Rising from a two-day meeting at the International Institute of Tropical Agriculture Ibadan, researchers have commended the Director General of IITA, Dr Nteranya Sanginga for rejuvenating the weeds science program. They also called for more concerted efforts to tackle the menace of weeds in Africa.
The researchers, who are members of the Steering Committee of the IITA Cassava Weed Management project, were unanimous during their inception meeting that unless the problem of weed infestation on farmers’ field is addressed, Africa will not maximize the gains of crop improvement.
The meeting, which was held 18- 19 August 2014, gave kudos to IITA for its new research agenda of investing in weed science and bringing weed science—a very important but often neglected component of agronomy— to the front burner, and for supporting partners in tackling the problem.
“We thank IITA for the equipment given to us under the Cassava Weed Management Project to help find solutions to the problems of weeds,” said Dr J.C. Okonkwo, Executive Director, National Root Crops Research Institute (NRCRI), Umudike, who was also unanimously elected as the Chair of the Steering Committee.
Under the new research focus, IITA committed to revive its weed management research; rehabilitated an office building, procured equipment, and hired staff. The building was commissioned during the Steering Committee meeting by Deputy Director General (Partnerships & Capacity Development), Dr Kenton Dashiell, who dedicated it to resource-poor farmers, especially women and children.
Prof John Adisa Ayoade, Deputy Vice Chancellor, University of Agriculture Makurdi (UAM) commended IITA for investing in weed science and called on other institutions to emulate.
The Deputy Vice Chancellor who represented the Vice Chancellor of UAM specifically urged the IITA Cassava Weed Management Project to include graduate students to develop the critical human capital that would take research on weed science forward considering the fact that current weed scientists in Africa were aging.
Commending IITA for its renewed attention to weed science, Project Leader, Cassava Weed Management, Dr Alfred Dixon reiterated the project’s goal of increasing cassava productivity for at least 125,000 Nigerian farm families through the provision of labor-saving solutions for cassava weeding which is usually done by women and children.
He said IITA and its partners would work to develop state-of the art weed management practices, by combining improved cassava varieties with proper planting dates, plant populations and plant nutrition options. According to him, the project is also focusing on intercropping and tillage research, as well as testing 21 different pre-emergence and 19 post-emergence herbicides at different application rates to discover the best combinations for sustainable weed control in cassava. Dr Dixon explained that integrated weed management practices, including the use of herbicides that meet globally accepted conventions and safety thresholds appropriate for smallholders would be crucial in making weed control in cassava more efficient and effective.
The Project Leader decried farmers’ continuous use of obsolete herbicides despite their adverse effects on the environment and health. He said the project intended to change the situation by offering farmers evidence-based information that would help them make better choices.
The project’s progress report presented by the Principal Investigator of the Project, Professor Friday Ekeleme excited members of the Steering Committee. Consequently, they suggested new areas the project could explore for better performance and also developed a monitoring and evaluation guide for the project.
The Steering Committee comprise experts from the three collaborating institutions— the National Root Crops Research Institute (NRCRI), Umudike; University of Agriculture Makurdi; and Federal University of Agriculture Abeokuta. Other members include international cassava scientists, and representatives of the donor community, Federal Ministry of Agriculture and Rural Development, Nigeria, and the private sector.
The committee also visited the IITA Business Incubation Platform and made field trips to experimental plots on cassava weed management control at IITA Campus and Moniya in Ibadan, Oyo State and Ile-ogbo in Osun state.