Integrating diverse but proven weed management options drawn from
mechanical, biological, cultural and chemical weed control methods 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.

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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.

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 farmers,” he added on 2 September in IITA,
Ibadan at a meeting with IITA researchers and members of the IITA Cassava
Weed Management Project

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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