Over 4 million cassava farmers in Nigeria threaten by weeds – Expert

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By; BAYO AKAMO, Ibadan.
Director of International Programs in the College of Agriculture and Life Sciences (IPCALS), Cornell University, Professor Ronnie Coffman has hinted that weed is now threatening the over 4 million farmers presently growing cassava in Nigeria.
Professor Coffman who stated this in Ibadan at a meeting with IITA researchers and members of the IITA Cassava held at the International Institute for Tropical Agriculture (IITA) declared that Integrated weed control holds promise for cassava revolution in small holder farms,
According to Professor Coffman, “integrating diverse but proven weed management options drawn from mechanical, biological, cultural   and chemical weed control methods could help small-scale farmers overcome the limitations posed by weeds and help them maximize the benefits of genetic improvement”.
He pointed out that in Nigeria, cassava’s productivity has been disappointing at about 14 tons per hectare as opposed to more than 20 tons per hectare in countries of Asia such as Thailand,saying,“ one principal factor that has kept yields low is poor weed control”.
Lamenting that in most cases, small-scale farmers, especially women and children use hoes, cutlasses and hands to weed and that the use of herbicides in cassava is growing but not common,
Professor Coffman noted that efforts in weed management should be directed towards helping smallholder farmers.
Prof Coffman while suggesting more research into mechanical weed control added that mechanization and integrated weed management approaches were likely to provide more sustainable results, saying,“and I see the use of chemicals as one option that can benefit small holder farmers,”
Presenting a seminar to researchers in IITA earlier, Prof Coffman emphasized the need for research that would create impact at the farm level with positive outcomes on the lives of resource-poor farmers.
Professor Coffman while acknowledging that science and technology has pulled many out of poverty declared that more actions are needed to sustain and improve the gains especially in the face of emerging challenges such as climate change and low yield of crops such as cassava, adding, that for sustainability to occur, there is the need for greater support to the agricultural sector.
He however lauded the emerging private sector initiatives in agriculture as demonstrated by the African Development Bank (AfDB) under the Technologies for African Agricultural Transformation (TAAT) program.
Professor Coffman then urged scientists to speak out and communicate their findings to the public, saying, the more people get to know about an innovation, the more chances it had of being scaled out.
He argued that investment in science communication has benefits with enormous returns some of which could be greater public acceptance of new technologies.
Speaking, the Head of Cassava Breeding Unit, IITA,Dr Peter Kulakow advocated for stronger ties between IITA and Cornell.
The two institutions later agreed to harness their complementarities with a view to fighting hunger and poverty. Cornell and IITA will be working together on the second phase of the NEXTGEN Cassava Project proposal and other initiatives of mutual interest.

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