prof Coffman said that more actions are needed to sustain and improve the gains especially in the face of emerging challenges such as climate change and low yield of crops such as cassava.
Benefitting from NextGen Cassava project
He noted that the Next Generation Cassava Breeding (NEXTGEN Cassava) project has been successful in providing researchers — including those who would be involved in the TAAT program — with the tools and resources that could fast-track breeding initiatives. One such resource is the Cassavabase – a centralized database on cassava that can help breeding programs. Another milestone of the NEXTGEN project is the training of African students and other capacity building programs, he said.
Scientists must speak up
Prof Coffman concluded by calling on scientists to speak out and communicate their findings to the public. He said that most organizations were becoming “flat” in decision-making and funding. He said the more people get to know about an innovation, the more chances it had of being scaled out.
He argued that investment in science communication has benefits with enormous returns some of which could be greater public acceptance of new technologies.
Collaboration
Dr Peter Kulakow, Head of Cassava Breeding Unit, IITA called for stronger ties between IITA and Cornell. The two institutions agreed to harness their complementarities with a view to fighting hunger and poverty. Cornell and IITA will be working together on the second phase of the NEXTGEN Cassava Project proposal and other initiatives of mutual interest.

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