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.”