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Turning Cassava into Cash: A Guide to Profitable Cassava Farming in Nigeria

As Africa’s largest producer and third-largest consumer of cassava, Nigeria presents prime opportunities to convert the staple crop into serious cash. From starch processing to culinary innovations, multiple income streams stem from cassava farming done right. This guide covers everything aspiring and current cassava farmers need to capitalise on Nigeria’s growing demand.

With the nation importing over $600 million of cassava goods annually, there are huge gaps between supply and appetite. By adopting advanced techniques, from land preparation to sales channels, your farm can seize this chance to turn tubers into profits. The Ryan variety breeds, which are adaptable across Nigeria, deliver marked yield advantages regardless of region or scale.

Follow these best practices for managing a cassava plantation and discover how to transform your acreage into a cash cow!

Cassava’s Importance in Nigeria

Cassava, a tropical crop thriving across sub-Saharan Africa, constitutes a traditional staple for Nigerian diets. Its starchy roots, packed with carbohydrates, provide essential calories and energy. Rural smallholder farms have cultivated cassava for generations.

Today, the country ranks first for cassava output globally, with 60 million metric tonnes harvested worth $22 billion a year. On average, every Nigerian consumes up to 300 calories from cassava daily, depending on its year-round availability and affordability.

Beyond household nutrition, cassava drives industrial activity, from starch extraction to ethanol production to high-value food processing. Companies like Nestle and Unilever source chips and starch from Nigerian cassava farms for consumer snacks and condiments. Many fast-moving consumer goods rely on versatile cassava.

Demand is outpacing supply as firms substitute imported materials with local cassava. With global demand rising for eco-friendly bioplastics and biofuels perfectly derived from cassava, Nigeria’s top crop offers incredible profit-making potential.

Choosing a Cassava Variety

Selecting suitable cassava cultivars aligned with your target customer segment and local ecologies underpins success. Over 1,000 breeds exist worldwide with varying traits. Nigerian research institutions have released improved, high-yielding, disease-resistant varieties well-adapted for domestic climates.

The most popular Nigerian breeds include TME 419, developed by IITA, and NR 8082, among others, from the National Root Crops Research Institute. These feature robust resistance, early maturity, and over 25 tonnes per hectare of yield potential. TMS 30572 is another superior clone that responds well to intercropping with grains or legumes.

However, TME 419 and NR 8082 must be harvested within 12 months before root deterioration. Thus, they work for farmers selling to local starch mills or seeking quick returns. Varieties like TMS 98/0581 have a high dry matter content above 40% and are preferred for starch extraction and ethanol production, though they are maturing slightly slower.

Acquiring the Right Farmland

Cassava can grow reasonably well across a range of soil conditions and needs only marginal, unused lands. Nonetheless, selecting optimal farmland enhances yield potential and operational efficiency long-term. The ideal cassava farmland features:

  • Deep, loose loam soils to accommodate long tuberous roots
  • Moderate slopes avoid waterlogging and topsoil erosion.
  • pH between 5.5 and 6.5, balancing acidity and nutrients
  • 3-5 kilometres from vibrant processing markets
  • Clear legal tenure and usage rights

When assessing plots, check the structure, allowing shovel insertion up to 100 cm depth without obstruction, indicating adequate rooting space. Probe subsurface moisture too, compared to the obvious topsoil.

While cassava tolerates some drought, consistent water availability through rainfall, streams, or tables at less than 150m depth significantly boosts productivity. The best lands have year-round access to irrigation to supplement seasonal rainfall. Sites near operating mills avoid transport bottlenecks and exploit existing demand.

If preparing raw lands, conduct brush clearing, stump removal, and primary tillage well before planting season. Soil amendments through composts or strategic fertiliser additions may be prudent for pure forest or desert zones to enrich fertility.

