IITA and partners this week launched a new multi-year project assessing sustainable weed management technologies for cassava-based farming systems in Nigeria in Ibadan.
The project is seeking to find solutions to the labor-intensive weeding usually performed by women and children and to increase cassava productivity for 125,000 Nigerian farm families. The project has the potential to serve as a livelihood transformation model for all cassava-producing states in Nigeria.
Cassava is generally grown by smallholder farmers, who appreciate its tolerance of drought and poor soils. However, its prospects in Nigeria—the world’s largest producer—is being threatened by insufficiently developed weed management practices. Hand and hoe weeding are the predominant weed control practices on smallholder cassava farms and takes 50-80 percent of the total labor budget of cassava growers with women contributing more than 90 percent of the labor and 69 percent of farm children between the ages of 5 and 14 forced to leave school to perform weeding.
“Weeding requires up to 500 hours of labor per hectare to prevent economic losses in cassava roots in Nigeria,” says Project Manager Dr Alfred Dixon. “This burden compromises the women’s responsibilities and the children’s education, and Nigerian farmers will continue to record low yields until weed control in cassava is improved. Farm families cannot plant a larger area than they can weed,” he says. According to him, “Addressing the complex issues of hunger and poverty is no easy task, and so we see the value in engaging in new research and deploying our best resources to ensure that smallholder farmers have access to the best innovations to increase their agricultural productivity and improve the nutrition of their families.”
The ultimate aim of this research is to develop state-of the art weed management practices, by combining improved cassava varieties with proper planting dates, plant populations, and plant nutrition options. These particular practices may include the use of herbicides—all of which currently meet globally-accepted conventions and safety thresholds appropriate for smallholder farmers—to make weed control in cassava more efficient. Any herbicide activity will be part of a comprehensive strategy of effective agronomic practices that are collectively striving to make weed management more effective and sustainable.
The IITA-managed project is supported by a US$7.7million grant from the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation, and involves the National Root Crops Research Institute (NRCRI), Umudike; University of Agriculture, Makurdi; Federal University of Agriculture, Abeokuta; government representatives, international cassava scientists, the donor community, and the private sector. “The project will also offer policymakers better information on modern, relevant, and appropriate weed management technologies. This information could be used to expand the project to 5 million farm families in Nigeria,” says Dr Friday Ekeleme, the project’s Principal Investigator.
The sustainable cassava weed management project aligns with Nigeria’s Agricultural Transformation Agenda and will help to meet the Government’s goals to increase domestic food production, reduce dependence on food imports, and expand value addition to locally produced agricultural products.
The project will be handed over to one of the key national institutions in the development and extension of improved cassava technologies, NRCRI, for scaling up the project’s outcomes on a national level.