Expert speaks on vitamin A cassava production

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The Harvestplus Country Manager, Dr Paul Ilona, has enumerated the best agronomic steps farmers can deploy to obtain high yields in vitamin A cassava production.

Ilona made this known in Ibadan.

The plant breeder advised farmers to always choose fertile lands, preferably with sandy-loamy soil texture, avoid water-logged soils, remove trees and stumps without damaging the top soil and avoid bush burning.

Plough and ridge the soil, if necessary. This is location-specific. So seek for advice; avoid predisposing your soil to erosion, choose only adapted improved varieties and avoid those that processors don’t demand.

“Stems are living things; so handle them with care; buy from recommended sources, cut carefully into stakes (20-22cm), plant at an angle vertically or horizontally and avoid planting when soil moisture is too low or high.

“Always remove weeds to reduce competition for nutrients with cassava plants; weeding can be done manually, mechanically or with herbicides, depending on location, resources and weed types.

“Apply fertilizer between four and eight weeks after planting for healthy plant growth; seek for advice on types but never apply when the soil is dry,” he said.

Ilona also underscored the need for farmers to harvest carefully to ensure that all tuberous roots were removed from the soil, adding that farmers could also harvest stems for sale to increase their margin.

On the production of vitamin A gari, starch and flour, he recommended the use of stainless steel graters, while stressing that roots should be grated immediately after peeling to reduce physiological deterioration.

For fufu, he advised farmers to always soak cassava in water for two to four days, depending on temperature and root size, adding that they should ferment grated mash for one to six days, depending on consumer preferences.

For starch and flour, don’t ferment grated mash; wet sieving reduces the fibre content of starch and fufu; press-wet products into cake in preparation for drying, pulverise cake, using grater to increase the surface area for faster drying.

“Don’t dry below 12 percent moisture content for starch and flour, and 14 percent for gari to retain the vitamin A content; mill and sieve to achieve particle not larger than 180mm, using 0.2mm mesh sieve.

“Finally, package to keep product away from sunlight, because light breaks down vitamin A in products,” he said.

The country manager further emphasised that Harvestplus and its partners were present in 26 states of Nigeria to promote the availability, adoption and consumption of vitamin A cassava, maize and orange sweet potato.

He added that its goal was to ensure that that 100 million Nigerians consumed the bio-fortified crops by 2030.

To achieve the goals, Ilona said that his organisation’s extension agents and rural facilitators had received training in best agronomic practices, which they passed along to farmers at the household level.

He noted that its creative public awareness campaigns leveraged on the power of mass media, including the Nollywood, in educating Nigerians on micronutrient deficiencies and benefits of vitamin A rich staple crops.

We are creating and strengthening demands by supporting commercial processing of vitamin A cassava, maize and orange sweet potato into popularly consumed products: gari and fufu from vitamin A cassava as well as tuwo and pap from vitamin A maize.

“Also we have porridge and confectioneries from orange sweet potato that are marketed nationwide.

“Innovative strategies to promote adoption and consumption include model one-stop shops, where consumers can buy stems, seeds, vines, tubers and ready-to-eat products, such as pies, cakes and fufu.

“Our advocacy seeks to strengthen national ownership of bio-fortification through effective integration into national nutrition and agricultural policies.

“With the help of God, government at all levels, public private sectors and all hands being on deck, we shall achieve our goal,” he said.