Setting up Infrastructure and Equipment

With suitable arable land secured, establishing necessary infrastructure and facilities supports efficient, sustainable operations long-term. Planning ahead helps manage costs and construction. Key items needed:

  • Farm roads and drainage channels: access paths linking fields, storage sheds, and packing houses should accommodate truck loads. Drainage trenches retain soil integrity.
  • Packing sheds: Covered spaces for washing, sorting, and bagging cassava during processing must stay fly-proof and hygienic. External zones designated for peeling and chopping scraps help isolate waste streams.
  • Drying floors: raised concrete pads assist in sun-drying starch mash or chip batches ahead of bagging. Consider retractable roofing to control exposure during rain.
  • Accommodation and water access: simple on-site housing and potable water enable supervision and sufficient labour residence during peak periods like planting and harvest.
  • Perimeter fencing limits wildlife encroachment and theft. Chain links, wood posts, or living fence options suit different settings and budgets.
  • Electricity and cold storage: solar freezer chambers or refrigerated containers help preserve fresh cassava tubers for days, avoiding quick deterioration after harvest. Even modest 500kg units enhance marketability and margins if grid power is unreliable.

For equipment, advanced mechanisation is unnecessary and even inadvisable at most small- to mid-scale cassava farms in Nigeria. Manual tools used correctly perform fine while keeping investment costs reasonable. Target procurement of:

  • Quality machetes, axes, and rakes are needed for planting site preparation and weed control.
  • Shovels and hoes are essential for mounding, planting, and harvesting activities.
  • Personal protective equipment (boots, gloves, and long clothing) safeguards workers.
  • Knapsack motorised sprayers: precision application of inputs versus broadcast methods
  • Chainsaw (for larger farms): Efficient clearing of new forest lands only

Other productive assets, like tractors, represent major outlays that necessitate very large acreages to justify costs through sufficient scale efficiencies. Manual practices suffice until reaching 150 hectares.

Land preparation techniques

With arable land and farm infrastructure in place, proper land preparation sets the tone for cultivating healthy plants and abundant tuber development. Contouring lands, erecting mounds, and designing erosion barriers help cassava roots flourish.

Contouring Site

Ideally, gently slope farmlands along the same elevations to create contours. This shapes the site like a step pyramid to bolster moisture retention and improve nutrient distribution uniformity. Contours prevent fertile topsoil runoff while concentrating friable earth for planting.

On uniform fields, space contours are 15m apart with a 0.5% gradient rise. Follow the land’s natural contours wherever feasible. Dig narrow trenches on contour boundaries to divert water flows rather than letting them wash downhill.

Building Mounds

Cassava performs best when planted atop mounds, improving drainage and loosening soil. Mounds check erosion, especially on moderate slopes. The mix of topsoil and subsurface soils boosts nutrition and tuber development compared to flat land planting.

The optimal mound stands 0.5m tall, 1m wide, and is of indefinite length. Align mounds along contours spaced 1-2m apart based on variety maturity rate. Quicker maturing clones suit tighter 1m spacing.

Ideally, mound during the dry season to allow sun exposure, sterilising soil and consolidating structures. However, mounding just before rains still works fine; the key is allowing mounds to settle for 2-3 weeks before attempting to plant.

Erosion Control Design

To secure any earthworks investments, erect barriers mitigating potential erosion from significant rainfalls, especially at elevation drop sites. Simple dried brush or log check dams arranged across planting zones retain integrity. More sophisticated stone gabion designs maintain contours over the years.

Cassava foliage and leaves will also curb soil loss significantly after several months of growth. Thus, combine barriers with fast-growing cover crop interplants like melon or legumes during the initial season of establishing the farm.

Acquiring and preparing planting material

Carefully sourced, healthy cassava stems used for propagation strongly determine farming outcomes. Quality stems of leading varieties guarantee vigorous growth and high outputs. Prepare cuttings properly to retain viability during transport and transplant.

Sourcing Stems

Procure cuttings only from certified nurseries at research institutes, ensuring the latest clones and freedom from diseases. TME 419 and NR 8082 breeders offer the best materials given the widespread scourge of cassava viruses across small farms. Imported varieties lack adaptations.

