IITA has also led efforts to breed new varieties of banana, cowpea, maize, soybean and yam that are suited to the region’s wide diversity of growing conditions and dietary preferences.
In recent years, IITA’s work has increasingly included a critical focus on connecting crop science to creating employment for Africa’s youth, enabling African farmers to adapt to the stresses of climate change and addressing the growing threats from an array of crop pests and plant diseases.
Altogether, IITA has helped to revolutionise the nutrition and income of millions of people across the African continent. In fact, the overall value for Africans of the crops developed by IITA and its partners now stands at US$17 billion and counting. This underscores its contribution Africa’s economy as well as its agriculture.
THE International Institute of Tropical Agriculture (IITA) has achieved to come up with an initiative that seeks to advance cassava production by using affordable and appropriate means of farming that will enable to meet the foreign market demands.
- the new project dubbed “African Cassava Agronomy Initiative (ACAI)”, farmers are equipped with necessary knowledge based and tools for accessing cassava scaling partners and skills for national scientists to engage in transformative cassava agronomy.
The ACAI is a five year funded project by Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation implemented in five Africa countries aiming at increasing the availability of appropriate and affordable technologies to sustainably improve short and long-term agricultural productivity in cassava in the targeted countries.
Speaking during the media familiarisation tour over the weekend in Kisarawe District, Coast Region director general for Tanzania Agricultural Research Institute (TARI) Dr Geoffrey Mkamilo said the initiative is designed to support farmers with ability to double the production from the average of 10 to 60 tonnes per hectare by using nitrogen, phosphorous and potassium NPK fertilizer to add nutrients in the crop.
“The initiative intends to enable farmers to adopt the use of (NPK) fertilizer in cassava production which has proven to increase yield in the crop and add value chain in the market,” he said.
- project is dual implemented by the International Institute of Tropical Agriculture (IITA) and Tanzania Agricultural Research Institute (TARI)
A pilot trial conducted at Mzenga farm in 12 plots area at Kisarawe District shows that cassava grown with no fertilizer produce only 10 tonnes per hectare while that grown with fertilizer yields more between 40 to 60 tonnes per ha.
According to him, cassava in Tanzania is an integral component of most cropping systems and is among the important staples in many zones. It plays an important role as it intensify food security crop and provides useful opportunities for extending labour use and exploiting price peaks in the food market,” he said.
However, the director said a huge chunk of the crops produced remains in the household for domestic consumption rather than for commercialisation.
“The current production scale for cassava in the country is not enough as the country produces 4 million tons per year, whereby the lake zone contributes by 40 per cent, the southern areas Lindi and Mtwara cassava contributes 28 per cent while in the eastern regions Dar es Salaam and Coast regions provides 12per cent in the bucket,” said director.
About ACAI project
ACAI project is executed in five African countries Nigeria, Tanzania, Democratic Republic of Congo, Ghana and Uganda, aiming to increase the availability of appropriate and affordable technologies to sustainably improve cassava productivity in the short and long-term.
The project is composed of six work streams, research in cassava growth dynamics, nutrient and water requirements, and responsiveness to inputs, development of a geo-spatial cassava agronomy information base, production and validation of demand driven decision support tools for cassava agronomy, facilitation of the use of decision support tools to farmers, extension services and other development initiatives, capacity development of national institutions to engage in transformative cassava agronomy R4D and project governance, management, coordination and ME and L.
ACAI endeavours to develop and deploy cassava recommendation tools to intensify cassava farming, improve root starch quality and reduce the yield within a five year project tenure that seeks to engage over 100,000 households and generate value worth US$ 28 million.
Among others the objective of the project is to generate basic information on cassava growth and nutrient requirements to enable the development of improved agronomic recommendations.
But also to develop site specific recommendations based on smallholder farmer resources and production objectives enabling farmers to reduce cassava yield gaps.
To develop scientific capacity within the national research systems by engaging them in trans formative cassava research for development.
Further to research and understand knowledge gaps in the agronomy of and cassava farming systems, run trials and implement stimulation of cassava growth models to understand cassava response to nutrients in different agro ecological zones and different cropping systems.
