Entrenching cassava mechanisation initiatives for higher yield
Nigeria is rated the largest producer of cassava in the world when its farmers are harvesting fewer than 10 tonnes per hectare with numerous challenges, including the myth that cassava farms do not require fertilizer, as the chemical will contaminate the crop, and the belief that cassava does well with minimum rain and minimum weeding.
Apart from being the largest producer, Nigeria is acknowledged globally as the country that consumes cassava the most. While other countries of the world use cassava as animal feeds, ethanol, starch and other industrial products, here in Nigeria, it is one of the staples eaten the most daily.
Nigeria has explored using High Quality Cassava Flour as a substitute in the wheat flour confectionaries, and master bakers experimented with about 20 per cent of cassava flour addition in bread baking, prompting a move to deepen industrialization of the product to reduce forex on wheat importation.
Despite these realities and potential, production cost is very high and productivity per hectare is still very low, necessitating adoption and maximisation of farm mechanisation, which is capable of resolving the twin challenges.
In 2013, the African Agricultural Technology Foundation (AATF) introduced one of its programmes, Cassava Mechanisation and Agro-processing in Nigeria (CAMAP). The programme was started in the South-Western states of Oyo, Osun, Ogun and Ondo, as well as the North Central’s Kwara, with an initial number of about 2,000 farmers.
The CAMAP initiative is working towards revitalising the cassava industry through mechanised production and post-harvest handlings along the value chain. The project aims to improve cassava productivity through increasing the operational efficiency and improving market linkages for smallholder farmers. With this approach, the project is enhancing food security, improved incomes and means of livelihood for farmers, processors and marketers in the cassava sector.
It will be recalled that the government-initiated mechanization scheme launched in 2014 by the former Minister of Agriculture, Dr Akinwumi Adesina, in Zamfara State, has not recorded much progress funds and sustainability have become stumbling blocks to the initiative. Hence, stakeholders believe that the private sector-led initiatives in farm mechanization and value chain development are the wands that could make great impact on the sector.
In four countries, Nigeria, Uganda, Zambia and Tanzania, CAMAP also promotes good agronomic practices, encouraging farmers to use improved stem varieties, fertilisers and herbicides, and ensure timely farm operations.
Since its launch in 2013, the project has increased the efficiency and timeliness of operations, the key results being about 200% increase in yields, about 100% increase in incomes, improved quality of life and attraction of more women and youths into cassava farming as a business.
Mechanisation has increased the efficiency and timeliness of operations and this has attracted women and youths into cassava farming who are now trained in farming as a business.
Impact of National Centre for Agricultural Mechanisation
One of the principal partners of the programme in Nigeria is the National Centre for Agricultural Mechanisation (NCAM) in Ilorin, Kwara State.
With its mission of accelerating mechanization in agriculture in Nigeria, NCAM became the chief technical driver of the project, ensuring that imported machineries followed the nation’s technology transfer rules.
While reiterating the importance of mechanization to productivity and food security, Mr Faleye Tope, a chief agricultural engineer with the centre, said: “We have never seen anything like the facilities AATF brought into the country for the project. For us, it was an eye opener seeing a machine that can plant cassava and harvest it.
“Following the mandate of our centre, we were able to study one of the machines, dismantled it, opened it up and reproduced it using available materials. We and AATF were able to train over 100 operators for the various equipment, as well as farmers on what was expected of them.”
Mustapha Lateef Olalekan is one of the farmers who participated in the programme in Isheyin, Oyo State. He disclosed to The Guardian that: “Our group is made of nine youths with four of us being graduates. We decided to venture into farming when employment was not forthcoming. We had attempted other farm projects before then, but it all ended in disappointment. When we heard about CAMAP, we decided to give it a trial though the way the officers presented the story to us was too good to believe.”
He said the project provided them with the necessary implements, including the cassava planter and harvester, their first time of seeing such. “AATF also supported us with financial incentives to ensure that we maintain the farm. At harvest, our joy knew no bound as we were able to get 25 tonnes per hectare as against eight to 10 tonnes previously harvested. That was highest that has ever been attained in the area.”
Chief Emmanuel Oyeleso, the Olupo of Oluponna in Ayedire Local Government area of Osun State also expressed how the training and exposure to the use of farm machineries have transformed the way agriculture is practiced.
“The project is the best I have seen since people have been coming here to do projects. The yield was wonderful. My people benefited greatly. I was able to buy a car from the proceeds. I employed a lot of people to work on my farm, and above all, I increased the size of my farm from fewer than 20 hectares to 84 hectares because I have seen a miracle,” he said.
“My children have asked me to stop farming, but with a programme such as CAMAP, why do I have to stop? Previously, it takes over 15 people more than eight hours to plant cassava on my farm for me, but CAMAP came with the cassava planter and it took less than an hour. CAMAP is about the power of technology, it is not magic,” he added.
Mrs Amosu Kikiolomo, based in Iwo area of Osun State, said CAMAP had not only saved her children’s education, but also opened her eyes to see that cassava mechanization is a money spinner.
“In just one season of planting cassava according to the guidelines given to us by the CAMAP officers, I was able to send my daughter to the university to study agriculture, expand my farm and have now become recognized as a cassava supplier in my area.”
CAMAP was introduced by AATF to increase cassava production through mechanisation across the value chain, add value to the cassava industry through value addition and creation of market linkages, capacity building of local entrepreneurs to design prototypes machines, manufacture, maintain and repair the necessary equipment for cassava planting, harvesting and processing. The programme was able to excel in Nigeria within five years.
The continuity question
The challenge, as with many other not-for-profit organizations’ projects in Nigeria, is what happens when the foundation hands off over the project? Already, farmers are lamenting the gradual withdrawal of AATF from the project. Most of the farmers who participated in the programme are wondering why the government has not taken it over, following the huge success it recorded.
The Olupo of Oluponna said: “The government has to take over the project. AATF has tried and introduced us to the novel way of farming cassava, taken us out of the old ways of planting cassava to a new way of achieving fantastic results. It will be good for the government to take over from there.”
Mrs Amosu said the government intervention is necessary now that cassava farmers have increased their outputs significantly. “Some days, we go to the market and we are told not to bring in cassava because the market is saturated. The government should step in to ensure that we start adding value to the cassava, which we are producing in large quantity.”
They urged the government not let the initiative that increased income and reduced drudgery of farmers, especially women, go on extinction, saying, it has increased yield per hectare from seven to nine tonnes to over 25 tonnes and benefited over 543,000 smallholder farmers and their families.