Catherine Otaga, a member of the Tangakona Commercial Village, displays a bunch of cassava in Busia County, Kenya, Aug. 3, 2022. (Photo by Bedah Mengo/Xinhua)

NAIROBI– Catherine Otaga, a member of the Tangakona Commercial Village, a group based in Busia, western Kenya, smiles with hope as she lifts a bunch of freshly harvested cassava.

“This will give me very good flour after I dry and mill them,” Otaga told Xinhua in a recent interview.

She picks a knife and chops three of the tubers, revealing a fleshy white mass.

This, as Otaga noted, is hope for prosperity.

The Tangakona Commercial Village grows and processes the drought-resistant tuber into various products.

The group consists of 11 smaller outfits, with up to 50 members each spread across the border region.

The members grow the cassava individually but add value as a group. Otaga herself farms the crop on four acres (about 1.6 hectares).

She is in charge of processing at Tangakona. Once she harvests her produce after about 10 months, she takes it to their plant for drying first and later processing. 

Initially, farmers would sell the produce to households where it was eaten raw or boiled before being consumed.

“All our members now bring their cassava to the center where we wash, remove the outer cover, chip into tiny pieces and then dry for between three to five days before we mill using a machine that grinds up to 10 tonnes once,” she explained.

Otaga said farmers sell their produce to the group at 10 shillings (about eight U.S. cents) per kg.

“We used to buy at 0.04 dollars a kilo but the current shortage of maize in the country has pushed up the cost of cassava due to increased demand,” she said.

Once milled, some of the flour is used in making cookies, crisps and chapatis, but the bulk is sold to a manufacturer from Nairobi, the national capital, who uses it to fortify other flours in particular sorghum and maize.

The farmers’ group sells to the processor the milled flour at 0.56 dollars per kg, making more earnings through the value-added produce.

Most farmers in the group used to grow maize as well as cassava but embraced the latter exclusively due to frequent dry spells and the ready market from the value addition project.

From an acre, farmers harvest an average of eight tonnes of cassava. With a kilo going for 0.08 dollars, one can earn 640 dollars.

“Life becomes better as farmers earn more,” Otaga said. Kilometers away in Kilifi County, a town on the coast of Kenya, north of Mombasa, Pwani Ufanisi Farmers Cooperative is another group that is reaping the benefits from cassava value addition.

Kauli Mwembe, the organizing secretary, revealed that they work with about 1,000 farmers who bring in their cassava for value addition.

From the cassava, the farmers’ group makes pure flour that they sell at 0.67 dollars a kilo and at 1 dollar per kilo blended with maize, said Kauli.

As Kenyan farmers take up cassava production seriously, one of the biggest challenges, however, is diseases, in particular cassava mosaic and cassava brown streak.

But there is hope for farmers as Kenyan scientists are working on genetically modified (GM) cassava that is resistant to the two deadly diseases. GM cassava is expected to offer farmers higher yields and boost the value addition of the crop.

According to the Ministry of Agriculture, about 60 percent of cassava in Kenya is produced in the western region, 10 percent in the eastern region, and 30 percent on the Coast.

Kenya currently produces 1 million tonnes of cassava, most of which is consumed locally, but the country has the potential to produce more than 3 million tonnes annually.

Kenya in 2019 developed the National Roots and Tuber Strategy to guide the development and production of the crop for industrial use in particular.

It identifies tuber crops as an important source of food for humans and livestock, especially as climate change effects unfold.

Annie Nyaga, the chief administrative secretary in the Ministry of Agriculture, said recently that Kenya has taken measures to increase the production of cassava as a way to boost food security amid a decline in maize and rice output due to climate change.

The agriculture sector is the bedrock of Kenya’s economy, contributing approximately up to 33 percent of the country’s gross domestic product.  – Xinhua