Cassava was introduced into Central Africa from South America in the 16th century by the early Portuguese Explorers (Ohadike, 2007). It was probably the incapacitated slaves who introduced the cassava crop into southern Nigeria as they returned to the country from South America. Cassava however, did not gain importance in the country until the end of the nineteenth century when processing techniques were introduced as many slaves returned home (Odoemenem and Otanwa, 2011). In Nigeria, cassava is grown in all the ecologicalzones; the crop is planted all year round depending on the availability of moisture (Odoemenem and Otanwa, 2011).
Cassava is an important staple food in several tropical African countries, especially in Nigeria where it plays a principal role in the food economy (Agwu and Anyaeche, 2009). Cassava has the ability to grow on marginal lands, especially in drought-prone conditions and in low-fertility acid soils, where cereals and other crops do not thrive (Gobeze et al., 2005 as cited in Obayelu, et al., 2013). Cassava roots can also be stored in the ground (while still intact on the growing plant) for up to 24 months or more, so harvest may be delayed until market, processing or other conditions are favourable (International Institute for Tropical Agriculture, 2009). This comparative advantage over other staples serves to encourage its cultivation especially by resource-poor farmers. According to the Food and Agricultural Organization Statistics (FAOSTAT, 2011), Nigeria is the world’s largest producer of cassava with about 37 million metric tonnes and it ranks second after yam in extent of production among the root and tuber crops of economic value in Nigeria.
Benue State is a leading producer of cassava in Nigeria (Benue State Ministry of Agriculture and Natural Resources, 2003). Apart from the ecological support for cassava growth and production, Benue State has mounted deliberate strategies such as distribution of improved cassava varieties to sustain its leading role in cassava production in the country (BMANR, 2003). Cassava is a very versatile crop with numerous uses and by-products. Each component of the plant can be valuable to its cultivator. The leaves may be consumed as a vegetable, or cooked as a soup ingredient or dried and fed to livestock as a protein feed supplement. The stem is used for plant propagation andgrafting. The roots are typically processed for human and industrial consumption. Cassava is traditionally consumed by processing the fresh roots into garri, fufu, and flour (Adebayo et al., 2003a; Adebayo et al., 2003b). Data from the Collaborative Study of Cassava in Africa (COSCA) show that 80% of Nigerians in rural areas eat a cassava meal at least once weekly (Nweke et al., 2002).
The problem of declining crop productivity in Nigeria is important (FACU, 1992; FDA, 1993 and 1995, as cited in Ukoha et al., 2010). The agricultural problem in Nigeria relates to the inefficiency with which farmers use resources on the farms (Bamidele et al., 2008). It also borders on how the various factors that explain farm efficiency could be determined through research so as to improve cassava production in the country (Bamidele et al., 2008). Farmers’ output must therefore be expanded with existing levels of conventional inputs and technology to meet the increasing demand for cassava.
Cassava farmers in Nigeria are small-holders characterized by very low level of productivity (Bamidele et al., 2008). These smallholder and traditional farmers who use rudimentary production techniques, with resultant low yields, cultivate most of this land. They are also constrained by many problems including poor access to markets, land and environmental degradation and inadequate research and extension services (Manyong et al., 2005).
Simonyan et al. (2010), as cited in Nandi et al. (2011) stated that Nigerians are poor and hungry despite efforts made by various governments in improving agricultural productivity and efficiency of the rural farmers who are the major stakeholders of agricultural production. Given the various government programmes such as the National Accelerated Food Production Programme (NAFPP), Operation Feed the Nation (OFN), the Agricultural Development Projects (ADPs), Cassava Multiplication Programme (CMP), and Root and Tuber Crop Expansion Program (RTEP), implemented over the years to raise farmers’ efficiency and productivity in cassava farming, productivity for cassava is still low. For example, the actual yield of cassava ranges between 8 and 15 tonnes per hectare, compared to a potential yield of 30 tonnes per hectare – a yield gap of 275 and 100 percent respectively (FAO, 2011 as cited in IITA, 2015). And also, given the increasing interest of more nations in buying cassava products from Nigeria, the prospects for enhanced foreign exchange is becoming high (Ogisi and Alimeke, 2013). It then becomes necessary to economically analyze the profitability and resource-use efficiency of cassava farmers. This study seeks to find answers to the following research questions:
i. What are the socio-economic characteristics of cassava farmers in the study area?
ii. What are the costs and returns for cassava farming in the study area?
iii. What is the technical relationship between inputs and output in cassava farming in the study area?
iv. How efficiently are resources used by cassava farmers in the study area?
v. What is the relationship between cassava farmers’ socio-economic characteristics and their output?
vi. What are the elasticities of production and returns to scale for cassava farming in the study area?
vii. What are the major constraints faced by cassava farmers in the study area?