This is one of a two-part blog series following my visit to Kenya and Zanzibar. The trip was funded by CABI’s development bursary scheme.
In June 2017, I attended a 5-day planning meeting organised by the Africa Cassava Agronomy Initiative (ACAI) in Zanzibar, Tanzania. This meeting brought together all ACAI project partners to evaluate project milestones, discuss next-steps and identify scale-up strategies.
During the meeting, I learnt about ACAI’s six priority areas or use-cases. These are: (1) a cassava fertiliser blending decision support tool for the fertiliser blending industry; (2) a site-specific cassava fertiliser recommendation decision support tool for extension agents; (3) a best planting practice decision support tool for extension agents/farmers; (4) a cassava intercropping decision support tool for extension agents/farmers; (5) a cassava staggered planting decision support tool for more equally distributed raw material supply for extension agents/farmers; and (6) a decision support tool advising on best agronomic practices for high root starch content at harvest for farmers supplying the processing sector.
To implement these six use-cases, the ACAI project has formed strategic partnerships with stakeholders on the cassava value chain. These partners include farmers, international research institutions, private sector information dissemination partners, fertiliser companies, input suppliers, cassava processors, cassava industry stakeholders, extension agents and national research institutions in project countries.
The rationale behind the project is that across sub-Saharan Africa, cassava serves as a food insurance crop, a famine crop, a cash crop, household food security crop, animal feed and raw material for industries. Cassava has also been called a “climate-smart crop” due to its ability to grow in relatively poor soil and weather conditions compared to other tuber and starch crops. Currently, Nigeria is one of the highest cassava producing countries globally. However, cassava productivity in Nigeria, as well as other cassava producing countries like; Tanzania, Ghana, Uganda and the Democratic Republic of Congo, still fall short of their attainable yield. The ACAI project seeks to reduce this cassava yield gap by developing appropriate cassava agronomy recommendations to improve cassava production and productivity.
The meeting was also an opportunity to engage with representatives from various stages of the cassava value chain including; cassava farmers, fertiliser companies, input suppliers and cassava processors. We also had the opportunity to visit some ACAI cassava field trial plots at the Zanzibar Agricultural Research Station in Donge Vigibweni ward, Unguja to see cassava field trials being carried out by some implementing partners and farmers collaborating with ACAI. These field trials showed both monocropping and various intercrop patterns of cassava and sweet potato (another important tuber crop in Tanzania).
Specifically, these field trials are being carried out to identify the best cassava agronomic practices including; cassava planting time, spacing, optimum fertiliser requirement and intercropping densities (cassava-sweet potato) which would promote high cassava yields with high starch content.
Farmer Saidi Masood from Donge village, Misufini district, Unguja in Zanzibar is one of the early adopter farmers. He manages a farmer-led cassava intercropping trial on his field. Fellow farmers have become curious about why he has intercropped his cassava with a higher density of sweet potatoes than normal; he has explained that he is carrying out a field experiment to determine the different yields he can obtain from the cassava-sweet potato inter-crop. He said he is willing to share his finding with his fellow farmers.
The African Soil Health Consortium (ASHC), a programme led by CABI, will map pathways to facilitate scale up (communication and wide adoption) of ACAI’s research output and technology along the cassava value chain. This involves identifying cassava value chain actors in ACAI project countries; understanding their information needs; determining the barriers to communication along the value chain; and facilitating effective communication among stakeholders.
One of the outcomes of the 5-day meeting was an emphasis on the importance of effective communication along the cassava value chain. The effects of climate change are dynamic and manifest in various ways, it is therefore important to build a climate-smart value chain where all actors are promptly informed about external shocks, such as drought, floods, pest and disease, which not only affects their individual enterprises but also affects the value chain as a whole. When all actors are linked by an active communication channel, it builds the resilience of that value chain to these external shocks and helps them respond strategically to these changes by making informed decisions.