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From maize to arrowroots: Farmer goes back to roots

Salim Ibrahim also dries the tubers and sells the flour for cooking ugali, porridge and baking mandazi and chapati

While many farmers in Western region continue to incur losses from growing maize, Salim Ibrahim of Mukabakabo Village, Emanda sub-location in Vihiga county grows arrowroots instead and is enjoying the fruits of his labour.

When Agribiz visited his well-organised farm, Salim was busy tending his arrowroots (called tsinduma in local Luhya language, chinduma (Kisii), uwanga (Kiswahili), nduma (Kikuyu and Kamba) whistling in a low tone. His 1.6 hectares (4 acres) was covered by a blanket of green arrowroot foliage in various stages of growth.

Salim, 46, is enjoying good market for his crop as he ranks among a few celebrated farmers cultivating the indigenous food plant in Emanda region.

He also prepares and sells flour from dried arrowroots. “Arrowroot are some of the indigenous foods that are nutritionally rich in vitamins, minerals as well as other essential nutrients,” he says. 

Salim says he quit growing maize and decided to venture into arrowroots five years ago. He regrets the days when he used to spend a lot of money on his farm buying farm inputs such as fertilisers and pesticides for his maize crop.

Fall armyworm

At one time, fall armyworms invaded his maize crop and destroyed hundreds of stems, which discouraged him. And each season after harvest, the returns from maize would be lower than the costs of production. 

“I quit after realising that the cost of production was too high and I was always making loses. I opted for arrowroots farming and the venture is paying me well,” he says.

Salim was encouraged to venture fully into commercial arrowroot farming by the area member of Vihiga county Assembly representing Central Maragoli ward, Evans Chunguli.

Today, the MCA is one of his frequent customers for arrowroots and also organises field days at his farm to encourage residents to venture into indigenous crops.

Arrowroot thrives well anywhere provided there is enough moisture in the soil for its normal growth and development.  “This root grows well in places where rainfall is uniformly distributed throughout the year,” he says. 

Salim is now a consultant for local farmers in arrowroot farming. He says the tubers do best in well-drained loamy soils in valleys and in newly opened areas. “I plant my crop in an open field where there is sufficient moisture throughout its growing period,” he says. 

Compost manure

The land should be well prepared by ploughing and harrowing two or three times depending on the soil structure.  The planting area is supposed to be ploughed deep enough to provide favourable conditions for better root development.

Salim propagates his arrowroots using suckers and rootstock or rhizomes with two or more nodes each. Two suckers are planted at a distance of 1.5 metres to 1.20 metres.

“No irrigation is needed provided there is enough moisture in the soil especially at the early stages of growth,” he adds.

To improve yields,  Salim uses compost manure to plant his roots suckers.  The compost manure is easily collected from his farm and he does not incur any losses in buying fertilisers.

After planting the rootstocks, he constantly weeds and cultivates the plot, which he does during the first two to four months depending upon the weed population in the field.

“Unlike other crops, arrowroots are not attacked by insecticides or pests. Even moles that feed on tubers do not disturb arrowroots in my farm,” says Salim.

He harvests his arrowroots once a year because the crop is ready 10 to 12 months after planting  when they have gained enough starch content.  “Arrowroots are harvested by passing a jembe
or panga
close to the furrows, exposing the tuberous roots, then cut-off the stem,”

He says he sells the roots at Majengo and Mbale markets where customers offer better prices than selling to brokers who come at the farm.

A kilo in these markets is going for about Sh500, but most people buy just half kilos at Sh250. Salim also dries arrowroots and sells the flour, which people use for cooking nduma ugali, preparing porridge, baking mandazi or chapatti, among other foods.

Thiefs

Since he ventured into the business almost five years ago, he has been able to fend for his family and educate his children. The only challenge he faces in farming venture is theft as the farm is not fenced. “People just sneak in at night and uproot my crop.

Theft is a big challenge here because we have young, idle boys who want to reap from where they never sowed,” decries Salim.

Apart from arrowroot farming, Salim has also ventured into tissue culture banana farming, which he says also earns him a good income. He now plans to grow other local foods such as sweet potatoes and cassava farming so as to diversify his income sources.

The Vihiga county government led by Governor Wilbur Ottichilo is promoting traditional foods farming in the county, which Salim wants to capitalise on the opportunity to benefit from the assistance from the county.

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