Scientists working on cassava breeding are now using the Semi-Autotrophic Hydroponics (SAH) technology to rev up the propagation of clean cassava planting materials.
The SAH involves the use of modified soil which holds 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.
Dr Peter Kulakow, a cassava breeder with the International Institute of Tropical Agriculture (IITA), said the beauty of the technology was its rapid multiplication ratio.
“Usually when breeders develop new cassava varieties, the challenge is how to multiply and disseminate to farmers. Hence cassava is a clonal crop and multiplication is done using stems, this process takes several years,’’ he said.
Dr Kulakow said this explains in part why it takes long for new improved varieties to be disseminated at large 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,” he explained.
But 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. The cost of production of the plants is cheaper using SAH when compared to tissue culture, Dr Kulakow said.
The SAH technology in cassava is a brain child of the project: Building an Economically Sustainable Integrated Seed System for Cassava (BASICS).
Hemant Nitturkar, Project Director of BASICS explained that once the technology, which is adopted from Argentina, is applied and perfected in Nigeria, it is expected to have a significant impact on the ability of early generation seed businesses to quickly bring suitable varieties within reach of farmers.
The BASICS project is also working with National Agricultural Seed Council (NASC) and Fera of United Kingdom to improve the quality certification system in Nigeria.
Grown by more than 500 million people in Africa, Asia, and Latin America; cassava is an important crop for both food security and wealth creation. The root crop is a source of commercial animal feed, fiber for paper and textile manufacturers, and starch for food and pharmaceutical industries.