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ACAI and Cassava Weed Management Project Merge

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Dr Friday Ekeleme gives a presentation on the Cassava Weed Management activities.

The African Cassava Agronomy Initiative (ACAI) project and the Cassava Weed Management Project have merged into a single project. Both projects are funded by the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation under the Agricultural Development program

ACAI project has been carrying out research to develop tools that will increase the availability of appropriate and affordable technologies to sustainably improve cassava productivity in Nigeria and Tanzania.

CWMP, on the other hand, screened environmentally friendly and safe herbicides and explored agronomic factors including motorized mechanical options for weed control in cassava. After the rigorous and intensive research, the project developed the Six Steps to Cassava Weed Management toolkit that when applied increases the productivity of cassava and reduces the drudgery of hand weeding.

Under the new arrangement, the two projects will operate as ACAI with an expanded mandate to include cassava weed management in the ACAI’s decision support tools.

Project teams from ACAI and CWMP met in Nairobi early February to develop an integration plan and a new implementation plan for 2019 and 2020. Components of the weed management solutions will be incorporated into some of the ACAI decision support tools and then disseminated as a single composite package.

Commenting on the merging of the two projects, IITA Director for Development and Delivery, Dr. Alfred Dixon said the move was in the right direction, adding that it offers the new ACAI team a more diversified and talented team that would transform cassava on the African continent.

“(The two projects) have a common goal, coming together is going to make the team more successful, as they share experiences,” Dr. Dixon said.

The new ACAI team at the integration and implementation planning retreat in Nairobi, Kenya

Last year, CWMP received a 2-year supplementary budget extension to join with ACAI in the dissemination of the technologies they have been developing. The weed management project began in 2014 aiming to generate relevant cassava weed management options to share with cassava farmers to help them improve their cassava production.

Among the knowledge outputs from the project include the Six Steps of Cassava Weed Management toolkit and the ABC of Weed Management in Cassava Production in Nigeria.

ACAI started in 2016 to develop decision support tools that would meet specific agronomic needs of partners actively involved in the cassava value chains in Nigeria and Tanzania. The tools are currently in the validation stage of development and slated for dissemination from 2019.

The ACAI project will be intensifying dissemination and scaling of the technologies developed by both teams.

acaiACAI and Cassava Weed Management Project Merge
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IITA scientists develop decision support tools to improve cassava agronomy in Africa

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Scientists under the African Cassava Agronomy Initiative (ACAI) have developed decision support tools (DSTs) which can help farmers with the best recommendations for planting cassava in their fields. The new DSTs were developed to replace the older “blanket” recommendations, which did not consider site-specific conditions and thus often produced poor results. 

ACAI is a five-year project focusing on six use-cases, which reflect the different issues identified by cassava value chain actors as the most pressing problems. Each use-case has a lead scientist, supported by others to research, model, and develop the decision support tools. Fertilizer blending, the first use-case, was brought forward by the fertilizer industry because of the lack of knowledge on how to blend a fertilizer that really serves the requirements of cassava. Although there are standard formulations, they are ineffective for cassava and need to be reformulated to produce the kind of fertilizer that would demonstrate clear yield and income advantages.  

The second use-case centers on site-specific fertilizer recommendations with respect to knowing the type, quantity, method, and timing of application of fertilizer. There is feedback between fertilizer recommendation and the fertilizer blending use cases because soils across Nigeria and Tanzania are different and different soils require different formulations. The fertilizer recommendation DST considers soil properties, climate, planting and harvesting time, target yield, and resource endowment of the farmer. Thus, the fertilizer recommendation will be specific to every field and to every farmer’s capacity to invest in fertilizer. With this DST on fertilizer application, it is possible to optimize the amount of money farmers invest on fertilizers and maximize the revenue from cassava.  

Cassava field for ACAI project.

The intercropping use-case focuses on planting different crops together and particularly investigates what planting density of maize is best to attain high yields without compromising the cassava yield and the best possible use of fertilizer to increase yields and profitability. However, the best planting practices use-case does not exclusively look into methods of increasing yields but has a strong component on reducing the cost of production. This use-case was brought forward by the farmers’ association because one major constraint is the need to invest in tillage at the start of the season when neither yield nor prices are known. By reducing the initial investment to a minimum without compromising cassava root yields, the probability of attaining higher income from cassava will increase.   

The scheduled planting use-case was developed by the cassava processing industry to stabilize the supply of raw roots to factories and processing facilities. Currently, cassava supply peaks in the main harvest season and is too low before and after. The factories, however, need a certain amount of roots every day to use their capacity and to work profitably. Along with high and low supply phases come price fluctuations that can hurt both the processors and the farmers. With methods that would lead to a more uniform distribution of the cassava production across the year, prices would stabilize and factories would process at a lower cost leading to higher income for farmers and potentially lower product costs for consumers.  

