A Boost for Cassava Production

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Benjamin Nworie writes that rural farmers in Ohaozara/Onicha/Ivo Federal Constituency of Ebonyi State were recently drilled and enlightened on the benefits and needs of the biofortified Vitamin A cassava variety for increased produce

For three days, rural farmers in Ohaozara/Onicha/Ivo Federal Constituency of Ebonyi State were enlightened on the benefits and needs of biofortified Vitamin A cassava variety in the life and health of the people. The programme also afforded the participant the opportunity of identifying other products from cassava such as cassava chips and others.

The member representing Ohaozara/ Onicha/ Ivo Federal constituency in the House of Representatives, Hon. Linus Abaa Okorie engaged over 3,500 farmers as part of his campaign promises and purposeful agenda to support and lift them from poverty and want. After the programme, the farmers were empowered with a bag of packed cassava stems with the aim that when it germinates and grows stems, it would be regenerated.

The participants viewed the programme and agenda as apt following Nigeria’s dwindling revenue occasioned by the decline in oil production. This however, underscores the need to revert to agriculture, which has remained the mainstay of the Nigerian people.

Before the discovery and oil boom in Nigeria, agriculture has remained the resource base of the country. Cassava is a major staple food in Nigeria, consumed daily by more than 100 million people. However, while the commonly available white cassava can provide most of the body’s daily energy requirements, it lacks micronutrients, such as vitamin A, that are essential for a healthy and productive life. Vitamin A deficiency can impair the body’s immunity to infectious diseases and cause eye damage that can lead to blindness and even death. Nearly one in three Nigerian children under five and one-quarter of all pregnant women in the country are vitamin A deficient.

Considering the urgent need to empower the farmers and a way of boosting the cassava production in his constituency, Okorie assembled his rural farmers to empower them with biofortified cassava stems with the aim of replacing the white cassava specie that is in place. The import of this initiative cannot be overemphasised.

In Ebonyi State for instance, with the population of about three million, the people are mainly agrarian, hardworking and sufficient in food production. With Savanna and semi tropical vegetations, humid, sandy and marshy soil, Ebonyi is blessed with moisture land for growing of not only variety of both cash and food crops like yam, cassava, rice but also animal husbandry. Over the years, Ebonyi people have specialised on rice, cassava and yam productions.

As the popular Abakaliki rice hits the global market, it is expected that with the improve cassava stems introduced in the state’s agricultural sector, it may boost the cassava production in the state. At the headquarters in Ivo, Onicha and Ohaozara, the lawmaker also enlightened the rural farmers on the benefit of Vitamin A biofortified cassava and maize through the support of Harvestplus, the international agency saddled with eradicating the problems of hidden hunger.

To achieve his set objective, Okorie, who is the Chairman, House of Representatives Committee on Agricultural Colleges and Institutions, hired HarvestPlus, an agricultural group that breed crops for better nutrition, which is being coordinated by the Centre for International Tropical Agriculture and the International Food Policy Research Institute (IFPRI), to perform the enlightenment and empowerment programme.

HarvestPlus and its partners work in 22 states of Nigeria to promote the availability, adoption, and consumption of vitamin A cassava. The goal is that more than 1.6 million Nigerian farming households will be growing this biofortified crop by 2018.

HarvestPlus also gave them insights of how they could use such groups to attract incentives and do business with their farming.

The Programme’s technical partner and Country Manager of HarvestPlus in Nigeria, Dr. Paul Ilona, who taught the participating farmers throughout the three days in the different venues, told the rural farmers that though the cassava stems he brought came from Oyo State, but that after the programme, the cassava stems would henceforth be sourced from Ebonyi State.

Ilona cited the uses of Moriga tree which he said is powered by Vitamin A to buttress his teaching to the farmers. “Hon. Okorie wants us to leave well and that is why he is doing the programme. Vitamin A is crucial to our living. The important thing is to eat nutritional food,” he stated.

The Harvestplus boss explained the uses of the vitamin A cassava in making chips, biscuits, bread, flour, Fofo, tea, among other derivatives. He noted that use of crude implements for farming will soon be over in Ebonyi State and will be replaced with mechanical farming. “A farmer is a businessman and should be conscious of that,” he said.

