Better Days Ahead For Cassava Farmers

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…As IITA, Bayer launch Lagon

Cassava farmers
Cassava farmers loading their produce into a truck.

Cassava farmers in the country have a reason to celebrate with the launch of Lagon, a pre-emergence herbicide for the control of both grasses and broad-leaf weeds in cassava. One of them, Mrs Kehinde Jokotoye, from Ogun State said: “In our area, by the time we plant cassava there is no more sleep for us again until we harvest. This is because as soon as we plant, in fact two weeks after planting, we have started having weed infestation and this is what we battle with all through the growth of cassava.” 

Jokotoye, who doubles as the programme coordinator, Ogun State Cassava Regulation Programme, said Ogun is at the forefront of production of cassava in the country, noting, however, the experience of cultivating the crop is anything but pleasant. She said the arrival of Lagon 575 SC, developed by researchers at the International Institute of Tropical Agriculture (IITA), adopted and developed by Bayer Nigeria Limited under the Cassava Weed Management Project funded by the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation (BMGF) would be a big relief to all cassava farmers.

Speaking at the product launch yesterday in Ibadan, the deputy director-general (DDG) partnership for delivery, IITA, Dr. Kenton Dashiell, noted that Nigeria is the largest producer of cassava, pointing out that the production is dominated by small holder farmers who sweat daily to feed and take care of their families.

“They record abysmal use of about 9 tonnes per hectare or lower whereas countries like China record yields of more than 20 tonnes per hectare. The sad part is that farmers put in more effort but get less yield. This painful reality is due to poor field management and agronomic technologies which starts and almost end with weed control,” he said.

Represented by the director, development and delivery office, IITA, Dr. Alfred Dixon, Dashiell said the launch with the theme – ‘Effective weed control in cassava: The Lagon experience’ was tailor-made to improve the fortune of farmers producing cassava, Africa’s magic crop, lift them out of poverty and hunger and is a vital tool for industrialization and economic transformation.

According to him, the product launch accentuates the essence of IITA’s existence to improve livelihoods through research for development, partnerships and respond to agricultural realities at producing products, eradicating poverty, creating wealth and preserving the natural resource integrity.

In his remarks, the country sales manager, Bayer, Mr. Temitope Banjo, said the launch marked the climax of the partnership between IITA and Bayer on finding a solution to the major problem bedeviling the casava business in Nigeria.

“We started this journey about 9 years ago when several products were submitted by different research and development companies alike to IITA to find a solution to the problem of weed to cassava. The program was sponsored by the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation and at the end of the day out of 53 products Bayer was able to come out tops with two strong products Lagon as pre-emergent and Monsoon Active as a post emergent.

“This result is very important on the fact that we will be putting out of poverty about 500 million people within West and East Africa who rely on cassava as a staple food. So, with the emergence of Lagon against weed regarding the cultivation of cassava we will be able to take those number of people out of poverty,” he added.

Giving key findings on Lagon for weed control, IITA’s Prof. Friday Ekeleme, noted that Nigeria is the world’s largest producer of cassava (59 million tonnes/year) often intercropped with yams, maize, melons or legumes predominantly by small holder farmers (4.5 million).

He stressed that cassava is susceptible to weed competition especially at the early growth stages, saying the lifecycle encouraged perennial weeds, adding poor/no weed control reduces potential yields by 40 – 80 per cent.

According to him, weed control is predominantly manual hoe weeding, and is highly labour intensive.

Listing core benefits of Lagon, Bayer’s Ahmed Bello said “it is selective to cassava solo or with maize intercrop; no phytotoxicity on cassava even when there is heavy rain after application; easy to use Lagon does not sediment nor block nozzle during spraying, thereby prevent farmers’ exposure to pesticides during spraying; low application rate compared to other herbicides; less amount of pesticide per space; good efficacy for more than 7 weeks after spray.

He further said it is cost effective as farmers could “save about 50 per cent of their cost of weeding and gain it as revenue; good toxicological profile (WHO class III); re-entry period; and zero residue on cassava leaves, stems and tuber at harvest.

“Bayer today has registered and commercialised Lagon 575 SC in Nigeria as the first pre-emergence herbicide evaluated and approved for use on cassava by NAFDAC. Thanks to BMGF and IITA for support on this important milestone as cassava is a stable food for about 180 million people in Nigeria,” he added.

Similarly, giving statistics on cost benefit of Lagon, a communication and knowledge exchange expert officer at IITA, Godwin Atser, highlighted  the cost of one manual weeing as between N10,000 – N25,000 per acre ($28 – $69) plus cost of feeding workers while the cost of herbicide: N2,400 – N8,000 per acre ($7 – $22), and the cost of paying spray applicator per acre: N2,000 ($6)

According to him, the profitability intercrop results showed that farmers found average net profits increased by 48 per cent when using herbicides on cassava/maize intercrop compared to the best hoe weeding practice.

Giving testimony of the product, Gbenga Ojo from One Acre Fund said there are over 8,000 farmers in Niger State, Nigeria, using Lagon and the feedback from farmers have been positive.

In the same vein, Jokotoye who represented the Ogun State Commissioner for Agriculture, Dr Adeola Odedina, pointed out that contrary to what obtained in the past, they now plant their cassava and go to sleep, saying they just go to the farm on recreation not really for too much weeding.

“We have been using Lagon for cassava production for a while now. In 2018 I came in contact with it and used it for trials in a one-hectare farm and the farm stood out among all the other farms around. We had 600 bundles of cassava stems. This was the year we had glut in cassava but we still made a profit from that one hectare and we have not stopped using it since then,” she added.

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