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Mechanisation boosting cassava production in Samfya

MORGAN CHILENGA, Samfya
CASSAVA is a tuber food crop that smallholder farmers are being encouraged to grow in order to enhance food security.
Its cultivation at smallholder level is being encouraged by key stakeholders and the Ministry of Agriculture and Livestock.
Against this backdrop, the African Agricultural Tropical Foundation (AATF) and Cassava Mechanisation Agro-Project (CAMAP) initiated and co-funded a project with the help of the Ministry of Agriculture and Livestock (MAL) through the Zambia Agriculture Research Institute (ZARI).
The key players involved in promoting cassava cultivation in the province selected Samfya district in Luapula Province as a pilot project to run from 2012 to 2018 on the premise that Samfya has ideal soils for cassava production.
The objective of the project is to assist farmers grow cassava with modern technology in order to increase production. The project would also encourage fertilizer application to gain higher yields because it has been observed that farmers do not use fertiliser to grow cassava because of a belief that cassava will rot before it is ready for harvest. In addition, farmers have for a long time believed that it was a waste of fertilizer to apply to cassava.
The other core essence of the project being initiated in the district is to encourage farmers to grow cassava, because it is believed to be a staple crop, although a shift has been observed in farmers growing maize to generate income since market for maize is readily available.
AATF national coordinator Ivor Mukuka explained that when the project took off in the 2012/2013 farming season, there were 10 beneficiaries with one hectare each while during the 2013/2014 farming season, the number increased to 50. Ironically, in the 2014/2015 farming season, the number reduced to 30 beneficiaries.
Mr Mukuka attributed the reduction of beneficiaries to farmers’ reluctance to use fertilizer in growing cassava.
He explained that the project trained the first beneficiary farmers how to plant cassava, fertilizer application and other management practices.
“It was expected that after planting the cassava, cutting of 20 centimetres in length, it would be laid vertically in the basin of 10 centimetres deep and fertilizer applied at the same time thereafter, it will be harvested within 18 months and not after,” said Mr Mukuka.
According to Samfya acting senior agriculture officer Daniel Ngazimbi, farmers here wanted to prove whether applying fertilizer when growing cassava has any effect on the produce or not.
Mr Ngazimbi said from the 2012 beneficiaries, there was proof from the harvest that there was no effect on cassava after applying fertilizer.
He further explained that the project came at the right time, as it had funding for ploughing, harrowing and cassava cuttings while the farmers’ contribution is in form of labour – planting and weeding.
Mr Ngazimbi further stated that farmers expected to pay back cassava cuttings for one hactare.
“After two years, a payback of cassava cuttings for one hectare is 25 bundles of cuttings of 100 per bundle given to assist the new recruited farmers,” said Mr Ngazimbi.
“The first group of farmers selected to benefit from the project were trained and committed themselves to train the newly recruited beneficiaries and shared new knowledge widely with the help of extension officers.”
With the spreading of the shared knowledge, more farmers want to benefit from the same project because they have seen and proved for themselves the performance from the 2012/2013 beneficiaries who started harvesting.
Mr Ngazimbi said currently, nearly every farmer is engaged in growing cassava at both small and large-scale level.
And ZARI Mansa researcher Paul Mutondo said the project also brought a cassava planter and harvester that were used to demonstrate how they work in the field.
And crop husbandry officer Kennedy Chirwa explains that with the modern technology approach, cassava production has increased more than ever before. Cassava harvested is sold as raw, bwabi, which is roasted and taken with roasted groundnuts, kasabe and dried cassava in chips form and cassava mealie-meal, which is at local level.
Mr Chirwa adds that cassava leaves are taken as a vegetable, though this has an effect on the formation of tubers and retards growth in general.
On the other hand, the use of cassava processors is ideal with the increase of production and to efficiently process cassava products as compared to the past when processing was manually done, which was very laborious.
However, camp extension officer Levy Chush says it is worth noting that cassava production has its own set of challenges such as diseases, which affect its growth, tuber formation and tubers.
Mr Chush says there are disease-free varieties like Mweru, which are able to withstand diseases such as mosaic virus, bacteria rot and pests such as cassava green mites, and mealie bugs, among others, as long as leaves are not plucked out.
Coupled with that, cassava production’s other hurdle is lack of a reliable market as more farmers have embarked on growing more cassava. However, what has been evident is a few farmers sale their produce to Kasumbalesa in the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC) and Lusaka while others sell to local markets, at a cheaper price, as the farmers do not have the bargaining power to sell their produce at reasonable profits.
A cassava farmer, Ngosa Mwangename, said some farmers that were living along the border with DRC were fortunate that they were able to sell their produce to markets in that country.
“We would appreciate if we can be linked to prospective markets and sell our cassava at a profit. This will encourage more farmers to embark on growing cassava,” said Mwangename.
Another cassava farmer, Chilinda Samuelname, explained that cassava cuttings are on demand and sales have gone up this farming season as we have seen trucks transporting the cuttings from the district to Eastern and Central provinces.
This in itself explains that there is more cassava being grown in the district and the demand for cassava is ever increasing.
Therefore, what is eminent is to address the availability of a readily available market for cassava.
In this regard, it can be conclusively stated that new technologies being imparted to farmers are meant to increase cassava production to enable them generate income in order to contribute to poverty alleviation at household level. Only then will the success of the  programme  be seen in the positive light.                     NAIS

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