- Scientists led by the head of root crops Dr Titus Alicai, are set to lift farmers through a formula for producing about 29 tonnes of cassava per hectare. Experts see the intervention taking cassava from a humble root crop to a prized industrial input that will put money in the pockets of many farmers, writes Lominda Afedraru.
Cassava is one of the most important crops in the world; it is widely cultivated in East and West Africa with Nigeria leading.
The crop has lots of benefits mainly industrial and for food. Products such as flour for bread, pasta, industrial ethanol, starch, glue and others are derived from cassava.
Cassava production is not really technical; it is a capital intensive investment that requires little of your time, all you need is to plant and let nature take its course.
Unlike other crops, cassava is a hardy crop that tolerates virtually all types of soil and climatic condition but commonly grown in the tropics; it can withstand drought and it matures within nine to ten months
To make a cassava farm successful, there are several agronomic practices a farmer must adopt.
These practices enhance the soil conditions and provide a favourable condition for the growth from planting to harvest.
As such scientists at the National Crop Resources Research Institute (NaCRRI) in Namulonge who have bred a number of improved varieties have embarked on a new technology where they are coating cassava stem with a specific chemical to boost its yield.
The head of root crops at NaCRRI Dr Titus Alicai explaining the technology notes that his team has been carrying out field tests under this project referred to as mandiplus technology implemented jointly with scientists from the Brazilian Agricultural Research Corporation (Embrapa) and Syngenta an agribusiness company based in Switzerland.
Dr Alicai explains that mandiplus is a combination of chemicals which was first used by scientists in Brazil to boost cassava yield.
This technology is now in Uganda and Dr Alicai and team have been testing it in various locations where cassava in grown and the results have proved well.
Gerald Adiga an agronomist at NaCRRI who was part of the team implementing the technology explains that this approach is aimed at improving the multiplication rate of cassava seedlings in the country and making the planting material less bulky.
When using this technology, it is important for the user to construct treatment facility, have a machine which is used to cut cassava stems and a bucket to collect chemicals which are used for treating the stems.
A person engaged in using this technology is advised that the cassava stem be cut into eight centimetres shape to enhance the germination rate and creates vigor for growth.
Land preparation is very crucial and farmers are required to use proper land preparation method.
There are different types of land preparation method but the most beneficial and widely accepted is the conventional method which involves the use of a plough and a harrow. The harrow is used to smoothen the land and making it free from weeds and other contaminants, thus, making it suitable for planting. It is also good to use herbicide to clear the weed and dig a hole where the cuttings will be planted.
Farmers are advised to avoid swampy places for growing cassava because it will cause rotting of the tubers.
It is important to buy clean seedlings free from diseases. It is the reason farmers will have to adopt the mandiplus technology where cassava stems are cut and coated with a chemical which will preserve it from disease infection as well as boost germination and growth vigour.
Planting treated stems
Planting cassava stems requires a cautious approach; stems are planted in a slanting orientation of about 45°and not erect.
The stem contains nodes; these nodes are the growing point of the cassava where new cassava shoot comes up.
A stem cutting must have at least five nodes but with mandiplus technology even one node is appropriate.
Cassava stems should be planted early in the morning or late in the evening to prevent evaporation and evapotranspiration.
Spacing is very important; the space between a plant and the other is the feeding area of the plants; cassava plant requires a spacing of 1m by 1m to ensure good yield.
To eradicate weeds, apply post-emergence herbicide like glyphosate to help kill weed seeds and surviving seeds immediately after planting.
This is done to keep the plant free from weeds.
Pest and disease control
Pests and diseases are common threats to the productivity of any crop.
The most effective measure to control pest and disease is the use of resistant cassava stems for planting.
Other ways of controlling is the removal of infected plants from the field immediately the disease is noticed.
The cassava plants can also be sprayed with chemicals such as: insecticides, fungicides, bactericides; depending on the causal organism of the disease.
Farmers can as well apply fertilisers such as NPK to plants as a way to increasing yield.
Fertilisers replenish the soil nutrient, thus, providing adequate nutrient for crop growth.
Harvesting period is always a gleeful for farmers.
Those intending to harvest the roots for food can do it from seven months depending on the variety. But farmers who intend to sell the stems can harvest at six months and the roots can be harvested after two years.
During the evaluation process the yield rate for roots is at 29.3 tonnes per hectare and the stem yield rate is at 319.4 bags per hectare compared to untreated stem where roots measure 22.8 tonnes and stems at 159.4 bags per hectare.
The treated stems are good for termite control during germination, it controls root rot and its stems are not prone to pathogens.
The seed is superior meaning farmers will eventually have to adopt it. The technology is applicable to all improved cassava varieties such as Nase14, Narocas1 and Nase19 varieties.