Enhancing commercial cassava production

Over 70 per cent of small-holder farmers are engaged in cassava production. A non-governmental organisation, African Agricultural Technology Foundation (AATF), is striving to ensure that commercial cassava farming is enhanced with mechanisation, DANIEL ESSIET writes.

Cassava is used for many things: Food, feed, ethanol and other industrial uses.

Besides, it has a lot of derivatives.

It is, particularly, valuable for rural small-holder farmers, breweries, pharmaceuticals, distilleries and ethanol-producing companies, which use cassava flour and starch as raw materials. In most cases, these firms rely on imports for their raw materials.

Initiative

It is for this reason that a non-governmental organisation (NGO), African Agricultural Technology Foundation (AATF), has taken the initiative to make cassava business attractive in Nigeria. It is working through Cassava Mechanisation and Agro-processing Project (CAMAP).

CAMAP, funded by United Kingdom Agency for International Development( UKAid), seeks to transform the cassava sector in sub-Saharan Africa by enhancing commercial production, processing and market linkages based on business models that engender sustainability.

It also aims to address key constraints to cassava production, improved varieties, poor agronomy, and lack of mechanisation and processing.

One of the goals of the project is to reduce rural poverty by using cassava value-chain to generate employment and income. The other is to train and empower cassava farmers to run an hectare of cassava to yield between 30 and 45 tonnes. Stakeholders say the national average yield is about 20 tonnes per hectare.

CAMAP Project Coordinator, AATF, Ayodele Omowumi, said the project had opened a new vista for many cassava farmers in Ogun, Kogi, Oyo, Osun and Kwara states.

The vision, according to him, is to build a sub-sector that creates a future where cassava farmers are economically bouyant, with enhanced livelihoods, and bring about food security.

His job includes demonstrating to fellow farmers how to plant cassava crop profitably.

He said cassava, a highly nutritious crop, can be time consuming to plant, maintain and harvest. This has caused many farmers to shun planting the crop and those who plant cassava neglect its maintenance leading to below optimum yields.

He said CAMAP aims to reduce drudgery and increase productivity and incomes for farmers.

With an evidence-based demonstration, he said a 35 man-hour labour used to cultivate an hectare of land can be reduced to 45 minutes, using the appropriate technology.

Also, the yield increase is more than 200 percent in some cases.

Through such efforts, Omowumi said many farmers have produced high-quality cassava and strong stems that are in the market.

CAMAP, Omowumi said, targets youths and provide them training on farming as a business.

The youths, according to him, have to be organised in groups. Each group must acquire some hectares for cassava farming.

To support farmers, he said the project has trained tractor operators, project coordinators and extension officers on various topics including agronomy, tractor operation, repairs and maintenance; land clearing techniques and selection of machines for field operation.

One of the beneficiaries under CAMAP is a young farmers’ cooperative group, Path-P Agricultural Enterprises. A fifteen-member group, led by a young estate surveyor, Abdul Waheed, farms cocoa, palmoil, cowpea and cashew on a 35-acre farm in Imeri, Ondo State. This, they did using hoes and cutlasses. The practice, he explained, was tedious and tasking.

One tubercrop, they had not explored, according to Waheed, is cassava, which they considered “hidden gold” with the potential to transform their lives. They saw an enormous potential to fill an unmet need in cassava. They got in touch with CAMAP. They were advised to acquire some land. Consequently, the group acquired 40 hectares on lease to grow the crop. They were selected to participate in the project after satisfying the criteria, which included ownership of hectares, willingness to contribute to the weeding and any other activity, such as stopping fire outbreak.

Encouraged by their passion, the project assisted the young entrepreneurs. They were provided the inputs, including quality stem cuttings, fertiliser and herbicide.

Waheed feels CAMAP could not have come at a better time. He expressed joy with the advances they have made on the 40-hectare farm, using a transplanter to plant cassava.

Hence, the new project has become the group’s primary focus. Their plan is to use their wives to process the cassava, sell the products as well as stems, and increase the land under cultivation to 150 hectares.

Another group, Ibukun Oluwa Ayetoro (Yewa) FUG CMS Limited, has a similar story.The 25-member group has 28-hectare farm in Isa Ope, Yewa North in Ogun State. Its Chairman, Mr Idowu Friday, said he and the other farmers had a challenge planting cassava, using hoes at the time – which he confessed was a tedious affair –before they received the project’s planting equipment.

According to him, they were taught new farming practices, including adopting a higher yielding and disease-resistant cassava. They were advised on one square metre spacing and the use of fertiliser.To him, these were new methods.

The CAMAP Project Coordinator noted that the benefits of assisting ambitious entrepreneurs such as Abdul Waheed and his Path-P cooperative is clear: “That passion and pure entrepreneurial spirit to attempt changes like this, I believe will make an incredible impact.”

According to him, it was exciting working with the team.

The Communications and Partnerships Officer, West Africa, African Agricultural Technology Foundation ( AATF ), Umaru Abu, said CAMAP’s goal is to enhance cassava production and processing technologies to improve food security, farmers, processors, and marketers income.

According to Abu, CAMAP assists farmers to find markets. Buyers partnering with the project to uptake from farmers,include Allied Atlantic Distillers Limited and Thai Farms.

With the project’s potential to drive significant agricultural innovation, Abu said cassava business is poised to make an impact.

One of the tools, the project offers farmers is the transplanter. According to him, the transplanter makes cassava planting a fun. With a ride-on transplanter, Abu explained that a farmers can plant hectare of cassava in about one hour. If people will do the manual transplanting, he said it will take four people between one to two weeks to plant one hectare. This could be very costly because each planter could be paid per day.

He said CAMAP will continue to change small scale farmers’lives by helping them to plant cassava on larger tracts by providing machines at a subsidised rate. The subsidised payments are used to build a revolving fund that ensures the sustainability of the project.

He said, the project is being carried out in five states – Kogi, Kwara, Ogun, Osun and Oyo.

According to Abu, AATF is committed to meeting Africa’s food security challenge in Nigeria, South Africa, Kenya, Ghana, Burkina Faso, Mozambique, Zambia, Senegal, Tanzania and Uganda through the application of appropriate technology and improved seedlings.

He said AATF receives its core financial support from the United States Agency for International Development (USAID), United Kingdom’s Department for International Development (DFID), Rockefeller Foundation, and the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation.

The project links farmers to mechanisation service providers, processors and, in turn, builds their capacity to engage in farming as a business based on best cassava agronomic practice.

As business model, the farmers are identified, linked to high yielding, disease resistant cassava varieties and supported with best agronomic practices (herbicide application, weeding, fertiliser application).

Projects that AATF participates in include: striga-control in maize, development of insect-resistant cowpea, improvement of banana for resistance to banana bacterial wilt, biological control of aflatoxin, development of drought tolerance in maize, nitrogen-use and water-use efficiency and salt-tolerant rice varieties for small scale farmers.