The scheduled planting use-case is linked with the high-starch use-case which focuses on attaining the highest possible starch content of cassava. Many processing factories price cassava according to the starch content. This means that cassava with a higher starch content will fetch a higher price per ton. The industry is interested in high starch cassava because the extraction costs decline with higher starch content. Farmers should thus be interested in knowing how to grow cassava to achieve high starch content.  

This is the fourth year of the ACAI project. The first three years concentrated on research and development of the DSTs to help farmers with the best site-specific recommendations. Currently the project is engaging many extension agents to get training on the use of the different DSTs. Together with farmers, extension agents test the DSTs in validation plots to assess if and by which margin the yields and revenue increase when farmers follow the recommendations of the DSTs. After the validation phase, extension agents and farmers who want to use these tools can download the DSTs as apps on smartphones and apply the technology in their fields. The Global Positioning System (GPS) in the phones will read the coordinates of the field and report back to a server, which will make use of all available data to understand the situation of the field.  

In addition, the farmer needs to answer a few questions and the app will make recommendations. Farmers can then follow the recommendation and compare if the recommendation is better than their usual practice and report back if the recommendation produced higher yields and how much. These data are used to reduce the risk of incorrect recommendations and to further fine-tune the DSTs to improve cassava productivity and achieve higher incomes for farmers.

acaiIITA scientists develop decision support tools to improve cassava agronomy in Africa
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Modern cassava production turning around fortunes of Kisarawe

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Mr. Petro Kagusi a cassava farmer from Kidete village, Mzenga ward, Kisarawe region, Eastern Tanzania is extremely happy with the new improved farming practices he has learned through the African Cassava Agronomy Initiative (ACAI) project. These include proper spacing, use of improved varieties and use of fertilizers.

“I used to grow my cassava following the traditionally ways – planting randomly, not maximizing space or using any fertilizers. The results were very poor yield, not good at all!” he said speaking to a group of journalists visiting the project’s trial on farmers’ fields in in Kisarawe district, Eastern Tanzania.

“After joining the project and learning of better ways to grow cassava including planting in rows, closer spacing and applying NPK fertilizer, I have been getting very good harvests. As farmers, we should adopt these technologies, so we can increase the crop’s production and attract investors to process cassava,” he said as he showed the media the bricks he had bought to build a new better home for his family.

Another farmer, Maria Mtanga explained that the agronomic practices they had learned under the ACAI project made operations such as weed management and harvesting easier.

Maria Mtanga speaks to members of the press who visited her farm in Kisarawe, Eastern Zone, Tanzania

Maria has been interacting with other farmers sharing the good agronomic practices learnt from the project. She said many of the farmers were willingly to adapt the technology, particularly the use of fertilizer.

“Now we need to make sure the technology (fertilizer) is accessible and available to meet the demand” she said.

Growing new varieties not good enough

Director General of Tanzania Agriculture Research Institute (TARI – one of the project’s important collaborators in the country, Dr Geoffrey Makamilo was also part of the trip.

While briefing the media, Mkamilo explained that cassava was an important crop for the district due to its proximity to Dar es Salaam. However, the cultivation of the crop in the district, like elsewhere in Tanzania, was greatly threatened by pests and diseases and use of poor farming methods.

“Several new improved high-yielding disease resistant cassava varieties have been released by researchers including Korana 1, Kiroba, Cheleko, Kipusa, Kizimbani and Mkumba. However, farmers should understand growing improved seed varieties should go hand with hand with use good agronomy practices including the use of appropriate fertilizer regimes to tap into the yield potential” he said.

“For example, if a farmer grows improved cassava varieties without applying fertilizers, they can harvest up to 10 tons of cassava per hectare, an increase from 6 t/ha from the local varieties. However, by using NPK fertilizer, the farmers, can increase production up to 60 tons of cassava per hectare,” he said,

tools  

David Ngome, ACAI project Communications Officer, added that ACAI had developed a set of decision support tools to guide agriculture extension officers on the use of good agronomic practices to boost the crop’s production.

These   included site-specific fertilizer recommendation tool and Fertilizer blending recommendation tool to maximize returns, scheduled planting recommendation tool to ensure a sustainable year-round supply of cassava to the processing industry and the high starch recommendation tool to ensure optimum starch content in the cassava roots for processing appropriate use of fertilizers, spacing and hedging

“Our fertilizer decision support tool can give very site-specific advice using satellite to locate the farmers’ location and the farmer inputting details such as planting time and variety. It is able to recommend   the amount and type of fertilizer to use and the anticipated increase in yield and income,” he said.

