Researchers and policymakers meet in Tanzania to discuss cassava agronomy

Nigeria’s rising population, particularly in the cities, coupled with low productivity (yield per hectare) of cassava roots, is threatening the West African cassava industry.

This, the IITA, in an emailed statement issued by its Communication and Knowledge Exchange Expert, Mr. Godwin Atser, said could impede the gains made in the sector, putting the country at risk of becoming a net importer of staple crops.

Grown by over 4.5 million people in Nigeria, cassava is a major food crop, contributing to food security and income for millions of people.

But the productivity of the crop in Nigeria is low — 12 to13 tons per hectare.

“This low productivity cannot support Nigeria in the next 34 years,” according to Dr. Claude Fauquet, Director with the Global Cassava Partnership for the 21st Century (GCP 21).

Fauquet dropped the hint while addressing participants at the just concluded workshop, with the theme: “Integrated System for an Effective Cassava Production in Africa” in IITA, Ibadan, Oyo State.

“By 2050, Nigeria’s population will rise to 400 million, meaning that we will have more mouths to eat cassava and cassava products such as garri, fufu etc. With the current cassava productivity of 12 to 13 tons per hectare, cassava cannot sustain this huge population,” Fauquet explained.

Elsewhere in Asia, cassava productivity has hit more than 20 tons per ha and a nation such as Thailand is today a major exporter of cassava products such as starch.

Fauquet said Africa, and Nigeria in particular, has the land, youth and climate to achieve the same feat such as Thailand.

“The question is: Why is this not happening?” he remarked.

Besides the rising population, Fauquet noted that urbanisation would trigger the migration of more than 50 percent of Nigeria’s population to cities, which would leave a labour vacuum in the rural areas – a situation that would further exacerbate the problem of cassava production in the country.

He, however, said Nigeria could address the challenges by investing in the research for development of cassava along the value chain.

Specifically, he said, investments in improved varieties, weed control, best agronomic practices, and mechanisation could change the outlook of cassava.

“Other areas that need attention include access to credit, markets and cooperatives,” he added.

Fauquet called on the Nigerian government and donors to invest in research and development to put cassava ahead.

Dr. Kenton Dashiell, IITA Deputy Director General, Partnerships For Delivery, who represented the Director General, Dr. Nteranya Sanginga, said cassava is an important crop for Nigeria.

Sanginga added that it was important that researchers were thinking about its future.

He commended the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation for investing in cassava production along the value chain, and called on the government of Nigeria to consider upscaling some of the proven technologies such as cassava mechanisation, weed management, improved seeds at IITA, and best agronomic practices to farmers across the country.

Dr. Alfred Dixon, Project Leader for the Cassava Weed Management Project, described cassava as a “poverty fighter,” emphasizing that investment in cassava would help Nigeria to tackle the twin problem of hunger and poverty, and youth unemployment.

The workshop in Ibadan attracted participants from the private sector, development partners such as the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation and IFAD, and farmer organisations.