Scientists are now using Semi-Autotrophic Hydroponics (SAH) technology to speed up the propagation of clean cassava (Manihot esculenta) planting materials. According to Mr Godwin Atser, the Communication Expert of International Institute of Tropical Agriculture (IITA), the use of SAH technology for cassava multiplication is the brainchild of the “Building an Economically Sustainable Integrated Seed System for Cassava (BASICS)’’ project. He said that the SAH technology involved the use of modified soil, holding plant roots in planting pots with little water.
“Usually the trays are filled with a little amount of water and the soil transports the moisture up to the plant roots; yet the top of the soil remains relatively dry. The roots are encouraged to grow down, and the dry soil on top discourages damp-off and other diseases caused by excess moisture,’’ he said in Abuja.
Dr Peter Kulakow, a cassava breeder with IITA, said that the beauty of the new technology was its rapid multiplication ratio.
He said that usually when breeders developed new cassava varieties, the challenge was how to multiply the varieties and distribute them to farmers.
Kalukwo, however, said that cassava was a clonal crop while its multiplication was done using stems, adding that the process would, however, take several years.
He said that this partly explained why it always took a long time for new improved varieties to be disseminated at scale to farmers.
“With this technology, these constraints will be addressed and it will be easier for farmers to have easy access to new varieties once we develop them. Besides addressing the constraints of slow and low multiplication ratio in cassava seed system, the SAH technology also produces clean planting materials that are disease-free,’’ he said.
Kalukwo said that with the adoption of SAH, the cost of production of the plants was cheaper, when compared to tissue culture.
Mr Hemant Nitturkar, Project Director of BASICS said that the technology, which had its origins in Argentina, would be adapted and perfected in Nigeria under the project.
He said that the BASICS project was expected to have a significant impact on the ability of early generation seed businesses to quickly bring suitable varieties within the reach of farmers.
He noted that the BASICS project was also working with National Agricultural Seed Council (NASC) and FERA (Food and Environment Research Agency) of United Kingdom to the improve the quality of seed certification system in Nigeria.
Cassava is grown by more than 500 million people in Africa, Asia and Latin America.
What is Cassava?
Cassava, Manihot esculenta, is a perennial shrub in the family Euphorbiaceae grown primarily for its storage roots which are eaten as a vegetable. The cassava plant is a woody plant with erect stems and spirally arranged simple lobed leaves with petioles (leaf stems) up to 30 cm in length. The plant produces petal-less flowers on a raceme. The edible roots of the plant are usually cylindrical and tapered and are white, brown or reddish in color. Cassava plants can reach 4 m in height and is usually harvested 9-12 months after planting. Cassava may also be referred to as Brazilian arrowroot, manioc, yuca , tapioca mandioca, yucca root, casabe, and tapioca.
Cassava is native to Africa, Brazil and the tropical areas of the Americas. It’s widely grown all over Africa, Latin America and the Caribbean. It was, and still is, an essential root vegetable in the Africa, Latin America and the Caribbean diet. It’s been around, since before Columbus’s arrival, as a staple food of the Taino, Carib, and Arawak population, especially in the form of cassava bread. Because it was so crucial to the culture, the natives revered it. A 1554 Spanish historical account describes a ceremony in which a native priest blessed cassava bread and then divided it among the tribal people present. The recipients then preserved the bread to protect their families from danger throughout the following year. Cassava is still eaten throughout all the islands today and you’ll find it piled high at produce markets.
Cassava is the third-largest source of food carbohydrates in the tropics, after rice and maize. It is a major staple food in the developing world, providing a basic diet for over half a billion people. It is one of the most drought-tolerant crops, capable of growing on marginal soils.