Cassava revolution

According to the Food and Agricultural Organisation (FAO), Nigeria is about the largest producer of cassava in the world. Yet, the global food crisis has impacted on the price of gari, the most common food product derived from cassava. The price of gari, also a staple food in the country is on the rise. While the phenomenal increase in the price of rice may be explainable as a very large proportion of rice consumed is imported, there is no justifiable reason for such rise in the price of gari and other items derived from it. This is because cassava consumed and used is grown in this country and there is capacity to grow more.
In recent years, several uses have been discovered for cassava such that the uses of the products derived from it cut across different industries within and outside the country. Cassava is used in the production of chips, flour, starch, ethanol, gari, fufu, glucose, bakery, livestock feed, glue.
There have been several calls by Nigerians to investigate the reasons for the rise in price of gari. Some insist that exportation of cassava or its products should be stopped so that the supply in the country would be so much that the price would fall and become affordable to even the poorest of Nigerian consumers.

But another school of thought is that rather than force down the price of the commodity by policy instrument, massive production of cassava should be encouraged to meet the increasing demand for industrial uses and still affordable as food. Nigeria has already has all it takes. Cassava grows in different types of soils and other climatic factors in Nigeria encourage its growth. Ensuring cassava is in abundance for food is crucial for food security in Nigeria and Africa in general. It is often referred to as Africa's drought crop and war crop. In some parts of Nigeria and the rest of Africa, it has been the shield against outright death from hunger for millions of people. If the cassava is not available is not sufficient to feed the teeming population, supply.

About two decades ago and beyond, massive cultivation of cassava would not be regarded as a wise entrepreneurial venture. But in recent times, massive cultivation of cassava is a wise investment especially for the investor who processes it for the end-users - consumers or industries. If the majority of dealers continue to buy rather than produce the crop, the tide of hunger pervading the land would not be stopped.
Therefore, we shall explore investing in cassava from the basics of growing it to the processing, marketing for food, utilisation in industries, exports markets, governmental and other agencies' support for cassava growers and processors.
Based on the FAO research, cultivation of cassava can be done in the following way:

Choice of land
Choose well-drained, deep, loamy soils. Where such is not available, sandy and clayey soils can be managed intensively for cassava production. However, very sandy and clayey soils should be avoided.
Land preparation: The texture and water table of the soil will guide you in your choice of land preparation method. Planting on the flat is recommended when the soil is deep and well drained as in sandy loam soils. Shallow and clayey soils should be tilled and ridged. Soils prone to water-logging require ridges or mounds. Planting on ridges or mounds is a general practice in the rain forest and derived savanna zones in Nigeria.

Choosing a variety
Carefully select varieties with multiple pest and disease resistance, high and stable root yields and acceptable quality characteristics that meet end users' requirements for food (gari, fufu, fermented flour etc) and industrial raw material (starch, chips, pellets, unfermented flour etc). The major genetic factor that determines quality of roots is dry matter content.

Recommended varieties
Several improved varieties of cassava have been recommended and released in Nigeria. The most commonly grown of these are TMS 30572, 4(2)1425, 92/0326 and NR 8082. More recently 42 new improved genotypes have been made available to farmers in the South-south and South-east for participatory selection so that they can identify specific best-bet varieties for each of the cassava growing communities. For now, you could choose any of the commonly grown improved varieties for planting since they are stable across environments. However, you will also need to select the variety with the highest performance in your farm site and environs.

Acquisition of planting materials
Stems of improved varieties can be obtained from National Seed Service (NSS), state offices of Agricultural Development Programs (ADP), the Cassava Growers Association (CGA) and several out-growers who produce quality stems for sale. Stems are usually tied in bundles each having 50 stems that are 1metre long. Fifty of such bundles are needed to plant one hectare of land.

Stem storage
Keep bundles of stems stacked vertically on the soil under a shade. The distal end of the stem should touch the soil. Moisten the soil regularly and keep the surrounding weed free. This way you can store your stems for more than three months. Under low relative humidity and heat stress store your stems in pits under shade.

Stem quality
Cassava stakes (cuttings) for planting should be taken from plants 8 - 18 months old. Stakes taken from older plants are lignified and they perform poorly due to delayed sprouting and rooting. A mature cassava stem has 3 sections - hardwood, semi-hardwood and shoot-tip. The hard and semi-hardwood sections are the best for planting. Shoot tips are very fragile and have high mortality rate especially if they are subjected to moisture stress during the first month after planting. If you must source planting materials from an old field (over 18 months) the semi-hardwood section gives the best quality.

Preparation of planting materials
Use sharp tools preferably a secateur or cutlass to cut stems into stakes for planting. Avoid bruising the stems. Smooth cuts enhance root yields through rapid and uniform root development from the cut surface. The recommended length of stakes is 20-25 cm with 5 or more nodes. Mini-stakes (10 cm) are required for multiplication while micro-stakes (3-5 cm) are used for rapid multiplication.

Handling of stakes
Stakes should be planted soon after they are cut otherwise they get dehydrated and perform poorly. If stakes must be stored for a few days (3-5 days) before planting put them into transparent polyethylene bags. You can also gather the stakes together under shade and cover with a plastic bag. The high relative humidity and temperature within the bag usually induce rapid sprouting and rooting of stakes. Plant vigour, survival rate and yields are better if stakes are pre-sprouted before planting.

Time of planting
Planting should be done as soon as the rains become steady in your area. This varies from March to November in the rain forest, April to August in the derived savanna, May to July in the Southern Guinea savanna (SGS) and July to August in the Northern Guinea savanna (NGS).

Method of planting
Stakes can be planted vertically (buds facing up with 2/3 of the stake in the soil), horizontally (whole stake buried 3-5 cm in the soil) or inclined (buds facing up with 2/3 of the stake buried in the soil at an angle of about 45o). When stakes are planted vertically tuberous roots bulk deep into the soil. Although this gives more stability to the plant against lodging, it makes harvesting very difficult. This orientation is recommended for sandy soils. Stakes planted horizontally produce multiple stems and more tuberous roots but they are comparatively smaller in size. The roots are produced near the surface and they are easily exposed to mechanical damage and to rodents. However, in loamy and rich soils the multiple stems and roots are at an advantage resulting in high yields.
Stakes that are inclined on the ridge produce tuberous roots in the same direction. The inclination of the stem and roots provide a leverage which make harvesting easier than in the other orientations. In shallow and clayey soils, stakes should be inclined. In the rain forest and derived savannah, farmers incline their stakes at planting.

Plant population
The optimum plant population for high root yield is 10,000 plants per hectare obtainable when plants are spaced at 1 x 1 m. This population is seldom achieved at harvest due to losses caused by genetic and environmental factors. In order to harvest a plant population near the optimum an initial plant population/ha of 12300 at 0.9 x 0.9m is recommended. Plant spacing and population will vary depending on if cassava is planted sole or in association with other crops.

Cassava is compatible with many crops when intercropped. The best intercrops of cassava in Nigeria include maize, melon, groundnut, cowpea and vegetables. Other less important intercrops particularly in the South-south and South-eastern Nigeria include yam, cocoyam, sweet potato, plantain and banana. Non or high branching varieties of cassava are best for intercropping. Profuse and low branching varieties will shade light off the intercrops. In medium and large-scale farms maize is the best intercrop.

Weed control
This is one of the major limiting factors to production accounting for more than 25 percent of the total cost and time of production. Integrated weed control (cultural, mechanical and chemical) is recommended. The ideal combination will depend on the agro-ecology, weed spectrum and level of infestation, soil type and cropping system.

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