In this interview with JULIANA AGBO, the regional coordinator, African Agricultural Technology Foundation (AATF), Dr Issoufuo Abdoourrahman Kollo, speaks on the progress made so far in the Cassava Mechanisation Project (CAMAP) and the Pod Borer Resistant (PBR) Cowpea project.
What is happening in CAMAP project?
The Cassava Mechanisation Project (CAMAP) project has been well executed for many years and it is making impact in the project areas; cassava growers, the farmers are already appropriating/mastering the technologies and good practices oneself with technology and everything we have been proposing and demonstrating to them. The project is very well established and I think it is highly sustainable. The problem now is that cassava production is increasing in areas where the project is operating because the average yield has been increased from eight to over 30 tons per hectare, but the price of cassava is very low which is about N10,000 per ton. We need to have more cassava processing to get farmers a good price, that’s the problem.
What makes this project special?
Cassava is an important tuber of root crop in many African countries especially in Nigeria. It is one of the key staple foods of people in Sub Saharan Africa and cassava products (gari and tapioca0, command high volume of the domestic trade in several countries of the continent. Years back, successive governments, especially the government of former President, Olusegun Obasanjo, had a cassava initiative, to improve the crop production in the country. We cannot joke about cassava, it is as important as maize and any initiative to improve cassava production in Africa would have serious impact economically because food security will be in turn we improved food security.
Do you have plans for the off-take of cassava, after empowering farmers to produce more?
There are many people who process cassava especially those who are into ethanol production, we are doing our best to link them up to processors; some processors have their own cassava farms, but CAMAP AATF has been making serious efforts to ensure they link the farmers to processors who would buy off their tubers immediately they are harvested. We link farmers to companies and big traders. Some processors have their own farms, because what they get from farmers is not enough to maintain their companies to operate on full capacity throughout the year, but we are still working with them; the links need to be strengthened, it need to increase because the demand for processed cassava can increase is huge.
Can you tell us the difference between your own technology and the conventional one?
We didn’t invent any new technology and our biggest achievement was to create the conditions for farmers to innovate by adopting existing technologies and good practices. So it is existing technologies that were provided. For instance, we imported the cassava planters and harvesters from Brazil because cassava is big crop in that country. We didn’t manufacture these machines here. We just organised the farmers and showed them how to use the technologies since having technology is one thing and having people to use it is another thing.
If the economic and social conditions do not exist, the technology will never be taken up by farmers no matter how good it may be. We have all these and this is why the cassava project is working with the help and collaboration of the National Agricultural Mechanisation Centre in Kwara. We, really want to show people that they can mechanise agriculture. The varieties that we are using were developed mostly by the International Institute for Tropical Agriculture (IITA). They are resistant to destructive disease called the African Cassava Mosaic Virus, and some of them showed resistance to bacteria blight, so we use the right varieties. The AATF cassava mechanisation project is targeted at exposing the cassava farmers to already existing technologies which makes cassava farming easier and more profitable.
Is the government supporting or buying into the idea?
The local governments in the states are supporting the project. Also, our teams have been invited to do a demonstration in Minna, Niger State, to local leaders. As long as it gets support from the local to the local leaders, that means the chances of sustainability is high.
What is AATF doing towards improving cassava against bacteria disease?
Cassava is negatively impacted by the bacteria blight disease under heavy infection. Yield losses in this crop could be as high as 20 to 100 per cent under high incidence and severity of disease. There is no good genetic variation for resistance to bacteria disease in the germplasm of cassava. Transgenic host plant resistance could offer more lasting solution to this bacteria disease. AATF is using the PFLP, Espflp, and Hrap genes for genetic transformation of cassava for the control of this disease. The genes were accessed by AATF from Academia Sinica and sublicensed to project partners for product research and development. AATF is also undertaking biosafety and intellectual property compliance management for the transgenic research.
Aside cassava, what is happening now on PBR Cowpea?
You know the PBR Cowpea has been granted environmental release which means that the Nigeria Biosafety Agency has studied the biosafety data provided, sat down and looked at the cowpea and confirmed that the beans are safe for human and animal consumption, and also poses no serious danger to the environment.
But in Nigeria, for a variety to be released, the variety has to go to what is called National Variety Performance Trials under the guidance of the National Varietal Release Committee. So, we are preparing for the National Variety Performance Trials, to collate the data and present these dates to the National Varietal Release Committee, and say this is how PBR Cowpea performed in farmers’ fields and in different agro ecologies in Nigeria.
When they examine the data, they will decide whether to also approve the cowpea for release to farmers’, this is the stage we are at.
What should we expect from this new variety of cowpea?
Wherever Maruca Vitrata is a very big problem. What we expect is a boost in cowpea production to get tremendous increase in yield. We are not talking about small money, we are talking about hundreds of millions of Naira per year, saved in this country and injected into the economy at the farmers level. I was afraid to say billions of Naira, but the reality is that it is billions of Naira if you can increase cowpea production.
People think research is just for academics, no, research is linked to basic economic constraints in the society is facing. If a country cannot link its agricultural research to the basic problems the society is facing, then the research is purely academic and it maybe useless for the society. But this one is not academic; it is a serious economic and food challenge situation.
Nigeria is the largest importer of cowpea in the subregion; many people don’t know. Nigeria is the biggest market for cowpea for neighboring countries.
When is the National Variety Performance Trials starting, and how many locations?
The trial will be held in all agro ecological y zones in Nigeria, from the Sahel to the humid forest, to see how cowpea would perform in each ecology and the trials would be in more than 12 locations this season. We will also go on farmers’ fields to test the cowpea with the farmers and test it with real farmers, and we will organise field days for the public and all stakeholders to see how the cowpea grows.
Is there any training for the farmers for this new variety?
There is a programme for training not only the farmers, but the seed companies, because Nigeria has some seed companies who produce cowpea seeds. We have a programme too for training them on how to handle the cowpea and produce high quality seeds for farmers. We are also going to train extension workers on PBR Cowpea and biotechnology.