Introduction to Organic Cassava Farming
Cassava is a family member of the Euphorbiaceae. It is also called manioc, mandioca, or yucca. It is a perennial and can grow to a height of around 4.5 meters. The complete plant may be viewed as a food production factory with the end products being tubers for animal and human consumption. Organic agriculture is a system that improves and promotes agroecosystem health, including biological cycles, biodiversity, and soil biological activity. Organic farming mainly focuses on the use of management practices in preference to the use of off-farm inputs, taking into account that regional conditions need locally adapted systems.
A Step by Step Guide to Organic Cassava Farming
In organic farming, crop management starts by giving the plants the best-growing conditions, for example through improving soil fertility, and by using healthy and suitable planting material. This will make the entire crop grow healthier, and thus produce more yields. In Organic farming, some of the farms are strictly following the production guidelines of a specific regulatory code, and others develop their independent systems. Though, all organic systems share common goals and practices;
- No use of pesticides or synthetic fertilizers, and No GMOs;
- Protection of soils from nutrient depletion, erosion, and structural break down;
- Promotion of biodiversity, for example, growing a variety of crops than a single crop;
- No drug (for example hormones, antibiotics,) and access to outdoor grazing, for livestock and poultry.
Soil Management System for Organic Cassava Farming
Cassava is usually grown in a savanna climate but can be grown in extremes of rainfall. In most areas, the Cassava plant does not tolerate flooding. In dry areas it loses its leaves to conserve moisture, producing new leaves when rains restart. It takes 18 or more months to produce a crop under adverse conditions such as dry or cool weather. Cassava does not accept freezing conditions. It tolerates a wide range of soil pH values from 5.5 to 6.5 and is most productive in full sun conditions. Although Cassava can produce a crop with nominal inputs, best yields are recorded from fields with average soil fertility levels for food crop production and regular moisture availability. Cassava is grown on low fertility sandy soils without any soil improvement or soil and water conservation. Cassava will be grown well in best drained sandy loam soils with 10 to 12 hours day length, 10 to 30°C temperature, and 500 to 2500 mm/year precipitation.
Thick sandy loam upland soils are perfect for Cassava. If the soil is clayey, drainage is a must and should for this plant. At the time of land preparation, you can add organic manure to the soil to improve soil nutrients, structure, and improve the ability of the soil to hold water. If you cannot avoid Cassava growing on steep slopes you can grow Cassava varieties with early, much and low branching habit to cover the ground rapidly and properly against rain erosion. You can also make ridges across the slopes and mulch the ridges to decrease erosion.
Good soil is one of the most significant factors essential for high Cassava yields. The crop needs a suitable root room to expand, so the best soil is loose (friable) with an abundance of available nutrients for healthy plant growth. Soils can be acid with a pH of less than 7 or alkaline with a pH greater than 7. Cassava can tolerate soils within a wide range of pH values from 4 to 8. Though, the best pH range for growing Cassava is 5.5 to 6.5. Limestone must be incorporated into more acidic soils at 3 to 4 months before planting, using a rate of 2 to 4 tons per hectare, depending on the level of acidity. Liming acid soils have many benefits. It reduces the uptake of aluminium and iron, which are toxic to Cassava plants; provides calcium for proper cell wall formation; and enables good bacteria to decompose soil organic matter making nutrients available for plant growth. One piece of big areas full of natural fertility with water resources that had not been under chemical control for a long time is recommended. Soil and water analysis before organic production is necessary to avoid the residual effect of chemical substances.
Climatic Conditions in Organic Cassava Farming
Cassava organically grows well between 30°S and 30°N in areas where annual rainfall is more than 750 mm a year, temperatures above 18°C and low to medium altitude (1,500 to 2,000 m). It is sensitive to frost but accepting long dry periods, soils with low pH value, high aluminium, and low fertility.
Method for the Propagation of Cassava
Cassava is propagated by cuttings. Because it is a root crop, Cassava needs well-drained sandy clay loams. Poor soils must be fed with compost to increase the organic matter level and overall fertility. In the case of shallow soils, ridges or mounds must be created to increase the topsoil volume per plant. In deep soils, Cassava must be planted on flat land.
Steps to Propagate Cassava;
- Cassava is propagated by planting pieces of stem, by cuttings.
- The roots of Cassava are cannot use for making a new plantation, and therefore all the harvest can be sold or eaten.
- To make cuttings, choose stems from 2 to 4 cm thick, from the strongest plants that are not diseased and which have already produced tubers.
- After completion of the harvest, tie the designated stems in bundles. Wait for a minimum of 10 days before planting them.