Inspect the stems’ exterior and cross-section. Optimal stems show no splitting, rotting, holes from burrowing insects, or other defects. The inner pith should appear moist and white; brown streaking indicates deterioration. Stems should be mature (12+ months old) for robustness.

Target thick, straight canes around 20–25 cm in circumference and 40–60 cm in length. While proximal basal stems seem tempting for their girth, research shows the greatest yields actually stem from young terminal branches at the top.

Treatments to maximise viability

Upon collecting quality stems proper storage and preparation during transport help guarantee nearly 100% successful propagation at the planting stage. Key guidelines:

  • Keep harvested stems shaded while aggregating to prevent desiccation; use moist banana leaves or transparent poly sheets. Prolonged sunlight exposure damages vegetative cells.
  • Apply fungicidal slurry along cut surfaces after trimming to length to suppress rot pathogens from invading injuries. Mix one part mancozeb with 100 parts water.
  • Group bundled stems inclining downward to allow latent rooting sap to accumulate at tips rather than drain away – packs at 15-degree angles.
  • Transport bundles carefully without crushing or compression, and transplant within 48 hours of harvesting stems. The other plant immediately allowed anchorage.

Following these protocols, cassava stems last 7–14 days before noticing deterioration, depending on ambient temperature and original stem health.

Selecting suitable intercrops

While cassava farms certainly focus on tuber production ultimately, intercropping with compatible plants generates valuable supplemental income while enhancing soil nutrition in fallow periods. Certain grain cereals, legumes, and leafy greens make smart intercrop options for maximising land usage.

Maize, as a resilient, fast-growing cereal, suits cassava farms seeking added starch revenues in Nigeria’s marketplace. Both crops share similar mounding requirements, enabling efficient paired planting schemes. Alternatively, grain sorghum and millet have flourished with cassava for centuries across West Africa, thanks to complementary heights and nutrient needs.

Plentiful legumes fix nitrogen in soils symbiotically, addressing cassava’s high demands, which deplete ground fertility over successive seasons. Cowpeas grown from residuals post-harvest enrich farms before fallowing for the next cassava generation. Pigeonpeas also suit forward-thinking intercrop planning.

Lastly, leafy greens, herbs, and vegetables constitute a third beneficial intercrop class between wider cassava rows. Spinach, amaranth, okra, and peppers add micronutrients for families while generating sustainable income from market sales before the main crop reaches full canopy closure.

Cassava Planting for High Productivity

With the planting site fully prepared through mounding and contouring and robust disease-free stems sourced, establishing cassava farms while conditions remain ideal drives breakout return potential. Follow these guidelines when transplanting propagules to start strong:

Target early rainy season: Set stems during periods of heaviest reliable precipitation, typically April–May in southern Nigeria and July–August in the north. Avoid extremes of dry or waterlogged soil.

Stagger planting: Propagate sequentially over weeks rather than the same day to spread the risks of erratic rains or delayed emergence, compromising the whole crop.

Single-bud characterization: limit stem sections to having just one proximal bud submerged per mound to concentrate tuberous root initials descending vertically without branching delays.

Angled insertion: sink stems at 15-degree angles more horizontally, so emerging shoots gravitate upwards while incipient tubers gravitate downwards following auxin cues.

8–10 cm planting depth: shallow submersion risks desiccation, while deeper submersion delays emergence. The target is just buried with soil firming around the base to support anchoring.

2 stemlets per stand: Use duplicate cuttings spaced 20cm apart as insurance, so if one fails to propagate, the backup compensates to maintain populations.

Closely adhere to these protocols for 85%+ sprouting success, even with basic tools. As long as mounds offer loose, fertile, and moist soil for stems to trigger primordial rootings, ideal stands establish themselves reliably.

Applying Organic Fertiliser Blends

While cassava adapts better than most crops to marginal, nutrient-deficient soils, strategic organic fertilisation delivers major tuber yield gains and faster maturity to maximise each seasonal harvest potential. Targeted applications, when roots and foliage develop, accelerate growth.

