In Kenya, cassava is a drought-tolerant food security crop with rising household demand. Despite its ability to endure climate shocks, the damaging Cassava Brown Streak Disease (CBSD), as well as late ripening, low-yielding types and a weak local consumption culture, pose hurdles to its cultivation.
This is why Egerton University is seeking to boost value addition for cassava. The programme, which is supported by the Community Action Research Project (CARP+), the Regional Universities Forum for Capacity Building in Agriculture (RUFORUM), and the MasterCard Foundation, aims to create jobs, improve cassava quality, productivity and marketability both locally and internationally.
The initiative, dubbed Cassava Value Chain Upgrading (CVCU) for secure food, nutrition, income and resilience of smallholder farmers in the dry and semi-arid areas of Nakuru County, now includes 6 000 smallholder farmers in the Njoro, Lower Subukia and Solai sub-counties. The project is expected to eventually stimulate the creation of cottage enterprises in rural regions.
Getting farmers involved
The university is currently working with a number of smallholder farmers, including retired police officer Simon Peter Gitahi.
In 2014, Gitahi, who was also the head of the Subukia Cassava Farmers’ Cooperative Society, led smallholder farmers in Kenya’s Nakuru County’s lower Subukia district to transition a local self-help organisation into the cooperative society, with ambitious ambitions for processing foods and feeds from the crop.
He reasoned that in addition to providing an income for the farmers, this would also give a convenient market for their goods. It would also assure food security in this predominantly dry catchment area as well as the Solai administrative division nearby, according to the university.
However, problems arose along the road. Despite having millions of shillings worth of machines for processing tuber flours and chippings, the 110-member organisation lacked a permanent structure in which to place the machinery. They had to put the machines in a leased facility, which irritated the owner due to the heavy equipment’s vibrations.
“Getting a parcel of land to build our own premises became an urgent matter, and with support equipment. However, we did not have electricity to run the factory or adequate supplies to support our value-addition plans,” Gitahi said.
Training and progress of project
Fortunately for the cooperative, Egerton University’s CVCU project, with Professor Richard Mulwa as principal investigator, was launched around this time.
“Training also targets technical and vocational education and training students, women and youth groups, as well as farming groups. They are being trained in production, processing and marketing of cassava-based products, its breeding, as well as food science,” Mulwa explained.
In Subukia, one of the project aims was to assure the cooperative’s resurrection. Farmers in Gitahi and Subukia may look forward to the future with hope thanks to this resolve, as the CVCU project has awarded the cooperative a US$2,000 grant following a two-year partnership. The funds will be used to install the machinery, connect three-phase power, and renovate the facility in preparation for the resumption of food manufacturing in January 2022.
Mulwa stated that progress has been achieved in the fight against CBSD, citing the discovery of a CBSD-resistant cassava variety in Tanzania. There are also five types that are best suited to the location in terms of production, quick maturity and low cyanide levels, the latter chemical poison being a natural element of the root crop.
“We are now in the process of transferring the resistance genes of the Tanzanian variety to the locally adapted breeds using molecular marker-assisted techniques.
“These new varieties will be a gem to farmers once certified for bulking and distribution,” said Mulwa.