IITA Scientists Produce Needs-Specific Planting Guide for Cassava
Scientists from IITA, under the African Cassava Agronomy Initiative (ACAI) have produced a needs-specific planting guide, to adequately address the peculiar needs of cassava growers, fertilizer blenders and industrial processors in Africa.
ACAI is a five-year project now in the fourth year and is focusing on six use-cases, which reflect the different issues identified by cassava value chain actors as the most pressing problems. According to the project managers, the new decision support tools (DSTs) which can help farmers with the best recommendations for planting cassava in their fields, were developed to replace the older “blanket” recommendations, which did not consider site-specific conditions and thus often produced poor results.
The DSTs are currently downloadable as smartphone apps for extension agents and farmers who want to apply the technology in their fields. According to ACAI, the Global Positioning System (GPS) in the phones will read the coordinates of the field and report back to a server, which will make use of all available data to understand the situation of the field.
After discovering that standard fertilizer formulations were ineffective for cassava growing, fertilizer blenders, brought forward the first use-case to ACAI – addressing the challenge on how to blend a fertilizer that really serves the requirements of cassava, as such that, it would translate into clear yield and income advantages for farmers.
The second use-case focused on site-specific fertilizer recommendations with respect to knowing the type, quantity, method, and timing of application of fertilizer. There is feedback between fertilizer recommendation and the fertilizer blending use cases because soils across Nigeria and Tanzania are different and different soils require different formulations. The fertilizer recommendation DST considers soil properties, climate, planting and harvesting time, target yield, and resource endowment of the farmer. Thus, the fertilizer recommendation will be specific to every field and to every farmer’s capacity to invest in fertilizer. With this DST on fertilizer application, it is possible to optimize the amount of money farmers invest on fertilizers and maximize the revenue from cassava.
Dealing with Inter-cropping
The third ACAI use-case was on planting different crops together with special attention paid to the planting density of maize to attain high yields without compromising the cassava yield and also the best possible use of fertilizer to increase yields and profitability.
However, the best planting practices use-case does not exclusively look into methods of increasing yields but has a strong component on reducing the cost of production. This use-case was brought forward by the farmers’ association whose major constraint was the need to invest in tillage at the start of the season when neither yield nor prices are known.
Developing an Industry Schedule
The scheduled planting use-case was developed by the cassava processing industry to stabilize the supply of raw roots to factories and processing facilities. Currently, cassava supply peaks in the main harvest season and is too low before and after. The factories, however, need a certain amount of roots every day to use their capacity and to work profitably. Along with high and low supply phases come price fluctuations that can hurt both the processors and the farmers. With methods that would lead to a more uniform distribution of the cassava production across the year, prices would stabilize and factories would process at a lower cost leading to higher income for farmers and potentially lower product costs for consumers.
Managing Starch Content
The scheduled planting use-case is linked with the high-starch use-case which focuses on attaining the highest possible starch content of cassava. Higher starch content in cassava translates to lower cost of extraction and so many processing factories usually pay more for cassava with higher starch content, which makes farmers only too eager in knowing how to grow cassava to achieve high starch content.
Building Capacity for Extension Agents
The ACAI project is currently engaging many extension agents to get training on the use of the different DSTs. Trained extension agents, together with the farmers, test the DSTs in validation plots to assess if and by which margin the yields and revenue increase when farmers follow the recommendations of the DSTs.