The project had distributed over 400tablets to the extension officers so they can be able to access and use these decision support tools, he added.

The tour engaged journalist from both the newspaper and broadcast including from the national Tanzania Broadcasting Corporation (TBC) and international German broadcaster Deutchewelle.

ACAI has been working closely with farmers and partners to develop and deploy agronomy recommendation tools to intensify cassava farming and increase root and starch yields in Nigeria and Tanzania but will expand to Democratic Republic of Congo, Ghana and Uganda.

acaiModern cassava production turning around fortunes of Kisarawe
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Choice Experiment to Understand Farmer Preferences for Technology Adoption

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ACAI is carrying out a choice experiment exercise that is meant to help the project team understand the socioeconomic factors that influence cassava farmers’ readiness to adopt and use the decision support tools that the project is developing.

 

The experiment is a joint initiative between IITA, Tanzania Agricultural Research Institute, TARI, and the University of KU Leuven, Belgium. In the course of September and October, enumerators working with ACAI IITA staff and partners will participate in collecting data at household level from farmers working with ACAI.

Results from the experiment are expected to help the project predict and drive an efficient adoption campaign. The experiment will be looking at farmers’ willingness to intensify cassava farming and the motivation behind the willingness. The participating farmers will be taken through prepared choice experiment to select cassava growing and selling options under different circumstances with varying positive and negative outcomes.

Dr George Sonda from Tanzania Agricultural Research Institute Ukiriguru, shows the choice cards to a cassava farmer in Mkuranga, Tanzania where ACAI performed the test trial of the experiment.

ACAI is pioneering the choice experiment as a technique that will inform critical and strategic decisions for development of the dissemination strategy. Dr Pieter Pypers, IITA’s senior Agronomist and the ACAI project leader says it is “important to gain an insight into the demographic characteristics of the targeted population in order to package the decision support tool based on the finding.”

Choice experiments are famous for introducing new products in the market with a very high success rate for predicting and estimating customer behavior. ACAI is developing six decision support tools aimed at addressing specific challenges facing cassava grower that will be rolled out in Nigeria and Tanzania before finally being scaled to Ghana, DR Congo and Uganda.

To prepare for the exercise, ACAI project team held a workshop in Dar es Salaam with a team of social economists from the Tanzania Agricultural Research Institute, TARI, to craft the choice card for use in the experiment and to develop the work plan for the exercise.  Leading the workshop was Dr Pypers and IITA’s systems agronomist Dr Veronica NE Uzokwe  who is  also ACAI coordinator for East Africa. Others at the planning workshop included Audrey Vanderghinste from KU Leuven, Dr George Sonda from TARI, Ukiriguru station, Laurent Aswile from Illonga and and Bakari Kidunda from TARI Naliendele research station in Mtwara.

The exercise will start officially on the 26th of September engaging a number of households that ACAI has on the baseline study database.

acaiChoice Experiment to Understand Farmer Preferences for Technology Adoption
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ACAI holds Training of Trainiers to kick off DST validation in Tanzania

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ACAI held a training of trainers for the Tanzanian development partners in August to kick off the validation of the ACAI decision support tools in the country.  The training was organized to create a better understanding of the ACAI use cases in Tanzania, the process of effectively evaluating the decision support tools (DSTs) and teaching reliable means of collecting feedback. This was the first step toward the planned capacity building for the project partners to carry out the validation exercises.

IITA’s senior Agronomist and ACAI coordinator for East Africa Dr. Veronica Uzokwe led the training; outlining the project approved standard protocols to be used for site selection, layout of the fields to be monitored during the validation and inputs to be used in the trial fields.

 

The two-day event was held in Mtwara, the southern Zone of Tanzania on the 14th and 15th of August 2018 with 37 people in attendance. Participants drawn from organizations partnering with ACAI in Tanzania including CAVA-II, FJS Starch Development Company, MEDA and MINJINGU Fertilizer received practical training on using the current version of the ACAI DSTs and the methodology of how to train extension agents and farmers to implement the validation exercises.

ACAI is targeting to reach more than 500 farmers in Tanzania for the validation of the DSTs using 40 extension agents pooled from the network of development partners. During the validation, farmers will run a side by side comparative cropping of their normal cassava farming practices against a plot within their fields where ACAI recommendations will be applied based on the tool that is applicable.

The project is running validation trials in the farmer’s fields for the Scheduled Planting Recommendation decision support tool (SPT), Site Specific Fertilizer Recommendation decision support tool (FR) and the Intercropping recommendation decision support tool.

