GENDER storytelling

Novelty weed control method boosts SSA women cassava farmers

Photo of cassava plant: IITA

In early 2023, the CGIAR GENDER Impact Platform ran a series of virtual training modules for science communicators on how to develop and pitch stories on agricultural technologies that work for women.

The story below was produced by Ochuwa Favor Daramola and originally published by IITA as a result of this training. Enjoy!

Weeding is a tedious activity for smallholder farmers, but a cutting-edge weed control method is delivering a way out for thousands of women cassava farmers. The method which comprises several steps of pre- and post-planting activities including good agronomic practices (GAP), is helping these women farmers boycott the drudgery of controlling weeds using hoe and cutlass on cassava farms.

This approach to controlling weeds in cassava is easing the lives of women smallholder farmers who produce majority of the crop in sub-Saharan Africa.

To resolve this weed control challenge, the CGIARIITA, established the Cassava Weed Management Project (CWMP), under this project the use of six recommended steps plus GAP, which includes site selection, proper land preparation, tillage, and safe and environment friendly herbicides is adopted to control weeds in cassava farms.

Maria Egwakhide, a small-scale cassava farmer in Oyo State and Field Trial Supervisor at IITA, said that manual weeding is both time consuming and back-breaking due to bending for hours.

Maria Egwakhide, well-kitted and spraying her cassava farm in Oyo State with herbicide. Photo: F.Ochuwa/IITA

“Labor is also scarce, and this makes it difficult to get people to weed for you. This usually affects the level of production on my farm and, in turn, my profit,” she added.

Now she controls weeds on her cassava farm using the recommended six steps and GAP method disseminated by the IITA-CWMP. She discovered that this method is time saving and cost effective.

“I also realized that when I follow the proper land preparation method and, spray the right quantity of herbicides as recommended, the weed is better controlled, and I am able to maximize profit as the money I would spend on manual weeding and employing labour is saved. Also, I am healthier as I don’t have to bend over and weed for long hours, hurting my waist and back,” she added.

Nigeria is a major producer of cassava globally, and the crop is an important part of the national diet.

Research has shown that weeding takes 50% to 80% of the total labor budget of cassava growers and nearly all the weeding is done by women.

It also affects children, as about 70% of farm children between the ages of 5 to 14 are forced to leave school and engage in weeding with their parents in order to save labor costs.

Dr Joy Odedina, a large scale cassava farmer in Ogun State, and Crop Productionist at the Federal University of Agriculture Abeokuta (FUNAAB), said that 80% to 90% of production costs lay in the tedious task of maintaining the field.

“I realized that if the field is not thoroughly weeded, within four weeks of the previous weeding, labor will be needed to weed the field again. For a woman who is naturally not cut out for strenuous work, manual weeding affects our health due to continuous bending over for long hours to weed, sometimes with a baby on the back,” she said.

Manual weeding causes the health of women farmers to deteriorate. This also affects their economic productivity because the health effects combine with other issues which affect women farmers, such as shortage of labor and lack of knowledge about good farming practices for better crop yield.

The project, which was launched in Abia, Benue, Ogun, and Oyo states of Nigeria, employed best-bet agronomic practices alongside the weed control measures to address weed control challenges and increase productivity while preserving the natural resource base.

Odedina said she was fortunate to be among the farmers trained by the IITA-CWMP.

“The technique that was introduced was quite different from what I was used to. I realized that using the new method of weeding and agronomic practices was very efficient and made business more profitable for me, as I was able to produce crops in larger quantities than before,” she said.

The project’s Field Research Supervisor Toye Ayankanmi mentioned that the farmers initially did not welcome the technology as they were unsure how it would turn out.

However, when the farmers participated in the field trial sessions, they realized using a backpack herbicide sprayer to weed their farms was easier and more effective. They adopted these new farming practices with excitement when they learned about IITA’s weed control methods which included recommended good agronomic practices, and adopting improved seeds varieties for increased production and profit.

“A lot of farmers have now adopted this technology and are enjoying the benefits. They are also encouraging other farmers to participate and enjoy a better farming experience,” he added.

Odedina recommended the use of herbicides and best-bet agronomic practices to control weeds for every women farmer.

“It is every farmer’s joy to have good harvest and profit without adding so much strain on themselves physically and financially. So, this is the best way to go,” she said.

Egwakhide also advised women farmers to apply this new technology to their farming practice generally, assuring them of a transforming experience like hers.

“I also suggest that IITA sensitizes women more on using herbicides to control weed to help them maximize production and make more profit as that is the essence of farming,” she added.

Women can now enjoy a better farming experience using this easy-to-manage weed control technology, which will increase crop yield through the accompanying best agronomic practices. This would ensure increased profit for them and a healthy life.

Following the project’s remarkable impact, the African Cassava Agronomy Initiative (ACAI), and Building a Sustainable, Integrated Seed System for Cassava in Nigeria (BASICS) projects were initiated by IITA.

IITA-ACAI, a five-year project targeted smallholder cassava farmers in DR Congo, Ghana, Kenya, Nigeria, and Tanzania, and increased their availability of appropriate and affordable technologies to sustainably improve short and long-term agricultural productivity in cassava.

The CWMP was able to reveal the need for necessary knowledge base, and tools for accessing this knowledge by cassava scaling partners and farmers in the target countries. With this background, IITA-ACAI instituted the necessary capacity and skills for national system scientists to engage in transformative cassava agronomy.

Under IITA-BASICS, which is presently in the second phase II, all the components of the cassava seed value chain is being strengthened, with focus on progressively transforming the practices of stakeholders in the cassava value chain.

This is such that the value creation at each level of the chain creates enough vested interest for all players to keep the system going after the project ends.

IITA is delivering novel technologies to empower millions of cassava farmers especially women in rural Africa overcome the challenges of weed control, lack of access to clean seeds, and gaps along the value chain in cassava systems.

As women smallholder farmers are majorly the drivers of food production, processing, marketing and preservation in these communities.



Disclaimer: This story has not been reviewed by the CGIAR GENDER Impact Platform; the views expressed here are those of the author(s) and do not necessarily reflect the views of the Platform.