Efforts to control weeds in cassava farms received a boost with Nigerian engineers joining forces with experts from the International Institute of Tropical Agriculture (IITA) to seek sustainable solutions to tackle the menace.
The team of engineers drawn from members of the academia, IITA, public and private sectors are exploring mechanical weeding options used elsewhere in the world with the hope of adapting them to African cropping systems.
The team intends to build on present motorized weeding equipment already available in the market by studying their limitations in the African farming context, understanding those limitations and modifying the equipment for maximum efficiency.
At a meeting in Ibadan to kick off the collaboration on 13 August, Project Leader for the Cassava Weed Management Project, Dr Alfred Dixon described the partnership as key milestone that would redefine mechanical control of weeds in crops such as cassava in Nigeria in particular, and Africa in general.
“For us to maximize yield in Africa, we need to mechanize weeding. And the challenge before us is to innovate options that will take off drudgery from farmers, and make the farms weed-free so that the crops will grow and express their full potential,” Dr Dixon said.
Accounting for between 50 and 80% of the total labor budget of cassava growers, weeds are major disincentives to African farmers. And with traditional agriculture still predominant, women and children bear more the brunt of weeding investing between 200 and 500 hours annually in clearing weeds on a hectare of cassava to prevent economic root losses in Nigeria. The drudgery involved in weeding places a hard-to-bear yolk on women, compromises productivity, and more importantly, put to jeopardy the education of children of ages 5-14 years as most are forced out of school to assist their parents.
Dr Dixon said unless solutions to weeds are made available, African farmers will not increase their farm sizes and enjoy the gains of agricultural growth. “They can plant only what they can weed,” he added.
Prof Olawale John Olukunle, Head, Department of Agricultural Engineering, Federal University of Technology, Akure (FUTA), commended the IITA Cassava Weed Management Project for welcoming the proposal to jointly work with the Nigerian experts; and praised the Institute’s efforts towards addressing the problem of weeds in cassava and other African crops.
Launched early this year, the Cassava Weed Management Project is confronting the problem of weeds on several fronts including the use of best-bet agronomic practices by combining improved cassava varieties with proper planting dates, plant populations, plant nutrition options and also focusing on intercropping and tillage research. The integrated weed management approach of the project also includes the use of herbicides that meet globally accepted conventions and safety thresholds appropriate for smallholder farmers.
The project intends to widely share knowledge to farmers on cassava weed control so they can make informed and better choices in controlling weeds on their farms using labor-saving options.