Cassava: Neglected crop that could liberate millions from hunger

The plant is categorised as Kenya’s second staple food after maize

In Summary
  • Cassava flourished until the early 90s when the cassava mosaic virus struck.
  • The crop is drought-tolerant, is hardly affected by floods if there’s proper drainage and is climate-smart.
A farmer at his cassava garden in Amagoro Teso North subcounty on December 13, 2021.
STAPLE: A farmer at his cassava garden in Amagoro Teso North subcounty on December 13, 2021.
A cassava tuber in thi picture taken on December 13, 2021.
TUBER: A cassava tuber in thi picture taken on December 13, 2021.
A cassava garden in Amagoro in Teso North subcounty on December 13, 2021.
PLANTED: A cassava garden in Amagoro in Teso North subcounty on December 13, 2021.

Farmers in Busia are slowly starting to grow cassava again, more than two decades after the cassava mosaic virus destroyed the crop in farms.

Cassava is categorised as Kenya’s second staple crop after maize.

Farmers who spoke to the Star on Tuesday said the neglected tuber crop, if adopted again, has the potential to fight hunger in the country.

The crop is drought-tolerant, hardly affected by floods if there’s proper drainage, and is climate-smart.

It can also withstand harsh climatic conditions, particularly dry weather, and does not require extensive land preparation before planting.

Joselyne Abuchi, a farmer in Angu’rai, said before she abandoned cultivating the crop following the cassava mosaic invasion, her family never lacked food.

“We had food throughout the year, including the dry season,” she said.

“Whenever maize harvest failed, we relied on cassava. It is easy to maintain because it does not demand pesticide spraying and application of fertiliser like other crops such as maize.”

Abuchi was among farmers in Teso North who planted cassava in large scale until early 1990s before the mosaic virus struck.

She said she would harvest the tubers, dry and store them.

During the dry season when maize harvest failed, her family would never worry about the availability of food.

In one harvest, she would store more than 30 bags of dried cassava, which guaranteed her family and, sometimes, neighbours food security.

But with the destruction of cassava in farms when the cassava mosaic came, trouble for her family began.

Maize is now her main staple after cassava consistently failed to grow because of the mosaic virus.

“We need to go back to cassava production,” she said.

“The only thing we need is to have a crop that is disease-resistant and hunger will be a thing of the past.”

The few farmers in Teso North who still grow the crop in small-scale are currently harvesting.

Moses Imaidoi said his maize harvest was poor during the long rains season, but is not worried of his family’s starvation because he cultivated cassava.

The variety that some farmers currently grow is popularly known as Nigeria since it originated from the West African country.

Before the early 90s, Abuchi said most farmers in Busia grew cassava.

She now wants the Ministry of Agriculture to conduct research and establish the best cassava variety for farmers in Busia and other regions to boost the cultivation of the crop.

Her pleas came after the department of agriculture in Busia advised cassava farmers to take advantage of a grant the county is providing to boost their production.

Agriculture chief officer Richard Achiambo said the grant would enable farmers to grow the crop without financial difficulties.

It means the grant will ensure they procure the right planting material and that they also get adequate money to facilitate early land preparation.

Achiambo said cassava is a crop that is easy to maintain since it does not require fertiliser as it easily grows in good and poor soils.

The crop flourishes in virtually all agro-ecological conditions as a relatively labour-free food crop.

Cassava when mixed with sorghum produces brown flour that may be used to prepare brown ugali.

It may also be used for porridge with ingredients such as soya or pumpkin.

The crop can be cultivated in all regions in Kenya since it can withstand all weather conditions.

In January, Kenya approved the cultivation of genetically-modified cassava a move expected to pave the way for the commercialisation of the crop.

The approval of genetically-modified cassava placed it as the first food crop to be planted as GMO after the adoption of the cultivation of cotton in 2019 following Cabinet approval.

The decision, according to the National Biodiversity Authority, came following a rigorous and thorough review.

It considered food, feed, and environmental safety assessment, as well as consideration of socio-economic issues.

Presently, at the Kenya Agricultural and Livestock Research Organisation farm in Alupe, lies a parcel of land set aside for multiplication of improved cassava-planting materials, under the Kenya Climate Smart Agriculture Project.

Farmers in regions with wide agro-ecological characteristics are being targeted.

High yielding Selina is one of the cassava varieties that is planted at the Alupe farm.

(Edited by Amol Awuor)

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