- Keep the bundles in a dry, cool place till planting time.
- But keep in main that the cuttings must not be made from the stems until you are ready to plant.
- Cut each stem into small pieces 20 to 30 centimeters long. There must be 4 to 6 growth buds on each piece. Each stem Cassava can be made into 4 or 5 cuttings.
Planting Time and Season in Organic Cassava Framing
If water is available either through well-distributed rainfall or irrigation, the crop can be planted at any time of the year; if possible, at the beginning of the warm season (growth slows in cold weather). In places where irrigation is not available and rainfall is seasonal, delay planting until rains are reliable. It is planted in April at the beginning of the long rainy season and in September at the start of the short rains. Though, earlier plantings in March and August respectively can significantly improve root yields.
Sets 25 to 30 cm in length are planted vertically in beds, ridges, or mounds to a depth of 5 cm. Proper care must be taken to avoid the planting of sets inverted. Spacing should be based on the branching pattern of varieties. In general, non-branching and erect varieties are planted at a spacing of 75 x 75 cm and semi-branching or branching varieties at a spacing of 90 x 90 cm. If in case, sets are dried after planting, 5% of stakes may be planted as a reserve in the field, separately at a closer spacing of 4 x 4 cm for gap filling after 20 to 25 days.
Selecting Cuttings for Organic Cassava Farming
Use cuttings from healthy, strong Cassava plants between 8 and 18 months old. Younger material tends to be soft and susceptible to dehydration. Older material lacks the food reserves necessary for the development and growth of the plant. Choose cuttings from the middle portion of the stems. By using a clean, sharp cutlass or handsaw, cut stakes into 20 to 30 cm long with an average of 9 to 12 nodes. Sterilize those cuttings in a 1% bleach solution
Nutrient Uptake of Cassava
- Cassava chooses good soil but also grows in poor soils.
- It can tolerate low pH value.
- Cassava can accept a higher level of soluble aluminium and low available phosphorous.
- It grows in the soil where other crops fail.
The crop removes substantial amounts of nutrients from the soil. The degree of nutrient removal fully based on the yield level. Hence, nonstop production without replacement of the nutrient loss in the soil will decrease the soil productivity.
Application of Organic Fertilizer in Cassava Farming
Fertilizers supply the important nutrients that are lacking in the soil. Fertilizers are classified either as organic (manure, compost, etc.) or inorganic (i.e. complete, muriate of potash, etc.).
Return the remainders of healthy harvested plants to the soil by gathering them in one area to let them decompose and later apply it as organic fertilizer or by applying it as mulching material for next cropping.
Application of organic fertilizer on Cassava;
- Before land preparation just applies organic fertilizer for proper incorporation into the soil if abundant. The volume will be based on the availability of organic fertilizer.
- Supply at least 30% of the recommended fertilizer rate with organic fertilizer.
Application of Organic Materials in Cassava Farming
Animal manure comprises plant nutrients and increases the physical condition of the soil. The integration of farm animals can, so, contribute to better recycling of nutrients within the farm, if the animals are fed on farm-own forage legumes and the manure is returned to the field. Cassava plants will profit from the valuable manure the sheep, cattle, goats, pigs, or chicken offer. To decrease nutrient losses from manures, special attention must be paid to their storage, collection, and application.
Organic wastes such as animal manure, kitchen wastes, and plant materials can also be collected, composted, and applied to the Cassava field to refill the nutrients taken away through harvest. These materials increase the number of nutrients also the soil organic matter content, and thus the soil’s physical conditions and water-holding capacity.
Irrigation Requirement for Organic Cassava Farming
The soil must be moist at the time of planting Cassava, otherwise, irrigation is essential. If the irrigation system is not available, it is important to plant the collection at the start of the wet season when rain is reliable.
Pruning Techniques in Organic Cassava Farming
Prune plants around 9 months after planting when using high densities or if growth is excessive. Note that pruning can create wound entries for pathogens and pests, and can spread them from one plot to another plant by way of the workers’ clothing and cutting instrument. Dip cutting instruments in a detergent solution between plots to extinguish viral and bacterial pathogens on the surface.
Organic Pests and Diseases in Cassava Farming
Below are some of the common diseases affected in Cassava;
- Cassava Mosaic Disease
- Leaf Spot
- Bud Necrosis
- Root rot
- Root scale
- Tuber scale
The above diseases can be controlled by using disease-free stakes for plantation. Research centers develop resistant varieties; you can use those for the cultivation of Cassava. Some insects affecting Cassava are;
- Cassava scales
- Witches’ broom.