Each of the partners is expected to carry out step down trainings in their respective extension networks and are tasked to monitor the extension agents they will have trained to ensure a successful implementation of the validation process for the DSTs.

Dr Desudedit Peter Mlay from the Tanzania Agricultural Research Institute, TARI, led the discussions that drew a schedule of planned activities starting from the onset of the new planting season in September.

Each partner is responsible to coordinate their extension agent network, to communicate to them the expectations from the project and maintain a close relationship with the farmers under their scope. ACAI has also developed an incentivized trial monitoring and data collection system that encourages spirited involvement of EAs and lead farmers, reward their efforts and appreciate their contribution to the project.

ACAI is carrying out validation exercises to test the version one of the decision support tools that the project has been developing. The validation kicked off in Nigeria early 2018 with similar trainings followed by step-down trainings at state and partner level.

Results and feedback from the validation exercises will be incorporated into further development and improvement of the second version of the decision support tools to improve their prediction and recommendation

acaiACAI holds Training of Trainiers to kick off DST validation in Tanzania
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SG 2000 holds ACAI farmers’ field day in Anambra

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ACAI development partner in Anambra state in Nigeria, Sasakawa Africa Association (SG2000) organized farmers’ field days to show case the results from ACAI research and validation trials within three local governments in Anambra state between July and August 2018.

SG 2000 working closely with the National Root Crops Research Institute NRCRI brought together more than 30 farmers from three out of the four Intercropping (IC) validation clusters in Anambra state to learn from one of the lead farmers carrying Intercropping trials for maize and cassava under the ACAI project.

Chris Okoli, SG2000 state coordinator for Anambra organized the event due to what he referred to popular demand from the farmers he has been in interaction with who are interested in the ACAI activities.
While farmers in the area commonly plant their crops on mounds without specific densities and fertilizer regime, ACAI has been carrying out trials to establish the most suitable planting densities, fertilizer regime and land preparation to maximize yield from both crops.
“When neighboring farmers pass by our trials, they are mesmerized, and always ask when we can bring them to our plots and teach them our procedures, that is what we have done now.” Said Chris Okoli, SG2000 Anambra.

Chris Okoli (far right) responding to farmers questions during the field day in Anambra State, Nigeria

In the South East Nigeria, cassava is predominantly intercropped with maize. In 2018, ACAI through its partners is running side by side comparison validation trials to show test the efficacy of the intercropping recommendation decision support tool.
The field days were held on three different days to demonstrate the proper intercropping practices for Maize and cassava, giving spacing dimensions, advice on land preparation, planting dates and the harvest dates and a show of the probable results to be expected from following the IC recommendations.
These were the first field days of the project since the beginning of the validation exercises in Nigeria earlier in the year. The first farmers field day was held in the farm belonging to Mrs Catherine Kenechukwu’s in Umunze, Orumba South local government of Anambra State, Nigeria in July 17th 2018. This was followed up two other field days on the 27th and 28th of August hosted at Offia – Oji Vilage in Dunukofia local government and Ubru in Orumba North local government respectively.

Farmers who participated were impressed with the fields the visited noting the increased plant population and the amount of the maize harvested from the plot in comparison to their practice. The farmer’s response to the trials and ACAI regime of agronomy practices is important especially as the project gets ready for the dissemination phase of the technologies that have been in development.
Festus Arinze, a farmer who works with ACAI in Orumba North local government hosted on of the field days. He implored his peers to emulate his practice and adopt ACAI intercropping recommendations to achieve similar or better results as witnessed in his farm.
ACAI will be hosting similar events to encourage adoption of the DSTs at an early stage and for farmers to participate in the evaluation of the tools that help improve their delivery and recommendations.

 

acaiSG 2000 holds ACAI farmers’ field day in Anambra
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ACAI Annual Progress Report 2017

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As we move forward with research towards developing decision support tools for cassava growers and cassava value chain actors, we are happy to see the impressive progress toward achieving our objectives. The countless hours of work by our committed team of experts from the International Institute of Tropical Agriculture (IITA), our partners in Nigeria and Tanzania and most importantly the invaluable support from the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation has made it possible that in 2017, we had the first version of the tools ready for use by our stakeholders for validation and to provide feedback on the improvements needed for the tools to meet their needs. This report details the process of achieving the successes witnessed in 2017 as well as the challenges that offered lessons on areas to improve on as the project moves forward. You are welcome to a preview of the journey ACAI has embarked on to pioneer transformation for cassava agronomy in Africa

Download the ACAI Annual Progress Report for 2017 here

acaiACAI Annual Progress Report 2017
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