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February 21, 2019

Kilifi farmers' group opt for cassava to beat hunger pangs

Kilifi county executive member for Agriculture, Livestock production and fisheries development Mwalimu Menza displaying freshly uprooted cassava tubers at the ADC farm in Tezo
Kilifi county executive member for Agriculture, Livestock production and fisheries development Mwalimu Menza displaying freshly uprooted cassava tubers at the ADC farm in Tezo

Kilifi county has traditionally been experiencing food shortages. However, a group of farmers in the area are set to change the county’s fortunes.

Basi Mwangaza group is now reaping millions from cassava, hitherto perceived to be a poor man’s food.

The group has been championing for the commercialisation of cassava and are now ditching maize farming to concentrate on the crop.

Basi Mwangaza was started seven years ago with 30 members. It later attracted other farmers who formed six groups under the umbrella of Basi Mwangaza. The seven groups are now forming a co-operative, Rimato Farmers Group, comprising 25 men and 206 women.

According to the group’s chair Uba Mohammed, they started growing maize and later ventured into cassava farming.

“We started with three acres of maize but due to the scarcity of rain and the low yields, we had to look for another crop that would give us better yields and we settled on cassava. In an acre, we plant 4,000 cuttings which fetches us Sh480,000 compared to an acre of maize which produces 12 bags of maize, whose profit is only Sh25,000,” Uba said.

The group started with a local cassava variety called Kabanda Meno.

“Kabanda Meno is consumed and loved by many people because of its appealing taste but it’s susceptible to diseases and its yields are also not very good. This is the most common cassava variety in Kilifi county and has been grown for a very long time,” said Uba.

The fortunes of the group changed when researchers from the Kenya Agricultural and Livestock Research Organisation introduced to the group improved Karembo, Tajirika and Shibe cassava varieties, which are high yielding and resistant to diseases and pests.

The county government of Kilifi, through the Eastern Africa Agricultural Productivity Project (EAAPP), is establishing an Agribusiness Development Centre which will be managed by the group.

Kilifi county executive in charge of agriculture Mwalimu Menza said they have been using the group to supply cassava cuttings to farmers in other areas.

“They have been very resourceful and serious in their work and we believe they are on the way to finding a solution to the food insecurity in the county. In June, the group sold seven tonnes of cassava chips and made a lot of money,” said Menza.

The Agribusiness Development Centre is a project funded by EAAPP to process raw cassava in Tezo location and across the county into various products.

“The processing machines have already been delivered to the county awaiting installation at the centre. We are currently in the process of putting up the buildings to house the machines by December this year. The group will be buying cassava from other farmers and they will process it to flour. There will also be a state-of-the-art packaging plant and the products will be of international standards,” Menza said, adding that with cassava, one is assured of good harvests even if the rains fail.

The group makes nutritious cassava flour for porridge (mixed with either sorghum, millet or cowpeas), cakes, mahamri, chapati and other snacks. “The gross margins for Shibe and Tajirika improved varieties of cassava is high compared to other crops in the county. Tajirika has a yield potential of 25.2 tonnes per acre while Shibe has a yield potential of 28 tonnes per acre. The total cost of production for one acre is about Sh27,500,” said Caroline Farra, Agricultural Sector Development Support Programme Kilifi county monitoring and evaluation officer.

“If you sell one kilogram of raw Shibe cassava variety at a low price of Sh10 you will make a profit of Sh252,500. This is certainly a game changer in the Kilifi economy. Most members have been able to build houses, buy water tanks, educate and feed their families while some have invested in boda boda business and livestock production.”

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