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New technology to boost cassava farming in Kilifi

The Agriculture and Food Authority (AFA) has introduced a new cassava farming technology with prospects of tripling production in the Coast region.

Statistics indicates that around 90 per cent of cassava produced in Kenya is consumed locally as food. There is, therefore, an opportunity to expand the value chain, increase production and try to meet the industrial requirements for cassava.

The technology, known as Rapid Multiplication of Cassava through the use of two-nod minisett technology, involves the cutting of a cassava stem into smaller (mini-stems) then planting them into a nursery bed.

According to AFA Technical and Advisory Services manager in Food and Crop Directorate, Peter Mwangi, after sprouting, the minisetts are then transplanted after 30 days.

After sprouting, the multiple planting materials are now ready for transplanting to a bigger farm. The new technology, which is using the Tajirika Variety of cassava, can produce 30kg per cassava plant compared to other varieties, which produce only 5kg.

“Thereafter, sprouting can be done in a nursery box or in loose soils on the ground with adequate moisture and 10cm spacing. After a month when sprouting occurs, the mini-stems can be transplanted into fields, ensuring that they are well- taken care of to produce healthy strong plants,” added Mwangi.

The pilot project being undertaken at the Kenya Agricultural and Livestock Research Organisation (Karlo) in Mtwapa, Kilifi county has already seen two farmers groups in Kilifi South being introduced to the technology. “Availability of planting material has been scarce due to the prolonged period drought at the Coast earlier this year. The new technique will help farmers produce more cassava,” Mwangi told farmers during a field day at the Agriculture Trading Centre (ATC) in Mtwapa.

Cassava is mainly used as human food, animal feed and as a source of starch and ethanol. “We saw the need of trying to increase production of cassava through the use of minisetts instead of farmers wasting a whole stem using the traditional way of planting. Now a farmer can obtain about 12,000 plants from one mother plant each year using the new technique,” said Mwangi.

The officer said cassava stem needs to be cut into smaller parts using sharp objects like wood saws, secateurs or cutlass as blunt edges damage the stems exposing it to infections.

Cassava has been identified as a flagship of Kilifi county and the government together, with other stakeholders, has come up with ways to promote its production.  AFA is also encouraging farmers to plant the Tajirika species of cassava which is favourable for commercialisation due to its high yields compared to the traditional Kapandameno type.

Meanwhile, the county is in the process of promoting cassava farming to create food security and employment for the locals. “We have partnered with East Africa Productivity programme who have given us production machines costing about Sh5 million to start the cassava industry.

The county government has set aside Sh6 million this financial year to get land to set up a cassava-processing factory. Plans are underway to budget another Sh30 million to set up the factory at Tezo Mbuyuni,” said Tsuma Tembo, Kilifi county crop officer.

He said the factory will enable the locals to produce flour and other products for local consumption and even sell to other counties. 

According to Duncan Karimi, the Kilifi South sub-county Agricultural officer, the project is now at the pilot phase and two farmer groups have been introduced to the new techniques.  “We are working with groups with 25 to 30 members, who after learning about the technology.

They can use the information to sell more planting materials or their produce. At the moment, we are working with Mtomondoni Scheme Self-Help Group and Kizingitini Farmers Self-Help group. The training is free,” said Karimi.

Cassava is Africa’s second most important staple food, after maize in terms of calories consumed. Nigeria, the Democratic Republic of Congo and Ghana are the largest cassava producing countries ink Africa.

Over five million people are included in the value chain worldwide. Latin America is the largest cassava-producing continent in the world, where starch processing is a major economic activity.  Plants located mainly in Southern Brazil, Colombia, Bolivia, Argentina and Central America.

Nigeria and Ghana are examples of African economies that have used cassava industrially to manufacture paperboard, plywood, flour and other starch-based products. The root of the cassava plant contains significant amounts of several nutrients, including calcium and vitamin C.

The plant’s leaves, meanwhile, have been found to contain protein, carotene, and lysine.

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