Review and evaluate different demand driven options in addressing yield and constant supply of roots as well other specific needs expressed from partners already engaged actively in the cassava value chain within target countries.
ACAI is actively running research trails in Nigeria and Tanzania. In Tanzania, ACAI is partnering with the country Agricultural Research Institute TARI, several institutes and organisations to run activities in the lake zone around Mwanza, southern zone, eastern zone and both Islands of Zanzibar.
At the field trial
In a separate farm of 12 plots, a team of researchers planted cassava in a three major categories, including cassava with no fertilizer (pure), while in other plot, researchers planted cassava with half dose of fertilizer by putting two nutrients of Potassium and Nitrogen or Nitrogen and Phosphorus, whereby the rest of plots they planted a full dose of NPK fertilizer.
ACAI project coordinator for eastern zone Aswile Mwakyuse said both three variety produces different quality of cassava, whereby cassava with full dose of fertilizer produces 6kilogrammes per cassava that makes 60 tonnes per ha.
He added that, cassava planted with half dose of fertilizer produce 4kilogrammes per cassava that makes 40 tonnes per ha and while cassava planted without fertilizer produces 1 kg which is 10tonnes per ha.
Therefore, planting by using fertilizer proved to yield more and it provides assurance to farmers to be able to meet the demand of the cassava in the international market.
Currently, the Chinese government have declared a market for cassava from Africa as they need 2.5mil of tonness per year from Lindi, Mtwara and Coast Region.
Mwankusye said for many years cassava production has been practiced at low level with the use of low quality method of farming that produces 3 to 7 tonnes of cassava per ha which is still low production.
“Cassava accounts for one of the best food crop in the Coast Region while being the second cash crop after cashew nut in the Cost Region,” he said.
“Farmers have been practicing poor and local methods of farming like slash and burn to prepare farm while planting without specific measurement space needed between one stem and another, this has been one of the factors that retard development of the crop,” he explained.
He said delay to do weeding makes cassava not to grow well ending to poor production.
“The project therefore, is intended to equip farmers with training to get skills on how to grow using modern technologies to boost production by using fertilizer,” Mwankusye added.
He explained that the practice of cassava production in the country is not promising as farmers still uses low quality seeds that do resist diseases.
The coordinator said the initiative helps farmers to understand better means of preparing the seeds far from slash and burn being used currently by most of the farmers.
The mission is to develop cassava agronomy recommendation tools to intensify cassava farming, but also to improve starch quality and reduce the yield gap.
Extension officer for Mzenga village where the field trial took place, Fatuma Mwajuma said most of farmers are still using local seeds for cassava that do not give better yields and enough cassava production for commercialisation.
She added that about 50 to 60 per cent of farmers in the area do practice cassava for commercial purposes rather for domestic uses.
However, few of them who joined the ACAI initiative, had a lot to say about the achievements they had witnessed since they joined the initiative.
“We have witnessed the difference in terms of how farmers who are in the project succeeded specifically those who are in the project and those who are not affiliated with the initiatives.
The officer explained that due to poverty, some farmers have failed to practice intensive cassava farming and they end up for domestic farming.
National report on cassava production
The Tanzania Agricultural Research Programme II-with Sokoine University of Agriculture 2002 states that realising the importance of cassava the government of Tanzania through the National Agricultural Research System and other institutions such as universities had made efforts to promote the crop. These efforts include investments in research and establishment of policy guidelines for cassava production.
Cassava research for a long time concentrated on developing better yielding varieties, agronomic practices and control of major pests of cassava.
These research activities have often been done in collaboration with international organisations.
The main objective therefore was to increase production levels and productivity. Research results show that improved varieties yield up to 25 tonnes per hectare (TARP II-SUA, 2002).
The use of such improved varieties resulted into increased net returns to cassava production.
It has been estimated that with improved varieties net returns from sell of fresh cassava range between TAS 220,000 and 340,000 per ha compared to traditional varieties that range between 160,000 and 310,000 (TARP II- SUA, 2002).