African Cassava Sets up 563 trials in Nigeria, Tanzania to Solve Agronomy Puzzle

Stakeholders at the annual ACAI meeting in Ibadan with Lawrence Kent of the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation sharing his thoughts and expectations from the meeting

By Abdallah el-Kurebe

The African Cassava Agronomy Initiative (ACAI) has said that in the past year, it established 563 trials across Nigeria and Tanzania to help unlock the agronomy of cassava. 

A statement issued by the Communication and Knowledge Exchange Expert, Godwin Atser explained that the trials were part of the broader initiative by the research community led by the International Institute of Tropical Agriculture (IITA) with its international and national partners to increase the productivity of cassava and improve the livelihoods of resource-poor farmers.

“Researchers are hoping that the trials will resolve the puzzle around fertilizer recommendation, best planting practices, intercropping, and scheduled planting of cassava to ensure all year cultivation and harvesting of the root crop,” it stated in parts.

ACAI observed that, according to Food and Agriculture Organisation (FAO), although Cassava was widely cultivated in Africa, its yield per hectare had remained low on the continent compared to Asia with Nigeria and Tanzania continually reporting less than eight tons of yields per hectare as opposed to Asian countries such as Thailand where yield of more than 22 tons per hectare had been reported.

This yield disparity, it further stated, puts African cassava farmers at a disadvantage as they can’t compete globally especially in terms of exports.

Dr. Bernard Vanlauwe, Principal Investigator of the ACAI Project and the Director of IITA Central Africa Hub, said the importance of cassava was not in doubt. “It is one of the most consumed staples in Africa and a source of income. The question is how can we reduce the yield gap. This where the science of ACAI comes in,” he said during the Annual Work Review and Planning in Ibadan, Nigeria.

Over the years, research on cassava agronomy in Africa has been site specific and in what may be described as pilots. The ACAI project aims to take agronomy to scale by researching and making recommendations that could be widely adopted on large scale.

Researchers who are heading the four components of the ACAI project otherwise known as use cases – fertilizer recommendation and blending, best planting practices, intercropping, and scheduled planting – say they are working towards developing decision support tools for site-specific scenarios covering nutrient management best planting practices, intercropping, and scheduled planting.

Dr Abdulai Jalloh, Project Leader of ACAI believes that the project is a game changer for cassava in Africa. “Our farmers are yet to realize the potential of genetic improvement because of poor agronomy,” he said adding that “To harness the full potential of the crop, farmers must adopt the use certified seed of suited varieties and nurture it with good agronomic practices.”

Commending the leadership of ACAI project, the Chair of the Project Advisory Committee of ACAI, Dr Linley Chiwona-Karltun also described the work done so far as impressive.