Crop is key to Big 4 Agenda

Cassava can thrive without irrigation in hot, low-rainfall areas

In Summary

• Government plans to increase food production have largely overlooked cassava

Raw cassava
Raw cassava
Image: Margaret Wanjiru

As the government races to scale up food production in the country, one food crop that seems to have been accorded little attention is cassava.

Food security is one of the pillars of the Big 4 Agenda pushed by the Uhuru Kenyatta administration, the others being affordable housing, affordable healthcare and manufacturing.

Cassava can thrive without irrigation since the crop can be grown in areas with limited rainfall and high temperatures.

It is a crop that, if accorded unlimited attention, can help alleviate hunger in most parts of the country, where it is problematic to grow food crops such as maize, which cannot withstand harsh climatic conditions.

According to Bill and Melida Gates Foundation, cassava production doubled from 118 million to 276 million metric tonnes in the past three decades around the world.

The foundation, in a research conducted by Evans School of Policy and Analysis, said most farmers who enabled the global improvement in cassava production were smallholder farmers in sub-Saharan Africa, including Kenya.

The research found out that in 2013, Africa accounted for 56 per cent of all cassava produced in the world, with per capita consumption of the tuber crop hitting 80 kilos per year in Africa.

“Cassava is an important food security crop in part because it can grow in marginal soils and can tolerate many abiotic stressors, and because its storage roots grow slowly in the soil and can be harvested progressively between six months and three years after planting,” Prof Leigh Anderson, the principal investigator of the study, said.

Farmers in Busia who grew the crop in the 1980s and 90s, before the deadly cassava mosaic virus hit farms, said in the years they cultivated the crop, they rarely encountered hunger.

Kenya has already approved the release of genetically modified cassava for cultivation. This means the way has been paved for the commercialisation of the crop after five years of intense research.

With the commercialisation of cassava, the government can also realise another Big Four agenda: industrialisation.

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