Frequent field inspection is one of the best options to control the spread of insects and diseases. And another method is to practice intercropping patterns. Crops like groundnut, maize, black grams are cultivated which help in controlling the diseases in Cassava.
Bacterial blight is one of the most widespread and serious Cassava diseases. Though potentially devastating, bacterial blight can be controlled efficiently with “Save and Grow” practices. They include;
- Use varieties with good tolerance
- Use more healthy planting material from disease-free plants or plants derived from meristem culture, rooted buds or shoots
- Before planting Cassava, treat stakes by soaking them in hot water at a temperature of 50°C for around 50 minutes. In extreme cases, and on the advice of local plant protection specialists, stakes may be soaked around 10 minutes in a cupric fungicide’s solution.
- Plant at the end of rainy periods
- After using tools in blight-infected plots, sterilize them in a dilute solution of a disinfectant such as sodium hypochlorite or hot water
- Make sure that the plants are adequately fertilized, particularly with potassium
- Uproot and burn any infected crop residues and diseased plants
- Intercrop Cassava with other species to decrease plant-to-plant dissemination of bacterial blight caused by rain-splash (fast-growing crops such as maize will also decrease dissemination by wind)
- To prevent the carry-over of the disease in the soil, leave the field in fallow for at least 6 months between crops
Mealybugs feed on Cassava petioles, stems and leaves, and inject a toxin that causes leaf curling, slow shoot growth, and eventual leaf withering.
Below are the best recommendations for the control of Cassava mealybugs;
- If necessary, treat planting material with a solution using a locally registered and suggested insecticide
- Monitor Cassava plantations for every 2 to 4 weeks to notice focal points of infestation
- Take away and burn the infested parts of plants
- Avoid the movement of planting material from one region to another region
- Minimalize the movement of planting material from infested to non-infested fields
When and How to Harvest Cassava
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The most general method using in harvesting Cassava is hand harvesting. If the tubers are for processing, cut the plant at around 30 to 50 cm above the ground 2 to 3 weeks before harvesting. Use the stem of Cassava to lift the roots when harvesting. Pull the plant carefully and do not drag the roots. Dragging can cause cuts and bruises which may lead to early deterioration. Separate the roots from the stem by using a sharp knife and cut each root near to the stem. Don’t break the roots from the stump by hand. This will result in injuries that lead to root rot.
After completion of harvesting, do not leave the roots under the sun. Too much heat will result in weight loss and early deterioration. Put the tubers in bags or crates and then cover them with moist jute bags to prevent vascular streaking. Nearly it takes 20 people to harvest one acre of Cassava in one day.
Harvesting of Cassava can be from 8 months due to farmer’s requirement. Usually, it will be harvested at 10 to 12 months. Stems and rhizomes must be cut and transport to factories instantly or not more than 3 days. Up-right stems can be collected under shadow for 30 days waiting to be used as stem cutting. Branches and leaves and residue will be mixes with soils to add organic matter.
Commonly Asked Questions about Cassava Farming
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What is the spacing for Cassava?
Generally, the plant to plant distance should be 1 meter and the row to row distance should be 1 to 1.5 meters. With this spacing, you can plant 7000 to 10000 Cassava plants in a hectare area. But the number of cuttings to the hectare changes with the soil, region, and variety.
What is the life cycle of Cassava?
Cassava plant has a growing cycle from 9 to 24 months, based on the environmental conditions. It is best to renew within 18 to 24 months, when most plants complete their growth cycle, to avoid lodging from excessive growth and build-up of diseases and pests.
How long does Cassava take to grow?
Cassava is a tropical root crop, needful at least 8 months of warm weather to produce a crop. Though, under adverse conditions such as dry or cool weather, it can take 18 or more months to produce a crop.
Is Cassava annual or perennial?
The Cassava plant is a perennial woody shrub, grown as an annual.
Is Cassava farming profitable?
Commercial Cassava farming has profitable farming. Cassava tubers are in very high demand in the market because these are used as the raw material for producing ‘garri’ which is a staple food. Cassava farming venture is known for its high output-low input nature.
How much time does it take Cassava to mature for harvest?
Early-maturing Cassava varieties are ready for 7 months while Late-maturing Cassava varieties are ready for harvesting at 12 months after planting. The proper stage for Cassava harvesting is when the leaves turn yellow and fall and the plant roots are mature.
Does Cassava need a lot of water?
In the first 3 to 4 months of its growth, the Cassava plant needs a considerable amount of moisture; hence, soils having high water holding capacity culminating in the high water table for the root absorption are highly important for optimum production. Though, waterlogged conditions must be avoided.
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