Premixed blends using local manures, soil amendments, and bioferments tailored for cassava requirements ensure balanced nutrition plus beneficial microbial signalling compounds to amplify productivity. Recommended mixture recipe at 5 tonnes per hectare rate:

  • 2 tonnes of chicken manure—nitrogen for leaf canopy and protein synthesis
  • 1 tonne of wood ash (potassium for tuber bulking and starch production)
  • 1-tonne bone meal, phosphorous for root system branching stimulation
  • 1 tonne of humic acid: soil carbon and reservoirs unlocking macronutrients

Adjust ingredients based on specific soil test results. For instance, increase manure and nitrogen levels for sandy soils while boosting wood ash percentages in heavier, acidic clay zones to counteract acidity.

Top dress mounds with 500g blended fertiliser when shoot heights surpass 30cm, generally 40–60 days after planting, depending on the variety. Work gently into the soil around stem bases, taking care not to damage young roots. Reapply the mix just after canopy closure, and repeat before the onset of dry seasons.

Water requirements and irrigation management

Cassava cultivation relies primarily on natural rain cycles in Nigeria, receiving 750–3000 mm annually, making irrigation unnecessary across the main belts. However, supplemental water during planting, early growth, or prolonged mid-season dry spells noticeably improves yields.

Target supplying 25–30mm of added water weekly in most zones, especially northern Nigeria, where precipitation minus evapotranspiration leaves deficits. Time irrigations for early morning or night to minimise evaporation. Soil moisture sensors help gauge plant needs more precisely than fixed schedules.

Various small-scale irrigation techniques suit smallholder plots lacking infrastructure:

  • Channels relaying water from streams or rivers using gravity
  • Farm ponds storing rainy season flows for pumping later
  • Drip lines along mounds target roots without waste.
  • Manual watering cans for small patches only

Unlike most crops, cassava only requires extra moisture during the first year’s growth stage before the large tuberous roots access deeper water table reserves sufficiently the following season. Thus, invest in durable water harvesting and precision distribution systems.

Weed control and rigging

Left unchecked, even grasses and vines overcome cassava, damaging foliar expansion and resulting tuber outputs. Combining pre-emptive mulching, strategic early weed control, and hilling soil protects crops until canopy closure.

Initially, mulch mounds with thick layers of grass, leaves, or sheaths slow the germination of opportunist weed seeds present in soils. When cassava shoots emerge after several weeks, remove excess mulch for satellite weeding in a 1m diameter ring around bases.

Perform two total manual weeding rounds at 30-day intervals before cassava heights exceed 0.5m and threaten harm from close tools. Thereafter, weed growth naturally abates under closed canopy shielding. Final field cleaning precedes harvests.

Alongside weed control, regularly ridge-eroded soil was back onto cassava mound bases. This bracing with added nutrients aids in anchoring, much like earthing potato plants. Visit fields monthly through mid-season storms, removing competing growth and reinforcing mounds.

Managing Pests and Diseases

Besides weeds, various insects, fungi, and viruses may transmit from stems compromised breeding or attack leaves and tubers, weakening marketable yields. Therefore, maintain vigilance for economic infestations and employ integrated strategies for managing threats.

Key Cassava Pests in Nigeria

Mealybugs: sap-feeding bugs transmitting plant viruses

Mites: microscopic spider mites suck fluids, causing yellowing.

Thrips: Tiny flies breeding in flowers and spreading necrosis

Whiteflies: Foliage-feeding flies breeding rapidly transmit viruses.

Scale insects—armoured sap suckers—depleting plant energy

Cassava hornworm: voracious green caterpillars defoliating sections

Termites: destructive nesting in stems, damaging structures

Nematodes: microscopic worms in soils hamper tuber bulking.