Ilona taught them basic techniques of farming and planting the cassava for bumper harvest such as spaces to give whiling planting, how to sow the stems and maintain it till maturity. He encouraged them to embrace business farming since every farm crop has value added bye products, whether in cassava, maize, rice or palm produce.

The theme was more centered on taking agriculture as a very serious business, the derivatives in cultivating Vitamin A fortified cassava and maize and other benefits thereof.

Not only were the farmers in the three local government local areas educated on the need and how to grow Vitamin A food crops, but the seeds were also handed out to them to begin to grow them from the present rainy season.

They were also taught how to process the Vitamin A cassava into different value added products such as using the cassava to make chips, Moi Moi, custard and even tea.

At the opening ceremony in Ishiagu Civic Centre in Ivo Local Government, Okorie told his people that Vitamin A deficiency can impair the body’s immunity to infectious diseases and cause eye damage that can lead to blindness and even death, adding that nearly one in three Nigerian children under five and one-quarter of all pregnant women in the country are vitamin A deficient.

He stated that most Nigerians do not get enough micronutrients such as vitamin A, zinc, and iron required to lead healthy productive lives from the foods that they eat, noting also that micronutrient deficiencies can lower IQ, cause stunting and blindness in children, lower resistance to disease in both children and adults, and increase risks for both mothers and infants during childbirth.

Okorie said “It is estimated that about one million of the three million child deaths that occur each year as a result of undernutrition are due to hidden hunger. Biofortified crops, which have been bred to have higher amounts of micronutrients, can help provide these needed vitamins and minerals. They can be effective in reducing hidden hunger as part of a strategy that includes dietary diversification, supplementation, and commercial fortification, among others”.

He stated that the way forward was to ensure that farmers do not suffer the usual glut that has continually resulted from resurgent production of cassava over the years, adding that all participants in the workshops shall also be uploaded unto the Harvestplus e-market platform, which will integrate the participants into an anchor programme of out growers to be supported by funding from single-digit interest rate funds from the Central bank of Nigeria (CBN), Bank of Agriculture (BoA) and related windows.

One of the participants, Mrs. Mary Okonkwo from Amagu-Ishiagu, Ivo Local Government Area said: “I learnt how to plant cassava and maize. I will do my next planting according the way we have been taught particularly on the method of planting the cassava stem for better growth. There is difference on how we used to plant the cassava and how we have been taught to plant it now. Before we used to plant more than four stems of cassava on one heap but we have been told to space the stems and reduce the number per heap for better yield.

“Also we have been taught how to use the Vitamin A cassava to make flour, chips and all that, we are grateful. I thank Hon Linus Okorie because this is development and a new thing for us. This is something we didn’t known but he brought experts to teach us these modern techniques in farming and doing business with farm produce, we are happy and may God Almighty bless him.”

Another participant, Orji Anyim said: “I learnt many useful things like the process of transforming a farmer to a real farmer and to become rich than remaining every year young. I’ve learnt some aspects of business like the agro-based mechanism, how to transform the old farming practice to the new farming tactics that can give better living condition.

“We have good soil for the vitamin A cassava and maize but the land tenure system in Igbo land may affect greater production of the crops but we will manage to grow the crops. Hon Linus Okorie is making a landmark in transformation of agriculture in this constituency because there is no other person that went to the National Assembly that has introduced this kind of a thing. He is pacesetter in this direction.”

Chairman of All Aarmers Association in Ebonyi State, Elder Livinus Oko, at the closing ceremony in Otika Town Hall at Onicha-Igboeze said: “This is what we have telling our brethren, that farming will make one independent, financially and otherwise.” He described the exercise as a very fruitful one and appreciated Okorie’s gesture at the enlightenment and empowerment of farmers in the constituency.

Other participants at the occasion said that they have found a true leader in the lawmaker for his consistent empowerment of the people. One of the farmers recalled that it was not up to three months when Okorie empowered thousands of his constituents with various skills acquisition items.

They also noted that over 70 graduates from the constituency have gotten employment courtesy of the lawmaker, advocating that if the vision of integrating the fortified cassava stems in the area came to fruition, it would be named after the lawmaker.