Main Cassava Diseases in Nigeria

Cassava Mosaic Virus: Disfiguring leaves with yellow splotches

Anthracnose: fungal decay of stems and leaf veins

Cassava Bacterial Blight: Exuding cankers on foliage, causing dieback

Cassava Brown Streak: Necrotic rust-coloured streaks inside tuber flesh

Integrated Pest Management Options

  1. Plant disease-free stems; remove the main viruses.
  2. Run a mixed-crop farm to confuse specialist insects.
  3. Release predatory insects for self-sustaining protection.
  4. Apply neem leaf sprays for organic deterrent and antifeedant effects.
  5. Install pheromone traps to lure reproductive adults away.
  6. Handpicking egg clusters prevents future generations from establishing
  7. Apply biopesticides to harm pests without toxicity to humans.
  8. Uproot severely infected plants; contain spread to other fields.

Follow integrated pest management with sustainable cultural practices and biological agents before considering chemical options as a last resort limited just to containment of truly rampant threats verified through lab analysis—indiscriminate spraying fails over the long-term enabling resistance.

Harvesting Cassava

After 8–24 months of maturing, depending on variety, cassava reaches maximum tuber yield potentials marked by foliar yellowing, signalling natural senescence. Harvest promptly before tubers deteriorate in soils. However, allow full canopy degeneration first.

Optimal Harvesting Timelines

Early harvesting limits yields. Late harvesting risks physical deterioration and nutrient leaching. Target windows:

  • 10–12 MAT for quick bulking TME 419, but with a limited shelf life
  • 18–24 MAT for full starch content build-up among industrial varieties

Harvest all mature stands in sequence over 2–3 weeks. Record date sites were initially planted to gauge ideal timelines.

Mechanised Harvesting Options

Larger commercial farms use integrated cassava harvesters costing $15,000 to perform uprooting, sieving, and rudimentary washing operations in single passes. However, initial prototype models suffered high tuber damage rates.

The current smallholder-recommended method remains manual uprooting with machetes or hoes, followed by manual sorting and collection in baskets. Take care not to break tuber sections and stems, which accelerates perishability. Leave unmarketable sections in fields to naturally rot fertilising soils.

Postharvest Steps to Maximise Marketability

After uprooting tubers, conduct the following activities to prepare cassava for lucrative sales:

  1. Sort tubers by size grades into separate batches for uniform drying rates later.
  2. Grouping export-quality tubers and avoiding physical defects
  3. Wash smaller tubers intended for chips, ensuring sand removal.
  4. Discard diseased or rotten tubers to avoid spreading infection.
  5. Transfer wholesome tubers to raised mesh tables or concrete drying pads.
  6. Dry tubers for 2-3 days until a leathery exterior forms, protecting the inside starch.
  7. Pack dried tubers loosely to prevent bruising during transport to buyers.

With basic training, farming households effectively hand-sorted 50 tonnes annually without bottlenecks. Take caution that improper postharvest processes irreversibly sabotage profits and consumer appeal. Invest in infrastructure that enables effective handling.

Potential income streams

Beyond selling the starchy tuberous roots outright to households or processors, creative farmers tap additional income sources from the robust plant and flexible, nutritious produce to maximise returns.

Cassava Leaves: Young folded leaf tips and older leaves offer nutritious spinach substitutes, generating $2 per kilo, often double the value of tubers. Their popularity continues to rise across southern Nigeria as a side dish. Prune leaves throughout a crop’s life without hindering growth.

Livestock Feed: After peeling and chopping tubers for food production, the remaining fibrous pomace contains proteins and micronutrients ideal for formulated feed pellets for piggeries and poultry valued at $25 per ton. Consider also harvesting the entire foliage as feed.

Starch Production: With simple equipment like a grater and press, cassava tubers yield 20–25% highly marketable starch for food and industrial users. Operate small-scale systems under shade. Derivatives like tapioca pearls offer even higher margins.

Ethanol Distillation: Distilling ethanol from excess tubers provides clean biofuel for heating, lighting, or vehicles, saving families money. Or sell 200-litre batches for $100 to mills given Nigeria’s rising alternative fuel demand.

High-Quality Cassava Flour: Grate-washed tubers, dry adequately to 14% maximum moisture, then mill into fine flour, reaching $1000 per tonne, targeting bakeries and confectionary operations. Extends shelf life radically over fresh roots.

Expanding Cassava Farms

Given market demand outstripping domestic production by over 30% annually, growth-oriented farmers consistently expand cultivated land under cassava, meeting customer volume needs greater than small plots offer. Follow these tips when enlarging:

Incremental expansion: grow in phases, balancing operational capacity and allowing proper crop establishment before adding new sections. Jumping too ambitiously without sufficient labour and oversight risks total output.

Extend along contours: Add planting zones along the contour edges of existing mature fields to simplify irrigation and transport between areas.

Lease lands first. Seek 3-5-year tenure agreements with traditional owners first before acquiring large freeholds to test their performance and suitability. Requires smaller upfront payments.

Mechanise judiciously: Adopt equipment and automation like convection dryers only after reaching 50 hectares; otherwise, manual methods operate more affordably at smaller scales. Consider grouping farmer associations to share the purchase and operation costs of major machinery hubs serving entire areas.

Maintain disease checks. Keep enlarging in measured steps with continual lab test surveillance for the buildup of viruses like CMD and CBSD, which spread rapidly and disastrously in uncontrolled acreage expansion. Monitor breed purity and procure new seedlings from certified clean stocks every 4 seasons max, discarding old stems.

Choosing the Right Marketing Channels

The final pillar upholding commercial success for cassava growers is selecting suitable markets with fair, stable pricing for sales matching their scale, available logistics, and target customer base. While getting adventurous and connecting with entirely new buyers seems appealing, consider first local, trusted channels.

Locating Your Buyers

The majority of cassava farmers sell through three main avenues conveniently:

  1. Local wet markets and urban retailers: reliable outlets for fresh tubers targeting households with fewer grading standards beyond sorting rotten pieces. Provides cash incomes averaging $2 per 20-kg tuber batch.
  2. Regional processors: Numerous small starch mills and chippers transform cassava, typically run by trader networks that organise farmer supply logistics, prices, and pickups. Offers guaranteed supply agreements.
  3. Barn traders: buy products sent to rural trading posts with storage consolidating area harvests for major buyer purchases like flour millers and food manufacturers. May offer input credit. Provides clarity on production volumes expected for planning.

High-volume commercial niches like animal feed operations, biofuel companies, or industrial goods manufacturers open after substantiating a minimum 5,000-tonne annual production history meeting strict processing specifications.

Managing distribution logistics

Bumper cassava outputs easily go to waste without adequate handling after harvest. Farmers often underestimate the need for packing, loading transport, and coordinating delivery timing. Planned logistics ensure sales materialise.

Allocate harvest sorting and drying areas, preventing bruises before moving. Determine the buyer’s location, quantify shipping times, and pick suitable vehicles to minimise delays for perishable tubers. Discuss volumes and timetables with drivers, allowing consolidation. Clearly print sacks carrying farm identification details, crop type, and net weight.

Following initial sales seasons, invest profits gradually in upgraded post-harvest infrastructure like durable hydro-sack bags for easier lifting, motorised conveyances separating manual and vehicle loading zones, and dedicated covered storage rooms, allowing sales into peak pricing periods after their own seasonal glut. Market research illuminates opportunities for growth, convincing banks to finance expansions and equipment.

Future Prospects for Nigeria’s Cassava Sector

As a staple crop, industrial raw material, and proven generator of income for smallholder farmers nationwide, Nigeria’s cassava sector exhibits bright promise on all fronts, with increasing large-scale processing investments also flowing lately. The combination of rising food demand and private sector business model innovations points to a strong long-term outlook with suitable margins for vigilant producers adapting their know-how.

Barring supply shocks triggering lasting price collapses unlikely in the face of ballooning consumption, both fresh tubers and value-added products present major profit prospects for domestic farming ventures and international supply chains. Success ultimately relies on farmers’ commitment to implementing the best agronomic strategies and maximising per-hectare output. Cassava offers wealth for those working smart; seize the opportunities awaiting in Nigeria’s fields.


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